Travelling with a toddler: How to not lose it on family holidays
Life with a toddler (aka cute dictator) is hectic. That doesn’t mean your family holidays have to be.
With a little preparation, you’ll be able to avoid stressful dinners out, Hulk-like meltdowns from changes to routine, waterfall-level tears on long road trips, and be friends with your flight attendant at the end of flights.
Here are some tips to help you when travelling with a toddler. (If your little one is under one, here’s something we prepared earlier to help on holidays with babies.)
Where to go
Toddlers generally love to explore the outdoors, get messy with sand and enjoy meeting animals face-to-face. Here are a few places to try these experiences on your next family break.
Talk with the animals
Really get away from it all with a trip to the country. Your toddler will love to meet the sheep, horses, cows and chickens on a farm stay in the Scenic Rim, Sunshine Coast Hinterland or Southern Queensland Country.
They may not be able to get fully hands-on with feeding the animals, but the excitement you’ll witness when they can live out their ‘Old McDonald’ nursery rhymes is priceless and worth the risk of a cow pat incident.
Keep it simple with a beach break; wherever there’s water, there are always happy toddlers. We have had some wonderful worry-free holidays near the Whitsunday’s Whitehaven Beach, Fraser Island’s Lake McKenzie, Stradbroke’s Cylinder Beach and Tangalooma Island Resort on Moreton Island.
~ Rene Young from Together We Roam
Recharge with a healthy bite and smoothie and check out the kid-friendly cafes sprinkled around Brisbane’s south side. There are always great activities for kids (including toddlers) at QAGOMA, Queensland Museum and Sciencentre or the State Library.
There are loads of swimming spots, animal experiences, national parks and day trips in all directions including the Great Barrier Reef, and you’ll have easy access to Green and Fitzroy Islands from Cairns, and Magnetic Island from Townsville.
How long to go for
Holidays with a toddler can be done over a weekend but you’ll have more time to relax and truly sink into the holiday vibe with four to five days, or even a week or more. As long as you have activities planned with your little person in mind and keep a similar routine, they will be happy to explore the world with you and your family. Overnight stays are not ideal if you’re looking to kick-back but they are do-able for events or special occasions.
As long as you have activities planned with your little person in mind and keep a similar routine, they’ll be happy to explore the world with you and your family. Overnight stays are not ideal if you’re looking to kick-back but they’re do-able for events or special occasions.
Travelling with kids is very different to travelling alone or as a couple. We used to squeeze as much as we could into each day, but now we have to slow it down a little and stop and smell the roses, pick them… and maybe even make a fairy garden with them! When travelling, remember that everything is new and exciting for your little adventurers and it’s not just about your destination but all the fun activities you can do along the way.
~ Tracy from The Blonde Nomads (Mum of Ziggy and Marli)
How to road trip with a toddler
Both short and long road trips can be fun with a young family. The key is to plan your leaving time around their nap time and plan stops along the way during longer road trips where your toddler can race around a playground while you fuel up the car and caffeinate yourself.
Here’s a few other tips for your road trip with a toddler:
- Pack a couple of their favourite toys and books to keep them distracted and busy in the backseat.
- Pack a non-spill sippy cup and snacks in sealed containers. Things like sandwiches, apples, muesli bars, rice cakes and corn thins, dry cereal, vegetable sticks, popcorn or pasta work well. Bananas are great if they don’t like doing renditions of the Wiggles’ “Mashed banana” tune in real life!
- Be your own tour guide and highlight the fun things you spot along the way to your little backseat friend. Things like cows, horses, ducks, bridges, tunnels and diggers work a treat. Have your toddler count out items or ask them about colours of buildings as you drive past.
Prep or stream your toddler playlist with plenty of their favourite tunes or download kid-specific podcasts like Story Time or Stories Podcast for audio books or the Sesame Street Podcast for upbeat furry tunes.
You can’t beat a road trip during the toddler years. Even if your child isn’t a great car traveller, you can make it work. Our kids adapted to the car and learned to love the experience. Even if they get sick every now and then on windy roads, prepare for it and you can easily pull over – it’s much harder to do that on a plane! And the flexibility of road trips, the slower travel, and the ability to carry more luggage makes this another winner for toddler travel.
~ Craig Makepeace from YTravel Blog (dad of Kalyra and Savannah)
How to fly with a toddler
Whether you’ve previously tested your nerves and have flown with your baby or not, here’s a few things to consider when you fly with a toddler.
