Traveling with toddlers is fun 🙃 and this was our fourth and biggest trip with our 13-month-old. We traveled from Chicago, IL to Puglia, Italy, and it was an adventure. I figured out a few tips for traveling to Europe with a toddler. Two flights, two hours of sleep overnight, and ten hours up in the air with a toddler. I’m going to share my top tips for traveling with a toddler. What I packed, how we got through the flights, adjusting to a new time zone, and what it was like being in Europe with a toddler. 


Tips for Traveling with Toddlers


This post was originally published in 2019, and here I am, 3 years later, about to do it again. But this time, I’m a mom to a 4 and 2 year-old, and we are weeks away from our first family trip as a family of 4, and another trip to Italy. This will be our first time traveling with two young children but this time, I am not worried about our 4 year-old. Yes, there’s more stuff, but young kids (4+) are able to watch a show and keep themselves occupied. She’s so easy. It’s the 2 year-old that could go rogue, needs a nap and sleep, and that might melt down. She’s a really great toddler – so fun and funny, and very sweet. But those toddler moments are very…toddlery. I’m bringing lots of toys, a toddler travel bed, endless snacks, and will do my best. 

My number one piece of advice is to go into the trip with a loose plan and even more important, little to no expectations. Fortunately, I’m not much of a planner while traveling and like to keep things flexible. I am generally just happy experiencing someplace new – the sights, culture, people, and food. Expect to miss a few things and plan on relaxing at the hotel or house during nap time. Take in what you can and expect a slower pace.


Traveling with Toddlers: What I packed

Yes, I realize how insane the following photo looks but we needed all. these. things. (Can anyone hear Ross Gellar right now or is it just me?). There wasn’t one bag large enough to hold everything on the flight that I thought I’d need for 10+ hours of travel, so I packed a tote and diaper bag, and had a pretty decent system between the two bags, and checked everything else. Keep in mind there’s a stroller, car seat, crib, travel high chair, formula, snacks, and so much more in those bags.

I shared my travel essentials for a long flight here.

Tips for Traveling with Toddlers


My Packing List

White noise machine
Travel high chair: This is ideal since it is very compact.
Pajamas and clothes
Outfits and swimsuits 
Wearable blankets (2)
Slumberkins (Brought 3, lost one at Heathrow airport security)
Travel changing pad
Stroller fan
Bottle drying rack
Bottles or sippy cups
Formula and formula dispenser
Favorite snacks (that you can’t purchase in Europe)
Plate, utensils, and disposable placemats
Water wow books
UPF sun hat
Baby carrier (only used this at the airport so only bring if you know your baby likes it)
Packing cubes

Staying in a house vs. hotel

I normally prefer a hotel, because I love a clean room, but houses are so much easier with little kids, especially when they nap and go to bed early.The house we rented had a room for Margot, so we could put her down and still have a place to go. It also had a crib, just like most hotels do, but from my experience, it’s best to bring your own. Hotel cribs are usually old and look a little gross, so I always bring my own. It also helps to get your toddler used to their travel crib before springing it on them. 

Bringing vs renting a car seat

Everything I read said to bring your own car seat. I brought one that was far too heavy, and would recommend the Doona until your baby/toddler is too big. I’ve seen the Pico WayB travel toddler car seat for ages 2 and up all over the place, but don’t love that it’s only forward facing, and have heard that it’s tough to get a tight install. The crotch strap is apparently uncomfortably snug, too. I used the Cosco Scenera, but you can feel the seat belt buckle through it – it’s pretty cheap and flimsy, so I ended up getting this. 

What we checked

2 large and 1 medium suitcase
Car seat and carrying bag checked
Bugaboo Bee Stroller and travel bag
Travel crib

Pro tip: Gate check your stroller, and use it to get through the airport. We loaded it up with all our stuff, pushed it through the airport, and gate checked it. And bring a bag to keep it safe! Then when you get off the plane, you’ll have somewhere to put all your stuff or even better, your toddler.

