Traveling With Children, Part II (Toddlers & Preschoolers)

This is Part 2 of Dr. Springer’s three-part series on traveling with children…

Toddlers and preschoolers, as any parent knows, are bundles of energy. Keep this in mind when planning a trip with kids in this age range, as long car rides or long lines for activities will not make happy kids. Beach vacations work very well, with plenty of water and sand and few lines or timetables. Don’t try to pack too much into a day, and leave plenty of time for exploring local playgrounds, catching frogs, or whatever other low-key activities the venue offers.

Remember to plan for nap times, lest your afternoons be filled with tired, cranky children. (Naptime can be a great time for a good book and a nice cool drink for Mom or Dad!)

Hotel rooms with kitchens are generally a bit more expensive, but can save a lot on the costs of eating out, not to mention the frustrations of a cranky toddler in a restaurant! Lunch is often a good time of day for young children, and meals are often less expensive then as well. Dinner back in the hotel room can avoid long waits for food at a time of day when most young children are not at their best. A dip in the hotel pool can top off the evening, and everyone can get to bed in time to be well-rested for all of the next day’s adventures.

If you’re traveling by car, kids should be in their car seats of course, but plan frequent rest stops to let them get out and run.  Many parents find that traveling at night works well, although parents must, obviously, be well-rested and assured of their abilities to stay awake and drive safely.  Plan ahead with new music, books, movies, or small toys, which can be attached to car seat straps with those plastic chain links that were so fun to chew on as an infant. Plan healthy and safe snacks. Older preschool children can play “I Spy” games, looking for whatever presents itself out your windows.

If you’re traveling by plane, the same gate checking and assistance cart strategies that work with infants are allowed for toddlers as well. Older preschoolers can carry their own backpacks and rolling suitcases, filled to reasonable weights to allow them to feel “grown up” but not lag behind. Learn about airplanes and airports ahead of time with books or videos, and have fun looking out the windows at the gate and from the plane with your child. The same new toys, books, and snacks can keep her entertained on the plane as well as in the car. To help with ear pain, have your child drink from a straw, or if he’s learned how, chew some sugar-free gum, when the plane starts to descend. Some acetaminophen 30-45 minutes before landing can help as well.

Carefully planned, vacations with toddlers and preschoolers can be a relaxing change of pace for all, creating happy memories for years to come. And don’t forget the camera!

Dr. Sarah Springer, a Kids Plus Doc, serves as the Medical Director of Adoption Health Services of Western Pennsylvania.

For more on this subject at other ages, see:

Part 1, Overview & Traveling With Infants

Part 3, Traveling with School-Aged Children and Teens