Toddler Travel Tips

By Dr. Lin Day, Toddler Sense

Travelling can provide a range of educational benefits for children from social interaction to communication, problem-solving and creative thinking. Children also benefit from being involved in the planning and preparations, which builds self-esteem and confidence. If the journey is packed with entertaining things to do, it can be a fun experience for them, and a relaxing one for adults.

The following tips may help parents prepare for the journey, and keep children busy, happy and safe on the way.

Advance planning

If travelling by car, use motorways whenever possible. The steady movement of the car will make children drowsy, and they are less likely to suffer from motion sickness.

If travelling abroad, organize passports, health and travel insurance, and vaccinations (if required) in plenty of time.

Expectant mothers will need a letter from their GP or midwife confirming that they are fit to fly after 28 weeks of pregnancy. Most airlines will not permit expectant mothers to travel after week 36. If twins are expected, the cut-off date is 32 weeks.

Expectant mothers will need to take their antenatal records with them. They will also need to avoid destinations that carry a high risk of disease, and places above 2,500 metres. The change in altitude can trigger premature delivery.

Some holiday providers hire out highchairs, pushchairs, cots and car seats. However, car seats may be of poor quality or outdated. To be completely sure that the fixtures and fittings are safe, it is recommended that parents take a car seat with them.

Preparing for the journey

Prepare everything from the entertainment to nappies, medicine, spare clothes and the first-aid kit in advance, but don’t go overboard if catching a flight. Nappies for example, can be purchased at the end of the journey.

An easily accessible portable travel potty with an absorbent throw-away lining is a must for toddlers. A training pad or small towel placed under the car seat will help contain any accidents. It may not be possible to stop for a toilet break on demand.

Rubbish bags will help to keep the car clean and they may be useful if the child suffers from motion sickness. A sprinkling of cat litter in the bag will help absorb any unpleasant smells. An extra rear-view mirror will allow the front-seat passenger to keep an eye on the child without having to constantly turn around.

Take enough finger food to last the journey, but avoid sugary snacks since these increase energy levels. Slices of fruit, cucumber, carrot sticks and grapes will fill children up and make them drowsy. If breastfeeding, avoid excess caffeine, which can have a negative effect on the baby’s ability to sleep.

Dehydration can increase joint and muscle pain, and cause headaches. If babies become dehydrated they may cry inconsolably. When toddlers become dehydrated, they may become irritable. During hot weather, offer drinks at 20 to 30 minute intervals, but avoid cola-based drinks, which increase the rate of urination and energy levels.

If a calming scent, such as vanilla or lavender, is introduced a week or so before the journey, the familiar smell will help everyone to relax.

Build up a bank of games and other entertainment a few weeks before the trip. Ensure that comfort objects are available when needed. They will make the journey less stressful, and help babies and toddlers fall asleep without being rocked or held.

Start the journey an hour before the child’s normal nap time. Allow time to run about and let off steam before getting in the car. The chances are that the child will play for the first part of the journey, and then fall asleep for the rest of it.

Some parents prefer to travel at night so that the child sleeps through most of the journey. Pyjamas and a duvet will help them to settle should they stir when put in the car.

Car travel

Being comfortable is all-important on a long car trip. Clothes made from natural fibres are more comfortable than synthetic ones. A natural lamb’s wool fleece can relieve stiffness, and provide a warm and cosy place to sleep. A folded blanket placed under bent knees can make a car seat more comfortable for a baby.

To promote sleepiness, keep the car cool (not warmer than 70°F). A blackout blind or sunscreen in the passenger window will reduce temperature and glare, and shield skin and eyes from the sun.

Favourite soft toys and books are essential, but new ones will provide interest and excitement. The best travel toys are quiet and compact and don’t break easily.

Car games such as I Spy, picking out letters or numbers on car number plates, and sing-a-long songs are fun, and they can be played without the need for props. Children can also shout out the answers to questions or sing loudly, which relieves stress and boredom.

The following songs are fun for journeys: 

  • The wheels on the bus/car/train.
  • Old MacDonald had a farm.
  • If you’re happy and you know it.
  • She’ll be coming round the mountain.
  • I do like to be beside the seaside.

Dispensing snacks at pre-announced intervals, picking out picnic areas and child-friendly service stations give children something to look forward to on long journeys. Frequent stops will give everyone the chance to stretch their legs, get some fresh air and enjoy a change of scenery before setting out on the road again.

Train travel

Train travel provides a relaxing alternative to long-haul trips. However, advance planning is still important.