Carry-on luggage

Carry-on bag (tote or duffel with necessities)
Diapers and baby wipes
Truffle bags to organize beauty products and essentials
Packing cube for Margot’s essentials
2 extra pairs of PJs for Margot and an outfit for each of us
Travel blocks (too young to really focus on these)
Dimpl toy
Fire tablet 8 (with Frozen and Moana, her favorites. best thing we brought!). But I would recommend an iPad. 
Small toys and books from her Lovevery play kits
Favorite books (pout pout fish and how kind)
Flash cards (she loves these!)
I brought a few coloring books but she was a little young for them
Antibacterial wipes
I packed Margot’s PJs, a blanket, and some toys in a packing cube

Tips for Traveling with Toddlers

I’ve heard that 4 is the magic age, and I’m hoping that’s true. The two year old will be tough. She really is a great toddler, but she’s 2, sitting still is hard, she still naps, and I’m expecting things to be difficult. Maybe she’ll surprise us. I’m armed with some seriously great travel toys, and will bring lots of snacks. We even have a harness and travel bed to make things more fun and comfortable. And bonus: she likes sleeping on me, so I’m hoping she’ll do that? I’m overthinking it while attempting to trick myself into thinking I’m go with the flow. 


Flying with toddlers and young children

Domestic flights with kids are work and international flights are next-level. At the end of the day, air travel is not fun, and I always recommend a direct flight when possible. We had a stop in the UK, lost her favorite lovey, and almost missed our connecting flight. Direct isn’t always an option, but is preferred, and at the end of the day, spending less time in the air is always the best option. . For our upcoming trip, we’ll have a long car ride from Rome to Tuscany, but no rushing from plane to plane with two kids and all our stuff, so I’ll take it. Let your toddler run around before boarding, and be the last to board before the long journey.

Flight attendants, in my experience, are always really nice to parents with small children. When it comes to a window seat vs. aisle seat, remember that your small child cannot be in the aisle if they’re in a car seat. I really like this harness for kids 2+. It’s also so important to remember that there could be some spicy fellow passengers, but toddlers have their toddler moments, and you’re doing your best. Just focus on your child and don’t stress yourself out thinking about everyone around you. 


Getting your toddler their own seat

Kids 2+ have to have a separate seat, but for a number of reasons, I would recommend always getting your toddler their own seat. It’s the safest way to travel and if you can afford to do so, makes things a lot easier on you, too. Yes, you can carry them on as a lap toddler, but it’s not the “safest” option and is definitely not the most convenient. Especially when it comes to long-haul flights.

Tips for Traveling with Toddlers


Our flight experience

Our NYC flight was by far the worst flight we’ve ever taken with Margot which I attribute to it being very early in the morning before Margot had a chance to play and nap. This trip was obviously the longest (From Chicago to Heathrow to Brindisi, and connecting flights are my least favorite) but it was better than expected. and we made it work.

I usually book a seat for Margot because its the safest and most convenient option, but this time, we used points to upgrade to business class – something neither of us have ever done before, and we’d only ever do it again with points due to the cost. I wanted to share this because we were able to lay down and had a little more space, but Margot only slept 2 hours total all night, so it wasn’t a magic fix. Having space and laying down was amazing but for any future trips, we’ll fly coach and buy this for Margot. 

The flight home was much better, although she was fussy and wouldn’t let Conor hold her at all. As she was getting fussy and tired, I stood up, walked/rocked/bounced her and she fell asleep. Magic. We landed close to her bedtime and she was so tired and she just fell asleep and slept through the night. Adjusting to coming home really wasn’t that bad at all (shocking).

This was nice, but she barely spent any time on the ground. But having space and being able to lay down was really nice. And would have been nicer had she actually slept. We’ll likely never fly business again since it wasn’t worth it – at the end of the day, a long travel day is a long travel day. I’d rather stay at a great hotel and plan experiences. 


The flight

It was mostly ok but kind of terrible, too.  The free champagne was necessary. We flew out at 5:30PM and Margot was wide awake at her 7PM bedtime. She was in a great mood but pretty wired and would not wind down for sleep. She went from laughing and jumping to completely losing her mind (screaming) at 9:30PM. I walked her over to the flight attendant’s area to try to calm her down and she screamed until she threw up everywhere, and eventually passed out on me.

We landed 2 hours later (which woke her up), ran through Heathrow, boarded our second flight (standard coach seats) and she never went back to sleep until we landed in Italy. All screen time rules were out the window. We were so tired and just trying to get by at this point. Had she slept, flying business would have been a great way to get some rest, even with her asleep on me. 


The #1 way to get through a flight

Extra space aside, we were armed with Frozen and Moana on our Amazon tablet, and some toys that she played with for all of 2 minutes each. Bring lots of small toys and healthy snacks. And a few special treats, too. Screen time will save you, and there are no rules when you’re up in the air. I bought the regular Fire tablet instead of the kid’s one but hands-down recommend an iPad. You can’t lock the screen on the Fire but can on an iPad, so she was constantly exiting movies and games.  

