Let me start by being honest. We have ended up traveling far more with our son than we ever expected to, and we have taken him to far more “adventurous” places than we had ever expected to before he was born. My husband and I met traveling, and it is something that we enjoy doing together. But there were trips that we thought we should do before we had children – like going to India.
When we moved to India when Liam was 2 ½ years old, we blew that perception out of the water. As a result, living in India changed our boundaries of what we were prepared to do with him. Each trip got us more creative and taught us more about how to do it so that he also enjoyed it, and it was safe for him as well. As a result Liam can now write a list of the 21 countries that he has visited, and we keep planning the next vacation.
So let’s get traveling – these are our top 10 tips for traveling with a 2-5 year old.
1) Travel light
Traveling with a 2-5 year old is a handful. Possibly even more so than when they are younger. The more active they get, the more that they want to run at the airport, explore at the hotel reception desk, and find out what is going on just around that corner where you can’t see them anymore.
Traveling light means that you can divide and conquer – one of you looks after the luggage, and checking in at the airport and hotel, while the other keeps the kid(s) entertained. Consider critically what you can leave behind to get it down to 2 bags – one for each hand. I leave it up to you how big those 2 bags are, but for us they are 2 cabin bags (55cm) – one for him, and one for us that we share for a trip of up to 2 weeks.
2) Pack a selection of small toys
Packing light means getting creative on what toys to take with you, and which ones to leave behind. We have a small zip up black bag (about A4 in size) that Liam is allowed to pack on his own. We encourage him to fill it with cards, matchbox toys, and puzzles (which we take out of the boxes and pack in zip lock sandwich bags).
Next to his special pouch of toys we have an A5 size bag which holds a couple of colouring books, paper and crayons or felt tip pens for him to draw with. Taking drawing materials is really versatile, because he can use it in the plane, a restaurant, or a hotel room. We also take a small football (15cm diameter) everywhere that we travel too. It is amazing how many hours a ball can fill at a hotel, and how little grass it takes to create a game.
Maybe this is a little controversial, but he also has an IPad with games on it to play with. We try to limit its use to 30 minutes per day, but on travel days – when he is in a plane or a long car ride – we are a little less strict in how long he is allowed to play on it.
3) Take books for take-off and landing
Whether you agree with taking an iPad or not, there is one time it absolutely can’t be used – and that is the 30 minutes each side of take-off and landing. We always have a selection of 10 small books with us (Thomas the Tank Engine) that we can read to him while we are taking off and landing. He can choose which one gets read next, and it keeps both of us distracted for the first hour of the flight.
4) Explain to your child where you are going and what is special about it
Lots of people are amazed at the places that we have traveled to with Liam, and I admit, trips around India, Nepal and Oman were not what we were expecting to do with a child. However, they were all possible and safe, and enjoyable for him and us, and he has the most amazing understanding of Geography as a result.
But he hasn’t enjoyed the trips and learned this on his own. We have made a conscious decision to use our travels as a way to teach him about the world. We tell him where he is going, we show it to him on a map, we explain to him what is special about where he is going, and why he is so lucky to be able to go there. As a result he excitedly talks about trips he has taken to Mumbai and Dubai long after the trip instead of complaining that he didn’t get to go to the pool or the beach like the other kids in his class.
It doesn’t matter whether your next trip is as exotic as Mumbai or Dubai or not, the idea is just that you talk to them about how lucky they are to get to travel with you, what they are going to get to see, and how that is special for them.
5) Let them know what is in it for them
Kids (at least our one) are amazing little negotiators. They can bargain and blackmail us from the time that they can talk. With Liam we make deals. Each day he will join us to do things that we want to do, and then we will do one thing that he wants to do. It goes a bit like this “Yes, you can play in the pool this afternoon, but first we are going to go and see X, Y and Z in the city. We will be back for your swimming by 4pm.” Or “Today we are going to see X, Y, and Z, we found a great park in between where you can play with your ball after lunch before we go from Y to Z.”
6) Get a collapsible stroller
Our first trips were done with a big stroller that was difficult to check in, and even more difficult if we had to take a taxi somewhere. That was something we were prepared to manage in the 0-2 age group, but after his second birthday we traded it in for a smaller model. We bought a