How does a Penelope travel? She makes a series of lists based on:
- what’s needed according to the location selected
- how many days she’ll be away
- the activities that will be a part of the trip
She (and I mean I) also double and triple checks the itinerary. Copies are sent to relatives not traveling. Dog sitters have all emergency info in plain view on the fridge. The house is cleaned before leaving. Weather and traffic reports are assessed and color coded files aren’t out of the question.
So, ready for this piece of truth?
I almost took my daughter (an infant at the time) on an overnight a year ago but my husband felt the need to step in and offer to keep her home when I started panicking and (NO JOKE) called the hotel I would be staying at to make sure there was hot water. At a hotel. In California. Yes… I needed to make sure I could give her a bath. I’m a Penelope. Routine is my middle name. Didn’t matter that we’d be there just one night. That baby was gonna get her bath.
Well, I didn’t end up taking her. And guess what? I think I should have. I needed to pull off the Band-aid and see for myself that kids really are amenable and having them off schedule and out of their comfort zones gives them (and their Penelope mamas) a chance to learn and grow.
So while I didn’t do that trip, I did just get back from my first 10-day vacation WITH CHILD! I travelled with a toddler!
We went to Kauai with our two-year-old and while it was interesting to see how she’d “go with the flow” in some instances, I made sure I was decently prepared for most circumstances. Not just in terms of knowing what to bring but also in recognizing what to think (and not think) about in order to be fully present.
I needed to refine my expectations for each day while travelling with a toddler. My little one was not going to take her naps on time on travel days and I needed to get over that. We weren’t going to take in cliffside views if there weren’t gates to help us keep her a safe distance from danger. Two vacationing adults who love to see and do as much as possible each day we’re away together is very different than two vacationing adults with a toddler… at the ocean… for the first time. But like I said, it’s a learning experience and I learned a lot.
Here are 5 ways to have a successful (and relaxing) vacation with a toddler.
1. Take snacks… And not just for your toddler.
You know you need snacks for the little one, but who else do you need to be thinking about when preparing snacks? Those who have to sit next to you and your kiddo. We brought a big pack of lollipops because kids sometimes struggle with the pain that can occur due to extra pressure on their ear drums with the changes in altitude. And we brought some lollipops to share with those around us, to say “thanks” for putting up with the wiggly, whiny one. This goodwill went a long way.
Snack are also distractions. They’re activities that kill time. Here are a few of my faves:
- Animal crackers. Your kid’s going to get filthy. These crackers don’t come in colors that’ll stick to and possibly stain their clothes.
- Grapes: I cut each one in half (I’m not trying to give the Heimlich Maneuver mid-flight) and gave them to her one. at. a. time. That killed a good 20 minutes of air time.
- Cheese sticks. Healthy protein that won’t crumble when packed.
- Ice. I’m not kidding. Why deal with sticky fingers when toddlers love feeling the cold cubes and you love knowing they aren’t coming at you with greasy hands. Many thanks to the flight attendant who knew this trick of the trade.
What else do you need to have within reach while in flight? Not in the overhead compartment but literally in your purse if you can? Extra clothes. For everyone in your crew. We all know why. That tiny little cabinet of a bathroom is not always ready when your youngster is.
2. Travel in packs.
When you walk into a restaurant while on vacation and you’re eating with a toddler, don’t just look for the table where you’ll get the best view. Find one next to a table filled by another family enjoying their meal. Kids love kids. Little kids love observing older kids behaviors and big kids love being seen as the big kids!
My daughter fell in love with a 10-year-old named Emma and I kinda did too! Emma was just as bored with her lunch as Michaela was with hers so they waved at each other, gave each other high fives and ended up coloring together while all parents in attendance enjoyed that much more time in a peaceful paradise.
Hint: This suggestion can be applied to airplane seats too! If you’re able to pick a seat once you board and you see a family, find an empty seat near them and grab it. And just think, if the judgey flyers are on the flight, they won’t know which kid to blame! Win-win.
3. Balance chill time with activity time.
We learned by day 2 that we can’t jam-pack a day with too many events when these are all new surroundings for our daughter. She was overwhelmed and we were exhausted by 3pm after that first day.
We learned to have leisurely mornings where she could play with with toys she was familiar with while we took turns running (an activity that gives both me and the hubby a bit of alone time to regroup and recharge) and then get ready for the day. We were then ready for each afternoon’s adventure.
4. Limit the luxuries so you can feel really good about the splurges you select.
We picked one meal to have out each day. We didn’t want to overspend OR take in too many extra calories while on vacation. We also didn’t think dinners out with a toddler who’s usually asleep by 7pm sounded fair to anyone involved. So yeah. We had lunch out each day and picked up gourmet groceries to then cook together at the condo we were staying at each night.
A sunset makes any meal that much tastier. Who knew!?!
5. AirBnB is your friend.
Speaking of that condo, it was one of the best choices we made. Here’s why it worked better for our travelling family than a hotel room:
- You can wash and dry clothes before heading home rather than dealing with piles of dirty laundry that’ll leave you feeling behind the first day you’re back home.
- You can give your toddler some of her favorite foods rather than paying $10 for the short list of options on the kids menu at most restaurants. Michaela was totally over chicken nuggets and cheese quesadillas. She just wanted her yogurt and honey cups. I don’t think that’s asking too much. Thanks to the fridge in the unit, she could have them.
- You don’t have to read in the bathroom! We stayed two nights in a hotel and guess what? When the little one goes to bed at 7 but you want to stay up with some decent light late into the night you end up sitting on the bathroom tile or on the toilet. Memorable yes, but not something we’re trying to repeat.
I loved our vacation time together. I was prepared for the worst but I was also prepared to have fun and I really, really did. Yes, there were the expected meltdowns, and yes, we had to skip some hikes that would have been a little too difficult for a two-year-old, but we made so many lasting memories in seeing a few of her “firsts” on this trip. In a sense, they were “firsts” for us, as we test the waters in this whole parenting thing, too.