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Oh Joy | Traveling Abroad with a Toddler

Oh Joy | Traveling Abroad with a Toddler

After all of our travels with Ruby lately (and especially after our two-week trip to France), I've gotten to know the ins and outs of being on the go with a toddler. For all you parents out there who are planning trips soon and are nervous about any aspect of it, I thought I'd share 10 tips for traveling abroad with a toddler and what I've learned along the way. While this post is focused on traveling abroad, many of my tips apply to traveling with little ones in general, no matter how close or far…


Oh Joy | Traveling Abroad with a Toddler

01. Make your list of to-dos in advance, organized by area and type of activity…but also keep your days flexible. If I was traveling just with my husband, I'd love the idea of waking up leisurely and seeing where the day took us. Or I'd jam-pack a ton of activities into each day. But with a toddler's limited attention span, boundless energy, and need for naps, being somewhere in the middle of those two, agenda-wise, tends to work best for us. Also, it's super helpful to have your list organized by area so that you're not wasting too much time getting from one part of a city to another and can really enjoy and maximize one or two areas at a time. For example, my amazing assistant, Casey, had the brilliant idea to compile your suggestions for Paris and organize them into a spreadsheet by district and type of activity. Then she put them in a mini binder that I carried around for the whole trip (and now our whole staff has a version for their next trip to Paris). It was insanely helpful. We also used Yelp a lot while on the go a lot which can be great when you find yourself in an area that you might not have on your list.

Oh Joy | Traveling Abroad with a Toddler

02. Stay in an area where there's lots to do within walking distance. This may seem obvious, but we learned the hard way in Paris, when we stayed in a district that was up-and-coming but didn't have a ton to do within the immediate vicinity. We ended up taking trips out of the area everyday that took just a tad too long and gave us too little time to enjoy our destination before rushing back for Ruby's nap. We wish we'd we stayed in a slightly busier neighborhood (even if a tad more touristy) because it would have been more central and easier to get to other areas of the city.

Oh Joy | Traveling Abroad with a Toddler

03. Let your little one nap in a stroller when possible. Ruby is a wonderful sleeper in her crib, but not on the go, so we don't have the luxury of getting to do this too much. But if you're lucky enough to have a toddler who can nap anywhere and in any position for a juicy long nap, then napping on the go is the way to do it when traveling. That way you can explore more of a city while your little one naps, and you don't have to go back to your hotel or apartment mid-day (like we do).

Oh Joy | Traveling Abroad with a Toddler

04. Pack light. Since I already did a post on packing for a family trip, I won't repeat that information here, but want to reiterate that the most important part is bringing only your essentials, washing clothes while away so you can bring less, and buying disposable items (like diapers) at your final destination whenever possible.

Oh Joy | Traveling Abroad with a Toddler

05. Then there's flying (the part we all dread the most with kids)…I'll break this down into three parts.

A. Buy a seat on the plane for long trips. Unless you have one of those magical toddlers who can fall asleep anywhere and in any position, in our case, having Ruby's own seat made all of our experiences more tolerable. Even though she was still under two for our flight to France, which meant we didn't have to pay for her seat, we know our kid and know that she does way better on a plane when she has her own space to play and sleep in. So we got her a seat for the 11 hour flight (even though we had never bought her a seat on previous trips). It was so well worth it, as she slept better and played better, and it made the long trip more bearable for all of us.

B. Consider your flying times. Prior to our France trip, we'd always flown during the day and tried to pick times based on Ruby's nap schedule. However, sometimes you don't have a lot of options, and we had no choice when it came to flying to Paris, which has one direct flight out of L.A. per day. Everyone differs on the topic of doing a day flight vs. a red eye with small children, but we got to experience both during our flight to Paris. And to our surprise, Ruby actually did much better on the red eye than on the day flight. When it came to her actual bedtime on the plane, we went through our normal routine (minus the bath) of reading her a book and tucking her into her sleep sack. It took her a little longer to fall asleep than usual thanks to all the distractions on the plane, but once she fell asleep, she slept for six hours and woke up only because the plane was landing and all the lights came on. For the daytime flight back, we assumed she'd take her normal nap on the plane, but nope! She was too distracted from all the movement and bright light that she just couldn't nap and ended up being awake for over 13 hours before finally crashing in my arms as the plane landed.

C. Bring toys and games. I know some moms who are really good about bringing a ton of activities when traveling. One great trick is to wrap up little toys and games your kids have never seen before in tissue paper and unwrap one every hour of the plane ride. I love that idea. While I've never brought quite that many items, I usually bring a handful of little toys, crayons, a coloring book, stickers, lots of snacks, and the thing that saves us most of the time: An iPad (in a durable case) filled with educational games and shows.

