Tips for Traveling With a Toddler

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 28, 2021

Toddlers are always on the go. They have lots of energy and don't always understand the rules. Whether you're surrounded by strangers on a plane or packed together in the family car, traveling with toddlers can be stressful for everyone.

These tips can keep your travel safe and as low-stress as possible, whether you're spending a weekend at Grandma's house or flying around the globe.

How to Minimize Stress When Traveling with a Toddler

Adjust their sleep schedule. If you’re going to be traveling to a new time zone, start tweaking your child's sleep schedule to match your destination a few days before you leave. This will help them adjust more quickly — so you can, too. When you arrive, make sure to spend plenty of time in the sun during the day to help their body adapt.

Pack toys and snacks. Bring anything your child enjoys doing. A few favorite toys, games, books, and even a tablet can keep a restless toddler entertained during a long trip. Snacks can help keep them from getting cranky between meals. 

Prevent ear pain. When flying, some children have ear pain during takeoff and landing because of changes in air pressure. Have your child nurse, suck on a bottle, or drink liquid through a straw to equalize the pressure in their ears, reducing pain. 

Prevent motion sickness. Some kids get sick from the motion of a car or plane. This can lead to nausea or vomiting. Reduce your child's risk of getting motion sickness by giving them small meals before travel and, if in a car, making sure the vehicle is well-ventilated. Play games that encourage your child to look outside instead of focusing on electronics or books. If you know that your child is prone to getting sick, give them medication for motion sickness about an hour before traveling.

Disinfect. Hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes, and soap are your friend when traveling with a toddler. Kids this age love to put everything in their mouths. Washing hands often and sanitizing tray tables and toys can help prevent bacterial and viral infections.

Gate-check strollers. A stroller is helpful in an airport where there may be long walks between terminals and lots of waiting. Keep your stroller with you, and check it at the gate before you get on the plane. When you get off the plane, you can usually pick up your stroller as you leave the gate.

Keep Safety in Mind

Bring a car seat. Airlines allow children under 2 years old to sit on your lap instead of in their own seats. Many parents use this as a cost-saving measure. But the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that toddlers sit on their own in an FAA-approved car seat. This way, if there’s any turbulence, your child will be safely secured. 

Vaccinate. Before international travel, young children should get all their vaccinations. If time is a concern, your child may be able to get vaccines on a faster schedule. But some vaccines can't be given to children under a certain age. Talk with your child's doctor before any international travel to get more information about infectious diseases and vaccinations.

Always wear seat belts and use car seats. It may be tempting to avoid setting up the car seat for a quick cab ride. But toddlers should always ride in the appropriate type of seat for their size, regardless of how far they’re going. Adults should always wear seat belts to model safe behavior for young kids.

Take off puffy coats. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents remove puffy winter coats before putting a child into a car seat. In a car crash, the fluff in these coats flattens, creating extra space in the car seat harness. A child wearing a puffy coat can slip through the straps during a crash. Instead, experts recommend draping the coat or a warm blanket over a child while they’re in the car seat.

Check for safety at your destination. Hotels often put harmful things out of reach of children, but vacation rentals and relatives’ homes may not. When you get there, check that your child can't reach any medications, firearms, or cleaning supplies. You can even travel with your own safety latches and child locks to make sure your little one stays out of trouble.

Show Sources


American Academy of Pediatrics: "AAP Winter Safety Tips: Puffy Coats Should Not Be Worn in Car Seats."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Traveling with Children."

Healthy Children: "Flying with Baby: Parent FAQs."

Healthy Children: "Travel Safety Tips."

Mayo Clinic: "What causes car sickness in children and how can I prevent it?"

Michigan Health: "Poll: Some Parents Forgo Car Seats, Other Safety Measures While Traveling."

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