So, you can’t seem to quench that thirst for adventure, but you’re not sure how to vacation with a toddler in tow? We’ve been there, and we’re here to help.

It’s summer here in beautiful Raleigh, North Carolina, and it is hot! It’s sticky and humid, all the time. Walking outside feels like being dipped in a glass of hot milk. But that’s the way it’s been my whole life. Every summer seems hotter than the one before (thanks a lot, global warming), and the only way to beat the heat is to get the heck out of Dodge.

But how in tarnation are you supposed to go on vacation with a toddler?!?

Flying on a plane seems impossibly difficult, and driving further than you can go while your toddler naps feels like poking a hibernating bear. Eventually, the bear will wake up, and you will get malled. And by the time you get where you’re going, you’ll look (and feel) like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant.

image of the revenant for how to vacation with a toddler

So, does having a toddler mean you’re relegated to summers spent indoors or at a crowded public pool?

Nah.

Traveling with a toddler doesn’t have to feel like a waking nightmare. In fact, with a little extra planning, vacations with your toddler can be some of the most fun you’ll have all summer long.

So get ready to make some memories, because we’re about to let you in on how to vacation with a toddler.

How to Vacation with a Toddler: Road Trip Tips

Whoever said, “The journey is the destination,” clearly never traveled with a toddler. When road tripping with your tiny tot, the unfortunate truth is, the forecast for your journey will most likely be a crap-storm of tantrums and melt-downs mixed with a flurry of pit stops for those toddlers who are potty training. The best part of your journey will most likely be arriving at your destination.

From the moment you get out of the car and close the door behind you right up until you open the door for your toddling terror and release him from his aluminum prison, you’ll be free.

There are ways to avoid the madness though, and with some careful planning, the journey might become one of the most relaxing parts of your vacation.

1. Start with playtime. It may sound counterintuitive but engaging in an hour or more of playtime before getting in the car can help calm your toddler down for the long trip.

2. Travel while your toddler sleeps. This one is easier said than done since many toddlers fight sleep like they’re fighting for the last drop of water in the driest desert on the hottest day of the year, but hitting the road at the right time might be your ticket to a relaxing ride with your favorite people.

If you’ll be in the car for 2-4 hours, try leaving home just before nap time. Your toddler will likely fall asleep on the way, and when he wakes up, the ride will be over (or nearly so). He’ll be rested and excited to be on vacation, and you’ll have scored some well deserved quiet time.

If you’re traveling further than a few hours away, consider leaving home at bed time. Driving through the night can be tiring, but if you and a copilot drive in shifts, you’ll arrive at your destination cool, calm, and collected with your sanity intact.

3. Use screens to your advantage. Let me preface this one by saying that screens shouldn’t be your only means of entertaining your toddler. They should be used strategically for no more than two hours a day (roughly the length of one movie) because research has shown that too much screen time can delay speech in children under the age of two.

That being said, there’s a reason why Mini-Vans and SUV’s come equipped with televisions in the headrests and headphone jacks in the seats (and it’s not all about boosting Honda’s bottom line). It’s because movies are magic. They’re made by wizards in Hollywood with college degrees in making your kid sit still for more than five seconds straight without losing his grits. (For those of you wondering what grits are, you’ll just have to visit the southeastern United States to find out.)

When my son Ben and I recently took a trip to Hanging Rock State Park near our home (about 3 hours one way) I downloaded Pets (one of Ben’s favorite movies) on our Netflix account, and took it with us on the iPad. The movie, along with a nap and a lot of singing, got us through 6 hours of driving in a single day with only 15 minutes of fussing.

4. Sing, dance, let your hair down. If your toddler is screaming during a long car ride, there’s a good chance he’s bored. Playing games like “I Spy with My Little Eye” (guess what the other is seeing) or the Color Game (try to find every color in the rainbow) can help pass the time. Singing songs together like “Old McDonald Had a Farm” and “Bingo Was His Name-O” will entertain your toddler and help you survive the long stretches between pit stops.

Here’s one of Ben’s favorite songs to sing on long drives, at bed time, pretty much anytime really. This one’s an original so let me know what you think in the comments below!