If you haven’t heard of ‘How to Dad’ (YouTube sensation who shares his helpful parenting hacks), you need to see this.
Most airlines class a child under two as a baby so you can keep things cosy and share your seat with your mini me. Between the ages of two to 12, you’ll need to purchase an additional child seat. By that stage, you’ll be happy to have your own space. Each airline is slightly different so check the rules regarding age of travellers before you book.
Airlines do their best to accommodate seating arrangements for families to keep everyone together. If you’re able to select your seats before the flight, aim to get a window seat for your toddler or yourself as they’ll love to check out what’s happening outside as you take off. Hot tip: Your toddler may want to explore the cabin once the seatbelt sign is off, so make friends with your aisle buddies if you don’t have the whole row to yourself.
Allow a bit more fat in your usual pre-flight schedule. Things seem to take a bit more time when you have a toddler to wrangle through a busy airport. Add 10 or 20 minutes to your planning if you’re flying with any oversized items like a pram, car seat or Portacot. Your little one will be mesmerised (and possibly scared) by the general airport surroundings so make sure you explain what’s happening as you check-in, go through security and check out the departure gates. Don’t forget your toddler’s passport for international flights but if you’re keeping your trip local, bring along one piece of ID for your little one like a Medicare card.
What to pack for the flight
Pack a small backpack for your toddler to carry. Trunkis are another helpful option so your child can sit out the wait times on their bags during transit. The important things to pack are: nappies and wipes (definitely include more than you’d normally need for the flight time), spare clothes for both parents and your toddler, blankets to keep them rugged up, wraps to help reduce light while they sleep, books and toys to keep them comforted and entertained, and their favourite snacks and drinks (consider containers that reduce mid-flight spillages). You can find kid-friendly headphones and bring a headphone splitter so you can catch-up on your fave kids movie or TV show. You may want to pack age-appropriate travel games, play dough, pencils and colouring-in books or stickers. Who doesn’t love stickers?
There’s no prize for rushing onto the plane first. Avoid the boarding line and run your tike around the gate area to tire them out. As you get settled on-board, introduce yourself and your toddler to the flight attendant in your area as they can be are very helpful with special requests during the flight. Try to keep their nap and eating times similar to their regular schedule during the flight. It’s a good idea to ensure your little person is sucking on something during take-off and landing to help with potential ear pain so keep their sippy cup, chewy treats or dummies handy. Keep them up to date and explain what’s happening during the flight to calm them down during potentially scary situations like seatbelt bells, updates from the crew and turbulence.
You are your child’s biggest security item but if they have a favourite soft toy or comforter make sure you keep that handy. Busy places like airports can be daunting for the best of us let alone for little ones. All the hustle and bustle can feel foreign, having access to a little piece of home can be very reassuring and calming in a new environment.
~ Kylie Camps from The Sleep Mama
Where to stay when you’re holidaying with a toddler
You’ll spend a lot of time at your accommodation so don’t forget these tips when you book your next family break:
- Holiday houses and serviced apartments with separate bedrooms are ideal to provide a quiet space for your toddler to sleep.
- Check whether a washing machine and dryer are provided. This will help you keep up-to-date with washing while you’re away to reduce the craziness on your return. You can also pack less as a result. Win win.
- Bring snacks and easy-to-prepare meals to make the most of your holiday time. If you’re hoping to avoid the kitchen on holidays, find accommodation with an onsite restaurant or strong cafe scene nearby. If you’re keen to keep things on budget, ask about the kitchen facilities in your accommodation. Request a high chair if you need it.
- Will you need a Portacot or a single bed? Ask the accommodation provider to provide a safety rail for recent big bed converts or even a lower trundle style bed. Check if you need to bring sheets and blankets. This is often the case for Portacots.
- Most toddlers are comfortable keeping clean in the bath or shower but if your little person has a preference for a bath, ask ahead (or make do with a laundry tub). Either way, BYO rubber ducky.
- Make sure you check out the accommodation website and social channels to get a feel of the rooms, layout and general level of child proofing. Think about stairs without railings, heirloom accessories and high-end serving ware in unlocked cupboards. You may not be able to relax in a place where you spend more than the overnight charge to replace all the special (now broken) things after an ‘uh-oh’ moment.
