This was our first trip traveling to Ireland with a toddler.
The last time we flew with just a baby, and I was a basket case. Before we left, I pictured a screaming six month old, angry passengers on the plane, and an exhausted mommy and daddy as vividly as if it had already happened.
I also conjured up stories where the baby (Alexander) wouldn’t sleep for the entire two weeks of the trip and subsequently stopped sleeping through the night when we returned home.
I am a very good worrier.
In the end, Alexander slept for almost the entire flight. He got over jet lag better than we did, and was largely the best travel companion we could have asked for.
But now he is a toddler…
Traveling to Ireland with a Toddler
This second time around, we were traveling to Ireland with a toddler, Alexander, and a new baby, Hugo. I felt fairly confident in the lessons I had learned about traveling with a baby.
Toddlerhood traveling was a a completely different story.
The practical pieces of advice that I gleaned from our experiences and other traveling mamas made a big difference in my sanity and my little travelers’ happiness.
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1. Pre-travel Books!
Whenever I am trying to acquire a new skill or learn something about parenting, business, finances, etc., I head for the library or the bookstore. I find myself doing the same thing when I am trying to teach Alexander new concepts too.
For traveling with a toddler, there were three pre-trip books that I am certain made a deep impact in how well our trip went.
- A Day at the Airport (affiliate) (non-affiliate) This was Alexander’s first Richard Scarry book and it was love at first sight. Grant that Alexander loves to read so it didn’t take much to impress him, but I am telling you this book, made him fall in love with the wonder of the airport and traveling. We gave it to him about a month before we left, but I am pretty sure he had it memorized within two days.
- My first Airplane Ride (affiliate) (non-affiliate) by Patricia Hubble A very practical book in which a little boy travels to grandma’s house by plane. The story details every step of the travel process (driving to the airport, checking in, security, waiting, flying, turbulence, landing). This book was great in conjunction with the role playing we did (below).
- Let’s See Ireland (affiliate) (non-affiliate) by Sarah Bowie. I love, love, love this book before traveling to Ireland with little ones. Molly and her family take a trip around Ireland, while Molly’s cat, Mipsy, stows away in her backpack. The story follows the family at various iconic sites in Ireland while Mipsy is having her own adventures on every page. Alexander loved talking about going to Ireland like Molly and Mipsy, and it definitely helped build the anticipation for him. I love that we can keep the book and reminisce about the sites we visited or plan to visit with the boys over the years.
2. Role Play: The Airport
Since it was Alexander’s first trip on a plane in which he would have to follow directions and potentially wait in long lines, we did a lot of Airport/Airplane role playing in the weeks prior to leaving.
We would pretend play that we were heading to the airport. I would mimic packing a suitcase, putting it in the car, buckling up. We’d “drive” to the airport and walk to the check-in counter.
“Oh no, there is a line! We’ll have to wait.” I’d say.
We’d give the check-in counter attendant our passports (I actually used expired passports as a fun prop). She’d tell us to go through security. “Oh no! Another line! Let’s play a game while we wait.” I’d say. (I spy worked really well).
We’d take off our shoes and put them in a little plastic bin along with his play backpack. After walking through the metal detectors, we’d have to find our gate. “Look at all the airplanes!” we’d say.
I am certain this is the number one thing that prevented us from having melt-down city while we waited in long lines on both ends of the trip.
3. Role Play: Airplane Bathroom Edition
This one is big for me. I hate airplane bathrooms, but with a potty-trained toddler, we weren’t going to get off that flight without at least a few bathroom breaks.
We “practiced” going potty on the plane before we left.
We’d get up from our “seats” (the couch), walk all the way to the back of the plane (the end of the hallway) and find a bathroom. Once inside, I’d lock the door while Alexander kept his hands up “try not to touch anything” I’d say.
I’d set him on the potty and after he went we’d hear the loud flush (something I have learned is always good to warn little ones about in public restrooms).
I knew the washing your hands part would be tough. Plane faucets are tiny and only stay on while you hold down the handle. This makes washing toddler hands difficult since you’re also holding them up to reach the sink.