Oh Joy | Traveling Abroad with a Toddler

06. Potty training. If you're crazy enough to be in the middle of potty training, like we were when we went to France and Mexico, bring those training tools with you. We brought a foldable travel potty (which is always in my diaper bag these days anyway), a stamps/stickers for rewards, and Ruby's pull-up diapers with us. We knew we might have some setbacks, but we found that for the most part, Ruby kept up with her training and if anything, it actually made her more adaptable having to go on the potty in various locations other than home.

Oh Joy | Traveling Abroad with a Toddler

07. Sleep schedule, naps, and jet lag. Adjusting to jet lag with a toddler is pretty similar to jet lag with adults, except toddlers don't understand what time zones are and why they feel so loopy and tired. So the quicker you get into the new time zone and stick to your usual schedule there, the quicker everyone will adapt. And do your best not to let your little one fall asleep early or take extra naps, because it will take him or her longer to adjust. For example, when we landed in Paris, Ruby had only gotten six hours of nighttime sleep on the plane, and it felt like 2 a.m. our time. But it was midday in Paris so we made sure she got a quick nap (but not so long that it would end too close to her 7:30 p.m. bedtime, Paris time). It will take a couple days to adjust, and you'll deal with a slightly grumpy toddler for a few days, but once everyone is back on track, you'll all enjoy your faraway vacation much better.

Oh Joy | Traveling Abroad with a Toddler

08. Eating. The great thing about traveling with a toddler is that by this age, you're usually not dealing with bottles and baby food, so you'll have very few "special" foods to carry around. These days, when traveling, I pretty much bring the same items I carry when we're going out to dinner with Ruby back at home—a sippy/drinking cup, utensils, a bib, and snacks. We try to use a high chair at restaurants whenever possible so that we don't have to bring our own, but if a city (like Paris) is known for not having highchairs, then we bring our Inglesina chair to make her eating experience and our dining experience more comfortable for everyone.

Oh Joy | Traveling Abroad with a Toddler

09. Activities. Ruby spends the majority of her days in L.A. outside, playing and exploring, so we made it a priority to have at least one activity per day that was just for her so she could get out all her energy and play. In Paris, there were playgrounds everywhere, so it was easy to give Ruby a play break in between all our other adventures. It can be harder to find play areas in some cities based on the time of year, so we also like finding museums, indoor gyms, or other kid-based spaces that are free or inexpensive where we can spend an hour or two on any given day.

Oh Joy | Traveling Abroad with a Toddler

10. Just Do It. So many people tell me they've avoided traveling on planes or going far distances because they worry about how their little one will react or how hard it will be for them as parents. But I say you just have to live your life and do the things that you think will be enriching and fun for your family because the not fun stuff (like meltdowns on the plane and jet lag) are such a small part of an overall wonderful experience. Sure, you can't have the same type of vacation you would if you were traveling with friends or with just your partner, but you can still have an amazing time and make wonderful memories you can look back on together when your little one is older and gets easier and easier to travel with.

If you have any other tips, I'd love to hear! Happy travels!

Follow Joy Cho / Oh Joy!'s board Mini Travels on Pinterest.

P.S. See more tips and my favorite items for traveling with a little one on my Mini Travels Pinterest board.

P.P.S. These are my tips based on my personal experience. Of course, every child is different so please use these tips as a guide and then cater to your little one's personality or temperament.

74 comments

  1. thanks for the tips. i find the Kalencom Potette Plus really useful. while it is less of a problem with western countries, for asian countries with asian bathrooms (think “squatting”), the potette plus really helps if you are travelling with a little girl.
    it also helps with first-time travelling parents to change their expectations somewhat about vacationing with baby/young children. the pace is slower – you can’t do as much, which is not a bad thing.

  2. Such an informative post Joy. Even though I don’t have kids yet, this post just makes so much sense 🙂 I’ll def. be sharing it with all my friends who love traveling & have toddlers. Thanks again for all the tips!

  3. Thank you so much for these tips. I have a 9 month old and my husband and I always want to travel and I’m surprised by how so many people refuse to travel when they have little ones. Great tips, thanks for sharing!

  4. I completely agree that you just have to do it and not miss out on exciting opportunities because what may or may not happen. We have been taking our now two year old cross country and back since she was six months and are thankful that she is growing up having travelling as part of her norm.
    We have the same iPad case and the PBS app -total lifesaver for long rides!

  5. You’re really lucky you had your assistant put together the travel itinerary because it is a lot of work. I usually always have an itinerary like yours so I know what I’m in for and what each day will be like. It really helps a lot! 🙂

  6. I am so nervous to travel with my 2 years old son. I know its not gonna be easy like last time when We traveled for 25 hrs flight, with 6 months old baby. Surely need more preparation, and I am so thankful for this tips. Thanks heaps.

