We just wrapped up a six-week trip to Portugal and it was pretty epic. In a lot of ways. Meaning the highs AND lows. You know me, I don’t sugar coat much, and traveling with a toddler for six weeks will be no different! I thought it would be helpful for anyone who is traveling to Europe with a toddler, or traveling anywhere with a toddler… because if you have or had one, you know they are a very special breed. I can tell you that there were days I truly wanted to pack up and go home… I am not exaggerating. So many days were very hard and full of tears for all three of us. I had my husband on full time Lola duty, and his parents who are living there for 4 months… and it was STILL flipping hard as hell. I was questioning everything some days and felt like a failure more than once. Traveling for six weeks is hard enough – balancing work, family, expectations, energy levels, just like, all of it, but add in a toddler, and there is so much to it. The only thing that kept me sane some days was the fact that I KNEW I would look back and only remember the good and the warm fuzzies.
It’s worth saying that leading up to the trip I had a lot of unexplained anxiety. Just awful feelings about being out in the world and out of our bubble. I will chalk that up to having a baby during C0vid and all the stuff that comes with that. I’m telling you bc it’s normal to have worries and doesn’t mean anything terrible is going to happen.
Part of me writing this post is to help anyone else out there traveling with a toddler – you might be nervous about going or in the thick of it, and thinking that this is way too hard or too scary. It’s so comfortable at home in your bubble. But being on the other side, I can promise you that your toddler will grow in all ways, but you will also grow as their mom. Your bond will deepen, you will reach new levels of trust in each other and yourself. You will surprise yourself with how you learn and what you can handle! And I have two words for you: LOWER. EXPECTATIONS.
Here is a quick overview of what our experience was and what might help you make the most out of traveling with a toddler.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A TODDLER
I’m still learning about how Lola reacts to different situations, and that’s defo the case with travel. Up until now, we’ve done short-haul trips to places within Canada, but this trip was very different for many reasons. It was a new country with so much that was totally new and different for her. The climate, sounds, smells, foods, language, terrain, time zone. I completely underestimated how it would affect her. I assumed it would feel like home because her parents and grandparents were there… not so. Goes without saying that we packed all her regular clothes, toiletries etc. BUT there was so much I wish I brought to make her feel more comfortable like more books (bring LOTS!), her fave foods (I’m talking Veggie Straws and Annie’s Mac and Cheese), stuffies. I also wish I packed our regular Wi-Fi monitor instead of the more basic one because the reach wasn’t good enough for where we stayed.
For the plane, we used one of these so we could easily have everything at our fingertips on the plane including bandaids, medication, alcohol wipes to sanitize the plane, toys, stickers, play doh… it was a huge hit! I defo recommend including things they have never seen or played with before (full disclosure: we try very hard to not over buy for Lola, I can’t help thinking about all the waste that happens with buying soooo much stuff, but for a flight, we are in survival mode!). Dad hit up the dollar store and we stocked up on simple little toys. Of course, the iPad with a ton of downloaded shows and headphones was on deck. Ohhh and obviously, alllll the snacks! I defo recommend packing their sleep sack or blanket, a few bedtime books and stuffy to prep them to sleep as much as possible. We also brought an inflatable to make a bed, but it wasn’t allowed on our British Airways flight. Huge bummer! On the way there she slept a total of 45 minutes on the 9 hour flight, even though we had a redeye. On the way home, she slept for 4 hours, which was much better!
Also make sure to bring a good travel stroller and if it can fit on the plane, bring it all the way. Even if they don’t use it all the time, it’s nice to help you go hands free when used for your bags. We also made the mistake of ‘gate checking’ it which actually meant it went all the way to our final destination, leaving us to carry Lola for our layover, which is another good reason to put it in the overhead compartment if possible.
