4 Things NOT to Do When Traveling with a Toddler

Last week, my husband and I made the mistake of taking the kids for a little mid-winter getaway.

As is the case with most of my grand plans, I had good intentions in mind when I planned the trip sometime way before Christmas even came and went. I carefully stashed away some of the money I had saved for Christmas spending, knowing that come mid-February, we would all be needing a break. I booked a “stay and play” package at a local water park hotel and gleefully waited to surprise the kids with our trip.

Our girls, at ages 5 and 3, were predictably excited and spent the entire weekend packing and unpacking, gushing about how much they looove hotels, and how they were going to swim all day long. I, meanwhile, tried to pretend I had never read those horror stories about dead bodies stashed in hotel beds (for reals) and tried frantically to get ahead of the millions of pounds of work I had to do so I could actually enjoy two days off.

In my haste to catch up and get out, I made one very critical mistake for our family fun trip:

I failed to adequately plan for a trip with a toddler.

I assumed, foolishly of course, that we could be spontaneous and fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants people for this trip. Just pack up and go, right? What could be easier?

Somehow, even after three kids, I didn’t know better.

I probably don’t need to tell you how well our trip went, but I will. It was kind of sort of a disaster. The older girls had fun, but our almost 19-month-old? Was.terrible. Cried almost the entire time, including a literal four-hour stretch from 1 A.M. to 5 A.M. in the hotel where I was certain we would be kicked out.

And because I don’t want you to go through the same agony we did, allow me to share with you the crucial mistakes I made on our trip with four things NOT to do when traveling with a toddler.


1. Don’t forget to pack snacks. I totally meant to buy snacks before our trip, but somehow, I never made it to the store. First there was an unexpected work emergency and then there were the scheduled dentist appointments that we ran late to. And before I knew it, we were checked into the hotel room and my kids were trying to eat my suitcase, so ravenous was their hunger. Sadly, all I had were a few abandoned fruit roll-ups that my mom had stuffed in the diaper bag when I wasn’t looking (I swear, I don’t buy them!) and my kids found those faster than you can say “how many germs are on your thumb?” Take it from me, folks, everything with a toddler is worse without snacks.

2. Don’t assume one swim diaper will be enough. One night in the hotel = one trip to the pool = one swim diaper, right? Let’s be honest–when is one diaper ever enough? And on a related note, if you still don’t take my advice on this one, it is advisable to bring change for the automated swim diaper dispenser located on the wall near the pool, or you will end up scrounging/begging for quarters at the last minute.

3. Don’t plan on a full night’s of sleep. Be prepared here, my friends. The playpen might not seem comfy, the blanket not soft enough, the room temperature not right. But if your toddler won’t fall asleep, whether it be excitement or an unfamiliar room, don’t be surprised. Toddlers are creatures of habit and at this point, it may be hard to break up his or her routine, so try to go with the flow–even if it’s the middle of the night.

4. Don’t forgo the activity bag. Along with forgetting the snacks, I totally forgot to pack any sort of “activity” bag for my kids, toddler or otherwise. I foolishly assumed the excitement of a new place and being in a hotel and the water park slide would keep them occupied enough. But I failed to account for the loads of down time we had–waiting to check in, waiting over two hours for dinner one night, waiting to drive home. Had I had enough foresight to at least pack some crayons and a coloring book, I could have avoided one particularly ugly pre-dinner meltdown for sure.

What about you? What are your best tips for traveling with a toddler in tow?

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