To say that traveling with children under school age is a challenge might be the understatement of the year. However, traveling with toddlers can also be some of the most rewarding, heartwarming travel you’ll ever experience. To see the world through the fresh eyes of a young child is one of the greatest rewards of being a parent. But these years don’t last long, so get out and travel with your little ones before they become jaded,  oppositional tweens and teens

traveling with toddlersAs a mother of two children under 5, I’ve tried to make the most of every opportunity to take my kids on adventures. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve developed a checklist of things every parent should have in their bag. Keeping these kids’ necessities close at hand will help take the pain out of traveling with toddlers.

Essential Toddler-Age Toiletries

Toiletry Bag–Keep a toiletry bag packed and stored in your cupboard for the kids. This way, you never find yourself in a strange destination without the things you need. My kit, which is always packed and ready, includes Polysporin and bandaids, a thermometer, a Badger Anti-Bug Balm stick, a toothbrush for each child and a travel tube of children’s toothpaste, a travel size bottle filled with the kids’ favorite shampoo/body wash combo. (We usually use Everyone for Kids in Lavender Lullaby. I like to use the same soap as home so that the scent gives them a sense of comfort and familiarity in an unfamiliar place.)

I also keep a fresh bottle of infant’s acetaminophen in the bag with a syringe for each child. (The older kids can still take the infants’ medication and it works better for travel in the kids’ formula packaging.)

Sunscreen–Possibly the most important thing in the travel case is the bottle of sunscreen. I love Babbo Botanicals Sheer Zinc Continuous Spray Sunscreen. It’s the first zinc spray sunscreen and although I prefer using a cream or lotion at home, I love this spray bottle for travel. First of all, the bottle is the perfect travel package. It won’t leak or ooze. And when you’ve got excited children ready to take off on an adventure, a sunscreen that sprays on is perfect for covering them quickly, as they wiggle and giggle and squirm.

For your carry-on

The toiletry case will probably go in your checked luggage if you’re flying, but there are a few things you’re going to need to keep handy in your carry-on:

Rescue Remedy Kids—We never fly without it, although I don’t use it that often. I pull it out when the kids get anxious or on those crummy days when we have a particularly harrowing time checking bags or at security when traveling by air.

Rescue Remedy is a Bach Flower Remedy formulated without alcohol, especially for children of all ages. The Bach Flower Remedies are a nearly hundred-year-old system of emotional support developed by Dr. Edward Bach, physician, homeopath and researcher.  The Rescue Remedy results are subtle but my family finds them quite effective. For more information on the various remedies they offer for children, visit http://www.bachflower4kids.com/.

muslin swaddle for traveling with toddlersMuslin Swaddle Blankets (one for each child)—Your children may be too big to swaddle, but they’re still going to love these blankets, particularly on long flights or car rides and especially if travel falls during nap time. The blankets are soft, lightweight and can be rolled tightly to fit into a purse or backpack. My four-year-old son carries his–printed with Angry Birds–rolled up in his Apple Park children’s backpack, so he can get it himself whenever he needs it.

(Incidentally, if you’re looking for a good, durable, backpack for traveling with toddlers and preschoolers, I really like Apple Park. We’ve been dragging my son’s Apple Park bag around everywhere since he was 2 and it still practically looks like new. Apple Park makes the bags using a water-resistant fabric that’s made from recycled plastic bottles. In fact, each backpack saves 27 bottles from landfills. I think that’s pretty cool.)

i play hats for traveling with toddlersi play. Sun Protection Hats—Like the muslin swaddles, these hats roll up tightly and can be crammed into tight spaces. We keep the Brim Sun Protection Hats handy for at all times. I’m always grateful to have one on those days when we weren’t expecting sun (or, if you like us, forgot to apply the sunscreen before rushing out of the house). My son calls his “the boating hat,” because of the tie strap. It’s the only hat we’ve found that will stay on in windy conditions like a boat trip. And the wide brim helps keep the sun out of kids’ eyes.

I play’s hats are more expensive than comparable sun hats from Target and other major retailers, but they come with a built in adjustable toggle that helps the hat fit for years. My son got one at 20 months (admittedly, it was a little big), but the same hat still fits him 3 years later. The hats are made of a UPF 50+ material, which adds to piece of mind. The material seems to dry with almost magical speed after getting wet, which is handy for a family on the go. I’m not going to lie; these are not the most fashionable hats you’ll find. But they are definitely among the best travel hats on the market.

MomScout Stuff–I also keep an assortment of safety pins and band-aids handy at all times. To help avoid arguments and whining, I always have finger puppets and one of those boxes of crayons they give out at restaurants in my purse.

And if I’m being totally honest, I also make sure to have an emergency lollipop for each child in my bag every time we leave the house for more than two hours. You’d be surprised how much entertainment a small child can get out of one dumdum! They’re particularly handy on airplanes for counteracting the air pressure. I usually try to get the kids to drink water to encourage swallowing. Unfortunately, that only works in a perfect world. Moody, stubborn little people are not always going to drink on command. But a toddler rarely says no to a lollipop. (I understand that many parents try to avoid sugar at this age—and for good reason. If you’re looking for the least of all evils, Yum Earth Organics makes tasty artificial color-free pops sweetened with organic fruit juice.)

For overnight stays

Musical toy—They say music soothes the savage beast. Well, it also works on teething toddlers and scared preschoolers. I can’t tell you how many nights our Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes calmed my children back to sleep. My son took it on every overnight trip until he was almost three and a half. Then he passed it on to his baby sister because he thought she needed it more. You don’t necessarily need this particular Baby Einstein product; use whatever musical toy you already have. But if you don’t have one yet, I think this one’s great because it’s small, has a handle and adjustable volume. And it introduced my children to classical music. (Despite being electronic, it has a reasonably nice tone.) Like most musical toys, it lights up in a variety of colors, which my children find hypnotic in the middle of the night. My daughter keeps it in her crib at home, so hearing the tunes in a strange room gives her a feeling of home while the music lulls her.

Calms Forté—This one’s for mom! After trying to soothe a child in the middle of the night in a strange place, it can be impossible to fall back to sleep. Sleeping pills are out of the question since you may have to get up again. A mug of warm milk or a sip of Cognac can work wonders but you probably don’t have those on hand in a hotel room. So I always keep Calms Forté in my travel bag. The tablets are made by Hyands as an alternative to sedatives. It’s a very gentle formula but I find it’s usually just enough to lull me back to sleep. I don’t need it often, but when I do I am grateful beyond words for the night’s sleep.