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5 tips for happy toddler travel

Summer travel with toddlers can be heavenly… or hell on wheels (or wings, waves, etc.). But here’s the good news: What you do now (and on the trip) can totally stack the deck in your favor.

Here are 5 ideas to help you have the time of your life… from start to finish:

1) Get ready before you leave

  • Perfect your sleep routine. Use a white noise CD (for all naps and nights), a lovey, massage and reading.
  • Make a little book of the trip (with photos of the plane, hotel, sites, etc) to read every day BEFORE you leave.

Related: Medicating kids for peace and quiet; is it ever OK?

2) Getting there 

  • Keep them busy! DVD’s are a godsend. Make frequent stops, if driving. 
  • On jets, walk a lot, and bring special treats and surprises. Hide them in different pockets of your purse, coat, etc. Read your trip book, to keep your child engaged with all the fun things that will soon happen.
  • Use stickers, tokens, checks on hand, treats, etc to reward your tot for being cooperative/quiet (every 30-60 minutes).
  • For meltdowns, first use your best Toddler-ese to acknowledge your tot’s feelings. THEN try distraction, explanation… or bribery, just to get through the rough spot.

Related: Family booted from plane wanted 'a little bit of humanity'

3) Helping sleep, even with time zones changes 

  • Lots of morning sun the first one to two days helps to overcome jet lag. 
  • Limit naps to 90-120 minutes. (Too much daytime sleep can hurt nighttime sleep.) 
  • An hour before bedtime, dim lights and turn on white noise in the background. 
  • Keep your sleep routine. Predictability helps tots relax. Use white noise for all naps and nights (it’s a “teddy bear of sound” and it covers outside disturbances). Don’t forget your tot’s lovey.

Related: 7 tips for surviving a long-haul flight with kids

4) Avoid traumas (big and little) 

  • Bring first aid/illness medicine including anything special your tot needs (breathing medicine, 2 Epi-pens, etc). 
  • Indoor safety - childproof the room (duct tape, electric plugs, etc.) And scout around for dangers: cords that can be pulled down, scalding hot water, etc. 
  • Outdoor safety - avoid sunburns. Keep bugs away with natural repellants or DEET (only put this on clothing, not on skin).

Related: Parents, know your rights when flying with kids

5) Keep it simple

  • Before you go, find the kid spots: parks, museums, etc. Plan lots of stops, and always carry food and water.
  • Use a carrier for little kids, and for bigger kids consider a harness/leash. 
  • Keep activities short. One hour in a museum then 30 minutes playing chase in the garden. 
  • Avoid candy and treats. Wild sugar swings can trigger outbursts.
  • Ask your tot’s opinion many times a day, to boost his sense of being respected. 

Pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp is the author of "The Happiest Baby on the Block" and "The Happiest Toddler on the Block." For more advice, check out Dr. Karp's "Parent's Night Out," a talk about babies, toddlers and sleep simulcast to 600 movie theaters across America on June 21.