Whether you love a local road trip or jetsetting around the globe, your habits change when you bring your child along for the ride. Gone are the days where you could kick back with a magazine or listen to your favorite tunes; now it's all about Dora the Explorer and sufficient snacks. Since your toddler probably has an unpredictable personality, you can't stop all travel-related tantrums. Instead, make the road less traveled a little more bearable with the right prep work.
If you're traveling by plane, you'll get to your destination faster, but you're also at the mercy of a flight crew and roughly 150 other passengers. Unlike driving, you can't just stop the plane and take a mom-and-kid time out when you're feeling stressed, so you'll need to plan accordingly.
- Dress for comfort. Everyone wants their baby to look chic, but traveling in a scratchy dress doesn't exactly spell out comfort for your little one. Instead, dress her in layers, since airplanes are notorious for varying temperatures. Allowing your toddler to sleep in comfy travel clothes the night before an early flight will make for an easy transition from bed to the car.
- Boredom busters. Raid the dollar store before your trip and pick up games to keep your toddler occupied. From coloring books to paint-by-numbers and puzzles, these work to keep your toddler out of trouble. If you have the time, wrap each new toy separately. The unwrapping of each new item will keep your tot occupied even before you crack open the new gear.
- Make friends. You're not always going to be seated by fellow mamas, but that doesn't mean you can't make nice with your seatmates. Introduce yourself and your child to whoever is sharing your row. If your toddler gets unruly, apologize and do what you can to calm her down. You can also befriend the flight attendants, your allies when you look to warm up food or get extra snacks.
- Board last. TheTravelGals.com's Kara William suggests, "Board the plane last. Yes, this bucks the convention of allowing families with young children to board FIRST, but the plane will be sitting on the tarmac for a long while before you actually take off. Allow your toddler to burn off energy in the airport as long as possible. The less amount of time you're in a confined space, the better."
If you're hitting the road by car, you'll have an advantage over air passengers. You're not at the mercy of anything but your own schedule, which means plenty of stops along the way. Of course, it also means a longer travel time and more opportunities for meltdowns.
- Bring comfort items. Is your toddler obsessed with her blankie? Since you're not restricted by carry-on limits, bring comfort items along for the ride. You'll probably be rewarded by less whining and even more naps along the way.
- Invest in entertainment. One of the best investments you can make for your road trip is a portable DVD player and a set of kid-sized headphones. Pop in an Elmo DVD and enjoy your quiet time. If you don't have a portable DVD player, try loading your smart phone or tablet with movies and TV episodes instead.
- Snack away. Load up on kid-sized eats, so long as your toddler rides in an upright position. A travel container packed with cereal pieces, fruit snacks and small chunks of soft fruit can be passed back. If your child still rides in a reclined position, wait until you stop for a rest to offer food.
- Schedule stops. Williams warns, "On road trips, plan to get out of the car at least every 90 minutes to let your toddler run around. Remove any notions you have about making 'good time.'" Scout out rest stops, gas stations and parks so your little one doesn't get sick of riding in the car during your trip.
Things to Avoid En Route
- DON'T: Remove your child from a car seat while the car's in motion, no matter how distraught she seems. She's much safer having a tantrum in her car seat than being calm outside of it—besides that, it's illegal in most states.
- DON'T: Ignore captain requests while traveling via plane. It doesn't matter how bad your child has to use the potty—if the fasten seatbelt sign's lit, stay in your seat. If you're worried she can't hold it, try traveling in disposable undies, just in case.
- DON'T: Offer any foods that could be a choking hazard, especially when traveling via car. Giving food to a toddler riding in a reclined position could cause a major problem, especially if you can't pull the car over in time to notice and react.
- DON'T: Forget nap times when scheduling flights. You can't guarantee your child will nap on the plane, thanks to the new and exciting environment. Try to schedule flights around nap and bedtimes to ensure the best behavior in the air.
- DON'T: Drive distracted. If you're the driver for your road trip, pay attention to what's in front of you. It might seem important to pass back more snacks and toys, but it could be dangerous. Have your spouse or a friend along for the ride, or wait it out until you can pull over and address your toddler's issues.
Traveling with your toddler doesn't have to be a headache. The right prep work means you're always a step ahead of your child's mood swings. If all else fails, a few apologetic looks and a mental reminder that you'll be at your destination soon enough can help you weather the rest of the trip.