Traveling with Littles: Not Easy but Easier


Perhaps you are recovering from a recent trip, prepping for a Christmas or New Years family visit, or planning a big 2023 vacation. I am in the middle of all three of those scenarios. 

My family just returned from not one but two Thanksgiving trips – one by car and one by plane. We will travel again during Christmas to visit family, and we are gearing up for our first international trip with kids in tow next year. Traveling is something I knew I wanted to prioritize as a parent because of the experiences I had both as a kid and an adult, and it is basically mandatory if my husband and I want to keep in touch with our family and friends who live all over the U.S. Our son, who is now almost 5, got on his first plane at 3 months old to travel to the wedding of my best college friend. 


Our daughter, now age 3, didn’t fly quite as early but did endure an 8+ hour road trip at the same age as we sought my parents help with childcare during the initial pandemic lock down. So, in summary, our kids have been road warriors and frequent flyers since the beginning.

Has it been easy? Absolutely not. Has it gotten easier? Absolutely YES!

One week before Thanksgiving day, my family drove from Alabama through Mississippi to my hometown in Louisiana for an early celebration with my parents. We returned on Tuesday, did some laundry, unpacked and repacked, and headed off to the Atlanta airport at 5am on Thanksgiving day. We landed in Boston, MA just before 1pm and had our second Thanksgiving dinner with my extended family later that evening. We spent time catching up with family before attending my cousin’s wedding on Saturday. The following day, we stepped foot in our 6th state, Rhode Island, in 6 days to visit my husband’s friend whom he has known since preschool. 


Leading up to this big week of travel, I certainly had some doubts. Was this too much? Would we regret making these plans? But I kept coming back to the fact that my husband and I want our kids to experience and appreciate travel. Additionally, I had this sneaking suspicion that they were old enough to handle these big travel plans. As a mom, I really struggle with expectations. That is, I have a hard time recovering when my expectations are unmet. With unpredictable toddlers, I have found it extremely difficult to determine the appropriate expectations. Too high and then I am terribly disappointed. Too low and I feel like a bad mom who doesn’t believe in my kids. Plus, it seems like my two little ones are constantly throwing me curve balls with their behavior, emotions, and sleep patterns, just to name a few. However, this time I got it right. They traveled like little champs. 

We didn’t arrive at this place overnight. There have been plenty of meltdowns, tantrums, delays and exhaustion along the way. But we persisted and we got smarter. I don’t have data to back this up but I believe that pushing through the tougher, younger years of travel also got us to this place faster. We all know each other better – when our moods are best/worst (early morning = best), what makes us more anxious (mom driving and dad navigating), and what we can or can’t compromise on (sleeping arrangements/a large car). I would not describe either of my children as extraordinarily patient for their ages, but I observed them be patient multiple times in one day while we were on these trips; waiting in line, waiting on the runway or waiting for our next pit stop. Furthermore, my kids are now old enough to view our travels as adventure. They are excited! They proudly pack their backpacks and select their favorite toys to bring. They tell their friends and teachers where they are going and where they have been. They ask adorable and thoughtful questions about geography and how planes work. My son fist bumped the pilot as we walked off the plane in Boston and I thought to myself, “yes, my kids CAN do this.”


In addition to their development making travel easier, our kids also require much less stuff. We are done with diapers, bottles and pack-n-plays. We still tote two giant car seats through the airport but it’s manageable. Even entertainment happens much more naturally. Of course we take advantage of movies, coloring and audio books, but the kids are also sometimes content to simply listen to music or stare out the window (I did not see this one coming!!). 

So if you are in the thick of the tough travel years or cringing at the mere thought of traveling with kids, I hope you’ll find my family’s recent experiences encouraging. Traveling with little kids is never easy, but it does get easier. Play the long game. You’ll get a wealth of amazing memories for doing so!

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Caitlin is a native of West Monroe, LA and graduate of the University of Alabama and WashU in St. Louis. Her and her husband, Brendan, chose to raise their family in Auburn to be close to all of their favorite things - friends, family, the beach and college sports. Caitlin is mom to Cian (4) and Kenna Grace (2) and leads iStroll Auburn, a stroller fitness class and moms group. When she's not teaching a workout or chasing kids, she enjoys cooking, cheering on the Atlanta Braves, hiking, and serving with her church community.


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