  • Plan the most direct route to avoid frequent platform changes.
  • Find out how if a taxi with a car seat needs to be booked at the final destination.
  • Reserve a seat, preferably one with a table for activities, or a space next to the disabled area. If the area is not used, there will be space to play or sleep in the pushchair.
  • A seat by the window will give children something interesting to look at on their journey.
  • A rucksack or back pack is much easier to carry than a bag. Children will also enjoy carrying their own back packs filled with toys, books and colouring materials.

Boat travel

Boat or ferry travel enables children to go up and down stairs, move about and explore without upsetting other passengers. If sea sickness sets in, find a place for the child to lie down with eyes closed, or go outside on the deck. Alternatively, find a place inside on the lower deck in the middle of the boat.

Airline travel

If catching a plane, get to the airport early. There is nothing worse than being late. Children soon pick up on stress levels, which can make matters worse.

A pull-along suitcase will keep a young child interested and also serve as a resting place when they get tired. A metal-free sling will enable the baby to sleep without being disturbed during the security check-in. Framed back carriers can be used for infants from 6 to 36 months-old.

Airport regulations permit up to 100ml in the way of milk and drinks, although exceptions may be made for the under-twos. If the baby is bottle-fed, take disposable pre-sterilised bottles, powdered formula milk and a thermos. Ask the cabin crew to fill the thermos with boiled water during the flight when they are not too busy. Some babies do not mind cold milk, so bottled water purchased in the secure area can provide a suitable alternative. If breastfeeding, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Children’s meals may be provided, but it is best to check in advance.

Infants under two-years-old may be required to sit on an adult’s lap during take-off and landing, even if they have their own seat for the rest of the flight. Strapping them in will keep them safe during air turbulence, and prevent them wandering off if the parent falls asleep.

Changes in air pressure can make little ears pop. Tilting the head sideways, sucking and swallowing can relieve air pressure in the middle ear, so keep drinks and pacifiers available for take-offs and landings.

Travel toys for babies

Favourite travel toys for babies include activity centres with wheels to turn, a toy telephone and a box or bag filled with safe, interesting objects. Objects wrapped in foil paper will also keep little hands busy. Limit the number of toys to one or two at any one time to maintain interest.

Containers that fit together are fun to play with. They can be stacked, nested or used as hiding places for toys. When the novelty wears off, the lid will provide entertainment. A soft fabric activity set such as a farm or doll’s house travels well and provides endless opportunities for imaginative play.

A familiar book can be comforting and the baby will enjoy turning the pages to find favourite characters. A rattle is a must, but keep it in reserve for a difficult moment. It could save the day!

For restless babies, cuddling up with an adult can help reduce stress. A foot massage can help them to fall asleep.

Travel toys for toddlers

A sticker book is ideal for entertaining toddlers. Stickers can be stuck on the window or the seat without any harm being done. A toy catalogue is great fun to look at and toddlers can colour in the things they would like to have. Finger puppets, action figures, and magnetic boards with letters or numbers are also good choices.

Activity books, which include dot-to-dot and mazes are good distraction tools, but if crayons are a problem, try an ‘Etch A Sketch’. The child can draw on the wipe off mat with the magic pencil and start again without having to change the paper.

Small strips of masking tape stuck to the child’s legs and arms will provide endless fun. The tape can be removed easily (unlike a plaster) and gives a pleasant sensation. 

During airport delays, wind-up toys and rubber disks that turn inside out and pop in the air can help the hours pass by. Travel toys for children Older children may sit quietly listening to music on an MP3 player or watch films on a portable DVD player.

A book will keep them entranced for some time, but avoid small print in the car since it can bring on motion sickness. Books about the geography, history, animals and plant life of the destination will also keep them busy.

A map and compass is great fun for children who want to help navigate the route. Classic travel games such as connect the dots, hangman, tic-tac-toe and magnetic games such as chess, snakes and ladders can make the journey zoom by.

Scrabble is an ideal game for two players, but children can invent their own crossword puzzles too. Electronic games are very popular, but make sure they are turned off during take-off and landing or they may interfere with the aircraft’s navigational system.

Alternating seats can break up the monotony of the journey and prevent arguments between siblings. A sponsored silence can also work wonders when the squabbling starts. Summary With advance planning and preparation, travel can be very rewarding for children. It can also strengthen the adult-child bond and build happy memories.

Even so, long-distance journeys can make children restless and uncomfortable. If they become fidgety, comfortable clothes, a good supply of toys, comforters, drinks, healthy snacks and frequent rest stops can help everyone reach their destination in a more relaxed and happy frame of mind.

There is plenty of online advice to help parents make travelling with children an enjoyable, stress-free experience. Information includes packing checklists, travel tips, fun things to do, and advice on child-friendly holiday destinations.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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