Traveling with a toddler takes guts; traveling with two toddlers takes a healthy dose of insanity. We have two. Right now they’re ages 3 and about 1.5 years. We live in China, and we’ve traveled to Hawaii, Hong Kong, and around parts of China. We’ll soon take the 23-hour trip back to the east coast of the United States with these two little ones. So, we’ve got a few vacation (sanity)-saving tips to keep family travel fun and the kids on schedule in spite of jet lag, new locations, and fun (but over-stimulating) experiences. These are our 10 vacation hacks with toddlers.
10 Vacation Hacks With Toddlers
1. Conquer Jetlag. Don’t Let It Conquer You.
Everyone is always so afraid of jetlag. It can be annoying to be awake and hungry at 2 am. or sleepy at 4 pm., but it’s short-lived. With this vacation hack, my advice is don’t let jetlag sneak up on you or your kids. If you’re jumping time zones, plan to travel so that you arrive in the late afternoon evening (if you can), have an early dinner and put the kids to bed no earlier than 6 pm. If you’re gaining time (arriving earlier than you left), plan a leisurely excursion. Do not hang out in the hotel room/house. Don’t let the kids nap for more than an hour. Have an early dinner around 4:30/5pm and put the kids to bed no earlier than 6 pm. By day 2, everyone should feel more adjusted.
2. Limit Your Expectations.
This vacation hack with toddlers will save your sanity. You can’t do EVERYTHING you want to do on vacations with little kids, especially if you don’t have childcare. Personally, I don’t like hiring the hotel-provided childcare. It makes me feel uncomfortable. So that means we don’t plan to go out at night. Before kids, when you traveled you woke up late and stay out all day and night. Now that you have little kids, you need to limit your expectations. You’re probably not going to be able to sleep late and you’re not going to be able to stay out late without dragging very sleep very grumpy little people with you. So, before you get there and then get disappointed, mentally prepare yourself to have a family trip. This vacation is going to be epic; it’s just going to be a wee bit different than you’re used to.
3. Book-Family Friendly Accommodations
In our house, our kids don’t sleep with us. So, when we go on vacation, we try to keep that arrangement and allow the kids to have their own room. I know this may seem a bit expensive, but you can find budget-friendly accommodations through Air BnB or if you have a bit more money to spend, you can reserve a suite at a hotel. To keep your kids on a schedule, they need their own space. They need to be able to go to bed at a normal hour as often as possible during your vacation, and you need to be able to sit up and chat with your spouse and visit with friends.
4. Get up early.
Little kids do best in the morning. They’re more likely to try new foods, and they’re a bit more patient. Take advantage of your kids’ natural rhythm and plan wake ups no later than 6 and be out the door by 7. That may mean you have to wake up at 5:30 to take care of yourself before the kids start to stir.
5. Temper the activities.
I don’t know about your little ones but our toddlers get overstimulated pretty fast. Hong Kong Disney was amazing AND when we left, our kids were so excited they didn’t want to sleep. It took hours to calm them down and get them to go to bed. The later than normal bedtime caused a later than normal wake-up, overall tired, hungry, cranky kids. So the day after Disney, we had to lay low. Take walks through street markets and make sure everyone ate on time and had a nap. Keeping a schedule after a crazy busy day was key. If we had planned another long day, our poor kids would have revolted. Remember, you’re in a new place but you have little kids. Go back to rule one. Limit your expectations. You’re probably not going to be able to see everything. Just enjoy the things you DO see.
6. Try new foods but keep the old standbys.
So allergies are real. Make sure you have Benedryl or Epi-pens, and you know your child’s allergies. Aside from that, try new things but always make sure they have something “normal” too just in case the new food is a ‘bust’. I talk about trying new foods in my 10 Easy Tips For Fun Family Travel. When we were in Hong Kong, our kids tried (and loved) dim sum. They also ate rice because it’s a tried and true standby. They were very happy little munchkins.
7. Make everything an adventure.
My husband and I love new cultures and places. So, we like to make experiencing new things fun for our kids. Making everything an adventure has created fun and excitement for our little ones when they may have been frustrated or even a bit apprehensive about a new place, people, or food.
8. Create waiting games.
Being able to wait patiently and joyfully is an art few adults possess. It’s a gazillion times harder for kids to wait patiently. To help us and our kids wait for airplanes, trains, buses, lines at amusement parks, our turn to check in, or for a taxi, etc… we’ve created waiting games for our kiddos to keep them happy and quiet while we wait in whatever line we find ourselves. Some of our favorite waiting games are tapping/rhythm games, eye-spy, counting games, and the funny face game. It sounds ridiculous, but if you ever see me waiting in line with kids, I’m probably making silly faces or tapping out rhythms for them to copy.
9. Assign a picture boss
Kids have so little control over things that they enjoy getting the chance to be the “Picture Boss.” Being the “Picture Boss” means that one child gets to tell me (the official family photo taker) which pictures to take. It could be a picture of a flower or Mickey Mouse. Each kid gets to be the “Picture Boss” for a few hours each day.
10. Plan Adult-Only Evenings
Now, vacations aren’t just about keeping the kiddos happy. You should have a fun time too, but it’s hard to have a fun time when you can’t go out after the kids go to bed. If you’ve found good family-friendly accommodations and can put your kids to bed in a separate room, then you can plan to have “date-nights.” The hubs and I love to scope out great restaurants during the day. Then we pick a restaurant to try and place our order before the kids go to bed. Once they’re tucked in, one of us goes to pick up the food. We eat together and watch a movie or just plan what we want to do the next day. It’s a great way to decompress after a busy day of vacation with our little ones, and we end up leaving our vacation feeling rested.
Traveling with little kids can be fun. They love to see new things, and it’s great for them to experience new places, cultures, and people. I like to think that traveling with little kids creates more relaxed, more flexible (not to mention more worldly) kids. They know from a young age that there’s more to life than their town. Try these 10 vacation hacks with toddlers and make your next trip more fun for everyone. For more travel hacks with toddlers, I share airplane travel hacks with toddlers in 10 Simple Travel Packing Tips For Kids.