Incidents, Accidents, and Hilarity – Travels with a Toddler 

travels tips toddler

Like so many of our clients, the dance of managing diapers, dinners, dollars and keeping the house in some sort of organized manner, oftentimes feels impossible and unsustainable. Sometimes, we need to make radical changes to reconnect as a family and reassess our goals.

This was the case in 2013, when the pressures of three children, jobs and obligations felt like too much on our family. Instead of continuing in the direction that we were headed, which seemed to bring us further apart, my husband and I chose to take a leap of faith.  We pulled the conventional plug on our life,  sold the house, and loaded our kids (ages 11, 7 and 1) into the minivan to travel around the country camping, climbing, and connecting with friends and family. 

In planning for this trip, we had some idea how the older two would travel, as they were already showing signs of independence and self-reliance. The toddler, on the other hand, was a complete mystery!  We did our best to plan, drive during nap times, and spend long periods of time at each place to allow time to settle in. We brought along the jogging stroller and the Ergo and hoped for the best.  The toddler was by far the wildcard on this adventure documented here in a journal entry jotted down in March of 2014.

Traveling with a Toddler – Incidents, Accidents, and Hilarity

As I write this we are perched atop a mountain in a friend’s beautiful straw bale home outside of Dolores, CO very close to where Jacob was born over 12 years ago.  Here I find myself flooded with reflections and perspective.  The life stages of our children are so different right now.  One teetering on the brink of adolescence; one finding himself in the land of imagination and discovery; and the third, a wild toddling ball of wonder and spontaneity. Just today she nearly pushed her 8 year old brother out of the shopping cart that they were sharing and howled at the top of her lungs because she wanted “PRIVACY”! A passerby said “oh, she must be two.” Yup!

Tools for the Task: Headlamp, tweezers, a multi-tool and, of course, duct tape.

This is what’s needed to fix the tape deck (yes, you heard that correctly – we play cassette tapes) when blueberries, barrettes and batteries are jammed into it.  It is true that the car is an extension of our home and is sometimes the best place for the Little Miss to hang out when we are breaking down or setting up camp. This said, if she is in there quietly and focused engaging in heavy mouth breathing, there will surely be a price to pay.  Unfortunately now that many, many CD’s have been jammed into our CD player, the tape deck must be defended at all costs!

Hand sanitizer, warm soap and water, scissors.

Quiet and tranquil family moments are only possible when Little I is occupied.  This was true when she was quietly playing next to a tree in Two Medicine Campgrounds of Glacier National Park.  I’m not sure why we didn’t answer to the big red flag of Ila shooing everyone away when they wondered what she was up to.  Lesson learned and managed –  as long as you have these four tools, you will be able to, with great effort, extract VERY thick tree sap out of toddler eyebrows, eyelashes and hair.  It’s actually only a 4 part process;

  1. Apply hand sanitizer, very carefully (or, desperately) trying not to get in eyes.
  2. Warm soap and water on the area helps a tiny bit.
  3. There is always the first hair cut…
  4. Encouraging crying rather than discouraging it over the ensuing days helps dislodge the eyelash sap…

Socks (preferably clean and not from dad); reusable swim diapers and duct tape.

To come in handy when backpacking in the Tetons, or elsewhere, for 4 day stretches and you run out of diapers on Day 3 because you are traveling “light”.  Note to the wise, disposable swim diapers DO NOT hold in pee, especially when said toddler is strapped in the Ergo on your back for many, many miles while hiking. Silver lining: If you are hot from exertion, this will help you cool off, at least for a little while.

Never shop when hungry:

When looking for the toddler at a small food co-op in Montana, make sure to scan the lower cereal aisles to find her snugly between the granola and the O’s, ripping open a box for a snack, only bare feet sticking out to give you a hint, as shoes and socks where carelessly thrown off on the way, which leads us to….

Clothing Optional:

On this subject, keeping clothes on the toddler at any point during the trip, regardless if the weather is below freezing and everyone else in the family is wearing down jackets and hats – is futile.  We learn quickly, and at every turn, Ila is a nudist.  Regardless of her age (I can report now that she’s 10) and the outside temperature, it is near impossible to keep her clothes on.

Narcissistic Parents at the Beach:

When passersby offer smiles and giggles at your toddler in the stroller as you walk down the boardwalk in Long Beach, NY, do not for one moment think they are amused at her cuteness. Rather, question to yourself what could be happening inside the stroller at that very moment… the toddler may be smearing and eating the sun block. (Side note…if YOU ever see a toddler in a stroller EATING the sunblock, alert the parents!)


When doing laundry at a South Dakota (or anywhere) laundromat, always keep an eye on the toddler because if you turn around for a second, you may soon only see the toddler’s feet sticking out of the triple dryer.

road trip toddler

Night at the Museum:

Museum exhibits are often fascinating, giving one an understanding about the area’s history and culture. This is especially true when reading an exhibit to the boys about the first arrowheads found in the Eastern part of Arizona near Apache Junction. Not all of us get a sense of place from the written word;  sometimes individuals, particularly the 2 year old variety, develop deeper understanding with a hands-on, kinesthetic approach (i.e. climbing under a fence into the animal exhibit to snuggle up to the javelina in an effort to avoid the prickly pear and the lurking mountain lion).

Pet Names:

Although she grew out of her cute pet names for the boys – “Bebop” for Jacob and “Yiyis” for Elias – she grew into pet names for me. You know that you have been spending 24/7 with your toddler and the whole family when she starts calling you your husband’s pet names. Ila has been calling me “Honey” and “Chell” and sometimes the funny combo of “Honey Mama” for the last month.

Odds and Ends:

  • Wipe on wipe off markers are good for car windows but not so good for leather seats and tent flaps.
  • Jumping Cholla cactuses are true to their name and are especially attracted to cute 2 year old girls. Always have tweezers in the desert.
  • When staying with cousins, make sure to remove all infant suppositories from the area as they apparently taste good. (Side note: Keep the Poison Control phone number on your cell phone and feel relieved when infant suppositories, when eaten, will only cause diarrhea).
  • Under NO circumstances let said toddler play in a pool of water, bare bottomed,  in Yellowstone Park, even if she is giggling…there just may be LEECHES! Ahhhhh
  • String wax that older children may enjoy playing with does not taste good.
  • And finally, just like in the Movie Elf, ABC gum, especially in shades of blue, found on the ground in the desert, apparently does taste good.
hiking with toddler

Although you may be wondering at this point if Miss Toddler is intact and well,  the answer is a resounding yes! She is currently running circles around the boys, stealing their dinner, pens, pencil sharpeners and hats and squealing with delight.  

May 2022

Ila is now a bright and beautiful 10 year old who wants another family adventure year, so she can spend more time with her brothers and in nature  – possibly with less ridiculousness but with the same level of joy, curiosity and love. 

Thank you for letting me walk – or trek – down memory lane as this Mother’s Day approaches. To me, these stories reinforce the ideas that laughter is good medicine, that we can get through even the most preposterous adventures of parenthood, and that survival and thriving are inter-connected, especially in hindsight.

This Mother’s Day, I invite you to consider your own incidents, accidents, and/or hilarity, and to decide how you want to commemorate and/or celebrate landing at THIS MOMENT doing the very best job you can do along the way, hopefully with plenty of support as you continue to take leap after leap of faith.

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