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Tips for Traveling with a Toddler

Traveling with a toddler can have it's ups and downs depending on your expectations. I like to see it as a new adventure every time! I've compiled my best tips for you to make your travel be as tantrum-free as possible.
Aug 2, 2018 | Joy McCarthy

Up until my daughter Vienna turned two, she came on every single business trip with Walker and I. For two reasons, one because it was free for her to travel with us and two, I don't like being away from my sweet bean burger for that long!

She has been on a plane more times by the age of two than I had been on by the time I turned 30! Needless to say, we've had some practice over the years to work out any kinks of traveling with a young child. That being said, just when we think we've mastered the art of traveling with a baby and/or toddler we learn something new!

The reason I put this post together was that you guys are always asking me about traveling with her and I'm glad you keep asking me. I've been wanting to put this post together for a long time so I can share my tips for adjusting to new time zones (and coping with jet lag), how we manage naps, how we map out sightseeing with a toddler and so much more.

If I've missed a question, please post it in the comments below and I can answer you there.

Keep in mind, these are not steadfast rules and this is my experience as a parent. You know your family and routine better than anyone else. You've gotta find what works for you. What works for us with one toddler, may not work for your family if you've got three little ones. Regardless of the size of your family, I truly hope this gives you some ideas and inspiration. 

How To Travel With A Toddler: Q&A Style!

How does a baby/toddler adjust to the time change?

When we travel overseas, like to Austria where we are 6 hours ahead of Toronto time, I actually find the time change is easier for her to adjust because she has no clue what time it is. In fact, traveling to the west coast of Canada is more challenging and that's only a 3-hour time difference.

This is our third trip as a family to Austria. Every trip can be a little different. There are long-haul flights when she sleeps and there are some that she doesn't. I don't stress about it – this is KEY as a parent.

If you're getting all stressed and anxious about the fact your child isn't sleeping on the plane (and before I continue, please know that we've totally done this in the past), they will feel that anxiety and it may make them more restless. I remember one 5.5 hour flight we took that happened to be over nap time, Vienna literally fell asleep in the last 20 minutes of the flight and even slept right through the landing, haha! Walker and I were both totally exhausted from trying to get her to sleep throughout the flight.

Here's the thing, if they are too excited to sleep on a plane, then they will make up for that missed sleep later on (usually). At least that's been our experience. When we flew into Venice on this trip (we fly to Venice then drive to Austria cause it's cheaper than flying into Vienna), she had only slept about 4 hours on an overnight flight. So she slept about 2 hours in the car ride and we put her to bed at a normal time, (around 7:30pm, but Austria time). She was totally exhausted, albeit, a little cranky, but she slept all night!

On the other hand, when there's a smaller time difference, like a 2-3-hour time difference, it usually takes about 3 days for her to adjust. So when she normally gets up at 7am, she'll be getting up at 4:30am or 5am. I just tell her she has to stay in bed until it's a little later and give her some books to flip through. Sometimes it does the trick and sometimes it doesn't and one of us will get up with her.

The other thing you can do, depending how long your trip is and how big the time difference is, is to stay on the same time zone as home.

If you're only traveling somewhere with a 1 hour time difference, you could stay on your "home time". It's kind of inconvenient though if you want to do things. Okay that was a long answer, but those are my thoughts :)

What baby/toddler gear do you travel with? 

Stroller - We travel with a stroller. In fact, we recently sold our Uppababy Cruz and bought this stroller because we like it better for travel and it folds up super easy. It's more comfortable than an umbrella stroller and that's important to us because when we are sightseeing, sometimes we have her nap in the stroller. It really depends on the day. 

Pack & Play - This is what Vienna sleeps in for travel or for sleepovers at Grandma and Grandpa's house. Sometimes you have to pay the airline extra to fly with it and sometimes you don't. It really depends on how generous the airport check-in agent is :) It always goes to the special "oversize" luggage check-in and yes, it's heavy.


