Traveling with a young child can seem like a scary scenario for any parent.
Even the most vacation-savvy parents may shudder at the thought of boarding a flight or loading a car with young children, but having a baby isn’t the end of the world traveler’s journey.
Katie Brown, an independent family travel consultant with Ciao Bambino and a mom, told TODAY Parents that parents who want to travel with a toddler “absolutely” can.
“There are many articles that aim to be funny about how miserable it is to travel with small children, but I have found traveling with a small child to be one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had as a mom, and I believe that I customers feel the same way,” Brown said.
Benefits of traveling with a toddler
Brown said the benefit of traveling with a toddler is that parents can remove all distractions from their day and simply enjoy watching their baby explore and learn in a new environment.
“They’re still young enough that parents can dictate most activities, but old enough where packing and moving is easier than with an infant,” she said.
For parents on the road or in the great outdoors, Brown offered six important tips.
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6 tips for traveling with a small child
Choose the right location.
If you’re not someone who likes to spend a lot of time in a busy city, vacationing in Paris with a small child will probably be more stressful for you. If you’ve never been one to enjoy the logistics and cleanup of going to the beach on vacation while trying to keep a 1-year-old from eating sand, it won’t feel relaxing.
“I recommend choosing a place that is fun for adults and/or older children in the family traveling,” Brown told TODAY Parents. “Anywhere can be made a fun vacation with the kids, but it has to be fun for the adults too.”
Choose the length that suits your desired location.
If you’re flying from Phoenix to Japan with a 2-year-old and only have a week off, you’ll spend a lot of that week adjusting to the new time zone and schedule, and likely won’t feel like you’ve had a chance to really enjoy the destination or the time you spent together .
If you only have a long weekend to travel with a 3-and-under crowd, choose something that can be done on a short drive or flight.
“If you have more time to spend in a new place, traveling a greater distance won’t seem as daunting,” Brown said.
Find the right accommodation.
Brown said finding the right accommodation makes a huge difference in the quality of a holiday with young children.
“Ideally, choose a property that has some separation between where your baby sleeps and where you hang out during naps or bedtime,” she said. “As nice as a hotel is, if you’re sitting on the bathroom floor every afternoon during your nap, it makes the experience a little less relaxing.”
If the budget doesn’t allow for a spacious multi-bedroom apartment or suite, Brown shared that she’s found relaxation with a balcony or patio.
“A villa or apartment can be a nice option, but be aware that it can affect the feel of the trip, especially for the family person who usually cooks breakfast,” she said.
If the purpose of the trip is to explore a new area or visit family, an apartment may be the most suitable.
If the goal is to get away from the routine and take a break from washing dishes, a hotel with a great breakfast and a pool will probably feel more in line with the vacation vision.
Choose the right activities.
What these “right steps” are will vary depending on the family’s preferences.
“I think the most successful thing is choosing activities that parents or older kids would enjoy, but finding ways to engage your baby with them,” Brown told TODAY Parents.
She continued: “It can look like choosing a cooking class in Tuscany at Cottage with animals and a playground, not in the kitchen of a professional chef. If parents love art, maybe combine a short visit to the Musée d’Orsay with a hands-on craft experience where the kids can have a bit of fun and play.
Brown said that when she traveled to Portugal with her young daughter, “it was as easy as bringing a ball. We could have a great lunch outside on the patio, and when our daughter felt angry, one of the adults would chase her, while she was chasing a ball around the pedestrian square while the other adult was drinking wine.”
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Pay attention to what schedule works for you.
“I hate to break it to you, but your baby isn’t going to sleep on vacation just because you’re at the beach or maybe you have a unicorn,” Brown said. “If you have a kid who turns into a gremlin after 7 p.m., a long late-night dinner won’t make your trip feel like a vacation.”
Instead, opt for a great breakfast or a fun lunch, and for dinner, get a great local takeaway to enjoy on the balcony while watching the sunset.
The reverse is also true.
“If you’re a night owl or you’re traveling east and changing time zones, spending an early morning day with activities just isn’t going to be fun,” Brown said. “In this case, find ways to enjoy the evening. Obviously, it won’t hurt to deviate from the home schedule, but you also need to consider that tired, hungry babies are not pleasant to be around.”.
Manage your expectations.
Brown said that might be the most important piece of advice.
“If you try to force your dreams of a travel schedule on a 2-year-old before the kids travel, you’re going to spend the vacation frustrated and tired,” she said. “If you go on a trip knowing that your days probably won’t go as perfectly as you planned, but you think you’ll find fun in the chaos, you’ll find more relaxation and happiness when traveling with young children.”
How is traveling with a toddler different from traveling with a baby?
When parents travel with a baby, Brown said, babies are still on the adult schedule, just with more gear.
“As they become mobile, it becomes important and fun to slow down on vacation and make time for the child to play,” she said.
What types of travel are best for young children?
It totally depends on the family. Brown told TODAY Parents that any trip can work for babies, as long as you tailor it to the family.
“The biggest trend I see with babies is incorporating urban or more ‘active’ time into an area where there’s more space to play,” she said. “As with most travel, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula, so it’s important to have an advisor help you sort through your options or research destinations to see what accommodations and activities are on offer.”
Traveling with a small child
Before having children, Brown read many well-meaning articles about how stressful having children is, emphasizing how you lose a part of yourself, how vacations are now “trips” and how you’ll never have time for anything you love.
“I loved traveling before kids, and I was scared to have kids because of these ‘funny’ anecdotes,” Brown told TODAY Parents magazine. “If I could go back to my new mom, who was so worried that traveling for my baby would be stressful, I would tell her that while it’s a different experience than traveling without kids, it’s also an incredibly beautiful experience.”