Travel with toddlers is not for the faint of heart. Gone are the days of spontaneous trips with just a carry on. Travel now requires careful planning and packing. There’s all kinds of extra gear like diapers, wipes, car seats, strollers, and baby carriers.
Traveling parents of toddlers have to contend with nap times, sleeping arrangements, high chairs or lack thereof, potential hazards and un-baby-proofed rooms, the need to haul snacks everywhere you go, and the issue of buying milk and keeping it cold.
Despite all of the extra work involved in traveling with a toddler, it can be so worthwhile. Your time and memories will be richer and you will grow closer as a family. Your toddler will learn how to be a good little traveler. It may take some time, but they’ll learn! And I’m a big believer that we don’t need to stop living our lives just because we have kids.
So what makes a trip toddler-friendly?
In my opinion (and this could change from person to person), a toddler-friendly trip or destination is one where I’m not constantly worried about their safety or them ruining something expensive or disturbing other people.
This means the accommodations need to have no stairs, no breakables within their reach, and preferably doors that close.
There would ideally be a place to go (probably outside) where they could run around and play.
That’s about it! You can certainly make any trip with toddlers work, but will you be able to relax and enjoy it?
Here are the top 7 types of trips I’ve found to be somewhat enjoyable with toddlers.
BEST TRIPS TO TAKE WITH TODDLERS
There’s no better way to wear out little kids than letting them run free in the great outdoors. National Parks showcase our country’s natural beauty and give toddlers the chance to stretch their legs. There is plenty to do and learn for parents, too, so it’s not necessarily a kid-centric trip.
Many national parks have easier trails that are perfect for families with small children and they offer junior ranger programs for kids ages 5-12. The parks are incredibly affordable and offer a chance to road trip as a family.
Don’t forget the excitement of seeing animals in the wild or incredible sights like the Grand Canyon, tall trees in Sequoia National Park, or Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone.
I do think I’ll save some of the national parks with lots of cool hiking trails for when the kids are a tiny bit older - or at least when my toddler is no longer running away from me. I’m sure you could do the Grand Canyon with a toddler, but I would be constantly worried about mine toppling over the edge.
So far we’ve been to Sequoia National Park and Smoky Mountain National Park, and both were easy to do with 3 kids 5 and under. We’re heading the Dry Tortugas and the Everglades later this year, so I’ll let you know how those rate!
Families naturally gravitate to beach destinations for good reason. Toddlers love splashing in the waves, playing in the sand (or eating it), and being able to roam free. Don’t expect to relax on a towel in the sun, though. Going to the beach with toddlers requires full parental attention, but it’s still fun for the whole family.
Bring some shovels, beach toys, balls, an umbrella, and a cooler full of snacks and drinks to maximize your time on the shore. You’ll also want to find a hotel or Airbnb right on the beach so you can take the kids back for nap time.
I would also recommend looking for a beach with a wide shoreline so that toddlers have room to run without always heading straight for the waves.
Great Beach Destinations:
There’s nothing cozier than a family vacation in the mountains where you can curl up with some hot chocolate and books. Of course toddlers will need to burn off some energy, so pick a destination with kid-friendly trails and activities nearby.
I would also advise picking a cabin that’s only one story. Stairs are your worst enemy when traveling with crawlers and walkers who can’t comfortably handle going up or down on their own. You won’t be able to relax at all if you’re worried about them falling down the stairs.
We found Gatlinburg to be a great destination for kids with Smoky Mountain National Park nearby and plenty of family-friendly activities to do in town.
This is not a specific destination, but road tripping with toddlers is one of the best ways to spend a family vacation. They are strapped into a carseat so they can’t get into anything, and unlike traveling via airplane, there are no fellow passengers for them to annoy besides your immediate family. It’s much less stressful, and you can plan all kinds of fun stops along the way to break up the trip.