Carseat - This is something you can definitely rent from a car rental place, but Walker has always been very adamant about not doing this. It makes sense though. You have no idea if the carseat you're renting is up to code, especially in a country where you don't speak the language. It's a bit of a pain to bring, but we always travel with it when we rent a car which we do for most trips.

Ergobaby Carrier - When it's not easy to bring a stroller on long walks or when we go hiking, we have this ergo carrier. Vienna is getting a bit big for it now, but we used it all the time until she was about two years old. We also have a hiking toddler backpack, but we decided not to bring it on this trip to Austria because it was too big. 

Other - We only bring a few of Vienna's favourite stuffies and toys. I share my suitcase with her for clothes and miscellaneous stuff and then we bring a very small Peppa Pig suitcase on the plane for all her stuff like colouring books, crayons, toys and food. We try to pack light because a lot of the time, just being in a new place is entertaining enough.

How do you keep things, like naps, in routine? 

We remain flexible. I know some mommy experts will tell you routine is everything and don't get me wrong, I like routine but being able to adapt is important too.

When it comes to naps, we do our best to have an afternoon nap. If it doesn't happen at 1pm and instead happens at 2:15pm because we've been out enjoying the day, that's fine. That doesn't mean that Vienna won't get a little cranky at 1pm, because she will, but we just deal with it as it happens.

We keep the routine the same as home in terms of snacks and goat milk before nap or bed, three stories, hugs and kisses, two blankets, "baby isla", "bunny" and "annaliese" all in her bed for sleeping and of course, socks ON even when it's been a 37 degree heatwave in Europe!

When on a plane, we get her into her pjs for naptime and follow the same routine we'd follow at home and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. C'est La Vie!

Last year you had V on a harness in the plane. what about this year?

We had a great harness for the plane we bought from but the last few flights we haven't brought it with us only because we can't remember where we stored it at home, hah! Buckling her in her seat on the plane has resulted in a few meltdowns, but we bought the book "Maisy Goes on a Plane" and it helped :).


When we really want to see something that is not toddler-friendly, like a gallery or a museum or just walk around for hours and window shop, we plan our day accordingly. We will search out a playground after breakfast so that she can burn off her energy playing for about 45-60 minutes or we find a green space she can run around in.

Essentially, we make sure she's well fed, she's burned off some energy and we pack the stroller with snacks and let's not forget the potty! Since Vienna still takes a nap, we hope that she will fall asleep while we stroll after lunch. This works about 60-70% of the time. If she's getting cranky cause she can't get comfortable (there's been a heat wave in Europe) then we just plan to head back to our hotel or back to Opa's house for her to have a proper nap. In this 3-week trip, there's only been one day so far we missed the nap and when we went out for dinner she fell asleep in the car and slept right through dinner!

We also plan activities that are toddler-friendly too of course. For example, in Vienna I took her to the butterfly exhibit while Walker hung out at a Gasthaus and had a beer. We also went on the giant ferris wheel in Vienna. It worked out for everyone! In the Austrian countryside, we do a lot of walking/hiking and we let Vienna walk for as long as she likes until she gets tired.

Biggest learning experience of what we should NOT do?

Don't aim for perfection and try not to plan everything out. Your trip may not go 100% according to plan and that's okay! Think of it as an adventure!

Is it difficult to keep Vienna occupied while traveling?

We bring her favourite things like Play-Doh, story books, toy ponies and colouring books. We bring these things to restaurants too to ensure she has something fun to do. 

It's hard to get a toddler to sit for more than 5 minutes, but colouring books and bribing her with lots of "sparkling water" has worked and we can usually get about 20 minutes of sitting. In the Austrian countryside, a lot of the restaurants have a play area for kids so we always look for those places to eat at when not in a big city like Vienna.

Do you make any time just for you and Walker?

Other than this brief moment above, it's not on our agenda to have alone time when we are on a family trip. However, because we still aim to get Vienna to bed early-ish like at home, we then have some of the evening together. That being said, often that times consists of getting caught up on work. Being our own boss means that we do need to do work when vacationing. I'm okay with that though because I don't want to work for anyone else but me!


