Lessons learned from traveling with a baby / toddler

Our little guy wandering the streets of Istanbul

This article has been in making since our very first travel when our little guy was 3 months old, which is when we went for the first longer travel. He’s 18 months old now (year and a half for those who hate month notation) and we did a fair bit of moving around, both by car and airplane, and I think I collected quite a valuable info that I could provide.

For reference’s sake, here is a brief summary of all the travel we did so far:

  • At three months old — ~4h drive to Vrnjacka Banja (this one was OK)
  • At five months old — ~16h drive (over 2 days) to Greece (this one was absolute horror)
  • At eleven months old — ~3h drive to Divcibare (this one was better)
  • At fifteen months old — ~1h flight to Budapest (went amazingly good)
  • At seventeen months old — ~2h flight + 2h by bus to sea-side resort in Turkey (flight went fine but the bus driver was quite tiresome)
  • At eighteen months old — ~1.5h flight to Istanbul (went relatively fine)

As can be seen, I think we had a fair share of travel in almost every developmental period of our little guy, so I’m confident I’ll have some experiences to share. I’ll first start by discussing the developmental periods first and what I think about travel during each of them, and then I’ll proceed by elaborating some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. If I were to pack all of this in one sentence, I guess it’d be — traveling with babies sucks, but traveling with toddlers is like a traveling circus!

From 1 – 3 months old

To tell you the truth, I don’t think you should be doing any travel during this period. Doubly so if this is your first kiddo.

They are too small, fragile, and pretty much new to this world and I’m quite sure that the last thing on your mind, in this period at least, will be to do any traveling. So, during the first three months just brace yourselves and try to survive.

From 3 – 9 months old

From my investigation and extended reading, people seem to refer to this period as GOLDEN period for travel. They are not that small anymore, you get to learn some of their habits, some of them even start sleeping through the night, … And most importantly – they are still stuck in the stroller and are pretty much immobile. Some people even claim that their babies sleep through most of the day (and night at this period). Hence, if your baby is one of those chilled out ones – this is probably a perfect time to travel the hell out of it.

In our case, this was anything but true. Our little guy HATED the car seat, HATED the stroller and wanted to be carried around all the time. Traveling anywhere with him, no matter how short, was an absolute, and I swear – absolute nightmare. Whenever we’d sit in a car, he’d start whining and would keep doing it for pretty much the whole trip. It was driving me absolutely insane.

Oh, and did I mention that he NEVER slept in the car? Well, unless my wife were to literally rock him to sleep in her arms, there was just no way he’d fall asleep. He just HATED any kind of drive, which made it absolutely insane to go anywhere.

And yet, to this day I have no idea how my wife convinced me to do TWO travels in this period. One was a 3-hour drive that turned into God knows how long when you have to stop every 60-90mins to change diaper, nurse, take rest, bla bla. We went to Vrnjacka Banja and, if we exclude the horror of driving there, it was actually OKayish. I mean, it was weird because it was literally the first time I traveled anywhere (except to my wife’s hometown) and it was a shocker as I started learning how the travel with baby looks like (it’s shit :)), but it wasn’t that disastrous.

Second one, and I wrote about this, was an absolute horror. Like, I’m not even kidding when I say it. We went to Greece when he was around 5+ months old, and it coincided with his sleep regression (which is a funny thing, given that he never slept anyway; this just made it even worse). An 8-hour drive under ‘normal’ conditions, turned into 16+ hours stretched over two days. Honestly, if there is one thing I’d never do again, and mind you I did lots of stupid things, then this is probably it. Again, i wrote extensively about it here so if you fancy reading the horrors of traveling with non-sleeping 5-month-old – be my guest.

From 9 – 13 months old

This is when it starts getting better. This is also when most people start saying that travel becomes insane, because this is a period around which they start becoming more and more mobile, and some even start walking.

For us, this was a period when it started getting better as we got used to our little guy and his hatred for the car, we figured out how to keep him LESS annoying, and he was past his sleep regression.

The downside, for me at least, was that my back went to hell. Because he was starting to want-to-walk and I just had to keep bending over to help him do it.

In comparison to previous period, which was mentally draining, this one was more physically draining. Still better than the previous one though.

From 13 months onward

This is when most people claim that you likely want to avoid ANY travel at all. And it kind of makes sense – they start walking and pretty much want to run everywhere, all the time, so you just have to keep running around, making sure to prevent them from being knocked out or whatever.

For us, and for me specifically, this was a period of awakening. The Springtime. The light at the end of tunnel. Honestly. The moment our little guy started walking and the moment the pain in my lower back started fading, I felt like a damn new man!

