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The very thought of trying to keep track of a fast-moving, volatile toddler in crowded airports and malls is enough to banish any thought of travel from some parents' minds. On the other hand, your toddler may thoroughly enjoy and learn a great deal from the experience, making it all worthwhile. If you decide to hit the road this season, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Even the most outgoing toddler can feel anxious about getting to or being in a new place. To help your child adjust, plan to spend quiet time together while you're in transit if possible, and – most important – once you reach your destination. Make sure you bring along toys, blankets, and other familiar items from home to make him feel as secure as possible.
For entertainment on the road, a goodie bag that includes sing-along tapes, hand puppets, storybooks, stuffed animals, musical toys, or anything else that captivates him is a good idea. Wrap a few toys or books as surprises to be dispensed along the way to ease the tedium of travel.
Look for safe opportunities to let your toddler get some exercise while you're in transit. Plan for rest stops during long car rides to give your fireball a chance to move around. If you're traveling by plane, give him a chance to spread his wings at the airport before boarding.
Holiday time means more cars on the road – and a greater risk of accidents. Pay particular attention to how your car seat is installed. The National Safe Kids Campaign found that over 80 percent of child restraints are used incorrectly.
Common errors included using the wrong seat for a child's age and size, not securing the seat tightly in the vehicle, and not securing the child correctly in the seat. You can make sure that your child's seat is properly installed by visiting a child passenger safety seat inspection location – find one on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website or call (866) 732-8243 for locations.
While you aren't required to purchase a plane seat for a child under the age of 2, we recommend that you do. To keep your toddler safe during takeoff, landing, and the event of turbulence, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FFA) recommend that children under the age of 4 be securely fastened in certified child restraints while flying. You'll have a more relaxing trip with the extra space, and more peace of mind knowing that your child is safely strapped into his own seat.
Remember, bad weather during the holiday season can put a crimp in the best-laid travel plans. You might even have to hole up unexpectedly in a hotel for a day or more. And it's no party holding a dirty, hungry toddler on a crowded airplane as it circles an airport.
Prepare for the unexpected by packing a carry-on bag with extra diapers, clothes, food – whatever you think you might need if you're delayed.
See more tips on traveling with a toddler.