There's bound to be a little turbulence when traveling with a toddler – I just expected most of ours to occur in the air.
Before a recent family vacation to Kauai, the six-hour flights to and from the island were my biggest worry. It had been almost a year since my son, Max, had been on an airplane, and he'd never been on such a long flight. I envisioned buying rounds of Mai Tais to appease passengers disgruntled by my son's behavior.
But to his credit, Max played nice. I was pleasantly surprised at how well he handled himself. Oh, my husband, Michael, and I, definitely dug into the beach bag stuffed with snacks, drinks, books, markers and even a travel fan. But the most helpful tool was the airplane window. Max, who turns 2 in July, took great pleasure in gawking outside as fluffy clouds sailed beneath him.
It also helped that we were in a row with a 10-month-old boy. The two of them could swap toys at will, and when the boy's mom walked him up and down the aisle, it freed up a spare seat for Max, who was on our laps. This made us realize that it would've been a good idea to buy Max his own seat – in retrospect, a little more elbow room seemed well worth the cost because of the sanity cushion it provides. You might want to do this even if your child isn't yet 2 years old, when airlines require that kids have their own seats.
Lesson learned: Use every inch of your surroundings.
We arrived in Kauai about a half-hour shy of midnight Seattle time, well passed Max's bedtime. Thank goodness the new surroundings kept him entertained, because it was almost another hour before we arrived at the hotel, after picking up our rental car and stopping at the store to grab milk and some quick breakfast staples like yogurt and frozen waffles.
Our room included a mini-fridge, microwave, toaster and coffee maker – all of which we used quite a lot during our stay. While it's great to eat out occasionally, it quickly gets expensive. We also found that having breakfast in our room was a calmer way to start the day rather than rushing to get Max fed. Having at least one meal each day in our room gave Max the chance to relax and be free to roam if needed.
Daily excursions usually involved a trip to a beach, weather permitting. Yes, it rains in paradise. That's how it stays so lush.
Being in the car has never been Max's favorite, which is why I shouldn't have been surprised when he didn't take well to our mini-road trips. I wound up totally baffled and rather frustrated at his lack of patience when it came to time in the car. We started planning our outings by scouting out places where we could stop along the way for Max to play and burn off energy. Thankfully in Hawaii, there's no shortage of beaches.
We leaned heavily on our trusty travel bible, "The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed", by Andrew Doughty and Leona Boyd. It provided quick details on family and kid-friendly beaches and parks, as well as restaurants and shopping to fill up anyone's vacation schedule.
We opted to leave the stroller at home and borrowed a lightweight baby carrier from a friend. It was perfect for slinging Max on our backs while in the airport and when he tired of those long walks on the beach.
When getting out of the car just wasn't an option, we relied on the same books, stickers and markers that got us through the flight. If all else failed, we sang or I crawled in the back seat to keep Max company.
Lesson learned: Relax and be adaptable.
Melanthia M. Peterman is a Seattle mom and freelance writer. She's already scouting her family's next vacation destination
IF YOU GO
Traveling with a toddler is like a game of chance. You never know how it’s going to turn out. As I prepared for a recent jaunt to Hawaii, advice from friends and a search of the Internet turned up plenty of helpful tips for traveling with a toddler.
Most importantly, plan ahead. It’ll save time and reduce stress caused by forgotten items or last-minute changes. Another thread I kept coming across: Keep a list of must-haves – it’ll prevent your trip from unraveling.
I broke up my little guy's needs by categories: beach, entertainment, airplane, sleep, transportation and staples. It's perhaps no coincidence these combine to form the acronym “BEASTS.”
Beach – It's a giant sandbox filled with plenty of discoveries and adventures. But just in case, there are a few staple items to remember when enjoying the surf.
• Swimsuit (at least two)
• Swim diapers
• Beach shoes
• Toys: shovel and bucket are a must for digging trenches and building castles
• Floatie: handy when hitting the pool
• Bubbles (I struggle with the inside mess this childhood favorite makes, but it’s no problem at the beach!)
Eat – Meals can get pretty pricey if you're dining out three times a day. The layout and ambience of restaurants may also add some stress to the day, so research places that are child-friendly. Also know in advance what amenities are available where you're staying. Eating in on occasion can save you money, time and stress.
Otherwise, it's best not to be without snacks and drinks. Quick and easy items to pack include fruits like bananas, oranges and raisins. Carrots, crackers, dried cereal, granola bars and fruit snacks are other handy items your toddler can have on the go.
Airplane – The fear for many parents (and passengers) is being confined on a flight with an unhappy child. It's not like you can pull over for a little break, so be armed with an arsenal of new and old goodies to keep the kiddo entertained. As the departure date for our trip neared, I kept a shoe box on our kitchen counter to collect these items. That way I wouldn't forget anything and it helped to prevent me from collecting too much. If it didn't fit in the shoebox, it didn't go.
• Books: electronic, lift-the-flap or types with attached parts
• Reusable stickers
• Finger puppets
• Crayons and notepad
• Magic markers and paper
• A device to play child's favorite videos or audio stories.
• Snacks and drinks
Also, keep in mind space constraints on the plane. You're not required to buy a seat for children under age 2, but if you want the wiggle room it may be worth forking over the extra airfare if you can afford it.
Sleep – If you're lucky, your little one will sleep anywhere. But if not, you want to make it as much like home as possible.
• Crib or playpen: Many hotels can supply one if you ask. If not, see if there's a local business that rents them. A friend suggested Ready Rentals (http://readyrentals.com) in Kauai, which will rent anything from highchairs, swings and baby gates to strollers, backpacks and wagons.
• Favorite blanket for tucking the tyke in at night.
• Sleep buddy: Be warned, this increases the chance of losing or forgetting a favorite animal, so try to limit to just one.
Transportation – Once you reach your destination, how will you explore? There are a few items to have on hand for making the best of your daily excursions.
• Car seat: If you’re not bringing your own, see if you can rent one with your car rental. It usually costs between $40 and $60 and saves having one more thing to check at the airport.
• Umbrella Stroller: If you know you'll be doing a lot of walking, this may be the way to go. Your back will thank you later.
• Carrier or sling, preferably one that folds away easily. A nice replacement or supplement to the stroller.
Staples – These are the items parents rarely go without. So consider doubling, or even tripling up on them for the big trip.
• Diapers and wipes
• Infant Tylenol
• First-aid kit for minor accidents. (Tip: In a pinch, Band-Aids are great entertainment for a bored child).
Updated October 31, 2019