Frankly speaking, this is also a period when they become way more fun to be around. They want to interact with everything, they want to explore stuff and they are just way more fun. This is also a period when we decided to try switching from car to airplane and, to our delight, it turned out that as much as he hated the car, he seems to have loved flying. Go figure ๐Ÿ™‚

We flew THREE times so far – to Budapest (short flight), and twice to Turkey (yeah, we went to seaside and then to Istanbul after a month) and, if we exclude the delays and queues on airport, it really started getting way better. As in – every single time was better than the previous one, and it just keeps giving!

Now’s the time to discuss some lessons that I learned over time.

Forget vacations; it’s parenting from another location

It’s a fact honestly. It’s not even “a bit different than your pre-kid travels”. It’s absolutely and completely different thing.

Forget the concept of “vacating” and “getting some rest”. Traveling with babies and toddlers is pretty much about taking care of them from another location. Period. And I’d argue that it’s probably even more exhausting because you are out of your daily routines and there’s just bunch of things you need to think about as well – where to get diapers, can you actually get the same diapers as you use at home, what if they get a rash, what if they get allergy, what if they refuse to sleep, what if they get cold, which stuff to pack with you, … I mean, it’s like getting out of your comfort zone on steroids.

Now one might ask, and rightfully so – why in the world would you travel with baby and/or toddler, given that they won’t remember it anyway. And I had the same question honestly – why even bother? It’s not like we’ll get any rest and, to tell you the truth, it’s just additional stress over being stressed out anyway. Here’s what my wife says to that:

He might not remember it, but did you actually observe how he develops every time we travel elsewhere? He’s getting more and more relaxed around new places, new people, new foods and new environments. It definitely stimulates his brain in some insane ways and, as such, is definitely good for his development.

His favorite activity – chasing pigeons

Frankly, it’s completely true. Our little guy grew into a little fearless badass dude who just LOVES exploring stuff. He literally wants to go everywhere, interact with everything and watching the joy in his eyes when he gets amazed by something random is just priceless. So, I guess the whole point is that it’s not about us after all ๐Ÿ™‚

They will shit themselves in the most inconvenient places

And you thought it’s all rainbows and unicorns, eh? This one is something that I’m still trying to wrap my mind around. But it’s a fact. They will take shit in absolutely every damn place that you could (and couldn’t) think of!

Here are just some of the places on top of my mind — in front of airplane (i.e. in the aisle where you wait to board the airplane; good luck using that crappy useless pad in the airplane’s toilet), in the airplane as it’s about to take off, in the airplane during the land, in the bus, in front of the bus, during the dinner at your fancy 5-star hotel, at the beach, in the pool (thank god for those swimming diapers!), in the car but specifically at places where there’s nowhere to stop, … You get the gist so far, I guess ๐Ÿ™‚ They will ALWAYS take shit in some super-inconvenient place.

My hero wife, blessed be her name, perfected the technique of changing his diaper in the stroller, which to tell you the truth, is the only reason why we kept carrying the stroller with us. It wasn’t for moving our little guy around, but rather to change his diaper in the crappiest places possible. But obviously you have to be prepared to do it in parks, city centers, shitty public toilets and, obviously – airplanes ๐Ÿ™‚

You get priority-passage everywhere

This is one HUGE upside of traveling with babies and toddlers. Everyone will let you go to the front of the line. On airports, at check-in counters, security lines, venues and museums, … you always have priority; and for a reason. I mean I can’t even imagine what’d happen if you waited in line with a screaming kiddo (who’d probably shit themselves anyway just for the fun of it).

So, if there’s one HUGE plus for traveling with kids – this is it. You will (almost) never have to wait in line. But you’ll still have to be on the lookout on where to change their overpooped diaper ๐Ÿ˜›

You can take stroller all the way to the airplane

Also a great thing. You can literally get to airplane entrane with the stroller, assuming it’s an easily foldable one.

One lesson that I learned the harder way though is – you usually don’t get to pick it when exiting the airplane though. On some airports it gets delivered with regular bags, on some airports it goes to “heavy baggage” section, and on some places you do, indeed, get it in front. So just be mindful about this.

Bring a rash cream with you

We learned this one the hard way in Turkey. We also learned that, no matter what internet claims, you can’t find everything everywhere. So, take my advice and always bring a freaking rash cream with you. Your babies tushy will thank you for it.

Sea-side resorts are Godsend

Look, my wife and I loved to travel. And more than traveling we loved exploring places and staying active. That means that I was a strong opponent of any kind of resort because all you do there is sit, eat and drink.

Well, let me tell you, with a baby and/or toddler, this is EXACTLY the place where you want to be! It’s MADE for kids!

We went for a 5-start resort in Turkey, and it was worth EVERY DAMN PENNY. We didn’t have to think about food, there were all kinds of activities for kids, including the day-care, and everything was reachable within 2min walk. Well, everything was there except for, you guessed it – the rash cream!

