summer vacation guide

traveling with toddlers

Photo by TheTravelMama

Colleen, Karissa and Leo at Disneyland

When my son was 10 months old, we went to Ireland to visit family. We never bothered to adjust his time clock for the 6 hour time difference. For the entire week, we just kept to our normal U.S. schedule -- all of us getting up at noon and not going to bed till 2 or 3 a.m. each day.

It worked great! We still had fun, and there was no painful re-adjusting back on home soil.

As part of the Daily Buzz Summer Vacation Guide, I chatted with Colleen Lanin, TheTravelMama, for more real mom traveling-with-toddlers tips. Yesterday she told us what to pack. Today -- sleep schedules, naps, food and snacks.

It's hard to keep toddlers on schedule when away -- and aren't vacations supposed to be spontaneous and unstructured?

Yes, but it's still imperative to keep toddlers on a eating and sleeping schedule. Often this means missing out on a few of the sites you might like to squeeze in, but I'd pick a well-rested, happy child over sites any day!

If that means scheduling long walks with a tot sleeping in a stroller or strategically timing car trips to coincide with car seat naps, so be it. This is a bit more difficult when traveling somewhere in a different time zone, but it can be overcome by adjusting your day by a few hours one way or the other and by exposing little ones to lots of sunshine during the day to help re-set their internal clocks. Or, you can do what you did in Ireland!

What about eating schedules -- should we keep them?

Yes, we adults sometimes we get so busy touring attractions that we forget to eat, but toddlers simply will not tolerate this! Keeping little ones on a regular eating schedule helps kids feel more secure even when their surroundings and other daily activities are very different from usual.  And, while I encourage bending the rules a bit on vacation, too much sugar and junk will lead to meltdowns.

What if it's just not working?

Don't be so concerned with keeping to your child's schedule that you suck all of the fun out of your vacation. There will be days when your child is just too excited being in a new place to take a nap or you may have a difficult time finding child-friendly food when you need it. Just do your best to get back on track with the next nap or meal.

When we traveled to Europe with Karissa when she was two and a half, she wouldn't let my husband or me sleep the first few nights in Barcelona. She kept tapping my face and saying, "Mommy, you sleeping?" It made for a couple of very difficult days but eventually she adjusted.

What about naptime -- my daughter naps for hours! And she goes to bed pretty early, too.

It is ideal to book a room with a balcony so you don't feel cooped up during naps. I'd rather book a suite or connecting rooms at a moderate hotel than a single room at a fancy-schmancy resort. This allows for some private time for reading or even a little romance after putting your toddler down for a nap or for the evening.

Our budget doesn't always allow for such luxuries, of course. In those cases the four of us pile into one room and pray for good sleep!

Food is such an issue on vacation, especially in a foreign place without the usual fare. Any suggestions?

I pack lots of snacks for the flight or drive to our destination. I start with the healthy snacks and then resort to some forbidden snacks like potato chips and cookies as we get closer to our arrival and everyones' patience and attention spans are waning.

Once we arrive, I go to a grocery store the first or second day to stock up on breakfast  and snacks. Rather than starting the day out on nothing but carbs, I like to purchase some yogurts (if our room has a fridge) and peanut or almond butter to spread on whole grain bread. Soy crisps are a favorite on the go because it is an easy way to sneak in some protein. See my eating tips and suggested snacks for traveling with kids.

You can find even more traveling with kids advice and tips on Colleen's personal blog, The Travel Mamas. And visit her group TravelMamas here on CafeMom.

++How do your kids sleep when away? Do you get fewer ZZZs on vacation or do you come home even more well rested?