Things You Learn to Deal With When Vacationing With a Toddler

When you’re single or newly married, going away for the weekend is blissful. You can sleep late in a big, comfy bed. You can get dressed up and enjoy dinners at local restaurants, and even take naps the next day when those dinners are followed by too many cocktails. Cut to life with a small child, and all of a sudden a weekend trip out of town takes the courage and discipline of a tightrope walk high above a city. My husband, Adam, and I recently went away for a weekend with our toddler, and here are some lessons we took away from our trip:

Car sickness is not for the faint of heart.

On our first long road-trip with a toddler, we unfortunately learned the hard way that dairy within a couple of hours of the car ride is a bad idea. An hour in, we were parked in a strip mall parking lot, doors wide open in the cold winter air, a roll of paper towels and a box of wipes in hand, mopping up the contents of my son’s stomach. He was set free from his seat, roaming the inside of the car with abandon, huge smile on his face, while we picked up pieces of mango from spoiled yogurt. The air freshener that we had to stick to the vent now makes the car smell like a cheesy spring meadow. Lesson learned.

Routine shmoutine.

At home Adam and I stick to a schedule like it’s our job. Our 18-month-old has been known to be a big ball of willful energy (think cat on catnip…), so our regimen with him has helped us tremendously. He knows what to expect at what point in the day, and that helps us have some kind of sanity in our lives. But on vacation, the very things that help a routine run are sitting hundreds of miles away in a dark home. Before you know it, you’re taking a family walk on the beach, only to be reminded by an irate miniature person that it’s time for some milk. Oops. Must have left that in the hotel fridge.

Sharing a room is not a slumber party.

If you happen to get a great hotel room with a walk-in closet, jump for joy. While putting a baby’s crib in a closet may seem barbaric, any parent knows that a dark, quiet space is exactly what you need to get your kid to sleep when he isn’t in his familiar space. On our recent trip we were not so lucky. The Pack ‘n Play had to be placed inches from our bed, which meant a few things:

  • We couldn’t rely on our usual routine of leaving the room when we put our son to bed, which is when he usually talks and sings to himself for a little while until he falls asleep. Instead, we had to hide until we were sure he was out cold.
  • When he would occasionally wake up in the middle of the night or early morning, instead of falling back asleep, he would stand up and stare at us with excitement (mom and dad are here!). He would then start hitting my husband’s knee repeatedly. My husband and I have an unspoken rule to play dead in such moments so that Jake will get bored and try to fall back asleep. There was a lot of playing dead on this last trip…
  • Naptime is especially difficult because the blackout curtains tend to be more like beige-out curtains (see the need for a walk-in closet above). Our son is used to a pretty dark room, so we had to have no other distractions at naptime to have any success. Case in point: while Jake napped on one side of the room, my husband and I ate lunch on the floor, hidden by the bed, on the other side of the room. We just couldn’t risk him seeing us eat and deciding he wanted to join in on the fun. This was our vacation, too, damnit! We ended up napping on the floor after lunch, ironically next to a beautiful, cozy, king-size hotel bed.

Cape May Lunch


  • When a baby is asleep in the one and only room that you have, that means that baby sleeping is the only thing that will be happening in said room. No, I’m not talking about “mommy and daddy alone time,” I’m talking about ANYTHING that’s not sitting in a dark room in silence. At all. My husband and I have had to eat “romantic” dinners in bed by the light of our cell phones so as not to wake the baby who goes to sleep before 7 p.m. We wised up and hired a babysitter to sit in the dark on our last trip while we actually went to the hotel bar for a while. She was worth every penny.