Save time and avoid grocery shopping on holidays with an online shop before you go for essentials like nappies, wipes, snacks. You can arrange for it to be delivered when you arrive to save carrying all those items with you.
~ Julia Pavey (mum of Alexander, Thalia and Curtis)
Things to do (and how to do them) when you’re holidaying with a toddler
Planning things to do with toddlers on holidays is a balancing act. You need to include things you know they’ll like, introduce new fun activities and try not to break their regular sleep and food routine.
Pending their sleep schedule, the morning tends to work best for little people so if you plan one big thing each day, try to get out there and be on your way back by lunch time.
Take the opportunity to snooze when your toddler is napping so you’ll still have some energy for relaxed activities around where you’re staying in the afternoon.
Here are some ideas of things to do while you’re on holiday with a toddler:
- Toddlers love exploring outdoors. A daily walk is a great way to get your bearings. While you’re out and about, your toddler will be taking in the new sights and sounds – the local birds, the cars and buses and other items of interest (usually an accurate radar for swings and slides). Hopefully, you’ll spot a playground on your loop and does anyone need an excuse to find a morning coffee on the way back to the accommodation?
- Pack your bike with a child seat or hire one and see the destination from two wheels. Or pack their balance bike or trike and let them hoon around safe paths around parks and beaches.
- Wet weather plan: Bring a set of colouring pencils, colouring-in books and draw some of the things you’ve seen on holidays together. Play Dough and bubbles are always winners as well. Check whether local galleries and museums have kids activities on as well. If you’re in Brisbane, head to QAGOMA, Workshops Rail Museum, the State Library or the Queensland Museum for fun indoors.
- Go to a local food producer or forage at a foodie market, grab your rug and do a picnic outdoors at a local park.
- Your toddlers will love a short visit to a local farm, zoo, animal sanctuary or aquarium. Paradise Country is a great spot for your toddler to meet farm animals if you’re based at the Gold Coast. Your little one will let out a few “oooohhhh”s in appreciation of the underwater tunnel at Sea Life Sunshine Coast and the Cairns Aquarium. Or check out snoozing koalas and feed kangaroos at Australia Zoo, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Set your expectations to low in terms of how long they will last though and respect their regular snooze schedule.
- Keep an eye on the local events listings for farmers and craft markets, live music events and foodie festivals. Toddlers love people watching and dancing like nobody’s watching (except, everyone is watching and adding footage to their 18th birthday video compilation).
Make the most of the free entry. One of the most brilliant things about toddler travel is that they often gain free entry to theme parks and attractions. Your toddler is not too young to go. They love to explore, play and see new things just like you do. Generally, they will be happy just to be with you. Make the most of this, the older they get the more input kids will have into your itinerary.
~ Paula Geinitz from Jet Setting Kids
What to pack
In the lead up to your family break, write a list of the important things you need to pack and put things aside as you think of them. That way you’ll be ahead of the game when your toddler knows you need to pack and is throwing toys and tantrums.
Here’s a few things to consider packing on your holiday with a toddler:
- Clothes – Pack for two changes of clothes per day and one set of pyjamas or onesie. Shoes or sandals, socks, wet weather jacket, hats, togs and swimming nappies for warmer weather.
- Meal time – Plastic plates, bowls, cups or sippy cups, spoons and forks.
- Sleeping – Portacot, sheets and blankets, snuggle friend.
- Toys and books – Less is more. Just remember to pack their favourites.
- Toilet training – Bring the essential items you’re using at home to be consistent with your toilet-training regime.
- Bath – Baby wash liquid, shampoo and bath toys, toddler toothbrush and toothpaste.
- Out and about – Travel size pram (aka the GB Pockit, the world’s smallest folding stroller) or toddler carrier, baby sunscreen, rug or picnic blanket and insect spray.
- Nappies, wipes and nappy rash cream. Work out the rough number of nappies per day and add a few extras.
- First aid kit, band-aids, thermometer, baby Nurofen or Panadol.
We always pack using re-usable large Ikea snap lock bags. We place everything Reid will wear each day in its own bag. This saves so much time going through the suitcase looking for socks, underwear and the rest of his outfits.
Who’s ready to go and make some memories? If you feel like a few more tips before you head off on your family holiday, take a look at these 38 tips from well-travelled parents (including a few mummy and daddy bloggers):