As my baby boy turned two last month, I can’t help but get nostalgic about all of the adventures we’ve had and the family memories we’ve made. While my love for travel started long before becoming a Mom, I certainly learned a whole new way of experiencing travel since having my son. And I have to give him credit for being the inspiration behind this blog and our adventures really beginning!)
If you follow Toddling Traveler on Instagram or Facebook, you may wonder how we make traveling with a young child look so easy. The simple answer is that it’s not always easy. But traveling with a baby and now toddler has taught us to be flexible and not let any potential worries about how things *could* go prevent us from giving our son a lifetime of experiences. (I know, I’m not sure I can fit any more cliches into that sentence. But it’s so true!)
As we often say, traveling with kids is not always easy, but it’s always worth it! With that said, keep reading for our favorite reasons to start traveling with a baby or toddler under 2.
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1. The earlier you start traveling with your child, the easier it becomes for all of you
In our son’s first year of life, we were learning so much about being parents. And EVERYTHING was new to us. We didn’t know how to properly hold a bottle much less fly with a baby across the country. For us though, traveling with our son from the beginning made it feel more like a way of life versus a burden. The fact that we have family and friends all over the country might have had something to do with it. But after our first flight and long drive with a baby at 7 weeks old for a family wedding, we never looked back!
As little ones get older, more mobile and more vocal, traveling certainly comes with it’s own set of challenges. But each trip, no matter how close or far, better prepares you for the next one. And the entire process of traveling with a baby or toddler (hopefully) becomes easier and easier.
2. Babies and toddlers under 2 can fly for free
While the rest of that kid raising stuff isn’t cheap, traveling with a child under 2 is one thing can be. If you’re flying with a baby or toddler under 2, you can fly with them as a lap child versus purchasing a separate seat. That typically means your flight is free if you’re flying domestically in the US, or paying just the taxes and fees if flying with children under 2 flying internationally.
If you prefer to have your children in their own seat as we did when our heavy toddler got closer to 2 years old, you may be able to find child fares as well. (Sometimes you just need to call the airline directly to ask.)
- Flying with a Baby: Tips for Before and During Your Flight
- Flying with a Toddler: Tips, Tricks & Products to Help You Navigate
3. Kids under 2 (and sometimes older) also get into attractions for free
Not only do children under 2 fly for free, but they can typically get into any museum and attraction for free. That also includes sporting events, shows and concerts if they’re sitting on your lap. (With the exception of some shows that are specifically geared toward babies and toddlers.) Take advantage of it! Even as a baby, my son still enjoyed visiting museums. Many even have sections or programs specifically geared toward babies and toddlers.
Pro Tip: If you’re visiting a museum with a young toddler, bring a small stroller as back up. You never know when your child will get tired from walking or try to touch a painting made with elephant feces. (Yes, I’m speaking from experience on that one.)
Below are just a few examples of fun things we did with our son as a baby or toddler under 2. He was free every time!
- Disney with Little Kids
- Attending a Sporting Event with a Child Under 2
- The Ringling Museum and Circus
- Carnegie Museum of Natural History & Museum of Art
- Plus so many more things to do with toddlers in Pittsburgh, found on our Pittsburgh with Kids page
4. Traveling with little kids encourages you to take more pictures
I don’t know about you, but before I had a kid I was THE WORST at taking pictures. Even from our very first trip to Omaha, Nebraska with a 7 week old baby to our most recent trip to Indiana, PA with a toddler, there’s a huge difference in the number and type of pictures I’m taking now versus then. I may have gone to the other extreme, from 15 pictures during an entire trip to 15 pictures a minute. But I don’t regret it for a second! I’m so thankful for the memories to look back on and that we have them to share with our son.
While our son may not remember every trip we’ve taken, he absolutely loves looking back at pictures and videos. And it’s so exciting to relive the memories with him. (Like that time we went with him to Magic Kingdom and he got to meet his hero, Donald Duck!) I still need to work on upping my family picture game since we have so few pictures of the 3 of us. But if you want a million cute pictures of a toddler, you know where to find me!
5. Traveling with a baby or young toddler teaches you not to sweat the small stuff
I say this for two reasons.
- In a way, traveling with little ones lowers your standards in the best way possible. I would have been mortified pre-kid if you told me that my baby would get a diaper blowout on a flight as the plane was about to land. Or if you told me that my child would have a tantrum in a museum. While I try to do what I can to mitigate those things from happening, the reality is that kids are unpredictable. Just the other week, my son threw a tantrum in an art museum and refused to even try to enjoy himself. Old me may have been totally embarrassed. Toddler Mom me just shrugged it off, removed him from the situation and found something age appropriate to entertain him.
- With little eyes always watching, it causes you to really think before you act or speak. There are plenty of times where travel presents stressful situations, with or without a child. But knowing that we’re always being watched has taught us to keep our cool. I also find that we work so much better as a team when we’re traveling together with our little guy.
6. Traveling with a baby makes you a more efficient packer
You’re probably wondering how this could possibly be the case when little ones require so much stuff. I used to be the worst over packer, often jamming us much as I possibly could into the biggest suitcase. While I’m fully capable of traveling with just a carry-on to Europe, it wasn’t until I started sharing a suitcase with my son on flights that I got better at just packing what I need. Packing light also allows you to more easily help or hold your child, since you only have so many hands! This is especially true when navigating the airport with a baby or toddler. Here are a few additional tips for packing light with a baby:
- Use packing cubes. My favorite are these packing cubes that help to both consolidate and separate our stuff.
