Your bags are packed and your family’s all revved up to go. Congrats! If this is your first time traveling with your young child ages 2-5, you might be nervous. How will you keep them happy and occupied? Will they have enough to engage with at your destination? Will you be able to manage them while also sightseeing and having fun yourself? This young age is a time for transition–so your little one’s going to be walking, talking, voicing strong opinions, climbing over everything–so they need a lot of attention. There’s a lot to consider about the journey and the destination before you even book your first flight or car rental.
1. Consider the Destination
Guaranteed–it will certainly be a challenge to take a 2-year-old who likes to jump, hop and clamber over everything to a destination that doesn’t prioritize child safety. Traveling in Thailand or Costa Rica, for example, can be a nightmare if you’re stuck in-between traffic, navigating chaotic streets and/or don’t have proper seat belts. Instead, you may want to opt for a location with more structure and child-friendly facilities like elevators and playgrounds. Maybe your family can fly to nearby Montreal or France or even Japan this time, and save the more chaotic locales until they’re a bit older.
2. Opt for a Road Trip
I’ve hinted at it here, but a road trip can be a million times more comfortable journey than an airplane trip. For one, you can stop whenever you want–allowing little ones to run all over when they get antsy. You can also control the indoor environment. So those toy blocks ended up on the floor? So what–you don’t have to worry about them rolling around some stranger’s feet (as may happen on a plane). Each person also has their own small space, which means they can nap a bit more comfortably than they would on a plane. Road trips are flexible and even-paced, and depending on your trunk space, you can fit a lot more luggage in the back! So in the battle between cars and planes when traveling with your small child, cars definitely win!
3. Pack for Them
On long road trips or flights, keep your kids occupied with plenty of activities. Try to plan fun projects in 15-minute increments, so if they get bored (and they will!), you can move them along to the next thing to keep them entertained. Pack storybooks, magazines with colorful pictures, magnets, stickers, drawing tools and book, and snacks. Offer foods that require a lot of attention–like raisins, strawberries, grapes and cherry tomatoes. Pack that fairy-tale book you’re sure they adore, but also bring along new books and toys–like a new set of crayons–so they’ll be distracted with their new goodie for some time. Make sure you take them out one at a time so things don’t go flying around everywhere.
4. Pack for You
A backpack carrier is a great accessory where you can plop your kid for a while. The Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 Kid Carrier is a flexible and adjustable lookout point for your little one, provided they’re still small enough to fit! They’ll be able to see their new surroundings with ease. Pack a stroller you can push around and let them nap while you sightsee. Skip the car seat, it’s more convenient to pick up one at the car rental office.
5. Bring a Tablet
We’re fortunate to live in a day and age of that electronic life saver of parents, the tablet. Cartoons, movies, and games will wheel away a sizeable chunk of the trip. Tablets are small and containable, but unless you have upgraded storage, limited space. Just make sure to download all videos and games the night before, and that they have their own handy-dandy pair of headphones. Some recommendations I’ve downloaded onto my own kid’s tablet are the collections of games by Sago Mini World, Fiete, Mimpi, and the Endless Reader app. And whatever you do, don’t forget to charge the battery! No tablet? No problem! Play family games in the car, like “I Spy,” or help them with some mess-free crafts in the backseat.
6. Breakdown the Journey to Your Kids
If it’s your kids’ first time ever for a long trip, you may want to explain each step of the journey to them. Try to include them in advance so they know what to expect at the airport, especially the security screening process. Tell them not to worry–they’ll get their beloved blankie back, the nice security man just needs to look at it. If you’re on a road trip, explain that they’ll need to use their bathroom breaks as they come, because who knows when the next one will come!
7. Choose your Travel Time Wisely
Your child’s sleep and play schedule could be disrupted by a long commute. Try to plan the actual transportation–whether driving or flying–when your child is sleeping or nearly asleep. The early morning hours or the evening, when the little ones are nodding off, is an ideal time to hit the road. Depending on the route, they may wake up before you get there. Make rest stops when they’re away so everyone can stretch and take a gander at their surroundings.
8. Keep the Routine
Once you arrive at your destination, let the kids adjust to their new place. Whether it’s Grandma’s house or a hotel room, young children need time to figure out their surroundings and set up their space. You can use home routines to help them adjust to an unfamiliar place. Try to stay consistent with a few things that you enjoy to do as a family at home, and which aren’t time-consuming: eat breakfast and dinner at the table together, or do morning exercises like stretching or coloring. This allows you to maintain some sort of structure day-to-day while also being spontaneous. Keep bedtime routine the same as home–keep to the same schedule as much as possible, and bring along a nightlight or blankie. If you usually read them a story at home, pull out a new book you bought on the trip and read it aloud.
9. Try New Adventures
Kids ages 2-5 interact with the world with pure innocence and curiosity. You may find your 3-year-old adventurer chatting with a street seller even though they don’t speak the same language. They may wander all over the city ruins and marvel at the peculiar colors of the ice cream. This is the time when they’re at their most curious, so expect loads of questions. Seeing the world through their eyes, you may start to appreciate the world, and little simple things, as they see it. Mirror their behavior and take the time to notice more. If you show that you’re adventurous and curious about the world, the kids will be encouraged to pursue their own spirit of adventure. They’ll adapt and blossom into inquisitive, independent travelers as they get older.
Ages 2-5 is the perfect time to cultivate your little explorers, ensuring that they blossom into brave adventurers. Make their transition from the home to the outside world as painless as possible, and they’re guaranteed to surprise you.