The other day I read an Instagram post about flying with toddlers with ten tips mostly mentioning sugar, screens and alcohol... So I just simply had to provide the world with a different outlook on this subject!
Sienna and I have boarded 31 flights together over 3 years (twice accompanied by her Papi), travelling to nine countries, and none of that was about sugar, screens and alcohol! We have been three times to each Italy, Spain and Ireland, twice to France and the USA on a total of 16 trips abroad, until we landed in Lisbon last year to slow down a little. So I can tell you quite a bit about solo travel with a small child!
Here are my top tips:
1. Be Careful
This is my number one tip for any kind of travel, be it on public transport or visiting new places. We always need to be paying attention and taking care. You know by your own intuition if you should go up that street or not.
By the same token, handle your little ones with care - make sure you have planned enough and have the patience to look after them properly during your travels.
A few weeks ago here in Lisbon, Sienna and I witnessed close-hand someone getting their wallet pick-pocketed (I somehow just couldn't react to prevent it in the moment!), and it reminded me to always be conscious of our surroundings even if I was convinced that nothing bad ever happens here! It was a great lesson about money for my now four-year-old, though, who had been to work with me that day and understands that we have to earn it!
2. Have Faith
Be fearless. A zillion and one things could go wrong on the road with a little one but you’ve just got to have faith that they won’t. Magic always happens outside of our comfort zones, when we least expect it. Yes, accidents can happen, so can mistakes, but you have everything that you need to handle it: You! You've got to trust that, no matter what. Together you will have the opportunity to learn and grow, and make memories; and that is a wonderful thing!
Last week we were walking by some scaffolding on the way to school (in order to stick to the zebra crossings) and a worker dropped a large metal thing which missed Sienna's head by centimeters!! "MEU DEUS!!!" was my initial reaction - somehow the shock finally got me speaking some Portuguese! And a car recently crashed into the side of a van right next to where I was stood on a street corner (thankfully no physical harm was caused to either party!). So I'm taking these as signs that we are actually very lucky and blessed, and should continue to indeed maintain faith!
3. Don't Stress
If you are travelling with your toddler it is because you have taken the decision to do so. For the sake of them you should try to stay as calm as possible. Your child will sense any tension and most likely act up, making you even more stressed! If you feel yourself getting anxious, then use your own techniques you probably already have to distract yourself day to day when you're on the road too. And then remember to have faith again! Not letting stress get the better of you really is so worth it.
4. Plan Activities
Sienna and I have also travelled a lot by train, visiting friends and family all across the UK. We would often buy a magazine of her choice before a trip and enjoy reading and doing the activities for part of the journey. The world really is the best classroom! You can pull out books, small toys, pencil cases, etc. no matter where you are. And adults can have their own colouring books too these days - it's meant to be therapeutic 😉.
5. Screen Time
Your view out the window is the best kind of screen time! It is amazing what you can talk about and teach your little one just by taking in everything you see.
I understand that some days your toddler just woke up that way and they don't call them threenagers for nothing! So a cartoon on a smartphone or an audiobook can be a saving grace. I, however, have never downloaded apps just for Sienna - I try to prioritize traditional engagement, but I say we should teach our little digital monkeys some moderation too!
It's the same for us parents: phones are amazing on the go for getting directions and taking photos, but we need to know when to put them away so that we are present, can enjoy the simple things, and dedicate the attention our children need from us.
6. Down Time
I usually encourage Sienna to rest when we are taking different modes of transport so that she has energy for when we arrive at our destination, which is exactly what I explain to her. There will usually be about half an hour of pre-nap time whenever we board the vehicle but after that, through habit, Sienna associates it with having a sleep.
Travel can cause irregular sleep times so be prepared to take a pitstop if your child needs a sleep so that they can rest properly. An over-tired, over-wired toddler is no fun for us nor them!
7. Don't Over-pack
Omg please try to learn from my mistakes!! At least if you try to under-pack, you might end up being slightly less over-loaded (how I didn't make my name from my crazy-donkey-mama days is beyond me! 😉).
I travelled abroad at least twice with a Koo-di travel cot and never used it at night because Sienna was happier in bed with me (what was I thinking! - we still co-sleep now and she is 4!). But it did make a safe place for her during the day (people's arms are also good).
The stroller was a great option when travelling to hotter climates (I would peg a cotton muslin cloth to the top as a light and breezy way to protect my baby from the sun), especially with the detachable carseat.
I would usually try to take enough nappies to last the first day of the trip and then a couple, giving me time to buy some locally. And some golden advice from my lovely Grandma - iron your clothes before you pack them. This makes last minute packing even less fun, but it does mean you have space for far more than you think. And for that return trip home where the contents of your suitcase have seemingly tripled - just sit on it to zip it up!
8. SHARE EVERYTHING
My daughter has seen me in my most vulnerable of states - why would I bother about sharing a hairbrush, moisturizer (coconut oil all the way!), and towel with her!? It'll help you pack less if you think about the things you really don't need two (or more) of, and family travel really is about all the bonding. Share the sugar-free snacks out of those precious moments! They don't last forever and they taste better after they've been in your toddler's mouth, you know they do!
9. Be Strong
Sometimes you'll be tired. Exhausted even. You'll have been walking all day, getting more sun than you should, not enough water AGAIN, carrying a 15+kg cranky toddler, and you just can't possibly...
Oh but you will. You will take that bus in the wrong direction. Or get ripped off by that taxi driver. And you will lose your way because your phone ran out of battery right when you most needed that blue dot to show you where on earth you are! (Why did I never invest in that solar phone charger!?).
But then your child will come out with something like "You can do it! You can do it!". Yes! They really will!! And it will be awesome (hearing them chuckle when you just want to blub is also awesome). So be strong. You can do it, and I repeat, it will be incredibly worth it!
10. Be Proud of YOURSELVES
After "I love you", "we did it!" is the next best set of three words! Achieving the inconceivable - that's what travel with a toddler is! 😂
No but seriously, you should be proud. And not only during or right after a trip. Travelling with a small child gives them invaluable longterm skills. You are giving them an amazing, worldly start to life and that should be celebrated regularly. You'll see how they effortlessly adapt to radically new situations, take public transport like a pro, and are totally fine with meeting their thousandth person (and charm them too!)! So you just let that wow-feeling buzz all over you. You deserve it!
Go on! Take the leap and go travelling with your little one!
I would love to hear from those of you who have travelled with (plural) toddlers! And if you are still having doubts then please do get in touch any time for some solo travel mama support!