- Store diapers in a carseat/ stroller travel bag, or purchase them at your destination.
- For longer trips, try to stay at AirBnBs or other home rentals for access to a washer and dryer. If you aren’t currently registered for AirBnB, you can sign up using my referral link here to get a credit toward your first stay.
- Lighten your baby gear. Once our son turned 1, we purchased this super lightweight car seat. It’s also inexpensive and FAA compliant, making it perfect for travel.
7. Babies and toddlers make friends so easily when you’re traveling
Most people can’t help but smile when they see a happy and smiling baby looking back at them. I’ve definitely found that kids make it easier to start conversations with people and make new friends. (Unless your sitting next to a baby hater on a flight that your child is screaming his head off. I can’t help you there!)
Previously, we may have just gone about our travels without interacting much with those around us. Our son is so friendly though that we end up at least saying “Hi” to almost everyone we see. Not only is it a great opportunity to expose him to different people, but every interaction gives us a chance to teach him manners and common courtesy.
8. Travel is a great way to teach even the littlest kids about the world first hand
There are so many opportunities to teach babies and toddlers new things wherever you go. And it’s amazing to see them absorb everything like the little sponges they are. We love being tourists in our own city of Pittsburgh, and many of these things can be done in your own backyard. Here are some ideas of ways that we’ve used different experiences for hands on learning since our son was a baby.
- Animal sounds and recognition through trips to the Pittsburgh Zoo
- Learn about colors and shapes at the Carnegie art museum to teach your kids about colors and shapes
- Trip to the Mote Marine Aquarium in Sarasota to learn about the difference between fish and other waterlife
- Collect seashells at Assateague Island near Ocean City, MD and use them to practice counting
- Visit botanical gardens including our favorite, Phipps in Pittsburgh, to learn about different plant life and observe the bright colors
- Learn about body movements and taking direction through Mommy & Me Exercise classes
- We love visiting different children’s museums and science centers for hands on play and STEM learning. Below just a handful of posts on some of our favorite museums for children under 2, both locally and when we traveled.
We also love reading books as a way to reinforce certain topics after a trip or learn more about something after seeing it. Check out our reading inspiration page for more.
9. Traveling with a toddler or baby lets you be a kid again
From playing in playgrounds to getting creative in children’s museums, we’ve seriously had the best time exploring with our son. (And it’s kind of awesome being able to do all these activities that I’ve been dying to do but but would be weird to show up at without a kid.) We’ve also been fortunate to spend additional time with family in Eastern Pennsylvania. One of my favorite things has been to visit many places that I loved growing up. Not only did I get to relive my own childhood memories through those experiences, but seeing my son enjoy the same places is one of the coolest things ever.
10. Traveling with a baby or young toddler means built in nap times
While you may have heard me say that vacations with babies aren’t relaxing, that’s not entirely true. Our son is on a pretty set schedule at home. Since we travel often, the one thing that helps us ease the transition of being in a new place is trying to stick to that schedule. (Let’s be honest, it’s for my own sanity as much as it is for him.) While we’re not against the occasional nap on-the-go, especially when our son was a baby, having that break in the day forces us all to relax and take a moment to sit. Especially if we’re traveling somewhere with heavy walking and sightseeing.
11. You’ll never go hungry when traveling with a toddler
Traveling with a toddler means not leaving home without snacks. Yes, they’re always packed by Mom or Dad. But you certainly won’t starve if you’re ever traveling or on an outing with a toddler. Just one time leaving home without backup food, and that hungry toddler will make sure you never leave home without ALL of the snacks again.
12. Babies and toddlers teach you to travel at a slower pace
I used to be that person that tried to jam as much as possible into one trip. Sine having my son, we try to explore each area a little more in depth versus rushing from destination to destination. A perfect example is our trip to New York City with our son as a toddler.
I’ve been to NYC almost a hundred times before, but there were so many new things we saw on our recent trip with our son. In Central Park, for example, we came across the Cop Cot. (A beautiful wooden structure on a hill with an amazing view of the city.) We also had the best time at Heckscher Playground– a place we came across by accident just from wandering around Central Park. And we saw so many sculptures and works of art along the streets that we would have just rushed by in the past.
One last thing…
So many people think that you should wait until your child is old enough to remember the trip. When I think back to the last 2 years, I’m pretty sure my son’s first memory is going to be just before his 2nd birthday. He was feeding birds at Pittsburgh’s National Aviary, and bird flew on his head. While pictures can often refresh his memory about other adventures, he continues to tell the story about the bird on his head almost every day.
The truth is, your child won’t remember all (or perhaps any) of your trips before 2. Even if they have no memories before two, though, the experiences become a part of them and a part of you. As moms, dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles you certainly will remember. And those experiences and adventures starting from a young age help shape them into who they are as kids and eventually adults.
The reality is, your child is going to have diaper blowouts or scream on the plane or throw a tantrum in a nice museum. But those fleeting moments shouldn’t keep you from having a lifetime of memories. Whether starting small with a quick day trip or flying halfway across the world, traveling with little ones is so worth it. What are you waiting for??
“As soon as I saw you, I knew a grand adventure was about to happen.” – Winnie the Pooh
I’m curious to hear why you travel (or previously traveled) with small children. Do you have anything to add to this list? And if you’re nervous about taking that trip with your little ones, what’s stopping you? Please share in the comments!
Related Post: 10 Baby and Toddler Toys for Travel Under $10
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