I refused to listen to the toddler travel naysayers telling tales of tantrums and defeat. We visited countless countries and flew a myriad of miles with our son, so when our little gal came along when he was 21-months-old, we thought: We’ve got this traveling with toddlers thing!

Um, kinda…

Our confidence was based on our A+ average. Of 36 flights, I can only remember two doozies. Both times our little guy was teething. Otherwise, he was an expert traveler capable of recovering from jet lag like a Condé Nast Traveler editor and eating abroad like a chef.

One of the biggest lessons we learned logging miles with him in tow: Take a test trip before braving the bigger journeys. As in, go somewhere nearby and do something familiar before spending large on a bigger trip. With this method, you learn about your family’s travel flow in a familiar environment, and flush out the flaws without the stress of a different language, time zone, or food.

When our family grew from three to four people, we took our own advice and embarked on a test trip. Feeling a touch overconfident, we even added our dog into the mix. (What were we thinking?!)

Viewfinder Tip: When traveling with kids, take a test trip before departing on bigger journeys to trial what works and doesn’t work while you’re on the road.

En route we laughed at ourselves for packing the car to the brim for a mere two nights away. Even though we attempted to practice minimalism, we were dumbfounded at how much space two carry-ons, two small bags, two car seats, a dog, and a stroller take up in an SUV.

—> The lessons: Pack lighter and smarter, and load the big stuff into the car the night before to avoid departure chaos!

Things got “real” after we checked in to our hotel room crammed with two cribs. As we were getting settled, we heard a rumble. It was our 2-month-old daughter who decided to start things off with “a bang” so big it required a two-parent clean-up. Strangely, in this moment, the challenge was not our infant’s backend blowout, but rather containing our son who was so excited about our new digs, he transformed into a bucking bronco. Thank goodness for crackers, the crib (for momentary containment of the rodeo hopeful), and the close-top garbage to dispose of our daughter’s unsalvageable onesie.

—> The lessons: Scented diaper bags are a parent’s best friend. Always bring more baby clothes than you think you need. At-the-ready snacks buy you five extra minutes. Smartphone apps or videos allow everyone to get settled in hotel harmony. Pre-ordering baby and toddler items such as cribs or high chairs helps families get situated faster.

A failed nap and successful pool session followed. Not surprisingly, around dinnertime, we noticed our 2-year-old was getting tired, so we donned our nicest duds, brushed our hair, and hightailed it for the hotel restaurant for a quick bite. Enter the bread debacle.

We’d barely walked past the host when our toddler started to chant “B-wrad.” (It appears he has a great memory and recalls that most meals out start with bread.)

The notion of a balanced meal where we’d sit as a model family and smile as we ate in harmony was “off the table,” so when the server suggested pizza from the kids menu, we chanted, “great idea.” Now on borrowed time, as parents, we only had a second to scarf down an appetizer; however, our son’s “kid-size” pizza was so massive, we enjoyed the portion he didn’t eat in our hotel room later that evening with wine.

—> The lessons: Time meals out just before your children get hungry. Kids menus are a savior. Three crayons and a piece of paper go a long way. Parents: Order your bevvies ASAP and always bring a bottle of wine in your suitcase for later.

As far as sleeping was concerned, we suspected it would be wise to book a suite versus a studio hotel room at such a critical stage of sleep development with our infant. This notion was confirmed that night with a trio of wake-ups no sound machine or white noise app could solve. Everyone was howling, even the dog.

—> The lessons: For nighttime bliss, book a hotel suite, or a two- or three-bedroom vacation rental when traveling with ultra-young ones.

While I’m embarrassed to admit it, our two-night trip turned into a one-night trip. At 6 a.m., we made the decision to abort. By 9 a.m., we were out the hotel door.

At first I felt like an epic failure; then I realized our family travel fail was a win. We accomplished exactly what we set out to do: Test our tenacity and trial traveling with two tiny tykes.  

Look out world, next time we’ll be able to exclaim, “We got this!”

What are your tips for traveling with tykes?

First trip with baby
Maui with baby
Cruising with baby