So I’d say “Mommy is going to hold down the handle, rub your hands together and try not to touch the basin.” (In reality we were only semi successful at this, but thank goodness for hand sanitizer).
4. Cut Fingernails
Call me a germ-a-phobe (I probably am), but I hate thinking of all the people and all the germs at airports and airplanes. I did all the usual things, like brought wipes to clean all the surfaces at our seats and hand sanitizer for when we couldn’t get to a bathroom to wash.
The day before we left I also made sure I cut their fingernails so that germs wouldn’t have as much room to fester on their hands.
Alexander was getting his two year old molars around this time, so his hands were always in his mouth. And of course Hugo being 6 months old put his hands, toys, and everything else he could in his mouth too.
I doubt having short fingernails made a huge difference, but they shockingly didn’t get sick so who knows? Cutting my fingernails is something I always do before I travel so I made sure the little ones were ready to go too.
As a semi-related side note to the mamas and papas of wee ones out there, these are the best fingernail clippers for babies ever! I have not once cut the thin skin next to their nail with these (I can’t say the same for traditional baby nail clippers–I’m sorry Alexander! I learned a lot of lessons with you!).
5. Hands-on Entertainment
We try really hard to not rely on electronics for entertainment. No judgement here, this is just what we do at home. So I was hoping to stick to that rule while were were traveling. I had a few other ideas up my sleeve as our first line of travel boredom defense.
I created an activity kit with all sorts of new things to play with like a road made out of construction paper and a new matchbox car; stickers with trees and road signs to decorate said road (and himself–whatever works).
I also printed some Ireland themed coloring pages with a few new crayons; made a matching game with small cut-out construction paper circles and white paper with matching circles colored in with marker; and a few other finds from the Target dollar section.
I put everything in plastic sleeves in a binder that snapped closed and put it in my carry-on book bag.
The activities would have been great if I had needed them, but I didn’t…
6. Cars and Trucks and Things that Go
With the big success of A Day at the Airport, and Alexander’s obsession with books, and anything that has a motor, I thought it might go over well.
I am telling you, I didn’t even need anything else for the entire trip.
Cars and Trucks had him enthralled for the first half of the flight. I am certain it would have lasted the entire flight except I pried it away from him so that he could get some sleep on the plane.
He didn’t want to eat. He didn’t want to look out the window. He only wanted to read his book.
The book has hardly left his side, five months later.
The only downside is that Cars and Trucks is a bit of a space hog. It barely fit in my backpack, but it was so worth it.
Not so out of the box these days, but even even though we weren’t planning on using electronics much, I was still prepared.
I definitely downloaded some episodes of Llama Llama and Bob the Builder to our iPad and had them ready just in case (I’m no martyr).
What I didn’t realize is was how much of a godsend they would be for bedtime on the plane.
The airplane was beyond distracting and not exactly conducive to sleeping (said anyone flying a red eye ever…).
I busted out these new headphones and Alexander finally laid on my lap to listen to his “music” (lullabies) with his headphones.
He was out in a wink and slept until I woke him up to get strapped in for landing (when Cars and Trucks came in handy again).
8. Snacks, snacks, snacks
Ok this starts as an obvious one, of course you want to take snacks with you when you’re taking any tiny human to the airport.
But, there is a twist! You want to bring a few snacks that are either:
A. New and novel
B. Take a long time to eat
I scoured Trader Joe’s for items that would be different, nothing too messy or unhealthy.
I landed on dehydrated fruit bites (Alexander loved the strawberries!) and Cheerios which are usually eaten one by one.
Someone later suggested a necklace of cheerios. What a great two-fer! Novel and long lasting!
Of course we brought along a few pouches, which are great for travel, and granola bars and cheddar bunnies too.
9. Airplane Safety Harness
Since we rented our car seats from the Stork Exchange in Dublin, we didn’t have a car seat to put Alexander into on the plane.
I wanted to make sure he’d be secure during take off and landing or if there was any turbulence. We bought an FAA approved safety harness (affiliate) (non-affiliate) that just slipped on the back of the seat and connected to the regular seat belt. We adjusted it to fit his height so the strap hugged him right across the chest.