This is also a great option for families because you have more room to bring toddler gear like pack & plays, strollers, and diapers. You can pack as much food as you want to save money from home, and you can move as slowly or as quickly as your family needs.
There are so many great classic American road trips to choose from that your family is bound to see some amazing sights along the way and make great memories together to boot.
Road Trip Tips:
Great Family Road Trips:
Theme park destinations like Disney, Universal Orlando, LEGOland, Six Flags, and Busch Gardens are great for families, even families with toddlers. Often there is a section of the park dedicated to rides for small kids, and there are characters, shows, and lots of lights and colors.
Theme parks can be overwhelming, so make sure to book a hotel or Airbnb close by so you can head back for a nap and return later. The best thing to remember about bringing toddlers to theme parks is to get an early start to beat the crowds, alternate indoor and outdoor rides to beat the heat, take your time, and bring plenty of snacks, water, and sunscreen.
Low expectations are your friend. If you think you’re going to fit in all of your favorite thrill rides or get to everything you want to do, you’ll be very disappointed at the end of your day. Focus on what rides will offer your toddler a fun experience and try to see the magic through their eyes. If there are rides you truly want to go on that your little one can’t, make use of the rider switch program many theme parks offer.
Theme Park Tips:
OK, I understand that staying in your own city is not very exciting, but some parents of toddler feel so overwhelmed at the thought of leaving home that they simply opt not to travel at all. I think a staycation is a great “gateway” vacation option to help families dip their toes into the waters of travel.
You can either stay in the comfort of your own home or find a hotel or Airbnb somewhere in your city to make it feel more like a vacation. If you do choose to book accommodations, at least you know you’ll be near enough to home to run back for anything you may have forgotten.
Other advantages to staycations are that they are budget-friendly, you don’t have to worry about getting lost because you’re driving on familiar roads, and you’ll see your hometown with fresh eyes. You can also branch out and stay in a nearby city that’s only 30 minutes to an hour away.
Many traveling families subscribe to the belief that if kids live there, kids can travel there. Big cities can be incredibly toddler-friendly, and they best part is there is plenty to do for parents, too.
I personally love that you’ll never run out of things to do in big cities, and most are things that are not only ok for toddlers to do, but they are made for toddlers. Think parks, gardens, zoos, trolley/bus/boat tours, museums, and restaurants for every taste and budget.
Don’t limit your thinking on this type of destination. Many European cities make a great place to travel with little ones. We’ve personally done London and Paris with a toddler, and though we went to Germany before we had kids, many of the cities were incredibly clean, safe, and charming with lots to do for families.
Big City Tips:
Big City Destinations:
A FEW TIPS
Look into Airbnbs. You’ll have separate rooms for your toddler to fall asleep so the rest of your family can still stay up and hang out after they go to bed. You’ll have a place to prepare food and store milk. In general your toddler will have more space to move around. You can even check to see if you host will baby-proof or provided a crib/pack & play. Use my link for $40 off your first booking!
Always have wipes on hand. To protect your toddler from the world and to protect the world from your toddler. There’s never not a mess. Also, always pack an extra outfit.
Go out for dinner early. Like, at 4:45. Yes, you will feel approximately 74 years old, but you will be grateful for emptier restaurants and quicker service when your toddler is grabbing the utensils and throwing them on the floor for entertainment.
Stock up on entertainment for the flight or road trip. Check out my must-haves for toddlers here.
Whether you choose to stay in your own city or travel halfway around the world with your toddler, the important parts of travel are spending quality time together as a family, opening your mind to the world around you, and figuring out how to overcome challenges and obstacles.
If you’re simply trying to get a relaxing vacation, maybe drop the kids off with their grandparents and go to an all-inclusive. Nothing wrong with that! We all need a break every now and then.
But if you’re looking to turn your kids into great travelers, spark their curiosity, and make them more accepting of other people and cultures, then get out there and go! Try something new. Learn. Grow. Move.
You won’t regret it.