Traveling With A Toddler: Our Adventure, Plus Helpful Tips!

toddler travel tips
Hot off the heels of our Mommy & Daddy getaway to Cancun, it was once again time to hop on a plane and enjoy some fun in the sun–and this time, our toddler gets to tag along!  I know what you are thinking: Why the HELL would anyone want to vacation with–better yet, board a plane–with their toddler? Well, the truth is, our dear friends (who also have a toddler) moved to Hawaii a while back, and since we missed them so much (and were longing to visit Hawaii again) we had to jump on the opportunity.  Also, the hubby and I would like to add another baby to the mix sooner rather than later, and we know that a real vacation would be out of the question for a while.  The best part about this vacation? Our wonderful friends insisted we stay with them in their spacious home, rather than a hotel or rental. This would eliminate the need to haul all of Bubba’s stuff, and he would have a playmate and a house full of toys while on vacation. Perfect.

Preparing for toddler’s first big trip

If there is anywhere to take a baby or toddler, it’s Hawaii. Sun, tropical weather, beautiful green land, clean beaches, nature, good food, friendly people, laid-back way of life, and family-friendly activities and attractions. The hard part is getting to Hawaii from California with a toddler.  I read-up, and asked many wise moms for toddler flight and travel advice, and felt pretty prepared for the big adventure. One thing I must say (that I am sure has been said by me a million times) is to lower all expectations and be flexible. Baby will do what baby wants to do in a situation like this. Imagine how stir-crazy you get when stuck at an airport or airplane–why would this be any different for your kid?

Toddler’s first airplane ride

Flying with a toddler
We had it all figured out. We packed an iPad loaded with his favorite shows and a few games, snacks, water, milk, a few (brand new) small toys, books, and of course, Children’s Benadryl. Now, before you judge me on the Benadryl (I, too, judged many moms in the past for using meds to calm their children on flights) the flight happened to fall during his normal nap time, and I knew there was no chance my child would be able to fall sleep on that plane. Bubba’s doctor actually recommended giving him a dose for flying, and insisted we try it at home ahead of time to be sure he didn’t have the reverse reaction (staying awake and acting like a crazy monkey). We experimented at home, all was good, so I went out and bought a travel-size bottle of the medicine. Unfortunately, I picked up a travel size bottle of Benadryl D (allergy meds with decongestant), which my hubs and I suspect may have caused Bubs to stay awake, alert, and fussy.

So much for a peaceful 5-hour flight.

To make matters worse, Bubba hurt his ankle during some “free time” out of his car seat, and had to receive medical attention in the back of the plane: iodine, ice pack, lots of cuddles, etc. After that, we knew the nap wasn’t happening. Time to break out the books, toys, and iPad, and hope we somehow time travel and get to Hawaii quickly. Since my child does not have his own tablet device yet (I know, GASP!), the iPad really worked for most of the flight. I had to put all my excessive “screen time” fears behind me, and suck it up. That’s what you do when vacationing with little ones–suck it up. Here’s the best part: Bubba finally fell asleep when the plane was landing. Of course. The good news is, he stayed asleep while we got off the plane, hung out at baggage claim, and rode a shuttle to Enterprise–about an hour of sleep all together. I’ll take it!

We’ve arrived!

traveling to hawaii with baby
It was rocky getting into the rental car and driving to our friends’ home (he was grouchy and probably hungry since he’d been grazing on snacks all day), but once we got there, and he saw their playroom full of toys, he was good to go. My husband and I were finally able to relax. We sat on the lanai (the deck that overlooked a beautiful marina and mountain range) and watched our toddler peacefully play, and finally felt like we were on vacation.

Then Bubba started pooping.

Poop happens…and then some!

toddler pooping on vacation

It was almost like green diarrhea, but almost each time he’d poop, the consistency would change a bit. What could this be? He had a tiny bit of his complimentary meal on the plane, and snacked a lot. The hubby and I felt fine. Was it something he touched? I tried to disinfect as much as possible. We decided to put him on a “BRAT diet” and hoped it would clear up in a day or two.

Sleep was the part I was fearing the most. Funny thing was, he slept great! He may have had a hard time settling here and there, but I think because he had his own room (awesome, huh?), plus he had his own bedding with him– and his lovey, “Quackers,” he slept pretty great. Of course, the 3-hour time difference affected him, and we were up at 4:45 am the first morning. Early, but at least we made the most out of our mornings, and he was able to settle pretty early in the evening.

