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Traveling With a Toddler in 2023, 5 Things I've Learned

Traveling with a baby and/or toddler can be tough. This year, my family and I took international, domestic, and inter island trips with our 15 month old toddler. We have made wonderful memories together and also learned a lot along the way. Since we are done traveling for the year, I wanted to reflect on my experiences and share with you what I've learned. If you are planning on traveling with your little one, I hope this blog can help a little!

To give context to our experiences, our daughter Ellie went on her first airplane ride at 9 months to the Big Island of Hawaii. This was a 40 minute inter-island flight there and back and the duration of our trip was just one night. After this trip, my husband Reid, Ellie, and I traveled to Hiroshima, Japan (4 day trip), Las Vegas (5 day trip), Los Angeles, California (7 day trip), various cities in Japan (14 day trip), and back to Los Angeles, California (7 day trip). Traveling this much in one year for Reid and I was out of the ordinary, but it was also much different since now we had a growing baby into toddlerhood coming along on all our trips.

If you follow my YouTube channel I've shared much of our traveling journey this year through my videos... but if you're new to my blog, please make sure to check it out! Part of our traveling was for my work. Besides taking care of our daughter full time, I am also a stage director. We were taking the show, Peace On Your Wings on tour to both Japan and LA. (Check out my videos if you want to learn more about that). For some of the time while traveling, Reid and I split the parenting duties and I worked on the show while he took care of Ellie. I am very grateful that Reid was able to offer his support during the days that I needed to work. In any case... we both learned a lot during our travels. Keep reading to find out what we learned!

1. Being Prepared Lessens Anxiety About the Unknown

I remember on our first trip to the Big Island, I was very stressed out about what to pack for Ellie. As a new mom that was traveling with her baby for the first time, I'm sure I overpacked. I was also still breastfeeding and pumping...which just adds so much more stuff to bring. I was overwhelemed. I did a couple things to ease my worries;
1. Research to see what other people pack efficiently through youtube and social media,
2. Create a packing list for myself and for my baby
3. Communicate with my partner to figure out what we both thought were "needs" instead of "wants."
I found that doing these three things really helped. My husband was able to talk me out of bringing things that he felt were "non-essential." In the long run, it's good to be on the same page as your partner especially if they will be doing most of the heavy lifting when traveling.

2. As You Travel More With Your Family, Packing Get's Easier and You Realize What is Essential

This obviously sounds like it's common sense but I feel like this is important to mention. By the time we went to Las Vegas, Reid and I established a routine in how we pack, how we transition from one place to the next, and what big items are essential in our opinion.

Here are the items that we feel are essential:
1. Car Seat (IF traveling domestically. We did not bring a car seat to Japan. We did ride in cars while we were in Japan but Ellie sat on our laps. We did our best to take trains though since that is the safer option.)
2. Guava Pack and Play We brought Ellie's bed to every location. We felt that this was important because not only does this give her some familiarity when going to a new location, it also makes sure she has somewhere safe to sleep every night. Hotels in Japan are very small, but we managed to make this fit in whatever space we had.
3. Bugaboo Stroller We love our stroller for Ellie! This is a great travel item that we take right to the gate. It also fits in an overhead compartment on the airplane so we also take this as a carry-on item. Ellie has take many long naps in this stroller while we were out everyday and overall, its easy to push, open, and close.
4. Hiccapop High Chair Since we bring the car seat, we put the Hiccapop High Chair in the car seat bag so it doesn't take any space in our suitcase. This has been a lifesaver for times in our hotel room when we wanted Ellie to sit down and eat, or even when we went out for the day. This high chair fit under our stroller so we would take it along and use it when needed. This high chair can also be mounted to a regular chair so there was many times when we used this chair at a restaurant.
5. Cooler Bag Since Ellie was still an infant when we started traveling, we wanted to make sure we always had milk and snacks readily available. We've learned along the way that bringing a cooler bag was a plus. We've had a few different ones through all our trips, but we seem to use this one the most. Something that I love about this cooler bag is that it has an open and close clasp so we can conveniently hang it on our stroller while transitioning from one place to the next. It also has a pretty large top portion to add many dry snacks.
6. If you're going to bring a cooler bag, you'll need ice. We have learned a lot about bringing reusable ice on our flights... and also got a lot of ice taken away by TSA. (If you are traveling with a baby, you are allowed to bring any amount of liquid through TSA. Just make sure to say that it is for the baby). Regarding the ice, the rule is that the reusable ice needs to be solid when going through TSA. If its been in the cooler too long and melts, there is a chance that they will take it away. For this last trip to LA, we got through TSA with a cold cooler on the way to our destination. On the way back, we decided to put our reusable ice in our suitcase (liquified it the night before) to make sure that it wouldn't get taken away.
7. Toddler Reusable Water/Milk Cup Since traveling, we've gone through so many water cups and milk cups for Ellie. Many of them has so many small parts that need to be washed everyday... which can be quite cumbersome. The one that I like the best is similar to the one I'm sharing on this blog. It is from the same company and the same size, but Ellie's one has handle. We found her specific water cup in Japan and since our trip there, we've been using it daily ever since! I love it because there are not many small parts that need to be taken a part and put back together after each days use. And, Ellie seems to also love her cup.
8. Other items that I found very necessary but wont go into much detail: Dish soap, sponge/bottle scrubber, diapers/wipes (depending on how long your trip is, you can also buy these items at the location), reusable silicone mat (for eating), a couple reusable containers, ceramic scissors (make sure to pack in suitcase), baby carrier, Toddler First Aid Kit, and packing cubes, and lots of baby snacks!

