Toddler in Tow

How to turn travels with a toddler into a true vacation.

A familiar sound flickers into the bed-and-breakfast’s dining area and our 2-year-old daughter, Amelia, looks up from her cereal. “Mummy’s going to work,” Amelia squeals excitedly. We rush outside to wave as the low-flying helicopter passes by on its way to the remote northern British Columbia forest. The scene is straight out of an inspirational calendar: Jagged snow-capped mountains gleam in the morning sun across a glittering ocean; eagles perch in every tree along the street.

What a weird life, I think to myself. At dinner, we’re regaled with stories of sites, artifacts and wildlife encounters. This is standard circumstance as the husband of Jo Brunsden, senior archaeologist at Millennia Research, a British Columbia-based consulting company. My wife is sent all over the province, and our family tags along.
   
Traveling with a toddler— whether heading to some remote landscape or to Grandma’s house— comes down to maintaining a positive attitude and keeping a bag full of tricks to use while on the go. The essentials include snacks, games, books and crafty diversions, such as stickers and coloring books. And the supplies must be readily at hand. Packing the distraction bag is one thing, but if you can’t find the bag quickly while on the move, you might as well have left it at home. And because imagination is indispensable, it doubles as a tool to keep toys to a minimum. Anyone who has traveled with young ones knows the days of chucking all you need into a backpack are gone; anything that reduces the load is key.
   
But a constantly changing environment presents difficulties. Most kids thrive on daily routines. While our family’s routines never last for long, we take the opportunity when we travel to experience a world not many people get the chance to see. I don’t know any other 2 year old who knows as much about eagles, bears, moose, whales, trees, trails, shells and fossils as my daughter. And the important thing is our family is together wherever we go.
   
As easy as it is to focus on children, it’s not just the toddler who needs attention on a working holiday. Both parents have needs, too. My wife works long hours in the field, making her tired in the evenings. In turn, I encounter longer full-on parenting hours. For peace of mind, I focus on fresh air, exercise and stimulation on work days. And, like me, tired after a full day of activity, Amelia is content in the evenings to spend time reading books with her exhausted mom or watching movies.
   
On days off, I take time alone to explore, giving myself space that isn’t filled with toys and picture books, while giving my wife and daughter precious one-on-one time.
   
When working away from home like this, or vacationing with a toddler in tow, the key is balancing the scales between the needs of mom, dad and child. While our scale occasionally tips, we generally manage to make our bizarre lifestyle work. Amelia’s becoming an old hand as she closes in on her 3rd birthday, and we’ve just told her she has to teach her tricks to the baby. Looks like I need to add another scale.

Packing Checklist for Toddlers

  • Bring a few things associated with home to create a comfortable, familiar space. Also, never forget that one special stuffed animal each child just can’t live without.
  • Pick up a few new books, games, workbooks, sticker books or other easily packable diversions your tot doesn’t know about. When things start to get rough, break out something to entertain.
  • Pack for the weather. Then pack for other weather. There’s nothing worse than a cold and wet toddler. And even if there’s only a slim chance of rain, it’s better to be ready than to be soaking.
  • Find something— anything— exciting to look forward to at your destination and hype it up. This way, children are happy and excited when the family arrives. Whenever a toddler flounders a bit en route, remind the child about the excitement factor as a motivator to keep moving and exploring.
  • Let toddlers pack a bag themselves. Packing gives a sense of control and sets up the trip better than anything you say to prepare children for the journey.