We managed to visit the zoo, many beaches, the Dole Plantation, went to dinners, and even took a ride on our friend’s boat; but Bubba’s non-stop pooping got the best of him, and resulted in a very painful rash. The rash was probably made worse because of the humidity, and Bubba was beyond miserable. We wound up cancelling many plans and staying-in to change him every 30 minutes, and let him run around completely bottomless. The air really seemed to help his rash, but the pooping (no matter how many bananas I fed him) would not let up. It was a two-person job to change him (he screamed and kicked the entire time). We finally called his doctor, and she suspected he contracted some sort of bug that needed to work its way out. She suggested we apply hydrocortisone 1% and thick layers of Desitin each time we change him, and keep him as dry as possible. It definitely helped!

In conclusion

Ultimately, we had a wonderful visit with our friends and their toddler. I truly think if we did not have our friends supporting our situation helping us with Bubba, and keeping us sane, we may have felt like the trip was a disaster. We have no regrets, but most likely will not fly again with our toddler until he’s a bit older (although he did do better on the flight back–and actually slept for 2 hours, thanks to picking up the right Benadryl at the store!) This trip taught my husband and I a lot about our child, our relationship, and about who we are as parents. I am so pleased with how we worked together and practiced patience and teamwork. I almost feel like this trip made us stronger as a couple–definitely stronger as parents.

Remember, no matter how beautifully planned-out you think your trip will be, babies and toddlers will always do what they want to do! It’s vital to have backup plans, tricks up your sleeve, and always be flexible. That is the only way to actually enjoy a trip with a baby or toddler.

I now leave you with a list of important tips for traveling with a baby or toddler. I hope this helps you prepare for an adventure of your own:

  • Purchase a couple small toys or books in advance, and hide them until the trip. These will serve as great distractions on the flight and/or car ride.
  • If traveling with a rowdy toddler, and if feasible, consider buying your tot his own seat on the airplane – My son would have never stayed in our laps, so it was money well spent!
  • If you are planning to purchase baby her own seat, and are planning to use a rental car (you have to get around somehow!) be sure the car seat you have is airplane-friendly. There is usually a symbol or some sort of indication on those types of seats. Otherwise, borrow a friend’s.
  • If flying, pack milk/water/juice, snacks, or a pacifier for the take-off and landing. Sucking or chewing will help your tot with the pressure change.
  • Umbrella strollers RULE. They are cheap, light-weight, take up almost no space, and easy to gate-check. Plus, if the airline throws it around and it gets a little tweaked, it’s better a cheap umbrella stroller than your beloved Bob.
  • Leave your designer diaper bag at home and opt for a diaper backpack (or regular light-weight backpack). You will most likely be on-the-go a lot during this trip, and a backpack is easier to tote. Also, think about how yucky that airplane floor space will be…certainly not where I’d like to keep my Pickle Bottom bag!
  • Bring little one’s bedding (just strip whatever he slept on last, and pack it up!) This way, wherever he sleeps during the trip will smell a bit like home. Don’t forget his lovey and sound machine!
  • Don’t bother packing food items or diapers and wipes (other than what’s needed for travel duration). Make a grocery store run once you are at your destination. This way, you have less to carry during transit.
  • Tablets loaded with toddler friendly apps and shows will SAVE THE DAY. Just think that bears repeating.
  • Don’t overload your itinerary. Keep it simple, and try to go with the flow. You never know if baby will get sick or have a hard time with the time change. Try to plan outings that will appeal to the whole family, and are truly relaxing and enjoyable.
  • Be mindful of any time difference. This will definitely affect baby, and you may have to strategize how to get back on track, or just roll with it.
  • Speaking of rolling with it…baby might not act like he does at home. He may skip a nap, graze all day (rather than eat meals), or not settle for bed until 10 p.m. In order to enjoy this vacation, you need to stay positive and flexible.
  • Lastly, work as a TEAM! Support your spouse, partner or family members during the trip. Everyone has baby’s best interest in mind, but also want to relax just as much as you do! Take turns changing diapers in the ridiculously tiny airplane lavatory, and THANK your partner, spouse, or family member when they step-up to help. This mutual respect will be the icing on the family-vacation-cake.

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