Travelling with Toddlers: A Guide
A globetrotting mom shares her secrets for travelling successfully with young children—from how to survive a flight to crafting the perfect itinerary.
As a seasoned traveller, my wanderlust runs deep. Whether for backpacking or business travel, I have circled the globe numerous times. Now, as a mother of two, I am passionate about cultivating a love of travel in my children and placing importance on collecting experiences over things.
My husband and I have travelled extensively with our two sons, Atticus and Archer, and some of our most treasured memories have been made while on the road as a family. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing though, and along the way we’ve learned from experience what works and what doesn’t when travelling with toddlers. I hope that by sharing some of our family’s rules for the road, we can inspire your next getaway and arm you with the tools you need to make it a success.
Flying with toddlers
Our rule of thumb for a day of travel is the “no rules” rule. The ultimate goal is to arrive at your destination alive and sane. With that in mind, our philosophy of “anything goes” works well. Normal rules about screen time, junk food and schedules go out the window when we travel. Whatever it takes—until we arrive at our final destination. Then it’s back to business.
Check into discounted fares for children under 2 on most airlines, and indicate special needs you may have for your young passenger, such as a specific meal or a front-row seat with space for your child’s bags. On many airlines, you can check a stroller at the gate, so moving around inside the airport before your flight is a breeze.
Build a toddler travel survival kit
Every parent knows that there is no way to travel light when travelling with the young. These are some of the items we never leave home without when travelling with our tots.
A lint roller comes in handy for picking up crumbs left in your airline seat or at restaurants, and also takes care of glitter, Cheerios and any other droppings a toddler leaves in his or her wake. I fill a toddler-size backpack with special snacks (packets of dried seeds, dried fruit, cereal), a water bottle (flimsy airline cups are forever being knocked over), toys they haven’t seen in a while, simple crafts or colouring projects and a few new toys. When they get to the brink of a breakdown or just need a new distraction, we pull something else out of the bag.
For 21st-century parents, an iPad is a traveller’s lifesaver. Our son is allowed to use the iPad and watch movies on it when we travel. And since we restrict the use of screens in our household under normal circumstances, he savours every second of this time. On a recent flight to Los Angeles, Atticus watched Frozen for the first time (twice). He did not make a peep for the entire flight—except when he spilled my husband’s hot coffee in his lap when we got up to use the restroom. Note to self: Bring screw-top bottles for the adults as well.
Keep your itinerary light and loose
The fewer expectations you have for yourself and your travel companions, the more flexible you can be. Toddlers require routine as a general rule, so we try to keep things like naps, mealtime and bedtime similar to the way they’d be on an ordinary day at home. When we’re on the road, we usually plan only one activity per day; this might be an excursion, an activity or a museum visit. When fatigue sets in, breakdowns are inevitable—and this we like to avoid at all costs!
We recently spent a weekend in Boston. Pre-kids, we would have made reservations at multiple restaurants for each day, had lists of boutiques to check out and exhibits to visit. But because children (in general) are ticking time bombs, we consider their needs while planning our days (pat on back for proactive parenting). The first day we did a bit of walking and exploring after a large breakfast and then went back to the hotel for a nap. That afternoon we took the boys to the Boston Children’s Museum, which was a hit.
A stone’s throw from the museum is Sportello, a family-friendly Italian eatery whose approach to fresh fare will please even the pickiest eater. For dinner, we grabbed some bar seats along the large and winding counter (“Sportello” is Italian for counter service), and all four indulged in Chef Barbara Lynch’s menu of classics (I recommend the bolognese), which are crafted from only the most local and seasonal ingredients.
After that eventful day, we still had them bathed and in bed by 8:00 pm! It’s all about being realistic, which is sometimes a tough pill to swallow while on holiday.
Choose your destinations wisely
Determine what type of holiday you want to have—beach, city, mountain, adventure or relaxation—and then find a property that offers fitting amenities and landscapes. We like to book a Four Seasons property that offers either a Kids for All Seasons programme or babysitting services—that way everyone in the family can enjoy the holiday. Resort holidays, with their self-contained environments and partitioned children’s areas, make for perfect vacations with toddlers. At most resorts you’ll find large, open, grassy areas where toddlers can practice crawling, walking or tumbling, and the pools feature a shallow area perfect for introducing your kids to water, like the kids’ pool at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai.
On a recent visit to Mexico, the Concierge at Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, México, arranged a babysitter (for a fee) so that my husband and I could slip out for a quick workout, followed by dinner and drinks in an up-and-coming neighbourhood. These little escapes—no matter how brief—can make the difference after a long day spent entertaining the kids at the beach or poolside.
Finding toddler-friendly foods while travelling
Eating on the road can pose interesting challenges. To coax our kids to try new things, the finger-food trick generally succeeds. From dumplings to duck, cutting it into small pieces and adding familiar dipping sauces (ketchup is a sure bet) can work wonders.
We also have a likeness tactic that can convince our kids to try something that may not appeal at first glance. A quesadilla in Punta Mita becomes a “Mexican pizza,” a ramen bowl in Tokyo becomes “Japanese spaghetti.” And in our estimation, it’s always worthwhile to choose restaurants that cater to the little ones as well as adults. In Hong Kong, for instance, The Lounge at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong offers a full children’s menu for those days when only chicken fingers will do.
Because dinner out with kids can sometimes be challenging, we love to have a nice family meal at lunchtime when our boys are in better spirits. Afterwards, we can easily wander back to the room for naptime, and if we’re lucky, my husband and I may even get an hour to ourselves for reading on the patio.
Discovering necessities while on holiday
Pack a little less by ensuring you have toddler necessities at your destination upon arrival. Many cities have a rental and delivery service for things like high chairs, strollers, toys and even diapers. Baby’s Away services 27 U.S. states, Baby Vallarta is best for the Puerto Vallarta and Punta Mita area of Mexico, and Renting for Rascals is our go-to for the U.K.
Or call ahead to your Four Seasons hotel or resort to inquire what kid-friendly amenities they might offer. We were surprised to discover that our room at Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach had been childproofed (padded furniture corners and all) prior to our check-in. It was equipped not only with a crib, but also with extra diapers and wipes, bath toys, a miniature robe and even a Diaper Genie. All of these little details meant we could get to the task at hand (relaxation) sooner!
Night-time with toddlers on vacation
Like most new parents, we obsessed over the bedtime routine with our firstborn. We were militant about the timing of a nightly bath, books and bed. As a result of this—or, perhaps, luck—we could put our toddlers to bed anywhere. Now we always bring our favourite books from home, and a special car or truck often makes its way into the bed as well. Consistency is key.
Of course it never hurts to tucker them out in the sand at places like Four Seasons Resort Nevis or on the slopes at Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler during the day so they can barely muster an excuse when the time comes to head off to dreamland.