We have been travelling on the road for more than 5 months now, and travelling with a toddler has resulted in many fun awesome moments, plenty of tears (from both Jack and us) and a lot of times where the question ‘what were we thinking’ arises.
Let me firstly explain, we are travelling not holidaying. We are not going to beautiful sunny resorts to laze by a pool and have endless child friendly activities at our fingertips. There are no babysitters on hand, no family to provide support meaning we have been with Jack 24/7 for the last 161 days (not that anyone is counting!).
We have learnt to adapt and to handle situations we wouldn’t have otherwise had to deal with if we stayed in the comfort of our own home or just enjoyed a short holiday at a sunny destination. So I thought I would share some tips based on our experience for anyone considering going on an adventure, on a budget with a toddler!
1. Forget the mother ideals
Like most mums, I had my ideals for parenting that I strived to live by before travelling. 1. Low sugar, low processed food diet, 2. An organised routine and 3. Limited access technology including phones, TV, computer and iPad.
Unfortunately, when travelling it’s not so easy to maintain the high level of idealistic parenting you originally set out to achieve. And trust me, pretty soon you are going to drive yourself insane if you keeping trying to parent the way you would at home. There are times when your child is going to eat a packet of chips for lunch because there is nothing else available. There are moments you and your fellow passengers are going to be thankful your child sits with the iPad in front of him/her for the duration of the flight. And on most days, you are not going to have your baby bathed, dressed and tucked up in bed by 7pm sharp.
Be flexible, the world is not going to end if you stray from your normal parenting standards. Your kid isn’t going to become obese or suffer from major health issues if they eat some sugary food every now and then. And your child isn’t going to become a techno dependent, socially inept person if they are amused by the iPad for a few hours.
2. Learn to change a nappy standing up
While travelling you are not always going to have access to clean, well facilitated baby change rooms. And you are not always going to be carrying around disposable change mats with you. In fact, 9/10 there won’t be a change table at all.
So one thing I have become pretty good at is changing Jack’s nappy standing up. You don’t have to lay them on the floor, have them touching anything that doesn’t look remotely clean or carry them around with a smelly nappy until you find a change room up to your high standards! Get practicing!
3. Don’t sweat the small stuff
Travelling with a toddler for an extended period of time has its moments and can be incredibly tiring and frustrating. There are times when you are trying to get somewhere and your child is insistent they must push every button along the way, when little Mr. Independent needs to climb up the steps himself or when every puddle has to be jumped in and you don’t have change of clothes on you.
If you are not going to miss your train or your child isn’t in danger, then let it go. It’s ok that your schedule might be out of whack or that your child will be walking around with mud covered pants for the rest of the day. You can really work yourself up into a pickle if you let the little things get to you.
4. Adjust the hotel room to your own liking
Most hotel rooms are not set up to accommodate children and by the time you put your luggage in and set up the travel cot you might find there is literally no room to breathe. Don’t be afraid to move the furniture around to set it up the way you need. Perhaps you can move the chairs around to create a secluded corner for your little one or move the table into the corner to increase the floor space. Don’t hesitate to ask for extra pillows, blankets or towels if you need them. And some hotels will provide a cot free of charge if you ask (many don’t promote this). Try and make the room work for you.
5. Slow down
When we travelled without a toddler, we were on the go from early in the morning to late at night with a jammed packed itinerary. News flash – you just can’t do that with kids or there will be tears! Plan your day to see the sites you want, but ensure there is time to chill out at a park, stand and watch some buskers or let your kids round around in the city square.
Travelling to six or seven places within a couple of weeks might sound exciting, but trust me, it is super exhausting with a toddler. Try and structure it so you have three or more nights in one location in between all the travels. And include days where you don’t really do anything at all but meander around the city and visit a park. Slowing down will make the whole experience much more pleasant and your kids will have a better time too.
6. Always have food on hand
Kids love food and it can be a saviour in melt down moments. If you are travelling on a budget head to a local supermarket and stock up on some items that you know your kids will eat. Carrot, cumbers and sandwiches are our stock standard snack and we always have some Weet-bix on hand for the mornings when Jack just can’t wait for the hotel breakfast.
Make sure you choose easy to transport food that isn’t going to get squished or explode in the bottom of your bag. Food is not only a great tool to avoid public tantrums, but purchasing from a supermarket will save you money in the long run.
7. Time travel with sleep time
If you are travelling between places, try and time it with your child’s sleep time. Whether it’s by plane, car, train or bus we always plan to be in transit during Jack’s day sleep so he will crash out for the duration of the trip. Not only will it give you some peace and quiet to read, sleep or catch up on some work, it will also be appreciated by your fellow passengers. Let’s face it, there is nothing worse than sitting near a loud, energetic or crying child throughout your journey (whether it is yours or someone else’s!). It also means you will arrive at your destination with a rested child rather than one that is cranky and doing everything they possibly can to make travelling a frustrating experience.
8. Get them used to sleeping in a pram
A child that can sleep in a pram is the best travelling companion. We are lucky that Jack will fall asleep for a few hours in the pram during the day allowing us to enjoy site seeing without always watching what he is up to or to have a pleasant lunch out at a café.
It is also particularly helpful if you are not within a short distance from your accommodation or have a busy schedule (remember tip #5 though) and don’t want to spend a few hours waiting for them to wake. Make sure you take this into consideration when choosing a pram to travel with. One that reclines is essential!
9. Give each other a break from time to time
It is really important to give each other a break from parenting every now and then. Whether it is just taking your child out early in the morning so the other one can sleep in or let one of you go off sightseeing solo for a few hours, a short time away can be a Godsend. If you need time together without your little person, check if there are any casual child minding services in the area. I used an hour long day care weekly in Chiang Mai just have a coffee and do some work at the café only a few meters away. We have also seen several of these services at department stores where your child can play while you can shop! And better still, most of them are very reasonably priced.
10. Find the nearest playground to where you are staying
The day prior or the minute we get to our destination, I find out where the closest playground is to where we are staying. It’s great to give your little one a run around after a period of travel and it’s a good way to kick start the day of sightseeing. If you are travelling for a long period with an only child like us, it’s also an excellent way for him/her to have social interactions with other kids.
We also found if you a settling down for a period of time in one place, chilling at a playground is a good way to meet other family travellers or locals parents who will give you lots of great kid friendly tips on the area.
As I write these tips down, I have to keep reminding myself of my own advice. There are days where I do feel I am dropping the parenting ball and times where I do get overly frustrated and feel like I am going to explode. But then there are times where you spend an hour in the park just relaxing and watching your child play with other kids and have an amazing time that I think it’s all worth it. That’s all part of the adventure of travelling with a toddler.