Tips for Traveling with Toddlers

Margot passed out in the car after we landed. We couldn’t check in to the house for a few hours, so everyone went to lunch and I sat in the car with her while she slept for about an hour-and-a-half. I imagine most moms would do the same? I was not going to move my baby and just relaxed while she slept. You just have to roll with the punches, even if it means your husband bringing you a spritz while you sit in the car and your baby who slept only 2 hours the night before finally got a little nap in. 

Tips for Traveling with Toddlers


Sleep and adjusting to a 7 hour time change

I had no idea what to expect the first night. She ended up going to sleep at around 7 or 8PM (Italy time) but woke up at midnight (in a good mood!) so we let her play for 2 hours, and she went back to sleep and slept in the next morning. Margot woke up an average of once per night but we turned her entire universe upside-down, so we just went with it.

She naturally sort of adjusted minus her wake-ups at night, and bedtime was usually closer to 8-9PM, so we were able to keep her out for dinner. She was a great little traveler, and we did our best to keep things as easy on her as possible. Again, I went into it expecting the worst with a less rigid schedule, knowing she’d need to get some sleep, but we were never in a situation where she tried to sleep all day. The latest she slept in was maybe 9:30/10am and on average, she went to bed at 8/9PM.

The nights we had dinner at the house, I was a bit more flexible with naps and the nights we had dinner out, I made sure she got a good crib nap in. We missed a few things but we also got to experience Europe with our baby. 



I have experienced sharing a hotel room with baby, a hotel with a separate bedroom/living room (much easier) and in NY and Italy, renting a house (the best). Giving baby his/her own room is so, so nice. Having a whole house and kitchen made things a lot easier for us.


Our travel stroller

I’ve traveled with our full-size stroller and tested 2 travel strollers before deciding on the Bugaboo BEE 5 – a compact stroller that’s perfect for travel but not officially a “travel stroller” and it is amazing! I love it for day-to-day. It takes up a lot less space than our full-size stroller, it’s light, the seat reclines almost all the way, the canopy is HUGE (blocks so much sun), and the basket is great, too. Couldn’t be happier with it and can’t recommend it enough for life and for travel, too.

Dining with a toddler

Margot had all meals at the house in this travel high chair. It’s great because you can use it on the ground or on most standard dining chairs. Can we talk about those little crossed feet? Man, I love her. I was surprised to find that a few restaurants we visited didn’t have high chairs, but it was really easy to have Margot sit in her stroller. I didn’t think to bring the travel high chair out, but it was never an issue.

Tips for Traveling with Toddlers


Toddler sleep and adjusting to a different time zone

We set up her travel crib and Nanit monitor right away. Luckily, the room had big wooden shades that blocked all light, but I brought travel blackout curtains just in case. I saw a hack to just bring black garbage bags and tape, and to tape the windows. That would be effective and cheap, too. And those would be easy to travel with. Jet lag was a huge b*tch so again, this is one of those areas where you should set the bar low and just go with the flow. 



Would I recommend Puglia?

Puglia was amazing. So yes, I would recommend it. It was first time there, but the long drives felt like a long road trip with our toddler – it was just not ideal with a child who naps. I loved our trip and am so glad we went, but I would recommend visiting a major city where it’s easier to get around (and where everything isn’t an hour car ride away) with a toddler who naps. Planning our day around naps and 45-60+ minute car rides was less than ideal. While we were there there may have been some moments where we thought it was the worst thing ever, but looking back, we’re glad we did it. 


Was it worth it? 

Europe is very different with a baby, but life is different with a baby, so there’s that. At the end of the day, the trip had its hard moments (lots of them) and didn’t always feel worth it at the time. But looking back, we’re glad we went. It’s like having a newborn. They’re so sweet and tiny but kind of the worst and push you to a breaking point. But once it’s over, you focus on the good, sweet moments, and find the courage to do it again. So would I do it again? Yes, but in a perfect world, my youngest would be 3 or 4. 😂 But here we are, about to do it again.

I got to take the daughter I dreamed of for almost my entire life to Italy and am grateful, and next month, will take both my girls to Italy. But don’t be fooled by the photos. It was not a vacation. This was one of my favorite moments on the trip. We walked Margot over to this little park and an adorable Italian boy started chatting away, but sadly, I don’t speak Italian and Conor (who does speak Italian) was a little behind us and missed what he said.

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