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Traveling with a Toddler


The past few weeks I’ve traveled with my son.  We have been traveling enough on both sides of the Atlantic as a family, but this time it was just the two of us.  I knew there would be a lot of adjustments to made.  Traveling light gets a whole new meaning.  I planned the trip starting from familiar and friendly ground and gave us plenty of time to adjust while venturing into increasingly “hostile” territory.  With a toddler even a shopping mall can be hostile territory.  Almost every year the media report horror stories of accidents and abductions.  These are my learning from this wonderful experience:

1. Leash.  You’ll be happy to have one in a crowd.  I bought a monkey-backpack with a tail at Walmart.  My son loved it right away and did not mind me holding the tail of the monkey.  Don’t abuse it, though.

2. Toiletry. What’s good for him is good for you too.  Instead of bringing two different shampoos, consider using his for both of you and travel light.

3. Sockets, not blanket. At this age toddlers don’t grasp the concept of staying covered for the night.  Sockets (and a hat if it’s really cold) added to the pyjama will keep them warm throughout the night.  And needless to say: you want enough spare cloth, also for yourself in case your little ones spill their milk on you.

4. Luggage. Organize in two pieces:  a small one for the day and a large one  for the rest.  You can’t leave your toddler unattended neither in the car nor in the hotel room and you need to walk between them with toddler and luggage simultaneously.  Move items from/to day luggage in the trunk when the toddler is safely secured in the seat of the car and the car is parked in a safe place.

5. Motels. The shorter the distance between the car’s parking spot and the room, the better.

6. Bed. This was one of the best things we bought.  It replaces a park at home, folds compact and light for travelling.  It stands heavier and bigger babies than the average park sold in North America.  Add an insulating carpet mat though: the sleeping surface is in direct contact with the ground.

8. Drink. Have plenty to drink with you.  We trained our son to drink with a straw very early.  It affords us a lot of flexibility.  Keep straws ready in the car.  For hot days put a plastic bottle of water in the freezer the night before.  It will keep the lunch box cooler and you’ll have cold water until the end of the day.  Keep milk and fruit juices for outdoor and drink only water in the car to avoid sticky stains.

9. Food. No food in a moving car.  The child could choke on it and you would not have time to react.   Keep enough napkins, plastic spoons, and disposable bags in the car.  Wrap one sharp knife and lock it in the gloves compartment, or carry a (foldable) Swiss Army Knife.  Handy to cut fruits.  Many places have microwave ovens available, but don’t build on it.  Fresh fruits protected by their natural skin are good for the day, and you can buy them every evening at a local store before checking into the motel.

10. Transport. Your child will eventually get tired and want to be transported.  At home we have both a stroller and a back-pack.  Both take significant space.  Trade-off to be made in the travel light department. You’ll need one of them.  I took the stroller that can be reclined to a sleeping position.  Our son is cooperative when I sit him on my shoulders so I don’t really need the back-pack. YMMV.

11. Photo and Video. Don’t forget to capture these special moments, they will love watching them back home.  But forget tripod and other bulky items.  Make sure the camera(s) are securely attached to your belt or vest so that your hands are always free in case of need.  Use a general purpose zoom lens with a wide enough range.  Sometimes you might get lucky and have the luxury to change lens to the dSLR, but remember your priorities.

Enjoy the summer!

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