  7. This post came at such great timing! I have a question about what you and Bob did with car seats/strollers. The thought of having to transport those on the plane (with the addition of transfers) is such a headache. Did you bring or just rent ones at your destination? Thanks so much, Joy!

  8. Great tips! We’re headed to Sweden in a few weeks with our two toddler boys–we’ve traveled there with them before, and my biggest anxiety tends to be the flights. Love the idea about wrapping up little toys. Definitely using it and going to check out your packing tips too!

  9. this is so great! people where shocked when we went to Italy for 2 weeks with a 1 year and 2 year old, but it was such a blast! Charley was in diapers then so I took the gallon sized ziploc bags and put a little baggie of wipes, a diaper and a disposable diaper bag in each one. then when we were in tiny areas (like italian bathrooms and airplane bathrooms) we just had that little bag with us. it was such a breeze i kept doing it at home as well.

  10. Great list Joy! I absolutely swear by the tissue-paper wrapped trinket trick. It works so so well. Another thing I do is bring some wrapped chocolates for the passengers sitting around me and my little ones. Even though my children are great travelers, there’s still seat backs that get kicked and whining that goes on…a bit of good chocolate really smooths out traveling tensions. xoxo Annie from Brimful

  11. Oh, another Katerina!
    Thanks for the tips. I have a 3 1/2 year old and a 5 month old and my family have been begging me to visit them in Cyprus but my biggest fear is that the baby will not adjust to the 7 hour time difference (and she’s such a good sleeper, what if I ruin it all?!)
    I also worry about the carseat situation, like how I will get two of them through the airport. Have heard about stroller bases that accommodate convertible carseats. Was wondering how you address this.

  12. Great tips. Red-eye flights are the way to go! The one mistake I will never make again is an early a.m. flight in which I had to wake my twins up super early to get to the airport on time. Meltdown at the gate and on the better part of the flight:(
    But having traveled quite a bit now with my kids and all their stuff, the 1 thing I would recommend especially if you travel a lot, is to consider investing in a second lightweight carseat for this purpose. Upon several recommendations, we got two cosco scenera car seats and they made a big difference for us. They are cheaper and cleaner then the rentals, much lighter to handle then our normal Britax seats, have always fit in our plane seats, get pretty good reviews, and I don’t worry as much as to how banged up they might get when I check them.

  13. What a wonderful post full of great ideas, many of which I will be borrowing for our trip to Seattle in a couple of weeks with our own 2 year old! The iPad is (hopefully) going to be our lifesaver too. Joy, which case did you end up getting for Ruby? The one in your photo looks like it can withstand some rough handling and looks perfect for travel.

  14. So great to hear it went well. We took our 1 year old to NYC (we’re in the Uk) which we enjoyed and in 3 weeks we’re off to New Zealand (it’s a 30 hour flight) and he’ll have just turned 15 months. It’s bound to have teething issues but we’re just gong for it….

  15. Can I ask which stroller you use? I have used a super cheap one in Italy and my son couldn’t nap well in it. At home we use a BOB, but that is too huge to lug to Europe. Which stroller is pictured? Thanks!

  16. great post, but i would have to add that traveling with a baby or toddler and its success has much to do with the temperament of the child. air flights with my first kid was a breeze and a lot of it had to do with him being able to sleep in different conditions. my second, not so good. she needs her crib to sleep and is more sensitive to sound so traveling long distances have been a real challenge for us. we’ve opted to wait til she moves out of her nap phase to travel abroad so for the time being, short flights and car trips have been the way to travel for us.

  17. Funny, I just added a P.P.S saying that!
    P.P.S. These are my tips based on my personal experience. Of course, every child is different so please use these tips as a guide and then cater to your little ones personality or temperament.
    Best!
    Joy

  18. We spent 5 weeks in Europe with an 18 month old and travelled from Australia and agree these are great tips. We hired a car seat from Zurich airport when we arrived, it was clean and good quality. We also got our daughter used to drinking room temperature long life (UHT) milk before naps and bed time so we could just carry small boxes of these for the flights and being out and about. Definitely need to adjust your expectations but still so much better to go than play it safe at home. They still skip naps and have temper tantrums at home so why not get to see and do amazing things when the opportunity arises 🙂

  19. Thank you so much for this advice. We fall into the category of “too afraid to travel” with our little one, especially when it comes to sleep and getting around and the dreaded plane ride. I feel like there’s so much here to give me confidence and practical tools to take the plunge. Even great advice to take when we go out in our own city! And that Inglesia chair? Genius!

