Most toddlers are creatures of habit and routine, and our toddler is the same. She is happiest when she has consistent mealtimes, naptime, and bedtime. When we go on vacation, however, we undoubtedly break that routine due to flights, long drives, hotel stays, restaurants, etc. I believe the exposure to new sights, sounds, and stimuli is good for her, but I can see that the lack of routine leads to lack of sleep and irritability.

Many countries don't have dinner options before 7 p.m. (some much later) which means staying up past bedtime if we eat out. Nap time will be on-the-go, not in a crib due to check-out times from hotels and our (selfish?) desire to sightsee. I'm happy to spend some time at playgrounds, but I don't want to only see playgrounds when there are centuries of art and culture to explore.

How can I plan my vacations so that everyone in the family is most comfortable and happy? How much importance should I place on our toddler's sleep and entertainment vs. our own?

This question differs from Balancing children's needs with a parent's own needs in that it is specific to special circumstances while traveling or on vacation.

  • Where are you travelling to?
    – Stephie
    May 7 '15 at 11:52
  • Greece, UK and France (the France trip will have it's own challenges, as we'll be hiking in the Alps and won't have a lot of choice about restaurants and accommodation) May 7 '15 at 12:18
  • At that age we made an agreement with our kids; on alternate days we would do "our" stuff - archaeology, museums, cathedrals, markets - or "their" stuff - sitting on the beach, visiting funfairs and playgrounds. We all agreed this was fair.
    – RedSonja
    May 8 '15 at 6:07
  • We used to use Eurocamp. They have camping sites with ready-erected luxury tents with real beds and cooking areas. During the day they have entertainment for kids; They rush around in swarms playing at pirates or circuses. There is always a restaurant offering "real" food as well as pizza and chips. Our kids loved this. There are several companies offering this in Europe.
    – RedSonja
    May 8 '15 at 6:11
  • The sleep needs are probably going to trump everything else. You will probably be miserable if your toddler is short on sleep. May 9 '15 at 5:24

How much importance should I place on our toddler's sleep and entertainment vs. our own?

Well, you have children. I think they should come first.

Sleep is a secondary issue here, I wouldn't worry about it if you keep it all reasonable. But as for entertainment, consider this: would you like to go to a trip with your parents if they neglected you all the time? I wouldn't.

Your toddler is not going to enjoy the same things you do. The museum of ancient history, art gallery, even simple sightseeing will most likely be boring for her. Moreover, she will be a danger to most exhibits in museums and you will have to pay very careful attention to what she's doing. Hence - you will see little and be more stressed than usual.

Unfortunately there is very little space for compromise. You will not be able to keep your daughter happy and occupied doing things you want to do. Your real options are: leave your daughter with somebody else when you go sightseeing or visiting museums, or do not sightsee too much and don't visit museums at all. Choose a location (presumably a lake or seashore, children tend to love them) which you will all enjoy.

As for routines - vacation is, almost by definition, a break from routine. I would not worry too much about that. Just make sure your kid doesn't run hungry or is too overtired.

And remember to go back to your usual routines as soon as you get back. It'll teach the child it's more or less OK to behave differently on vacation, but at home everything should return to normal.

  • "would you like to go to a trip with your parents if they neglected you all the time?" .... I never anticipated neglecting my child. I think there is likely to be a happy medium where it's balanced out though. Interesting assumption:"your toddler is not going to enjoy the same thins you do. Museum of ancient history, art gallery, even simple sightseeing will most likely be boring for her." Your answer gave me an idea for a spin-off question! May 7 '15 at 12:28
  • I know you didn't, I just wanted to point out the extreme. I just think that one has to grow up to like certain things, and toddlers definitely have a lot of growing up to do:)
    – Dariusz
    May 7 '15 at 12:36
  • Got it, nice perspective. May 7 '15 at 12:38

Parenthood is always a balancing act, and I don't believe one needs to give up all adult activities while parenting for fear that the child will be put upon.

Being flexible is an important life lesson, and you should go ahead and enjoy your vacation(s), while giving your child the opportunity to learn a little flexibility (remember praise and rewards help here.). I agree that exposure to new sights, sounds, and stimuli is good for her. Your job as parents in this situation (I think) is to include some "down" times and days for your toddler.

When we traveled with toddlers, we usually stayed in hotels where we could come back for a midday nap; we also shopped at markets to feed the kids on time. Then when we ate out (usually as early as possible so that our kids weren't too disruptive), they weren't hangry (hungry + angry/irritable), and could enjoy desert while we had our meal.

We put off traveling to foreign countries until they were older, which I now regret. They still don't remember most of our foreign adventures; had I known they were going to forget, we would have done more for ourselves (they would just have had that much more to forget!)


So, we have brought our kids to places like Mexico and France, and done sightseeing with them.

We are not great at having a 'routine' at home (naps on weekends are usually at varying times), so we didn't have that much of an issue with that part, but I will share my experiences:

  • It is far easier if you rent a car. If you are going from point a) to point b) the kids can nap in the car, and it gives you more freedom to sightsee.

  • Plan on sleeping close to your sights, so you can go back for a nap. We slept in 3 different towns in Yucatan in Mexico, so we could see different things without long trips. Most days we went back to hotel to nap, we had plenty of material for reading in the room or hotel garden while the kids slept (bring a portable baby monitor if you can).

  • Consider renting a place with a kitchen and cook dinners at home, if early mealtime is important.

  • Consider turning the kids 'local' In France, lots of kids dine out late with their parents. Just roll with it.

  • Sightseeing might be more fun that you think for the kids. Pick somewhere they can move! and not a museum, though. I am a huge fan of ancient ruins, and the steps in the Maya fortress of Tulum was exciting for our 2 year old.

  • Bring something so they can nap while you sightsee, if possible. Stroller, backpack/Ergo for kids and so forth.

  • Make sure you do make time for parks and playgrounds. Get some ice cream and relax.

  • Accept that some things you just cannot do. We were in Avignon during the theater festival, and while seeing street performers were a lot of fun, then actual plays we could not go to. Even the children's ones were (besides being in French) not targeted for children under 5.

  • Connecting with local parents can be fun! I was a great and unique experience chatting with some local parents on playgrounds in Mexico.

I think the it will be more difficult if your kid is VERY routine based - nap ALWAYS in crib, never on the go, mealtimes and bed times exactly at the same time every day... But if you are a person who can have a firm schedule every day like that, I am sure you can find a way to do schedule 'light' while travelling.

Also, don't feel guilty over doing something fun for YOU while travelling. Compromise, but you are a person besides being a parent, and don't feel guilty for being that.

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