Travel & the Terrible Twos: 6 Strategies for a Successful Trip

The terrible twos can be stressful and overwhelming for any parent, even before adding travel into the equation — which is why so many families would never dare tempt fate by booking a trip with a child of that age. Sleep schedules get thrown off, routines fall apart. And then there’s all that gear to lug around! But with a little patience and a lot of planning, the memories you’ll hold onto for years to come can make it more than worthwhile. Exposure to new ideas and interests, learning to adapt in different situations and developing a great sense of adventure are just a few of the things that make globe-trotting a valuable gift even to such a young recipient. After all, travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. Here are some strategies that worked for us and made travel with our 2 year old not so terrible at all:

Board the Plane Last

This goes against everything you’ve heard before. Most people think that boarding the plane first is the way to go, but think about it: what you really want to do is minimize your time on the aircraft. Two year olds don’t love to sit still. Boarding early adds an extra 30 minutes (and sometimes more) of downtime during which you must entertain your child while there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do. So what’s the hurry? Resist the temptation to skip the line because you can. It’s not worth the extra overhead storage space in the end.

Make a Deal

Two year olds are master negotiators. They know when they’re holding all the cards, and they’re not afraid to use them. You don’t want to make a habit of rewarding bad behavior (I’ll give you a lollipop if you calm down now) but for the purposes of averting a public meltdown en route to your destination, it’s ok to give in a little more than you normally would. Stopping a tantrum in its tracks is advantageous for all parties involved. Make it easier on yourself — make a deal and keep the peace.

Time it Right

Traveling with kids in tow, you no longer have the luxury of being impulsive and simply going where the day takes you. There’s a lot more planning to be done — planning around naptime, around bedtime, planning activities and meals around the height of crankiness. You know your child best and when they’re most likely to cooperate. It’s wise to attempt the aggressive part of your itinerary when they’re fresh and when they’re sleepy, make it work for you — enjoying a long walk as they drift off in the stroller, settling down for a lazy lunch or even hitting up a museum they’ll likely have no interest in. If done right, the extra organization can make your days run smoother and your time together more enjoyable.

Balance Your Act

Finished touring a historic site? Sounds like your two year old just earned a visit to the zoo. Not a peep throughout a morning full of window shopping? Then it’s time for a gelato break. Just because you’re traveling with kids does not mean you have to spend every waking moment at amusement parks and playgrounds participating only in kid-centric activities, but you should keep it varied and entertaining throughout the day. Something for you followed by something for them. Finding a good balance keeps everybody happy.

iPad iPad iPad

Let me say it again one more time: iPad. Two year olds are finally at the age where a two hour movie can hold their full attention. This is a beautiful thing — on flights, on train rides, in the back seat of a car or waiting out a delay. It’s also a godsend in restaurants. We were never big fans of devices on the dinner table — that is, until we started dining out with a two year old. Inconsistent behavior is a hallmark of this time and it can be daunting never knowing when a glass will get knocked over or a fork will go flying. A child who stays quietly seated is less distracting to other diners and takes the pressure off of Mom and Dad. We consider it a win.

Slow Down

No one will urge you to “stop and smell the roses” quite like a two year old. And while it may feel like you’re stopping literally every two feet – to pick up a leaf, to sip from a water fountain, to feed the ducks – it’s ok to let your two year old slow you down and get sidetracked along the way. Your little observer is just beginning to exercise his or her independence and all of these details are part of the adventure. So pick out a perfect basket of berries at the local farmers market. Savor the sunshine while your child counts dandelions. Take ten minutes to watch them run circles around a statue. And most importantly, remember to enjoy this precious time while it lasts.

Have you traveled with a two year old? Was it terrible? Tell us what worked for you, and what didn’t!


  • Anne Helmers says:

    Great tips. Been there and I wish I could tell you traveling with your teens is easier : ) Same tips generally apply just substitute shopping for the zoo and teens are the ones telling you to hurry up. Getting them to slow down and stop and smell the roses is the trick.

  • 3onthego says:

    Ha! That’s pretty funny. Something to look forward to! 🙂

  • Love the tip about boarding last! I have two toddlers I take with me everywhere and boy, it takes creativity and preparation to maintain my sanity. I try to plan flights around nap time or bed time, so they will sleep at least a portion of the flight. I also pack each child a backpack of new activities and toys to keep them entertained. They also have Innotabs downloaded with fresh games and music videos they love (headphones of course). I try to keep everything new and exciting, not toys or games they have played before…boring! My kids are eaters so I pack a variety of snacks. I have other tips on my blog too, like pep talking. I start discussing our trips weeks before we go so my sweet toddlers (sarcasm) know what I expect of them. It takes some prep, organization and frequent beer breaks for mama, but traveling with kids can be done successfully!

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