Travel With Children: Part 3, Toddlers and Preschoolers

Travel With Children: Part 3, Toddlers and Preschoolers

August 26, 2009

Yes, it can be done.  You can take your imperious 2-year-old and your emotional 3-year-old to Latin America, and all of you can have a good time.  It will take some compromise and some patience, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

As any parent of a toddler or preschooler knows, small children don’t like change very much.  They like things to be known and predicable.  Travel is therefore quite a challenge for them.  But there are many things you can do to make it easier for them.

Perhaps the best thing you can do is to simplify your itinerary.  Slow down.  This is not the time to do the whirlwind tour of 3 countries in 2 weeks.  Rather, pick one or two spots, and stay there for a longer time.   Go to a small town on a beach and relax.  Find a family-friendly hotel in a city, and enjoy going to parks and the zoo.  Remember, children don’t need big attractions – riding the bus or the subway is a big adventure when you are 3 years old.

Consider doing small day trips from a base location, instead of packing up and moving to another place.  Most children like to come back to the same place every night – it becomes the new home, nice and familiar, where they know where the bathroom is and where their toys are.  There are many places in Latin America where you can do a big variety of things in a small area.  Your Exito agent can help you find an appropriate spot.

Now the nuts and bolt of travel with toddlers….first, your flights.  This is one age where you might actually want a flight with a change of plane rather than a nonstop.  Yes, it’s an ordeal to get on and off a plane with a toddler, but it’s even more of an ordeal to try to keep a toddler amused on a flight.  Toddlers need to move, and consider any attempt to keep them quiet as a personal affront.  Changing planes, especially if you have a bit of a layover, can give your wee one a chance to run around, yell, and create mayhem without annoying people who will be sitting next to you for another 4 hours.

Keeping a toddler or preschooler occupied on a flight is definitely a challenge.  I usually bring a little present for each child, for each flight.  This gives them something new to play with, and something to look forward to on each flight.  Keep it very small and inexpensive – a coloring book and crayons, a new little car, a plastic horse.

Other plane-friendly toys are Woodkins dress-up dolls, magnetic toys such as airport scenes or race track scenes, small stuffed animals, and of course, paper and crayons. Toys that play tunes or make lifelike siren sounds will earn you the undying wrath of your fellow passengers – leave those toys at home.

While I am not a proponent of the idiot box, a movie can be a sanity saver on a long flight.  Depending on where you are going, and the length of your trip, you might consider bringing along an iPod or portable DVD player and headphones (don’t forget the headphones!).  Mexico, for example, uses the same electrical setup as the US, so you can easily recharge your electronic babysitter for the flight home.

The next issue is where to stay.  If you are going to be in one spot for a while (highly recommended), consider renting a condo, house, or hotel room that features a kitchenette of some sort.  While these are rarer in Latin America than in the US, they do exist, and can make a huge difference in your stay.  Even having a mini-fridge is a big benefit – anything that allows you to have food on hand at all times for snacks, or even a simple meal (not to mention cold beer for mom and dad).

If you are planning on going to an all-inclusive resort, find out what special services they may offer for families.  One all-inclusive resort that we stayed at in Brazil offered a special baby pantry, stocked with milk, fruit, cereal, and soups, open 24 hours a day.  Others are less accommodating, and you might find yourself with a starving toddler an hour before dinner service starts.

A final big consideration is getting around in Latin America and, specifically, what to do about car seats.  Car seats are now required for infants in Mexico, but are quite unusual elsewhere.  Seats for toddlers and preschoolers are almost unheard of.

If you will be primarily traveling by bus or train, don’t bring car seats – there is no way to use them, and no room to do so.  If you will be renting a car, definitely do bring them – the car rental company is unlikely to have them, but your child will be much safer in a car seat.

If you will be primarily traveling by taxi, it becomes a bit of a judgment call.  For long taxi ride such as between towns, you will want the car seats.  If you are only doing a few short hops within town on occasion, well….. I have to admit that they are a nuisance to drag around while sightseeing or shopping all day.   OK, I admit it, I have bundled my kids into taxis without car seats for a trip across town.  And they survived. But that’s me.   You know what your own comfort level is.  If you are uncomfortable with your child being out of a car seat, stick to your guns.  You may have taxi drivers act like you are crazy, but honestly – who cares what they think?  It’s your child and your peace of mind.

Finally, don’t forget the ultimate cure-all, a nice nap.


las vegas for kids November 10, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Have you seen the Trunki travel suitcase for kids? Pretty cool idea!

emma November 12, 2009 at 5:57 pm

Boy, that is a great idea! Being able to pull the kids along when they get tired….very cool.

iNya November 21, 2009 at 5:27 am

Great! i would told my mom to do so,,

Emily Cohen July 21, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Hey, check out El Al’s blog for a post about tips for flying with your children and information on our special family fares.
The link is:

I hope you enjoy our blog!

Family Travel Scoop August 15, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Traveling with a toddler can be lots of fun if you plan it right! Make sure you wear them out at the airport before you board. Check to see if the airport has a playground for them to climb on or go for a long walk. Make sure you pack a lollipop for them to suck on when the plane is taking off and landing as the change in air pressure can cause pain in the ears. For more tips check out

Best car seat 2010 December 9, 2010 at 9:53 am

Appropriate knowledge on handling toddler and preschooler must be pointed before having a trip. Thanks for the great post. I’ll spread this info out.

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