This is part 2 of a BS-free mini series about travelling abroad with a toddler. Part 1 was about what not to pack. And below is the ultimate guide to keeping them entertained.
Let’s be real. While the free-spirited hippie dream of travelling with your wolf cub is totally possible and AWESOME, you’ll also question why the F you’re doing it.
You’ll be packed into spaces smaller, hotter, and more filled with strangers than ever before. Which means your toddler is probably going to be tantrumming louder than ever before.
Me, my husband Lammy and our 13-month old daughter Iyra have just got back from rail roading through Morocco, ending in Spain, where we met up with Woke Mamas Jessie, Sim and Lauren (hit the gram for pics).
Visiting 8 beautiful cities in 3 cray weeks was next level incredible. Iyra was mostly mind-blowingly angelic. But it was also bare missions.
This is what we learned about keeping her sweet during the intense bits.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
You’ve got to try and take advantage of the fact air travel for kids under 2 is FREE. Right?
But when you’re wedged in between a passive aggressive stranger and your lil’ buddy here with freshly released bowels while the ‘Remain Seated’ sign flashes on 39,000 feet in the air, you’ve gotta unleash your inner Beyonce of baby-tainment.
Like everything in life, you must make the journey the destination — or you’re going to be game over before take off.
And I don’t mean achieve inner peace. Nah. This is simple maths.
Whether your journey is a 12-hour flight or round the corner on a camel, in order to survive travelling with a toddler in a constricted space, time must be broken down into 5-minute segments of entertainment.
So an hour-long train journey needs 12 x 5 minutes of fun. Just 5 little mins. And thankfully, EVERYTHING is a potential 5-minute killer.
QUICK TRIP TIPS
If you’re lucky, some things, like that shouty old man on the no.88 who smells of cat wee, will give you even longer – maybe 15 minutes of entertainment.
But other things, like that toy octopus, will last less. Maybe 1 minute.
Because it’s SOOOO important to pack light, here are the 5 most useful 5-minute entertainers we took with us, hidden in secret pockets of the backpack and unleashed for the longest trips:
- 2 toy cars
- a small fave soft toy
- a giant sparkly bouncy ball
- all of the above, but wrapped up in newspaper and revealed again like they were new (I know, such evil witchcraft)
- an old Android tablet
And that’s it.
Like everyday life with a toddler, the rest of the entertainment was snacks, us singing badly, our own random stuff like wallets, and then things we picked up along the way.
That included wrappers, plastic spoons or straws (SO bad for the environment – reuse!), flyers, water bottles, shells, sticks and leaves. Simple stuff that in another, more chill life, ie 2 years ago, you would have chucked.
But you know all this. You need the hardcore toddler entertainment.
Because when you have a FOUR HOUR train journey in a small sweaty compartment with 5 other people wedged in, no air conditioning, a curtain than only goes half way across, all of you have food poisoning, and you’re in the firing line of a desert sun that wants to kill you (we deserve a medal, right), you need to streeeeeetch that 5-mins.
So let’s hear more about that trusty tablet.
APPS BEFORE NAPS
Firstly, time all travel with naps or night sleep. But when that isn’t possible, be equally organised and download everything your toddler loves onto your tablet and phones, before you leave.
We had the following games and videos ready to kick-ass on all home screens.
- Peekaboo Barn (Lite version is free, full $1.99) For a toddler using a tablet for the first time this is ideal. In the free version, they basically just have to tap the screen to see what’s in the barn. Animals. Animals are in the barn. Obviously. It took Iyra so long to build up the courage to tap the screen, this game lasted the whole 3 weeks. And Oh boy, does that muddy pig make her ROFL. She can’t even.
- My Very Hungry Caterpillar (Free) There are a few different “games” in this one. And they’re all super sweet, slow and educational, plus beautifully nostalgic for red-eyed parents staring blankly into the black mirror abyss to appreciate when we come out of our comas. Also, the games get harder which means they’ll last a while, so totally worth your gold-dust storage space. (Just delete the blurry pics. Do it.)
- Hey Bear! Baby sensory (YouTube) Weirdly hypnotic videos that breed on YouTube, with trippy visuals, psychedelic colours and classical music. If the music does your nut (after the billionth play), DJ your own. I recommend something equally trippy like Chance the Rapper, My Bloody Valentine, Fuck Buttons or Aphex Twin. 🙂
- The Happy Baby song (YouTube) Love it or really want to drop your phone and smash its screen before you see that first baby’s face levels of hate it, this song is magic. They did some science stuff to figure out what makes babies happy, like high-pitched female voices, dogs barking and raspberries blowing — and weirdly, they got it right. Unlike white noise, all nursery rhymes and me doing a monkey sound, this has lasted Iyra from newborn to toddler and hasn’t aged a bit. Unlike me, every time I hear it.
- Elbow – Magnificent (YouTube) This played on 6Music once and made her smile. And ever since then, Lammy has used it to get her to sleep when my boobs, sorry I, was not there to do so. She wags her finger and goes “no-no, noo” in that simultaneously cute and annoying way if we attempt to play it before she is tired. Something about the tune and the beautiful, profound video just generate baby Zs.
- There are also loads of educational apps like flash cards and nursery rhymes. Dork face emoji.
Once you’ve rinsed your battery though, which will happen as soon as you realise your charger is in baggage hold, you’ll need REAL 3D LIFE to stretch those 5-min sections.
And that’s where sneaky mum comes in.
Sneaky mum moves down the carriage to sit near the family with the noisiest kids. She stands strangely close to the shouty teenagers with the tinny phone beats. She sits behind the person with the most colourful hair that keeps asking to be tugged. She will overcome social anxiety to strike up conversation with someone with an interesting voice or face. She will face the kid at as many seated people as possible, to squeeze out a few smiles. She will do anything she can to find another toddler, hopefully having a tantrum or breaking something, so that her own toddler will stare in wide-eyed awe. For at least TEN WHOLE MINUTES.
Because the best way to pass time in a confined space with a load of strangers is to not ignore them. Those days are long gone.
Now we make eye contact. We don’t actually befriend them, don’t be silly, we’re from London – no. Now, we use them.
Use commuters, use people trying to sell you stuff, use air hostesses [pro cheat: as soon as you get in the plane, smile and ask if there is spare seats or free stuff for babies], use dogs, use ticket inspectors, use bus drivers, use baggage handlers, use birds, use street fundraisers, use babies, use old people, use teenagers, use other kids.
They are, after all, what your toddler wants to see most. Hate to say it, but sometimes they just get bored of your face.
However, they will never get bored of your boobs. If you can extend breastfeeding until you go on your next trip, do it. ( . ) ( . )
ONE MORE THING
If you’re really lucky of course, there’s always sleep. Sweet, endlessly absent sleep.
White noise, oxygen and the excitement of flying always knocked Iyra out, but on buses you don’t get those luxuries.
So the one thing (other than boobin’) I would advise anyone doing any kind of travelling with any kind of person under 5 years old, is: DO IT WHEN THEY SHOULD HOPEFULLY BE NAPPING OR LATE AT NIGHT WHEN THEY SHOULD HOPEFULLY BE SLEEPING.
Apart from on a camel. Keep them awake for that one. And if they sound nervous, sing Wheels on the Bus. For the whole hour. On a camel.
Where’s that medal?
If you liked this, you may wanna read part 1 of travelling with a toddler — what not to pack. Your camel will thank you.
Got any toddler travel tips? We would really ❤to hear from you. Contact us, comment below, or tag #WokeMamas on social media.
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