How to turn your toddlers into travelers? Here is how I did it.
A few years back, in June of 2002, to be exact, friends and family thought I was crazy when I decided I was going to fly to Europe with our 3 children (aged 2, 4, and 6 years) by myself. My plan was to meet up with my husband, who at the time was working in Germany, and spend two weeks driving Germany and Austria. Friends were truly amazed that I would even think to bring toddlers on a plane, let alone on the flight to Europe.
For me, it was natural. Travel is one of the most important things you can give your children. I never really entertained the idea that taking our kids on a long trip would be a major issue and began to make plans. We had already made several long drive trips from the time they were infants and planes from the East Coast to the Midwest. I planned to make this trip special and do a few things that I felt would make our children the best travelers!
How did I make our toddlers the best travelers ever? Here are some of the things I incorporated into our two-week European adventure.
Make them a part of the planning process. Even at 2 years of age, your toddler should be allowed to express opinions of things they may want to see and do. Going to the library to pick up books about the area is a great help. Look through books, create an image of the trip. For example, we knew we would see castles in Germany, so we read stories such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
Introduce them to the language. I always think it is a courtesy to learn some of the words and phrases of the country you visit. It doesn’t matter the age. We started learning German at home before our trip. I found a great children’s learning system, Muzzy. It is a cartoon story that engages the children and is all in the country’s language. We actually have it in German, Spanish, and French.
Include activities that make everyone happy. When planning our trip to Germany and Austria, we did a mix of things we as adults wanted to see and added fun things for the children. Some of the things we included for the children were LEGOLAND, amusement parks, and even a zoo.
Treat them like “big” people. Each of our children was given their own little backpack. They had their own camera, their own notebook, crayons, pens, pencils, cards, and small activity books in the pack. The cameras were one of the best things, as each child was allowed to snap pictures of whatever they liked. Our two-year-old was such a trooper. She hardly ever used her umbrella stroller.
Plan your time appropriately. Does your child still take a nap? Think about that when planning your outings. Think about the pace of each day and how much time you will be on the road or doing a particular activity. Remember to keep an eating schedule. When we planned this road trip, we never drove more than 4-5 hours in one day, and we never stayed less than two nights at any city stop.
Remain calm and positive. Kids will feed off the energy you give off. Even the best-laid plans can end in a toddler meltdown. Take a deep breath. This, too, shall pass. Remember, after all, it’s an adventure. Stuff happens, and it is that stuff that makes your trip memorable.
Are you ready to turn your toddler into a traveler?
Originally published November 2014; updated May 2021