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Traveling with toddlers is rough, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But it is possible and it can be fun! If you know the tricks of the toddler travel trade, you too can engineer a European vacation with your temperamental little one so that everyone has fun. Below are 10 simple ways to insure this vacation travel is as enjoyable as possible.
1 – Set Their Expectations
Most toddlers do not do well with change, and heading to another country, with strange sites, smells, food, and even strange beds, can be incredibly overwhelming. Sit them down and chat about it beforehand. A little at a time, before you take off on your vacation, give them the lowdown of what they can expect when you travel. It can save you a lot of frustration. Let them know where you are going, what you are doing, and what it may be like. Don’t overwhelm them with details all at once, but perhaps talk about each aspect a few times over a few weeks.
We told my daughter what flying in a plane would be like, with the waiting at the terminal, sitting in the seats without a booster, how her ears may hurt, what toys we’d have with us. Then we’d talk about our first stop, and what we would do there, then the next. We exposed her to new foods that she may see while there (she is a picky eater so we knew this would be an issue) and tried to get her to explore the new foods a little. We had also taken a couple of very short trips beforehand where we purposely stayed at a hotel so she could get comfortable with sleeping in a new place. It wasn’t perfect, there were some meltdowns, but she felt much better having a clear expectation of how things were going to be during our travel.
2 – Do Your Research
If your kiddo is a picky eater and they live for nothing else but McDonald’s chicken nuggets I would suggest locating every McDonald’s near your location in Europe, and in every area you will be. Chances are this is NOT the time your kid will be adventurous with their palate, and if you can plan to have them eat first, and then go to the restaurant of your choosing afterwards, it will go much easier on you. If your child’s food isn’t going to be found in an easy to find location, I recommend trying to bring some with you. Sure, it will take up a lot of space, but having your toddler’s favorite snack available once a day may help keep them sane.
3 – Feed the Junk Food Monster
I try to get my toddler to eat healthy foods every day, and it’s a struggle right now. I knew that if I spent our vacation trying to get her to do the same it would just be that much more frustrating…only frustrating in a different country. So, I decided to let it go for the week. Did she eat 3 regular meals with all food groups represented? Heck no! She ate lots of junk: gelato, pizza, and I don’t think a vegetable or fruit passed her lips the entire trip…but we didn’t have many food-related tantrums, and that was a huge success. I’m not saying to feed them nothing but sugar the whole time you travel, but pick those food battles carefully. One or two weeks will not do lasting damage to your little one, but the ensuing tantrums could kill your vacation.
4 – Bring the Technology
It cracks me up when new parents say they will never let television or technology babysit their kids. It’s not babysitting when the alternative is nonstop screaming and complaining, at the cost of your sanity. Bring the iPad, fill it with games and movies that your child loves, anything that is comforting and familiar. Bring a Kindle with apps and books and games to keep them occupied.
Maybe it’s only for the flight, maybe it’s so you can enjoy one special dinner out while your kiddo watches Frozen for the 245th time with her headphones. There is nothing wrong with allowing your child to zone out and giving you a little bit of quiet to connect as adults. Preparation is key, and let them help choose the movies and games, they will feel more in control of their situation.
5 – Phone Home
Set up a regular check-in with family your kiddo is in contact with regularly. For us, that meant almost nightly calls or FaceTime videos with my mother, as she and my daughter spend a lot of time together and we knew their separation would be a problem. Make it a ritual, as a way to recap the day, connect, and relax before bed. Your toddler will feel less out of whack with their routine, and less prone to have major home-sick anxiety. If you are leaving a pet with a friend or family, try to have them send videos of the animals, or lots of pictures, so you can share what Bubba the cat is doing while you’re away.
6 – Hop On, Hop Off
Let’s be honest, even with a great plan, maps, tickets, and agendas, your little one is NOT going to want to do lots of sightseeing, and if you push it you’ll end up with melt-down after tantrum and NO ONE will enjoy your time in a new place. If you have a lot to see in a little time, I highly recommend taking a Hop-on/Hop-Off Bus ride. Your kiddo can sleep in your lap while you see all the sights, even if from slightly afar.
You may not get to do an in-depth tour of every single tourist spot, but if there are specific attractions that are most important you can get off, see it, and get back on the next bus in 15-20 minutes. Or if your little one is ready to lose it, simply take a nice, winding bus ride and see the sights from the comfort of your bus seat. They aren’t overly expensive and I found that the narration of locations and history was excellent.
7 – The One Thing
This isn’t just your vacation, this is your child(ren)’s vacation as well, so be sure to do a little planning ahead of time so that you can do one thing each day that is what your kiddos want to do. Perhaps there is an amusement park just outside of Rome, or a water park a couple towns away from Paris. Maybe it’s a promise to see a movie, or dinner at McDonald’s for the family…but each day you should be sure to do something that your toddler will enjoy. Some examples of what we would do, is we made sure that we got her Gelato almost every night, we took her to a park, and a zoo, all within Rome. On the days we didn’t do something for Morgan, we discovered that a tantrum was not far behind.
8 – Keep Things Moving
Okay, I’ll try to keep things from getting too TMI, but often big travels cause big bowel issues in children. From flying, change in altitude, change in diets, and any other number of things can cause a child to go from regular to constipated in NO time. Do not neglect to bring medicine to help with this, or snacks. My go to is raisins and dehydrated pears. They are easy to pack and typically even my picky kiddo will eat them if she knows it will help her tummy feel better.
There’s not much worse than having your child crying in pain from constipation and you not speaking the same language as the pharmacist…thank goodness for Google Translate, but being prepared will always prove easier and less stressful than trying to find a pharmacy in a tiny Italian town that’s open at midnight. Good luck with that!
9 – Carry a Collapsible Stroller!
You can’t bring your whole house with you while traveling, and space is often limited on a plane, in a hotel, on a train, etc. Find a collapsible stroller and bring it with you everywhere. Sure, your little one may be walking just fine, able to walk everywhere at home with no struggle or attitude, but put that same walking toddler in a foreign country and they suddenly have no strength left in their little body to move on their own steam. Lesson learned the hard way when we stayed at a hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome…up the stairs, down the stairs, up, down, up, down…and she wouldn’t take more than 3-4 steps on her own before the complaining began. Carry me, pick me up, I can’t walk anymore…unless you can be sure to rent a stroller everywhere you go, invest and bring one with you.
10 – Splurge on the Veranda
There are many things to spend money on while traveling, but one of your best investments when traveling in these amazing European locales is to get a room with a veranda or balcony. Your toddler may pass out from exhaustion at 7pm but that doesn’t mean you are ready to hunker down. Not with that glorious bottle of French wine, that baguette, or that specialty Tiramisu sitting in your room’s fridge. Take that time for yourselves, sit down and watch the European world rush by you, watch the sun set, and stars come out. It’s not often that people get to travel, especially with a toddler, so take your own enjoyment seriously and invest, take the time to enjoy those precious moments of quiet with your partner (or on your own) and breathe.
Okay, so maybe a lot of these suggestions seem like common sense, but not to someone who has never traveled far with their toddler. Our daughter has an amazing temperament, is incredibly smart and advanced in many ways, but at the end of the day she is still emotionally a toddler and travel can be scary, frustrating, and life altering for our little ones. Spending a little extra time to be sure we care for them as well as ourselves will make our vacations and travel so much easier on ourselves and them. And do not, whatever you do, forget to bring a collapsible stroller! Do you have any tips for traveling with toddlers that I missed? Let us know!