  20. I just want to mention that though not required, the FAA strongly recommends that babies and children under 40 pounds be in a restraint system. For most of our flights, even though we could have not paid for a plane ticket (child under 2), my husband insisted on purchasing a separate ticket for our child so we could use the car seat for her.
    But when I had to take my daughter on a last minute flight to see a dying relative, I did not purchase a seat for her and she was a lap baby. It was too expensive to purchase two last minute plane tickets and I could not have gotten through the airport by myself with the baby, luggage, and car seat in tow. Bottom line, be aware of the recommendations, but do whatever you are comfortable with.

  21. Hi, I will be traveling to Paris with my 20 month old nephew for the holidays, any chance you are going to share what was in that awesome notebook of yours?
    Thanks!
    Natalie

  22. Travelling with a kid in tow is challenging but a lot of fun. My daughter who is now 3 and a half has always travelled with us everywhere since she was 2 weeks old. Last year, we went on a 21 hour flight across the Pacific and she did so well even I was impressed. I always think travelling is the best form of education and I want my daughter to know more about the world thru personal experience. Kids can adapt easily and they will enjoy the trip as much as adults do so don’t stress about it and just go with the flow.

  23. I don’t have children yet, but since getting engaged a couple of months ago, I’ve been thinking about them more! I know I’m way ahead of myself…but I’m looking forward to motherhood! 🙂
    -Narae xo
    artifactgirl.com

  24. Hi Joy – I love your attitude about traveling with a toddler. I totally agree that it can be challenging at times, but the overall experience is totally worth it. It’s always encouraging to see someone else traveling with a toddler, so thanks for the post. And happy Thanksgiving!

  25. Google maps for playgrounds. Easier to find in paris than Nice and even more difficult to find in London. We also made the foods seem more exotic and exciting than they really are ‘cheese from France! ‘ and agree with redeye flights being preferable to day flights. A meal or snack, play a bit then story and sleep the rest of the flight. And for us direct flights are essential. We’ve travelled extensively internationally and domestic with our now three yr old starting at the tender age of two months. It gets easier everytime and its really worth it. Bribes for good behavior also help.

  26. what bag would recommend as your carry-on with littles? i’ve been trying to find a cute backpack or such but have no luck

  27. Great post, my kids are older but we’ll use the tips for Italy this summer. The last time we were in Europe we had an insane amount of luggage, my husband’s relatives in Switzerland looked at us as if we were insane. Two active tweens plus multiple destinations with varying weather is always challenging. The only thing I would add is to bring a bathing suit regardless of destination 🙂 We were caught without them in Laggo Maggiore and spent quite a bit of money purchasing them in Locarno, UGH!

  28. Great post! We travel a lot with our little bebe who is just starting to toddle her way through the world. I’m so happy with all your suggestions and tips especially potty training essentials. I mostly have and do everything you suggested which me feel GOOD, actually I feel like a rock star, oh how times have changed! Keep writing cause I’m reading.

  29. I’m getting ready to take my 1 and a half year old to San Francisco to visit family. So glad I read this post because I was just going to buy a potty when we got there. Now I’m investing in a Travel potty. This one seems comfortable:
    http://www.amazon.com/Mommys-Helper-15301-Cushie-Traveler/dp/B000F1O8T8/ref=pd_sbs_ba_4?ie=UTF8&refRID=1Q2EHYSMKGM1NVNA90EF
    Also, my daughter LOVES opening packages so I will wrap some toys in
    tissue – she will be entertained since it’s only a 2 hour flight, it should be fun. P.S. I absolutely love your Target collection. It spruces up all of my parties. You’re a gem.

  30. Red eye flights are soooooo not awesome for us. Lol. Some kids don’t sleep on a plane no matter what…too stimulating I guess. Your mileage may vary, though.

  31. Not only is this a well-written post, but I love the topic. I recently traveled with my 7-year-old nephew and boy was that a wake up. Since we fit everything into myhardside luggage suitcase, I made sure to bring toys, games, coloring books and headphones in my carryon to keep him entertained.

  32. Thanks for sharing these tips. Do you mind sharing the spreadsheet that has all the activities and suggestions for Paris? Pretty please…..

  33. My pleasure to read such kind of article, really We travel a lot with our little baby who is just starting to toddle her way through the world. I’m so happy with all your suggestions and tips especially potty training essentials. I mostly have and do everything you suggested which me feel GOOD, actually I feel like a rock star, oh how times have changed!

  34. amazing blog about Traveling! Long Time I am searching a blog like yours and thanks for the great content. By the way, Wishing you a very New Year 2017!

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  37. Thanks for all the hints on your travel blogging journey. Whilst I have been writing my travel tips for kids site for a couple of years I have now realised I have made my niche too small. Plus I have travelled for 40+ years and have a wealth of information to share about all types of travel and so am planning on starting a new travel blog.Andaman Tour Packages It is a daunting thought and process, but this has inspired and reminded me to just take it step by step, with a more mindful business approach.

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