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How to Vacation with a Toddler: Air Travel Advice

Air travel is troublesome enough without throwing a toddling two-year-old into the mix. Here are some ways to make flying with your toddler less of a nightmare.

image of How to Vacation with a Toddler - Air travel

5. Book your flight early in the day. The earlier the better in fact. Early flights mean shorter security lines and fewer passengers (typically). They also mean fewer delays, and, as an added bonus, your toddler will be tired and may sleep for at least part of the journey.

6. Leave the bulky stroller at home. Using an umbrella stroller or kid harness will make navigating the airport (and security) much easier.

7. Don’t overpack. A lot of parents try to pack anything and everything that might keep their toddler happy for a long flight. What they don’t consider is how hard it’ll be to carry all that stuff on and off the plane while wrangling a fiery two-year-old. To make things easier on everyone, pack only the essentials:

  • 1 comfort item
  • Diapers and wipes
  • Pullups even if your toddler is potty trained
  • A smartphone or tablet loaded with his favorite movies and music
  • Headphones
  • Water
  • Snacks (preferably low in sugar)

8. Give your toddler the window seat. Your little one could easily smash his fingers or spill hot coffee from a passing food cart if sat near the aisle. Protect your tot by giving him the window seat or seating him in between two adults.

9. Use Pull ups, even if your toddler is potty trained. Getting to the bathroom on a plane isn’t always easy, especially if you’re in a hurry. Using Pull Ups, even if your toddler is potty trained, will give you and your little one peace of mind on long flights.

How to Vacation with a Toddler: Hotel How-To’s

Image of How to vacation with a toddler - Hotel stays10. Spring for a room with a view. Don’t cheap out on the accommodations. Your itinerary will likely revolve around your toddler’s schedule. Naps and mealtime will take first priority, so any time spent outside the room will most likely be short lived. Since you’ll be spending so much time in the room, make sure you’ve got a good view to keep you company.

11. Make sure you get a separate bedroom. If you only take one thing away from our how to vacation with a toddler guide, this is it. A separate bedroom or suite will help protect your sanity while you’re in your hotel room. If your child is a light sleeper, it’s great to be able to give them their own space so they can sleep well and wake up rested for the day’s adventures. Nothing ruins the perfect vacation destination like an overtired toddler.

12. Don’t forget the bed rails. Unless you enjoy spending time in the ER with a concussed toddler, bring the bed rails. Portable rails such as these Extra Long Hide Away Bed Rails by Regalo can ensure you and your child get a good night’s sleep without having to worry about rolling out of bed onto a concrete hotel floor.

How to Vacation with a Toddler: Sight-Seeing Suggestions

Sight-seeing with a toddler can be darn near impossible. If your son or daughter is anything like mine, a sight seeing trip to a museum or gallery quickly turns into a rootin’ tootin’ toddler rodeo. I can’t remember the last time I went to a museum and actually read the signs posted at the exhibits. More often, I get a second or two to glance around while I run past to catch my sure-to-be-track-star toddler.

Which begs the question: Why are they called toddlers anyway? They don’t toddle, they flat out fly! (If anyone has an answer, feel free to leave it in the comment section below)

Okay, back to the matter at hand.

If sight-seeing is what you’re after, I recommend the following:

13. Skip the fancy pants art galleries and expensive boutiques. Save the fun adult stuff for date night. Vacationing with a toddler means visiting more kid-friendly places (because you can’t afford to replace that priceless painting your tot keeps ducking the velvet ropes to go touch).

Image of How to vacation with a toddler - toddler activities14. Forget the reservations. Don’t bother with those fancy restaurants where the wait is long and the food is strange. Instead, choose an eatery that everyone will enjoy.

15. Plan outings your toddler will enjoy. My son Ben loves the city. He will wander the streets of a crowded metropolis for ages marveling at the towering cranes and tall buildings, listening for sirens, and looking for the bright red flash of a passing fire truck.

If the mere mention of spending the day in a crowded metropolis with a toddler caused your chest to tighten and nearly set off a panic attack, try a park or kid friendly museum.

How to Vacation with a Toddler: The Takeaway

Vacationing with a toddler can be challenging, but it’s worth it. There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you’re sharing one of your favorite places or experiences with your little one. These are memories you’ll treasure for a long, long time, so make sure to snap lots of pictures and have lots of fun! A little planning and some realistic expectations are all it takes to enjoy a wonderful vacation with your toddler.

We hope you enjoyed this post about how to vacation with a toddler! Which tips have you tried, and what works best for you? Let us know in the comment section below.

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