7 Harsh Realities Of Going On 'Vacation' With A Toddler

Remember the days when you panicked about your infant's first plane ride? Turns out babies are amateur hour. If you want to know the true meaning of pain, just plan a summer vacation with a little person roughly 1 to 3 years of age.
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By Katerina Manoff

Remember the days when you panicked about your infant's first plane ride? Turns out babies are amateur hour. If you want to know the true meaning of pain, just plan a summer vacation with a little person roughly 1 to 3 years of age.

After a half-dozen successful trips with my infant daughter, I was lulled into a false sense of security about this whole traveling-with-child thing. I had my foolproof bag of tricks for the flight, a manageable packing list and a trusty Ergobaby carrier. I dispensed advice to moms with smaller babies like a pro. So I did not hesitate to book a low-key beach getaway to Florida shortly after my daughter's first birthday. How hard could it possibly be?

We were hardly out the door when the truth hit me like a bottle of milk launched by a 1-year-old practicing her newly-discovered throwing abilities. And no, that's not a metaphor. Here's what traveling with a toddler really looks like.

1. Those travel-with-baby tips that used to work? They no longer will.

Back in the day, the boob or bottle would pacify your baby instantly. Now, your breastfeeding days are past, and your toddler thinks bottles are for throwing. Back in the day, she would nap in a sling or stroller while you did your thing. Now, she screams in the sling or stroller while you hide your face in shame. So get ready to throw out your travel playbook and start from scratch.

2. Sightseeing and toddlers don't mix.

Pre-toddler, a day in your vacation may have included a museum or two, a picturesque hike or walk, a new restaurant, some shopping and a show at night. My husband and I managed to keep this up through our daughter's first year, using a clever combination of baby wearing and babysitters. Now? We got to choose one activity per day--if we were lucky. And, of course, it had to be safe for a very mobile toddler, not scheduled during naptime or after bedtime or at mealtime, and not too far from the hotel.

3. If you want to stay sane, put the toddler in a closet.

Forget stylish boutique hotels or cozy B&Bs. Your #1 priority now is a separate place for your progeny to sleep. If he usually sleeps alone, bunking down in the same room might destroy his already-fragile vacation sleep schedule. And even if he does manage to sleep fine, you'll be forced into lights out at 8pm.

So, what to do instead? Rent an Airbnb with multiple rooms. (Bedrooms not necessary--my kid recently slept in a laundry room). Or get a hotel room with a handicapped-accessible bathroom, which should be big enough for your Pack'n'Play. (Downside: no nighttime bathroom runs). Even a large closet with vents on the door will do. The few hours of couple time you get after the little monster is sleeping may well be the highlight of your trip.

4. Spring for a room with a view... because that's where you'll be spending most of your time.

As previously mentioned, you and the toddler will not be doing much sightseeing. What will you be doing? Spending hours in your hotel or vacation rental. We retreated to our beachfront condo for many reasons--nap, lunch, toddler overheating, toddler too wound up and needs calm place to unwind...you get the picture. The ocean view and the sound of the waves helped us avoid going crazy and actually enjoy our cooped-up-inside time.

5. Take-out at the playground will be the apex of your dining experience.

Toddlers and good restaurants rarely mix, but you all still need to eat. So, what do you do? Sure, you can take your two-year-old to a generic kid-friendly restaurant that looks, feels and tastes just like the generic kid-friendly restaurants at home, down to the packet of crayons and the extravaganza of fried items on the children's menu. But even typing that depresses me. As an alternative, did you know that most fancy restaurants will do take-out? So go ahead, grab a few boxes from the hotspot all the young people are flocking to, go find a baby-friendly park or playground, and have a picnic.

6. Don't get too excited about your new vacation outfits. Actually, don't bring your new vacation outfits.

I'm one of those people who enjoys buying a couple of cute new outfits to wear on vacation. This year, I even bought some for my little girl. Most of these new clothes lay untouched in the closet, along with my jewelry and most of the contents of my make-up bag. I wore shorts and a t-shirt that I didn't mind ruining when my daughter smashed berries in my lap. She wore the same two rompers over and over, because they worked best for crawling and high-speed diaper changes in unfamiliar places.

7. Planning for a babysitter? Think again.

On our first family vacations, my husband and I would leave the baby with relatives or a new sitter, scoring some much-needed couple time. This time, our one-year-old physically clung on to me for the better part of the week. With her stranger danger instincts on high alert, she made it clear she'd be damned before she let me leave her with someone she'd never met. Au revoir, dinner reservations at fancy French restaurant.

This is the bit where I get to say that, despite all of the above, vacationing with our toddler was magical and amazing and totally worth it. And, I'll admit it was heart-meltingly adorable to see her discover sand for the first time and bob in the waves on her tiny raft. But still, if any of the grandparents offer to take her for a week so hubby and I can go travel on our own, I won't be turning down the offer.

Photo credit: Katerina Manoff

This piece was originally published by Katerina Manoff on Mommy Nearest. Katerina Manoff is an education consultant, mom, and recent transplant to Houston from NYC. She runs Houston New Moms, a free directory of Houston resources for parents of babies and toddlers.

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