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What I Learned From Going on Vacation with our Toddler

by krismkoch

Like many of you, when mid-January hit, we were ready for a vacation somewhere warm. Last year, after much debate, we decided to bring our then baby along on our vacation. I wrote a post about what I learned from our experience. Well, we just got back from another January trip to Florida, and I thought I’d share my vacation with toddler tips after surviving a beach vacation with our crazy two year old. While I felt more prepared and less panicked about traveling with James now that we’ve flown and vacationed with him a bunch, we still made some mistakes this time (and had some wins) and learned a lot.

Hopefully, you find this helpful if you decide to take your toddler on vacation.

Plan for all types of weather

Last year, we enjoyed warm, sunny beach and pool days the entire time. We rode bikes, swam, played in the sand, went for long walks, and enjoyed eating outdoors. It was bliss. This year, we weren’t so lucky. It rained almost our entire trip and was a lot colder than we had planned. Not only was I not that well prepared wardrobe wise, but I didn’t have much of a game plan for how to keep James entertained. We were visiting my family who had rented a big house but there’s only so much you can do inside with a toddler, especially when you only brought the toys that you could fit in your carry-on to entertain him on the plane. We made the most of it, and it was only a couple of days so it turned out fine, and honestly, there’s only so much you can do when you’re somewhere where all the activities are outdoors and your child isn’t old enough to sit through a movie. To help pass the time, we went for a late brunch and then early dinner and then did some baking at the house as well as a lot of chasing James and playing hide and seek. And whenever there was a break in the rain, we rushed outside to get some energy out before it started up again.

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Don’t beat yourself up about screen time

Honestly, I felt really guilty about the amount of screen time we allowed James on this trip. Before our trip, I had battled the flu for about two weeks, and basically let James watch a lot more movies and TV than I normally do. Typically, he’s not allowed to watch anything during the week except for a movie on Friday nights (our movie night), but I was feeling so awful that I flipped on Sesame Street or Daniel Tiger or Moana more often than I care to admit. So I was already feeling like a bad mom, but the only way we’ve figure out how to survive a flight with a toddler is the iPad, and honestly, from all the other parents that I’ve spoken to, they basically let all screen rules go out the window on airplanes. The trouble was that once we whipped out the iPad, he was constantly asking for it and digging through our bags to find it. This smart little cookie kept finding it in my hiding spots and throwing tantrums when it was taken away. It was also raining for two days straight and at some points, I had to give in and let him watch because we had run out of activities. Usually, the only other time I allow the iPhone or iPad is at restaurants, and since we went out to eat a bunch, he got even more screen time. Since we’ve gotten back, I’ve enforced really strict rules on screens. Basically, no screens or TV. He hasn’t been allowed anything more than a Curious George episode on the day of the Polar Vortex, when we were stuck inside for 48 hours due to cold. It makes me feel much better as a parent and I love seeing him play with toys and use his imagination and run around. However, I’m done beating myself up about all the screen time on vacation (even though I’m sure my family thinks that all he does is watch the iPad). It allowed us to have some great meals out and to survive two three hour flights and two rainy days without a ton of stress, and for that, I’m thankful.

It’s nice to get away with your family, even your crazy toddler

Yes, traveling with a toddler is less than fun and incredibly stressful. And yes, the weather put a major damper on all the fun we had planned, but we still ended up having a good time. Sometimes it’s nice to just get away as a family. We often weigh the stress of it all and decide it’d be easier to just stick around and do a staycation or go upstate which is only a couple hours drive from the city. But exploring somewhere new and getting a change of scenery can do wonders. I found myself sleeping better (and same with James), once we got there, I was more excited to play with him and just enjoying spending time with him, and even things that have become stressful events at this stage in his toddlerhood like going out to eat, were actually enjoyable. I think it was good for him to get a change of scenery and get some time outside in the sun even if it was for only short spurts here and there. It reminded me how worth it vacations are. We often think about all the other expenses and obligations and work and school and all that, and think we can’t or shouldn’t get away, but honestly, whenever we come back from a trip, we always say how worth it it was. I wasn’t sure I’d say that after going away with James now that he’s really deep in his terrible twos phase, but it totally was.


One of the nice parts about being trapped inside for 3/4 of the trip is that there weren’t that many insta-worthy photo opps. I was disappointed, but it meant I could really unplug and be really present with James and I think that made a huge difference. I actually felt like I got a break, and I think James behaved much better knowing he had my full attention rather than competing with whatever emails or insta scrolling or grocery shopping I was doing.

Know traveling is going to be stressful

For some reason flying with James was a lot less stressful this time than when we flew to Park City a month earlier. I honestly think it was because I knew what to expect, and I had low expectations. I knew that it would be a pain. I knew it would be exhausting. I knew that he wouldn’t want to sit still the whole time and he’d probably throw tantrums and that I’d get annoyed at Andrew for not helping when I was sick of chasing after him. And yes, all that happened. But honestly, it didn’t stress me out as much as it did on our last trip. This time, I just decided to accept that I’d spend the whole flight managing James, not sleeping, reading, watching a movie, or doing anything remotely pleasurable. I knew that he would only play with all the toys I bought for like ten seconds, but if I played them with him, he’d actually get invested in them for a little bit at least. And I knew that even though he’d probably watch the iPad for most of it, he’d still be climbing over seats and probably flipping out over something. I also knew he’d probably end up eating junk that I didn’t normally allow. And guess what? All that happened and because I just accepted it and didn’t let it ruffle my feathers or get embarrassed or stressed, it wasn’t that bad. I mean he ate like four packs of those yummy Delta cookies (thanks to our well meaning but overly generous flight attendant), he screamed a few times, played the iPad on full blast and refused to turn it down, and kept knocking on the person in front of us’s seat, but at the end of the flight I was shocked when the woman in front of us turned around to say how impressed she was with how well he behaved. Goes to show that as moms we’re often harder on ourselves than we need to be.

Get in a little me time

When we’re with James I always feel bad leaving him to do something for myself, but I left him with his dad for an hour to get a mani/pedi, and it’s amazing how refreshed I felt after. It was an hour. He barely noticed I was gone, but if made a huge difference in how I felt and refreshed me so I was ready to chase after James again. I am the worst about carving out me time as a mom, and this just reminded me that I’m actually a better mom when I do it.

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