Compact and did the job (it wasn’t a difficult flight so luckily we didn’t have to put it through the ringer).
Note: we initially bought a different safety harness from Amazon that was much less expensive, but when we opened the package it didn’t state that it was FAA approved.
I returned it and purchased this one which had the FAA sticker on the side. In the end, our flight attendants didn’t check to see if our harness was approved or not, but I didn’t want to chance it (and of course I wanted my child to be safe).
10. Phone Storage
Someone gave me this advice before I had a baby: Clear your phone so you can take allll the pictures!
When traveling to Ireland with a toddler and a baby, you now have three amazing things to take photos of so the more room the better.
Which leads me the the next tip…
11. Google Photos
My iPhone is ancient so even when I clear up my space, I don’t have nearly enough from for all my Ireland photos.
Connecting your smart phone to Google Photos or some photo storing service is a game changer. I have an older iPhone and very little storage.
Being able to take photos and know that they will be backed up whenever we were connected to WiFi allowed me to take and delete what was on my phone at will.
12. Mothers Milk & Lactation Supplements
If you’re not nursing feel free to skip down to the next tip, but nursing mamas listen up. Your milk supply might dip while traveling.
Schedules become a little off. You may not drink as much as you usually would and overall you might just be a little wiped out.
It happened to me on my first trip with Alexander and caught me completely unaware. I wasn’t going to let it happen again with Hugo.
My supply still dropped pretty significantly again, but between the tea, the supplements, and the breast pump I rented from Breast is Best, my production was back to normal within a few days.
Another side note here: Mother’s Milk tea is great, but you have to drink 3-5 cups to have an impact on your supply. I brought along enough for three cups every day, but didn’t get to drink them every day. However, I doubled up on others so it all worked out.
The only mistake I made was that I should have brought a travel mug with me.
Also, I’m not a lactation consultant. This is just my experience. :-)
13. Bed Bumper
Alexander is in a “big boy” toddler bed at home. It has a nice railing on it that keeps him from rolling onto the floor each night.
In Ireland, both of our accommodations had a separate room for Alexander, but the beds were a bit far off the ground for my liking.
Both of the beds were lined up against the wall on one side so we only needed one. I had to adjust every three or four days, but I was shocked at how well it stayed in place overall.
14. Blackout Blinds
Before we left, I was a bit concerned about how dark the bedrooms in Ireland would be. Both Alexander and Hugo sleep in dark rooms at home.
While shopping at WalMart, I walked past the clearance section of fabric and saw black vinyl on sale. I thought…hmm could this work?
I bought two yards and a roll of packing tape. Packed them both along with a pair of scissors for make-shift blackout curtains.
It wasn’t perfect, but worked surprisingly well for the most part.
It is basically thick black construction paper, but you can cut it to fit almost any window and it takes up almost no room or weight. They aren’t perfectly black out, but paired with a regular curtain and we’re golden.
Even though they are marketed as temporary shades, we’ve had them for two or three months now and they are still going strong.
15. Kiddo Approved Meals upon Return
After traveling to Ireland all these years, I have learned that it takes a good day or two before I am up to doing much when we return.
I feel like you can get away with eating whatever is left in the house when it’s just you, but when you have a toddler and baby you kinda need to feed them.
I made sure I had a few of Alexander’s favorites ready to go and, man, was that a lifesaver.
By the time we got home it was luckily time for bed, but the next day we were wrecked. Between cleaning out the suitcases, starting laundry and post-travel whiney-ness (mostly mine), I was not up for making much.
Soup and crackers to the rescue!
It was a comforting and homey ending to a wonderful trip as a family of four.
What about you? Any toddler travel tips (Ireland or elsewhere)?
Hugo will be toddling by the next time we go so I will traveling to Ireland with a toddler again. Wait, I’ll have two toddlers….accepting pre-prayers now… :-)
If you’re headed to Ireland and haven’t grabbed my Ultimate Ireland packing list and a series of the best tips for your trip to Ireland, snag it below.