Traveling with babies and toddlers: The good, the bad, and the ugly

With Mother’s Day coming up next Sunday, I’ve decided to dedicate each day this week to offering tips, inspiration, and stories to all the traveling moms out there, especially those who might be questioning how, where, or why they can bring their children out into the world. And I won’t be doing it alone. Each day other fabulous traveling mothers will offer their own words of wisdom. I’m so excited to bring you the collective experience of this truly amazing group of family travelers who have been round the world and back with their little ones.

Traveling with babies and toddlers can certainly be an adventure, and sometimes not the best kind. Diaper blowouts, unexpected crying jags or tantrums, fatigue, and illness can all make a trip memorable in the wrong way.

I’ve had my own share of difficult days on the road, perhaps none more so than the first day of our 13-month adventure with Tommy, which involved a nightmarish rental apartment and an insufficient supply of baby food. But one theme that runs through this story and also all those that other traveling moms chose to share here is that of resilience. All of us realized afterward that even the most disastrous of travel days are worth it – and that they often give us something to laugh at later.

Not surprisingly, our stories start on an airplane where Rebecca Darling of R We There Yet Mom? discovered the hazard of a long-legged toddler:

When my son was 18 months old, we traveled on a flight with his car seat – he was just able to touch the seat in front of him with his feet.  Once he discovered the fun of kicking the seat, there was no stopping him. I literally held his feet singing, telling stories, and playing with him to try to distract him. At one point, I softly begged him to stop.

Two-thirds of the way through the older gentleman who was sitting in the seat turns around and give me a kind smile.  I steeled myself, waiting to hear it.  He nicely told me not to worry about it anymore – it was nice to get a “massage” the whole flight.

Wow – what an enormous weight off my shoulders! After the flight, I thanked him profusely, telling him how kind he was to this exasperated traveling mom. It made me realize that while we may think our child may be the most annoying to all around you, there are actually a great deal of sympathetic people out there.

Sometimes it’s little ears and changing pressure that make for travel woe. Lisa Goodmurphy of Gone With the Family learned just how powerful her daughter’s lungs were on one flight:

On one of our flights to Prince Edward Island when my older daughter was about 3 years old, the plane began its descent and Katie’s ears started to hurt.  My husband and I were both trying to soothe her but she became distraught and, oblivious to the fact that we were still several thousand feet above the ground, started to yell loudly and repeatedly “I want off this plane right now!” At the time, I was mortified by the disturbance that she was creating but we still have a good laugh about it 12 years later.

Flying with a sick toddler is no fun, as Sandra Foyt of Albany Kid shares:

We had our trial by fire when we flew from New York to Buenos Aires with a toddler who had just come down with a cold. A ten-hour flight with a cranky toddlers whose ears hurt may well be the nadir of our family travels, the only upside is that when you’ve hit rock-bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Keryn Means of Walkingon Travels discovered that sometimes stress can happen before the plane even takes off:

The very first time I traveled with my son on a plane he was three months old. It was Christmas and we had a six-hour flight ahead of us. While the plane was boarding I ran to the back bathroom to change his diaper. When I unsnapped the changing table it made the most horrible sound. My son freaked out. I had to leave the bathroom to calm him down and then try again. The other passengers were staring at me as if I was beating my son with a stick. I finally got him calmed down and on the table but as I whipped off his diaper he proceeded to pee all over his clothes and the new diaper. I wiped him off, marched myself back to our seats with a half naked baby in my arms, grabbed new clothes and a diaper, got him back in the bathroom and finally made it back to our seats with a clean and happy baby.

By this point almost everyone was boarded and looking at me with just a tiny hint of pity behind their smiles. After that my stress just melted away. What else could be worse than what I just went through? No one made a snide comment and we even made a few friends from the experience. To this day flying is still the entire family’s preferred mode of transportation, wet diapers and all.

Of course, not all travel tales of woe happen on airplanes. Amy Whitley of Pit Stops for Kids discovered that even a happy place can lead to a sad story:

When my now-10-year-old was three, we took a tour of Fairfield California’s famed Jelly Belly Factory. I thought it’d be a very preschool-friendly travel experience, and it was…until I had to try to explain to him that he couldn’t go out on the working factory floor and grab jelly beans by the handful. (In retrospect, what was I thinking, taking a preschooler to a candy factory and telling him “not to touch”?). He had a tantrum the likes of which I’d never seen (nor will forget). Eventually, I had exit via the emergency service elevator while he kicked and screamed. This tour is now the stuff of family lore, which is why I found it amusing to be invited back just this month. I’m happy to report that seven years later, he was on his best behavior, proving to me that it does get easier to travel with kids!

New foods can be a source of excitement on the road as Corinne McDermott of Have Baby Will Travel discovered:

My daughter discovered a fresh love of peas on our first trip to Cuba. They were prepared with much more butter than I ever would, and quite proficient at self-feeding by 11 months, she delighted in shoving handful after handful into her mouth.

And then she stopped.

And then the handfuls and handfuls of peas exited her mouth, Exorcist-style. I was horrified that this was happening in the hotel dining room, because, well, my daughter just vomited up green peas Exorcist-style in the hotel dining room. I was also horrified this was happening because, well my daughter my daughter just vomited up green peas Exorcist-style. Was she allergic? Was she really really sick? Did she just eat too much? These are questions that plague a new mom with every upchuck, whether you’re in your own dining room or far from home. As it turned out she just ate too much and was right as rain the following day. What’s more, the enthusiastic and concerned welcome back to the dining room the next morning at breakfast cemented my love of family travel to Cuba.

For Nicole Wiltrout of Arrows Sent Forth, a series of small disasters didn’t dampen her travel enthusiasm:

We experienced a series of unfortunate events last spring, including a flat tire, a cancelled camping trip, and a sudden illness. We tried to make the best of it all, and it certainly hasn’t kept us from taking off on various adventures since then!

Reading these stories, one thing comes through loud and clear: When it comes to traveling with babies and toddlers a good mantra to keep in mind is “this too shall pass.” No matter how bad a situation seems in a given moment, the next moment may bring you the kind of traveling joy we’ll be sharing tomorrow when we talk about the favorite trips we’ve taken with our children.

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