We’ve been home two weeks from our trip to France and Norway and everyone’s asking “how’d it go?” My answer is always “amazing,” but to my friends with little kids who want to attempt a similar trip, there are some caveats. I have to say, it was great, but traveling with a two year old is not for the faint of heart. Here are my top ten takeaways from the trip:
- Know Your Kid
If you child wigs out on a two hour car ride, do not put them on a plane for 10 hours. That is just not going to work. Similarly, if your kid lives and dies by his schedule and routine, international travel might need to wait a while. To a certain extent, kids can get used to anything, but if you have to travel, try to stay in one place for most of the trip. Which leads me to #2….
- Don’t Move Around Too Much
I made the terrible mistake of overscheduling our trip. It was about 80% less moving around than we normally do, but it was still too much for our daughter. She was at her best when we were in one place, for several days, staying in the home of a friend.
- Stay In a Home, Not a Hotel
Obviously, it’s ideal if you can stay with family or friends, but if that’s not possible, a vacation rental is a great idea. Our toddler did best when staying at friends’ houses but she also did great during our stay at an apartment we found on Airbnb. Multiple rooms (i.e. not all of us sleeping and living in one room at a hotel) and access to a kitchen were the most crucial amenities for us.
- Visit Family or Take Them Along
If you can go visit family who will help out with childcare once in a while, that’s ideal. If you can’t, consider bringing a cool grandparent along with you for support. We visited some honorary family members who were amazing about babysitting for us, giving us a MUCH needed break. No matter how much time you normally spend with your child, I guarantee you never spend as much uninterrupted time with him and your partner together as you will on a trip. That is part of what makes it great, but if you don’t get any break at all, you might start losing your mind.
- Don’t Stress the Normal Food Rules
If you can get your kid to eat something, let them eat it. Some toddlers react to travel by refusing to eat altogether. Besides being a little problematic on the whole health front, this will make them a cranky mess. We brought familiar snacks from home for emergencies and bought a variety of similar items at grocery stores throughout our trip. On the whole, our daughter ate pretty well, but I definitely let her get away with more ice cream than usual.
- Bring Small, Portable Toys
We brought a handful of toys, but not nearly enough. She quickly got sick of the few books we brought, her doll and her teddy bear. We found that buying her small coloring books and cheap little toys at newspaper shops worked pretty well. It was inexpensive, something new, and we left most of them behind. We were also lucky that both sets of friends we visited had toys at their houses. If you are visiting someone who might have a box of toys, ask them to get it out. It will make a world of difference.
- Bring a Travel Stroller
I almost didn’t bring our’s because I was worried we wouldn’t really be able to use it on the cobble stones, but it was a lifesaver. Our daughter napped in it more than once, and we wouldn’t have been able to see a fraction of the places we did without it. Also, most airlines let you gate check a stroller for free, so it’s well worth it.
- Don’t Get Your Heart Set on Anything
Just like every day with a toddler, you might not get to everything (or anything) on your list. I struggled a little with feeling like we were wasting opportunities to see things until I realized we were doing the maximum possible with our little travel buddy. Once I embraced the minute-to-minute nature of the trip, I had way more fun and I think our kid did too.
- Install Your Car Seat on the Plane
If your child is over 2, you will have to purchase her a seat. I HIGHLY recommend installing your own car seat in your child’s seat. We had to fight a lot of gate agents over this since apparently they had never heard of such a thing, but the cabin crew was pretty helpful. Our daughter was super comfy and was actually able to sleep on the plane because she was in a familiar seat. There was a load of screaming kids on our flight home. None of them had a car seat. Our daughter barely made a peep. She was happy as a clam with her cartoons, blankie, and carseat.
- If You Can Do All the Above, Take the Plunge
I woke up the night before our trip in a cold sweat thinking “Am I crazy for doing this?!” People on the street in Norway would stop us and ask how on earth we were traveling with a two year old. I get that it’s super daunting. Preparing and planning for the trip feels even harder than packing for a normal vacation. But if you can brave it, it is well worth your while. I learned so much about my daughter, what her limits were, and how to keep her spirits up. I also learned a lot about myself as a parent and what I am capable of. Overall, shorter trips, and even our everyday routine, just feel really easy now. I know she won’t remember the trip, but I will, and I know that she had some amazing learning experiences that she could never have at home.