Black and white photo of a mom and daughter walking through a bamboo lined path

How to Travel with a Toddler (By Road and Air)

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When I got pregnant, I vowed not to let my new role as a mom keep me from traveling. I have a much younger brother and sister and remember traveling the world with them when they were tiny little things. If my dad and stepmom could do it, so could I, I thought. A couple months later, however, we found ourselves in a global pandemic. Most of our family had to wait months and jump through many hoops to meet our daughter. And forget about any travel on our end. After almost a year of parenthood, however, we finally took a trip. And then another one. Both were short road trips, but it felt good to get out of town! Traveling with a toddler was a lot different than what we were used to, though. Much harder, if I’m being honest. But it’s so worth it, and once you rip the travel band aid off it all starts to feel much more plausible.

What’s so hard about it?!

Well, for starters, you have to bring a whole lot of stuff. Pre-baby, I’d been in the habit of packing a mere carry-on the night before a trip. That seems like an impossibility (or at least a very bad idea) when traveling with a toddler. You really have to plan every detail. You also have to consider things like activities, weather, and naps. And bear in mind that anything you do will be completely exhausting for both you and your little one(s). Gone are the days of staying out from dawn until dusk and wandering around new cities without a care in the world. That just won’t fly with a baby or toddler in tow. At the same time, though, you get to see the world through the eyes of your child, which in my experience is pure magic.

Father taking photos of daughter in Joshua Tree National Park

I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom. Honestly, I can’t stand when other parents do that to me. The whole “oh you think that was hard? Just wait until this happens” act makes me want roll my eyes until they fall out of my skull. Yes, traveling is much different with a young child. But that doesn’t mean you’re not capable of both making it work and having an incredible time. In this post, I’ll break down how we do just that.

Choosing accommodations

When traveling with a toddler, you’ll want to make sure you have suitable lodging. Is the space safe for a curious kid? Do they have any amenities for babies or toddlers? I was delighted to find that some hotels and vacation rentals have things like high chairs and pack and plays that you can use! Those types of amenities are an absolute dream because they cut down on how much stuff you’ll need to bring.

You might also want to look into the presence of comfort based amenities like air conditioning, a dishwasher, or a washer and dryer. The cabin we stayed in on our first trip with our daughter didn’t have air conditioning. Most of the rentals I looked at didn’t, so I assumed that it just wasn’t necessary in that area. I was dead wrong. During the day it was a solid 97 degrees fahrenheit inside, even with multiple fans blasting. At night it was absolutely freezing. So believe me when I tell you that these sorts of things are worth looking into.

Finally, if you can arrange to stay in a place with a separate sleeping space for your child, do it. Obviously this isn’t always possible, but when it is, it makes such a difference. Our daughter has slept in her own room since she was 6 months old. We all value that personal space, and it can be hard on all of us when we don’t have it. I’m not saying a two bedroom hotel or home is always necessary. We often book hotel rooms with suite layouts, where there’s a little living room. If that living room is behind a door or around a corner, it makes for a great place for a toddler bed. Or if that’s not an option, you can always get crafty and partition your space to block out light and help your little one sleep better.


When packing for a toddler, make a list. In fact, make two lists. I find that it’s helpful to have both a base list of essential items (pack and play, baby monitor, things like that) and then one that’s specific to a trip (think weather and activity appropriate clothing).

I like to keep a toiletry kit (the Tubby Todd one I linked is pricey, but so worth it in my opinion) and a packing cube with our travel baby monitor and sound machine ready to go for trips. It’s nice to have one less thing to think about.

Sometimes you’ll want to buy things when you get there. Like diapers. That way you don’t have to waste valuable suitcase space. So it’s always wise to scope out nearby stores and make sure that you’ll have any necessities readily accessible.


If your kid isn’t used to long drives but you plan on taking a road trip, do a few practice runs to help get them used to it. You don’t need to go too far, but venturing an hour so away can definitely be helpful. Another thing I highly recommend is getting your child used to napping on the go. My daughter never napped in her stroller until she was about 2 and we took her to Disney World. Every single park, one right after the other. It was intense, and she was forced to nap in her stroller, which was a relief to all of us. Taking longer walks in the stroller prior to this trip would’ve been smart had I thought of it.

Toddler in carrier sleeping while mom drinks wine.