So, take my advice, forget all the traveling you did before, don’t make the same mistake I did with Greece – go to freaking resort and have some mental break (because you ain’t going to get a physical one anyway).

Don’t count on buying diapers, wet-wipes, etc. Bring them with you!

I know, I know. Many will disagree with this. Why in the world would you pack diapers unless you are traveling to jungle? Isn’t pretty much every place out there having babies? Yeah … no. Not really.

Here’s a kicker – we went to Istanbul recently and we stayed in the most touristy area out there (Sultanahmet). Surely there are babies needing diapers there, right?

Let me tell you – out of 5 stores I visited, for whatever damn reason, not a single one had diapers. I have no clue why, but that’s just a fact. Not to mention wet wipes or baby food.

Now, sure, there surely is a supermarket somewhere where you can get all you need, but let’s not forget the fact that traveling around with toddlers isn’t really piece of cake where they just sit still and wait for you to finish.

And I don’t even want to go down the route of not being able to buy the diapers that your kiddo is used to; or wet wipes. And did I mention the rash cream yet?

Just pack those damn diapers, baby food and wet wipes. Have them for at least two to three days. Ideally for the whole trip. You can thank me later.

Proper-packing is king

My wife and I were really lucky on this one. I’m big time into planning everything around the trip itself – destination, transport, accommodation, places to visit, etc., but I really SUCK when it comes to packing. I’m just fortunate enough to have like 10 t-shirts and three pairs of jeans in total, so my packing consists of simply taking EVERYTHING that I have and bringing it with me.

My wife, on the other hand, had her episodes where she didn’t even know the name of the place where we were going. She just sucks when it comes to trip-planning but is an absolute mastermind when it comes to packing and organization. Like, mind-blowing kind of mastermind.

She somehow envisions what our little guy will wear at EVERY SINGLE SECOND OF EVERY SINGLE DAY, and then she triples that given the fact that he’ll probably shit over at least one of those things, and possibly have pee-leak once per day anyway. So, she somehow manages to take everything that is really needed, but nothing more than that. So, we ended up going to seaside for 10 days with one 20kg luggage and two cabin-sized baggages. Pretty amazing but proper packing is king I guess ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s different but rewarding in its own way

Do I miss the old time when my wife and I would change three to four accommodations in 3 weeks? Explore every damn crazy place, beach, forrest and mountain? Take a random turn just for the sheer fun of it of seeing what’s there? Sure! Sure, I do.

But would I trade my current life for anything? Absolutely not. Because one thing that I started to realize as this little kiddo transformed from bag of poo into a hilarious toddler is that they grow fast. And they are this little for a very brief period of time. And from what I’ve heard – they become really cool travel companions once they hit age of four or so.

So, what I learned is to just enjoy the moment and endorse every single moment of seeing our little guy get excited about completely random things that he sees for the first time. Because the time does, indeed, fly, and there’s just no way to take those moments back. And even though they won’t remember it, there’s still one person who will – your partner and you. And I think that’s more than enough of a reason to just go and do it!

Watching this little wanderer explore the world is as satisfying as it gets

3 thoughts on “Lessons learned from traveling with a baby / toddler

  1. We have a kid who is a couple of months older, many car trips were a nightmare, like having to stop the car in the middle of nowhere at night to try and calm the kid down. This was always on the way back home, so we figured that the problem was that he didnt want to go home. So we started just not saying that we are going home, and this problem went away.

    Airplane was fine really, but we only had one short travel.

    Also, yeah, hotels are a must. Forget appartments, you need a hotel. No thinking about food, no cooking, no dishwashing, someone else takes out the trash for you (which is huge), fresh towels and linen when your kid creates a disasterโ€ฆ

    This year we went to Greece by car to an appartment – disaster. Everybody got sick, had to cook all the time because of stomach problems, kid vommiting in the carโ€ฆ a freakin nightmare.

    A month later we go to a nice mountain hotel. Even though this time we were NOT on vacation – we worked remotely the whole time – we returned refreshed like never before.

    So spend some more money on a hotel, even though it may mean that you stay in the country. Its worth it.

    1. Thanks for the response! I actually do think we tried EVERYTHING, except switching the car seat, but nothing seems to have worked. I eventually figured that he probably just hates being strapped and fixed in place. Which kind of proved to be true once he started running around ๐Ÿ˜€

      With everything else you wrote — I completely identify and agree with! I probably should have added a section about Apartment vs Hotel. Definitely a MASSIVE difference and absolutely +1 for hotel!

      1. Hey sorry for not seeing your reply earlier, I thought that I will get an email if someone responded, but I guess it doesnt work that way, OR it went to a spam folderโ€ฆ

        About your boy not liking beeing strapped in place – we were pretty firm on that, and we dont allow any car movement when he is not seated and strapped. We do use cartoons and sweets to calm him down, which is bad, but some things u gotta swallow I guess :/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top