Does toddler travel terrify you? Well, it shouldn’t and you definitely should not let it stop you from seeing the world, even if you have young children.
Not buying it? Challenge accepted.
In the spring of 2016, M (then 2.5 years old) and I traveled to Florence and Assisi in central Italy. We live in southern Italy, so we did the trip by train “like Peppa,” as the toddler says, referring to one of her favorite books in which Peppa Pig and her classmates take a train trip.
Yes, like Peppa, except without Pedro Pony (or anyone else) dropping his ticket, thank goodness.
I’ve read countless comments from parents online who dread traveling with their children—and some who flat out won’t do it. Pshaw! Now, during the toddler years, is the best time to get moving with your little one as she doesn’t understand how much the logistics of traveling actually suck. Everything is fun to her!
Except waiting in lines. And sitting still. And maybe sleeping in strange beds.
But hey, when your toddler isn’t throwing a tantrum or being cranky, overtired, or generally unreasonable, it can actually be an amazing experience—for both of you. Seriously!
Disclaimer: YMMV depending on your particular toddler (and that specific day, hour, the weather, etc.), but I say with full sincerity that I had a spectacular time traveling for a week by train with my wee lass. She napped every day (rare at home) and slept easily and heavily at night as she was so tuckered out.
Still don’t buy it? Here’s more evidence your toddler is the best travel companion ever.
1. Keeps you alert. Ridiculously so. Sometimes we can get complacent when we travel, maybe even fall asleep, leaving our belongings and ourselves vulnerable. Not a chance with the kid in tow. Even when my daughter did nap on the train, there was no way I was falling asleep because she was either on me (horribly uncomfortable) or she was lying across the seats opposite of me and I was terrified she would roll off them and onto the train floor, surely covered in at least three kinds of flesh-eating bacteria. So yeah. Awake. Totally.
2. Makes you pack only the barest of essentials. This is because you can’t physically carry any more than absolutely necessary while also wrangling a toddler. Regarding toddler travel packing, note that a full 90% of items were the kid’s clothes and shoes and things to keep her busy during travels and down time at the apartments*—coloring book, washable markers, books, stickers, favorite stuffed animals, the iPad (which, granted, was for both of us). And snacks. Lots and lots of snacks. I made do with about a grocery bag full of clothing for a week, and you know what? It was fine.
3. Makes you slow travel. I wasn’t about to try to drag my toddler through the Uffizi Gallery (I have a healthy respect for Museum Meltdown), so we got to sit in several piazzas and cafés and soak up the Florentine atmosphere. Well, I sat. The kid burned off lots of energy by chasing around pigeons. Yes, we did squeeze in some “must-see” sights, but in my travel planning (I use the term loosely), I limited those to one per day so as not to get disappointed that we didn’t “do” more. We did plenty (including seeing the real David at the Accademia). And it was awesome.
4. Makes you friends. For every uptight, non-kid person who shoots you the Evil Eye when you board a plane or train, there are usually two or three nice ones ready to make a big deal over your child and generally help you out. At least this has been my experience—and especially in Italy. I got lots of help with luggage and keeping her occupied; one Italian nonno did magic tricks with My Little Pony figurines on the train. Bonus: this also warms the cockles, knowing that good people still exist.
5. Makes you appreciate the little sponge that is your child. Once you’re an adult, you rarely get the chance to impart your everyday, common knowledge to folks. But your little one? She may not yet know that this flower is a rose and it smells pretty, and look at how the toenails of that statue look so real, and ooh, watch that truck picking those trash bins up from underground and dumping them! And her mouth is agape the whole time you’re explaining these things like you’re a freaking genius. There is always a teachable moment with a toddler around—especially when you’re surrounded by so many new things.
6. Notices things you don’t. When we were in Assisi, we visited the hermitage of St. Francis, a mountain refuge where the saint prayed in solitude during the 13th century. As you descend deeper to reach his cave, the doorways get smaller and narrower and everything becomes more toddler-sized. Around each corner, my little one was pointing out things in her line of sight—cool-shaped stones in the wall and the like. At the end, there was an aged, cracked terra-cotta marker that I glanced at, but my daughter said, “Look Mommy, a house!” Indeed, the cracks were in the shape of a house, and that made me stop and pay attention. Toddlers give you a different perspective, literally.
7. Gets you plenty of exercise. Toddlers, as a general rule, don’t sit still for very long, so you’re going to be on the move a lot, which is not a bad thing if you might normally, say, worry about calories and such on vacation. And then there’s the Refusal to Walk Another Step Phenomenon. Whether you’re traveling with a stroller or baby carrier (the latter for us on that trip), you’re going to be carrying or pushing some extra weight around at some point—so go ahead and have that gelato. No worries, no guilt. Two scoops, in fact. You’ve earned it.
Ready to book that trip? Do it. And if you hate it, never do it again. But at least you will have tried and thrown fear off the train—a good lesson for you and your toddler, too.
* In Assisi, we were graciously hosted by my friend Rebecca at her Brigolante Apartments in the city center. The accommodation was absolutely perfect from the location overlooking the main square to the ridiculously comfortable bed that made it difficult to want to get up and sightsee. Grazie mille, Rebecca!
In Florence, we stayed in a sweet AirBnB apartment with my friend Laura from Ciao Amalfi. This, too, was an excellent spot with a great location, just a few minutes walk from Santa Croce and within walking distance of all major attractions. Grazie mille, Giulia!
If you book at either of places, be sure to tell them Michelle Fabio in Calabria sent you!