What's the toughest thing about traveling with a toddler?

Not losing them (kidding ... sort of!). Vienna is still in the phase of "see ya later" and then proceeds to spring off in any direction laughing, especially when she sees horses! So when we are in public places with a lot of people around or in the country side, we both have to watch her like a hawk if she's not in the stroller. 

What are some good activities to do on the plane?

We bring her favourite things like Play-Doh, story books, her play ponies and her colouring books. She sits in between us when we are on a plane with three seats across so we outnumber her if she decides she wants to jump up and down, or we need to tackle her into her seat and buckle her seatbelt for takeoff. 

How do you manage to eat healthy while traveling?

This is definitely a priority for me. In big cities around the world, I never have any issue finding healthy, good quality food. In the country side, I can find good quality food, but it's not always food that jives well with my body if I eat it daily (lots of local dairy, white potatoes and local meat ).

Did you see the potato salad I made at Opa's house?

So, we always shop at farmer's markets and local grocery stores to stock up on some basic essentials. I also bring some things from home like Vienna's favourite snacks which include Love Child  everything, my prune whiPrune Whip for Joyous Pooping and my favourite tea.

On the plane, I bring plenty of snacks for Vienna. There's nothing worse than a "hangry" toddler on a long-haul flight!

What do you do about potty training?

Oooooh, potty training! Vienna is 100% potty trained and she's been that way for months. However, getting her to do her business on the toilet is a whole other adventure. We have a little seat that goes on top of the seat, she still refuses, so the green potty just had to come with us. What a well-traveled potty, lol!

It's like our bestie right now though; whether we are driving to get gas or going for a day hike in the woods, the potty comes with us. We even brought it on the plane! Really large planes typically have one bathroom that's oversized and if they don't you can put the potty on top of the diaper change table. When we get back home to Toronto, the next step is toilet training!

What supplements do you travel with for Vienna?

We bring Genuine Health's Gut Superfoods so that we can still make our morning smoothies, vitamin D and probiotics . 

I hope that gives you some good tips for traveling with a toddler. I love answering your questions, so please feel free to comment more below or reach out to me on social media :)

If you're looking for more blogs on travel, check these out:

Happy Travels!


Danielle LeBlanc   •   August 4, 2018

You have such a lovely family, Joy! Vienna is getting so big. Beautiful pictures as well. Thanks for sharing these great travel tips.

Joy McCarthy   •   August 5, 2018

Elisa   •   August 4, 2018

When traveling with a car seat, do you bring the base it clips into? Or do you install it using the seat belt method?

Joy McCarthy   •   August 5, 2018

Reeshma   •   August 7, 2018

So inspiring! Thank you for sharing :)

Rachel Molenda   •   August 7, 2018

Mary L.   •   August 9, 2018

Even though our 2 children are now teenagers, much of you advice still applies--especially with schedules, sleep, not being too rigid about expectations. The photos from this post are extraordinarily beautiful, and I just put Austria on my bucket list! Thanks, Joy!

Rachel Molenda   •   August 9, 2018
Joy McCarthy   •   August 9, 2018

Sylvia Gratta   •   August 9, 2018

Beautiful family. Fantastic and useful ideas. Thank you. 😊

Rachel Molenda   •   August 9, 2018
Joy McCarthy   •   August 9, 2018

Savita   •   August 24, 2018

Hi Joy, which milk do you give Vienna when you don't have access to fresh goat milk?

Joy McCarthy   •   August 24, 2018

Heather   •   August 26, 2018

Where did you end up staying. We are thinking of taking a family vacation this year.

Joy McCarthy   •   August 29, 2018

Sara Fabello   •   July 19, 2019

Sara from @lovinglyled here! Such great tips mama!! We find sleep is the hardest adjustment so we make sure we bring our own crib sheet, smells just like home, a lovey and white noise machine(if your child uses one) and make sure to black the room for bedtime to help with the circadian rhythm adjustment especially during time changes! And like you said best - try not to worry about perfection and just go with the flow 🌿

Joy McCarthy   •   July 24, 2019

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