Bring high value toys and snacks

Whether you’re traveling via car or air, you’ll want to pick some exciting and compact toys to bring. Some of our favorites are Water Wows, stickers, Boogie Board Sketch Pals, Crayola Color Wonder Mess Free coloring sheets, popper fidget toys, and Kinetic Sand (this last one isn’t great for the car, but can be a lifesaver at the airport). Thin, light books are great to have as well! I often pack a few Little Golden Books for bedtime and on-the-go reading.

And of course, don’t you dare forget snacks. Snacks are a godsend on long drives and plane rides. I like to bring a selection of healthy snacks that I don’t mind my daughter eating copious amounts of. You might also consider bringing some slightly less healthy but maybe more exciting snacks with you. These can definitely come in handy during tough travel moments. A good snack vessel can also go a long way. I’m a big fan of snack cups, and I also just bought a fun snack spinner for a road trip we’ll be taking. I’m hoping it’ll keep my daughter busy and excited for a while.

Plan appropriate activities

Planning toddler appropriate activities can go a long way in making a vacation a success. We took a trip to New York City a few months ago, and it was quite the wakeup call. Since it was cold out, we ended up going to a lot of restaurants with friends. It got to the point where a tantrum would start the second we walked into a restaurant because my kid (who normally loves eating out) was so sick of them. After that, we tried to build more activities into the trip for her. It was a bit tricky because she’d had a cold and we didn’t want her getting other kids sick. But we were able to stop at some empty playgrounds so she felt like we were doing something just for her, which helped a ton. If your kid likes swimming, staying somewhere with a pool can help! Taking them to children’s museums and attractions can also make them feel seen.

I also find that my daughter does better in nature than in the city while traveling. While I’m not always going to plan the entire trip around this, it’s worth taking into consideration. Knowing your child and what makes them happy just make for a more successful vacation.

Stick to your routine, but also be flexible

Young children thrive when they’ve got a routine, so it helps to stick to it while traveling. We always make sure to bring books when we travel, as we’ve got a strong bedtime routine and find that things go more smoothly when we follow it. Same goes for napping. Sometimes that means going back to our hotel halfway through the day, and sometimes it means a stroller nap. We really try to ensure that a nap happens, though. When driving long distances, it can help to leave right before nap time.

All that said, we’re definitely more flexible about things like bedtime when traveling. A strict 7pm bedtime just isn’t always going to happen, and that’s ok. Same goes for things like sugar and screen time. Travel with a toddler isn’t easy, but sometimes bending your rules a bit can make it easier. Do what you can and what makes sense for your family.

Tips for air travel

Flying with a baby or a toddler is rough. I won’t lie to you or sugar coat it. It’s truly not my favorite thing. You have to bring a ton of stuff, and you lack any sense of control. It’s also extremely anxiety inducing knowing that everyone will despise you should your child melt down because their ears hurt or they can’t sleep or are unfathomably bored. All of the tips I mentioned earlier apply to air travel, but I have a few tips specific to it that are worth noting.

  • If under the age of 2, your child will likely be able to sit on your lap for free. But if they’re already 2 or you’re concerned about safety, you can use a carseat on the plane. This oddly doesn’t appear to be common knowledge. Every time we fly, the gate agent tries to get us to check our carseat and then seems surprised when we tell them we’ll be using it. So now you know! (By the way, we use the WAYB Pico when we fly. It’s front facing and very upright, so it’s not great for sleeping, but it’s a breeze to install and carry around.)
  • Drinking during take-off and landing can help reduce ear pressure. I like to offer my daughter juice during these times. She doesn’t often get to drink juice, so it’s very exciting when she does and the chances that she’ll sip on it are much higher. You probably won’t be able to bring juice through security, but you can usually find it in gift shops.
  • You can use your stroller at the airport and gate check it for free before boarding the plane.
  • Many airlines will let you board first if you’ve got a child with you, but they don’t always make an announcement about it. If this is something you’re interested in (highly recommend if you’ll be using a carseat), definitely ask about it.

Be patient and give yourself grace

That’s basically all I’ve got for you, so I’ll leave you with these final thoughts. Yes, it’s hard to travel with a toddler. It’s hard on them, too! So be patient and give yourself grace. Try to enjoy the chaos. Traveling might not feel relaxing anymore, but soak it in anyway. And take a lot of pictures! One day you’ll look back on these memories with so much fondness.

Father and daughter looking at a scenic overlook in Yosemite National Park

Looking for more travel content? Here are some of my favorite air travel tips (I wrote this post long before I became a mom, so if you’ve got young kids, certain things might not apply).

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