Should I take my toddler on vacation?

A couple of years ago at the gorgeous White Point Beach Lodge in Nova Scotia, we  decided to place our 14-month old in the cottage’s ceramic bathtub (empty, of course) while we took our suitcases in from the car. Although he was capable of toddling, his legs weren’t quite long enough to master the bath-escape, so we figured it was a safe way to keep him from wrecking the room before we baby-proofed it. We came back to this:

Travelling with Toddler safety White Point Beach cottage

You’d have thought we’d have learned our lesson, but on a recent trip to England, we allowed our toddler to play in this decommissioned telephone box that we found outside a Cornish pub. Again, containment was the name of the game. We figured that while he played inside the box, we might be able to enjoy the sea views for a moment. When he emerged, our son smelled like he had been playing in a toilet… which, in essence, he had. Thank you, Cornish drinkers!travelling with toddler phone box Bowgie InnOn these occasions, we felt slightly irresponsible but we laughed and wiped our brows with relief that the little had guy made it through another mini-adventure. But there have been other vacation moments when I felt so helpless, I cried.

My older child was a terrible flyer, and as an infant would scream for 4-6  hours straight during our journeys across the Atlantic.  Once, when she was about three years old, we left  her to play quietly on the floor of a car rental office in Dublin while we filled out some paperwork. She had eaten some cheesy snacks on the plane over, which must have been the proverbial tipping point for her sensitive digestive system.  I can still hear the echo of my scream when I turned back from the rental desk to see my gorgeous little curly-haired toddler, lying on her back, happily making poo-angels on the tiled floor.

I can still hear the echo of my scream when I turned back from the rental desk to see my gorgeous little curly-haired toddler, lying on her back happily making poo-angels on the tiled floor of the car rental office.

In his travel blog My Little Nomads David Robert Hogg encourages all parents to travel but warns that it’s not always going to be plain sailing: “It’s not going to be the trip you had before you had kids. It’s going to demand a lot of you. You’ve got to be ON all the time. You’ve got to plan. You’ve got to Go when you want to Stop and Stop when you want to Go”.

Annie André and Blake Elder agree. They are an American couple who moved to France with their three kids for a year…and never left. In their article, 10 Reasons Why You should Travel With Your Kids Even If They Won’t Remember, they refute the common argument that travelling with toddlers is a waste of time because they won’t remember. “Experiences are the building blocks that make us who we are”, says André, “whether we remember them all or not”.

Travelling with a baby or toddler

Annie André writes at, with advice for families travelling and moving to France

Gain inspiration from The Flashpacker Family: Bethaney, Lee, Reuben and baby Hazel, who are currently on an open-ended family holiday around the world. Although they describe themselves as “fly by the seat of our pants types”, their blog reveals a careful and responsible outlook to parenting.

In her blog entry, Long Term Travel with Kids: How do We Do It?, Bethaney describes a pattern of 4-6 weeks travelling followed by 4-6 weeks in one location. She spends on average one hour per day travel-planning. Her website is dedicatedto helping other families find adventure, with travel tips and inspirational stories about the benefits or travelling with young kids. Her advice on flying with kids? “It will most likely suck”!

Travelling with a toddler in Europe

The Flashpacker Family on a hop on hop off bus in Spain

But what about the rest of us? Like most working Canadian families, My family are not “flash packers”. We save up for our vacations just like everyone else, and when we travel, it’s because we need a break or wish to connect with friends and relatives.

But like the professional travellers, we’re not delaying our adventures until our kids are “old enough to remember” or have passed the temper tantrums/runny poo stage. Why? because every vacation, stay-cation or weekend is an opportunity to make memories…mishaps and misadventures included!

Travelling with kids in England camping

Here is our family on what was actually a disastrous camping trip in the Cotswolds, England

Travelling with young kids is not easy. A toddler will not eat sleep or poop to your holiday schedule, so the key to  travelling with a toddler is to relax, avoid jam-packed schedules, and  always leave yourself a plan B.

Here are some more tips for travelling with a toddler:

  1. Divide and Conquer: one parent takes the luggage; the other parent takes the kids
  2. If you’re the parent in charge of the kids,  put the camera and iPhone away. Focus.
  3. Hotel naps are sublime, so don’t feel guilty about sleeping in the afternoon. The attractions can wait.
  4. Be prepared for melt-downs, usually when you have planned something special.
  5. Buy the best travel insurance you can get; choose your policy carefully
  6. Be flexible, and ready to change your plans. Buy open tickets or flexi-passes for trains and buses.
  7. Book hotel rooms that have a fridge or a kitchenette
  8. For a local experience, try a holiday rental through Air B&B or Flipkey.
  9. Don’t overpack: you can buy diapers and wipes when you get there.
  10. Make the ordinary extraordinary. Take a local bus, go grocery shopping or see a movie… in a new place.

Do you have any wild or wonderful memories of travelling with young kids? Please tell us about them in the comments!