HOW TO SET THINGS UP FOR SUCCESS WHEN TRAVELING WITH A TODDLER
In terms of booking flights, I would ABSOLUTELY recommend breaking up the flights with an overnight when you can. Usually, when it was just hubs and I traveling, we would simply want to power through and take that 9-hour flight followed by a shorter flight to get it done, but with a toddler, it’s definitely different. On the way there, we opted for the power through method and it was a bad idea. It was too much for her and it took much longer for her to get back on schedule and back to her usual self. We had a few weeks of her just being so so moody and it was tantrum after tantrum. It threw us for a loop and then some because she was really not herself at all.
As for the trip home, I felt a lot more prepared about what to expect, and was very pleasantly surprised. We broke up the flights with an overnight at a hotel which was actually a lot more enjoyable. As enjoyable as 23 hours of travel time with a toddler can be. With a little planning about packing the carry on so we could have it for the hotel, we were all set. Don’t forget the sound machine (IYKYK). We booked at an airport hotel (get the one attached to the airport so you don’t need to take a shuttle somewhere!), made sure they had a crib for her, and were all good! She slept for 4 hours of the long haul flight the next day and honestly had NO jet lag aside from falling asleep early one night when we got home.
In terms of her bedtime, honestly, we did whatever possible to keep her on a normal bedtime schedule, but had to be flex some nights and we did get pressure to keep her up when it wasn’t really needed to do so, and that’s always hard, but I tried to remember to tune into my mama instincts which never fails me. As she gets older and we go back, later bedtimes will be easier and make more sense for the experiences she won’t want to miss out on! We made sure that her room was dark, cool (thank goodness for the AC) and as close to ‘like home’ as we could.
All in all, we were a lot more lenient with food, screentime, routines, soother (yes, she is 3 and she still uses it!)… it was ‘vacation’ and I’m ok with that. Luckily, Lola is a pretty solid sleeper, so she usually slept a good 12 hours with no wakes. PHEW.
Side note: I stressed SO much about giving her more of all of the above only bc I was really worried she would come home to expect that same lifestyle, but the kid seriously just snapped back into the norm. That was amazing to see!
Traveling with a toddler is a lot different than traveling as a couple. Like duh, you might say, but the schedule and itinerary really does revolve around them. It was very, very hot most days, which meant that we couldn’t take her to the beach or outside during the hottest time of day. Keeping her inside during the day bc of the heat was challenging, and luckily, we had grandparents there who also wanted to be inside, so there were days the two of us were able to sneak off to the beach for a few hours, then coming home and later in the day, taking her to the pool we had on the property (cousins have a pool, thankfully!). Lola loves to swim, so it was a great way to spend a few hours and get her tired for bedtime. There were some days we went to malls, or grocery shopping and to lunch just to have some indoor activities to keep her busy with. As a couple, that’s not how we would have preferred to spend our days, but things change when you’re traveling with a toddler, and that’s ok. There were also days that was didn’t fill and listened to her when she said she wanted to stay home and “rest”. My expectation was that she would love the beach, but she had to be coaxed and even though we tried quite a few times, she didn’t get into it. It’s natural to feel bummed when something doesn’t turn out the way you think it will with them! We made sure to do a few days at the waterslide/amusement park (called ZooMarine) which was just the absolute BEST! We had so much fun being kids right alongside her and it was her first time doing something like that. I hope she remembers these fun times with us!
She got a tummy bug a few days after we arrived, and if you’ve had a sick kiddo, you know that it takes awhile for them to get back to usual. She also did not want anything to do with me, and favoured dad completely for a solid month of our trip – that absolutely killed me! She only wanted him for EVERYTHING. She finally came around and thankfully, with your encouragement on IG, we got through it. In order to help her moods, we started doing songs and sing-a-longs in the mornings. She is a very social kid, so I could tell she was missing connecting and playing with other kids – we encouraged her to find some at the beach to introduce herself to, and I think that helped a lot just give her that hit for her social wellbeing.
What I learned is that toddlers can be adaptable, but it’s important to support them as much as we can. I honestly had a lot of blind spots when traveling with a toddler – so much of this I would never have considered unless I went through it. Here’s to our next trip!