Traveling with Toddlers: For the Love of Routine


“Naptime is sacred.”

“I can meet before or after this time. It’s my kid’s naptime.”

“My daughter didn’t get a nap today, and she is a mess.”

“We just got home from visiting grandparents, and we are still out of our routine.”

I have heard these very words come out of my mouth and the mouths of many other moms. We all know what those days are like when our kids don’t nap and their routines get thrown off. We don’t get our shower in, the dishes pile up, the laundry stays in the dryer one more day, and we just want to pull our hair out.

For the love of routine!

And for some reason, we expect it to go just as well or even better when we travel. Every time I travel with my kids, I fool myself into thinking it will feel like a vacation. While it may be a vacation from our normal weekly schedule, it is not always a break from the hard of parenting. Traveling with toddlers can sometimes feel like a crazy emotional rollercoaster.

From Enjoyable to Crazy

Recently, I was traveling alone with my (almost) 3 year-old daughter to visit my parents. The driving to the airport and flying went very well. My daughter thrives on adventure and newness. Flying with her was enjoyable. I was so ready for a long weekend spending quality time with my daughter and my family. 

But what I expected to be a vacation from having to take care of two kids, ended up being a parenting nightmare. The first day went relatively well, but pretty soon the newness of everything wore off, and my daughter went crazy. The unfamiliar environment, the unfamiliar faces, and the change in our routine really threw her off. My little girl started throwing tantrums about the littlest things. She wouldn’t slow down and rest. She woke up in the middle of the night, which she never does at home anymore. The whining seemed endless. And she didn’t want anyone but me. It was really hard to enjoy being with my family. It was especially hard to get any rest or alone time.

What I expected to be a vacation for me ended up being more work than normal. My daughter was reacting to the changes in her schedule and routine. I just wanted to go home and get back to normal.

My daughter wasn’t intentionally trying to make our trip difficult. She was showing me that her world had been turned upside down. Kids, especially toddlers, need routine. And so does mama.

I am not proud of the way I reacted to my daughter’s crankiness on this last trip. I was impatient and angry. The trip didn’t go the way I wanted it to. In a way, I was acting like a toddler, too. I was cranky. Just like my daughter. By reacting this way, I didn’t make anything better. I made it much much worse.

Kids Need Routine on Vacation

Traveling is not wrong during this season of having needy and demanding little people, but I can’t expect it to be the same as it was before I had kids. Kids still have needs on vacation. Kids still need routine. They need to feel secure in their environment even when it is new or unfamiliar. They need all of the things they have at home. It just might need to be adjusted and might look slightly different in a new place.

I also learned that I need to anticipate that my child will act out in response to routine change. If I am prepared for my child to react negatively, I might be able to stop it before it gets worse. I can try to redirect my child in a more positive way. Some of the things I plan to do for future travel are:

• plan some fun activities in the car or airplane
• plan vacation activities around naptime
• remove my child from overwhelming circumstances to calm him or her down
• plan quiet time activities for some down time
• not push my children to do things out of their comfort zone, if they are not ready (trying a new activity or food, leaving them with someone unfamiliar, hugging unfamiliar family member or friends, etc.)
• not have too many late nights in a row
• give A LOT of grace to my kids and to myself

Traveling Will Be Easier Someday

Someday, traveling with my kids will be a whole lot easier. They will be more mature and enjoy the change of scenery and schedule. Going on vacation won’t be so hard. But I still want to enjoy traveling with my littles (although we may travel much less for a few more years). There are still wonderful memories to make in this season. Toddlers have so much curiosity and wonder for new things, and it makes my heart happy to watch my kids experience something new for the first time. Even if one or both of my kids have a complete meltdown only minutes later. I will hang onto those sweet memories forever.

Although traveling may be hard with young children, I won’t be giving up on our sense of adventure. I will take it all in stride. I will hope for each travel experience to be better than the last.

Bon voyage!