In some situations, this may seem like a lot of stuff, but personally, I like to have options. If my baby is getting fussy in the stroller, another option would be to put her in the carrier for a little bit, and vice versa. It saves a lot of tears once in a while...

3. Find Age-Appropriate Activities To Do

When our kids are so young and can't really communicate what they want to do, it's easy to get caught up in doing things that are made for adults. We would stroller Ellie around or use the baby carrier for most places. But now that she is a walking toddler, we've made it a priority to mix in outdoor activities, children's museums, and playgrounds. Even if its for 10 minutes or so, its always a good idea to give your child a little bit of time to run around and explore. I find that they will be better behaved in a stroller or in crowded spaces. And just to see joy and curiosity on their faces makes everything worth it.

Google and Yelp are your friends...or blogs like these!

4. When A Challenging Moment Happens, Keep Calm and Stay Solution Oriented

While Reid and I were traveling in Tokyo, Ellie had a few screaming melt downs on one of the train rides. If you've been on a train in Japan, it's always silent... no one talks, cry, or makes any noise (for the most part).

We were both very stressed because we just felt like we were breaking the rules...and nothing that Reid or I did was able to soothe her. There may have been some stressful exchanges between the two of us in the moment but ultimately, we decided to take her off the train at the next stop and try and calm her down. Eventually we calmed her down with some kakigori (Japanese shave ice) and she fell asleep. Finally, we got back onto the train and made it to our destination but it just took a lot longer.

Moments like these really test our patience as parents, but as long as we communicate and stay solution-oriented, things will always work out. Also, I have to remember that even though our daughter is so little, she is watching how we handle stressful situations. It's important that we stay calm during these moments. Traveling will always test patience and remind us as people that we need to continue to be flexible.

5. Expect That Things Will Take Longer... Have Patience and Remember What is Actually Important
I'm sure this is not a surprise to most parents, but everything just takes a little longer when bringing little children along. Whether it's having to pack them into a car seat or stroller, or getting all their necessary items together or dealing with the blowout or the urgent pee stop that will come up, things will just take more time. For many of our trips, we traveled with many families with young children and have experienced many situations where everyone needs to stop and wait. As someone who's grown up to be quite impatient, I needed to change my perspective and understand what was actually important during these moments. Did we want to get to a certain location at a certain time? Yes. Will the place still be there even if we get there a little bit later? Yes. Is it okay if we need to make adjustments to our plans? Yes. I've learned that sometimes it's more important to enjoy the time and the journey to get to places with the people around you.

Experiencing traveling through a child's eyes brought me so much joy and gratitude. It reminded me to be present in the moment, work on cultivating the relationships with the people around me, and enjoy the journey of it all. We don't know where we will be going on 2024, but I'm excited to continue to share more places and go on more adventures with my family.

Comment below and share with me what is your go-to travel item when traveling with little ones! Thanks for reading!

***Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission if anyone purchases through them. This helps support my channel so I can continue to create more blogs for Hawaii Food and Family!

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