This Mum's Tips on Travelling OS With a Toddler Are Low-Key Genius
A couple of years ago, my husband and I spent two dreamy weeks in Hawaii. We both felt instantly connected to the islands, and agreed then that once we had our daughter (who I was 23 weeks pregnant with at the time), we'd be back.
And so, we recently boarded the 10-hour flight to the island paradise we've come to love so dearly, toddler in tow. For many, the thought of embarking on a long-haul flight with a 20-month-old would bring all kinds of anxiety. (And for good reason—it’s a tough gig!) But like everything we've learned on our personal parenting journey, it all comes down to attitude. Instead of seeing it as a challenge, my partner and I saw it as an adventure we couldn't wait to start.
Ahead, you'll find my best tips to keep you sane whilst travelling with a toddler, from what to pack in your carry-on, to how to get your bub on a schedule.
Keep scrolling for more.
For the flight
Know there are others just like you.
We had 13 kids aboard our flight, so don't stress if yours is loud, upset or irritated—there's likely to be another little one nearby reacting the same way. A 10-hour flight is a lot to deal with for toddler, so if they cry or fuss, don't worry. Anyone that makes you feel uncomfortable is not worth your energy.
Make things as comfortable as possible.
We tried to book the bassinet row but given the amount of said families on board, it wasn't available. Instead we booked an additional seat. We also used the Plane Pal, a brilliant invention by a brilliant mum. Essentially a blow-up stool, you pump it up once you're in the air and place it on the floor in front of your bub's seat. It allows them to stretch their legs out (instead of dangle over the seat) and helps them get into a more comfortable position for a *hopefully* long sleep. (Just make sure you check if your chosen airline permits these.)
Being prepared makes hungry little tummies a lot happier, a lot sooner. We made a bunch of Sunny's favourite foods and went overboard with snacks. (When in doubt, feed them!) I suggest packing everything into clear sandwich bags and keeping it your hand luggage for ease of access.
Go with the flow.
Yes, we had a plan for the flight, but we also chose to remain flexible. We booked a 5.30 p.m. flight thinking we'd get Sunny to sleep around 7 p.m. (her normal bedtime) and that she'd sleep the majority of the journey. However, the lights, screens, intercoms, other passengers, air-conditioning, and turbulence all kept her overstimulated and, therefore, awake the entire time. My husband and I tried to rock her, walk her and sing her to sleep, but after countless attempts, we gave in, and ten hours of Peppa Pig ensued. Turns out you can't force your "plan" on a toddler. The more you are accepting of whatever happens, the less stressed both you and your bub will be.
Pack only the essentials.
We took our Mountain Buggy Nano and a Phil & Teds Travel Cot—both compact, portable, and convenient. The cot was checked in with our luggage but the Nano folds down to fit into the overhead locker, which prevents tired little legs while you're waiting to board the plane, or in a customs queue. We hired everything else—car seat, hiking backpacks, even toys—if and when we needed them. I'd read that taking new toys for a child to unwrap on the plane can be a good way to entertain them, and while I'm sure that works for some, it was just another thing for us to worry about.
Switch to the time zone you have landed in.
We landed in Honolulu and immediately boarded another flight to Kauai. By the time we arrived, we had all been awake for a really long time. However, instead of going back and forth to work out the time difference, we switched our watches to Hawaii Time and did our best to work to our usual schedule at the adjusted time.
Make yourselves comfortable.
For our first stop, we booked a beautiful and well-equipped holiday house so we could make ourselves at home for a week. When we arrived, we took Sunny around the entire place to familiarise her with everything, then went to the local supermarket to stock up on food. We cooked familiar meals, read books, and napped in the room Sunny slept in so she didn't feel disorientated.
Don't be too rigid with a routine.
We tried to get Sunny as close to her normal schedule as we could but we followed her lead. She usually sleeps from 7 p.m-ish to 6 a.m-ish with a midday nap, but for the first few days she would fall asleep mid-morning and we'd then initiate her afternoon nap. We kept pushing the morning sleep out and bringing the afternoon sleep in and by the third day, she was pretty much back to her norm. We didn't stress if we had a slightly later night or earlier morning—it's a holiday after all and kids are surprisingly very adaptable!
For your stay
Choose homes over hotels.
We stayed in four places on two different islands during our two weeks in Hawaii, and mostly opted for homes over hotels to make it easier for our toddler. In a house, Sunny gets her own room, can eat the same food she eats at home, and has more space to truly make herself at home. Our second stop was a four-bedroom house in Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Oahu. It came with bikes (just like we have at home), was a one-minute walk to the beach, and had an amazing pool.
If you do choose a hotel, choose wisely.
After Kauai and before Waimea, we spent two nights as a family of three before my parents joined us. We decided to go luxe for those two nights and went back to our old fave, The Modern Honolulu. We stayed in an Ocean View Suite, with a separate living room and private bedroom; meaning the three of us had plenty of space. With two balconies overlooking the Ala Wai Harbour, a gym, fresh and delicious food on site, great room service, and a comfy bed, we didn't venture far during our time there.
Once my parents arrived we moved to a more family-friendly location, Embassy Suites by Hilton Waikiki Beach Walk. Here we stayed in a two bedroom, two bathroom suite that comfortably fit all five of us. Just steps from Waikiki Beach, and walking distance from downtown Honolulu (and Bills), our accommodation came with a complimentary breakfast buffet, baby-friendly swimming pool, and happy hour every day. It ticked the boxes for all family members.
Don't be afraid to adventure.
Having a toddler doesn't mean you have to stay in one spot. On both Kauai and Oahu we hired a car and made our way around a bunch of different beaches. We timed travel with Sunny's sleep—which sometimes happened and sometimes didn't—and tripped to the north and east coasts of both islands. Tunnels and Anini in Kauai, and Lanikai and Waimanalo in Oahu are the most incredible places I have ever laid eyes on. It would have been a shame to miss them by just keeping local.
Do your research.
Just in case, make sure you know where the closest hospital is. We had to take Sunny to a doctor in Hawaii after a cough turned into a chest infection, and my best friend's little boy recently split his head open in Bali and needed stitches. You never know what might happen, so it's best to err on the safe side.
Order another margarita.
Or a coconut mojito, or a mai tai… It may not be quite as as relaxing as it was pre-kids, as said drinks are often consumed while chasing after a small human, but family holidays are all about making memories after all.