The Highs and Lows of International Travel with Toddlers

My husband and I are expats living in China, so our little toddler has already done quite a bit of travel. She had her passport at 10-days-old and her first international flight at 5 weeks. Every summer we travel back home to the US and every winter we travel to Thailand for company meetings. In this most recent trip to Thailand, our sweet girl (17 months) took her 16th-23rd flights!

The Difficulties

Even though our toddler is used to lots of change, traveling with a toddler can be difficult. I’m not a very scheduled parent, but I do think toddlers benefit from routine, consistency, and predictability, none of which are abundant in travel. Nap, dinner and bedtimes varied daily while traveling. Some days she had no problem with the flexibility; other days it made for quite a crabby baby. And this particular trip didn’t even have to factor in jet-lag!

Our darling daughter also developed a lot of less than ideal habits while traveling. She would only fall asleep if held her, and she woke up at night.  A lot.  She discovered an inordinate love of hotdogs, not my top choice for her. She used her pacifier about twice as much as normal. She ate a ridiculous amount of crackers.  I realized that sometimes when traveling, you just have to do what keeps everyone sane, even if that means utilizing Baby Einstein episodes on an iPhone!

The long days of flights and airports were tiring, but the weeks away from home also starting to wear on our toddler. By the end of our trip she started getting extra fussy, even needing extra naps. She wanted to be touching mama 90% of her waking hours, and if she was as far as 2 feet away she would pitifully cry, “Mumm-ma! Mumm-maaaa!”

The Perks

The good thing about traveling with a toddler is that the world is their playground. She loves airports; she can spend hours running around, banging on chairs, and climbing stairs and ramps. At each new hotel room she is excited to find another phone, another fridge right at her level, and more tiny spaces under furniture where she can hide her toys.

Despite all of the struggles, our little one got to charm hundreds of new people and play peek-a-boo with strangers on the plane. She got to ride an elephant and discovered their mutual love of bananas. She even took a nice nap while swaying along atop a lumbering elephant. She played with her aunt, who taught her important life lessons like how to climb up a slide. She went swimming and sliding and walked barefoot in the grass. She got to have bare arms and legs for three whole weeks in the middle of winter!! She played with other kids and went outside every day.  Quite a lot of fun for a seventeen month old!


Tips & Tricks

Baby Travel: from Booking & Packing to Take-off | Family Friendly Airlines | Overcoming jet-lag | Travel Games & Activities

About the author

Ruth Felt is a Georgia native studying Mandarin in Yinchuan, China. She and her writer husband, Kevin, blog about parenting, language learning and cultural experiences at By the Hui on Blogspot.
2 Responses
  1. TravelPangs

    Ruth, I couldn’t agree more. Even for short trips, our routines get totally thrown out the door. When we went to Cambodia in December with our 3 month old, I had to forget about the clock and just read her cues. She too developed lots of bad habits…..BUT… was wonderful to see people embrace our baby girl…and her big brothers too. She broke down cultural barriers like a champ. Everyone wanted to hold her and it opened up so many fun conversations that we would otherwise never have had with the native people. We absolutely loved the experience.

    When we went to Paris with our boys (18 months and 4 at that time) we also found the same to be true. Where were the proud and aloof Parisians we had heard so much about? They were no where to be found. Instead everyone wanted to give them treats and say hi to our boys. Even when we were having a formal meal at a chateau we were staying at, they were unbelievably gracious and accommodating to our boys. I think it opened up Paris for us in a different way. I didn’t step into a single cute boutique, but ate lots of crepes and starred endlessly at Gargoyles at the top of Notre Dame.

    Traveling with little ones is a whole different ballgame, but when we can embrace the differences instead of resisting them, the rewards are wonderful.

  2. Tina

    Great article!!!! I’m not a very scheduled parent either…I agree sometimes when traveling, we just have to do what keeps everyone sane!!

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