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Make traveling with a toddler easy with these 9 tips

Traveling is a joy — and getting to explore new places with your adventure-loving toddler can provide a whole new level of excitement.

Of course, before you can plan your excursions, meals, and vacay plans, you’ll need to do a whole lot of prepping. It’s hard enough to pack for yourself; now, you have to curate a whole new set of trip essentials for a small but opinionated (and not always rational) person. Moreover, discerning the needs from the wants and editing down the list of “must-haves” for little ones can be challenging.

Fortunately, we’re here to help with the logistics. Bookmark this page — and visit us the next time you’re heading out of town with your little one in tow.

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Air travel or car travel? Hotel or rental?

Will you be traveling by plane, train, or automobile? This will affect your planning and packing strategy. If you’re off to the races on a road trip, you may have a bit more flexibility. You can take some nonessential extras that aren’t absolutely needed, but they might come in handy. One tip for car packing: Skip the luggage altogether. Instead, pack all your child’s essentials in a large laundry basket — it’ll give you more room and keep everything neat and tidy!

If you’re hopping aboard a flight, you will have to restrict your toddler’s essentials to what can fit in one checked bag and a small carry-on item. Better yet, if possible, try to eliminate the checked bag completely and pare the essentials down to a small duffel or kid-size wheelie luggage. Remember, though, that you’re going to have your hands full at the airport — schlepping your own bags, your child’s bags, a stroller, and a kid. Do what makes sense for your situation, and try to be deliberate in your organizing and discerning in your choices.

Are you going to a hotel or a rental home? This will also affect your decision-making process. A hotel will offer some child-friendly amenities — like cribs or high chairs. A rental home might not have all of these options at your disposal.

Keep the destination in mind

Naturally, your final travel destination will also greatly influence your packing list. If you’re headed somewhere tropical, you’ll need to pack bathing suits, sunscreen, and other warm-weather must-haves for your little one. On the other hand, if it’s a ski weekend, you’ll require a whole lot of other space-taking gear.

What to pack

Ready to start making a checklist? Here is a basic starter list to customize:

Clothes, undies, and PJs

You want to embrace the idea that less is more when packing clothes for your toddler. Try to pre-plan outfits and pull one ensemble per day. Of course, throw an extra shirt or two in your kiddo’s luggage — spills and messes will happen. Before you leave, find out if your accommodations offer laundry services or if there is a washing machine; if so, take advantage. This will enable you to pack less, repeat more!

Shoes

In terms of footwear, try to stick to two pairs: Comfortable sneakers and then a second option (i.e., a pair of flip-flops for a warm-weather destination or boots for somewhere cold).

Personal-care items

If your toddler is still in diapers or training pants, you’ll want to make sure you have a sufficient supply packed. Wet wipes are always a good idea regardless of diaper training status. Then, there are the other daily-routine essentials: Toothbrush, toothpaste, special soaps, lotions, etc. Pack everything you use on an everyday basis to care for your child. If you can fill up a few empty travel bottles, this will help save carry-on space. A compact first-aid kit will come in handy for your travels, too. Just make sure the included scissors are less than 4 inches, per the TSA.

Travel potty

If your toddler is toilet-trained, you should consider taking a travel potty seat on the go.

Car seat

Your toddler needs a car seat. If you are flying, you could consider renting one once you arrive at your destination. Otherwise, you can gate-check it. Obviously, if you are taking a road trip, you’ll already have what you need.

Foldable stroller

Your toddler will get tired on adventures, and a stroller is always helpful. Don’t bother bringing your heavy-duty gear; stick to a light umbrella-style option — or one that folds easily and compactly.

Small toys/books/iPad

If you’ll be stuck in the car or on a long flight, small toys (think action figures) can help your child pass the time and stay entertained and engaged. A few age-appropriate activity or coloring books are a great option, as well. Finally, desperate times call for desperate measures (aka screens). When you’re on the go, it’s helpful to have the backup option of handing a whining toddler an iPad to play games or watch a downloaded program.

Comfort items

If your little one has a blankie or a stuffy they can’t sleep without, make sure this makes the final cut!

Sippy-cups and snacks

Toddlers get cranky when they’re hungry and thirsty. (Heck, grown-ups do, too!) Be prepared with simple and healthy on-the-go snacks. Granola bars, apple slices, cereal, crackers, or pouches make great options. A sippy cup of water is another must-have for hydrating while out and about.

What you probably don’t need but might consider

Travel bed

You most likely don’t need a travel toddler bed. But if your child has graduated from the crib and prefers to sleep lower to the ground, you could take a pop-up travel bed or sleeping bag. A travel bed rail might give them security, too. Of course, if your wee one is still snoozing in a crib, a pack-and-play will do the trick.

Travel humidifier

If your child sleeps with a humidifier pumping every night, you might consider getting a small travel version to ensure restful nights and easy breathing.

Large toys

Your 3-year-old might say that she “needs” to take her Barbie Dream House, but you’re better off leaving large items at home. Travel is about experiencing new things together — and favorite toys will be even more appreciated once you return home.

Sure, traveling with a toddler is wonderful. But packing for one? Not so much. There are a lot of things to consider, and you’ll want to curate the “must-haves” with strategy. The best way to travel with a toddler involves preparation, so start your list and check off items one at a time. Then comes the fun part!

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Lauren Barth
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Lauren Barth is a freelance writer and digital editor with over a decade of experience creating lifestyle, parenting, travel…
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