Ain’t Misbehaving – Crawlers and Early Toddlers (8mo – 2yo)

This post is part of a series about planning for good behaviour when travelling with young kids. It starts with my general approach and continues with a section on babes in arms. This is part three – my observations specific to crawlers and early toddlers, aged from about seven or eight months (but especially from twelve/fourteen months) through to about two years. If you have anything to add, I’d love to hear it. Suggestions for late toddlers are here and a post on little kids is coming.


There are several reasons this is my least favourite agegroup to travel with. I have already complained about the enormous amount of luggage the 8m-2yo set require. Now it’s time to complain about how difficult it is to manage their behaviour whilst travelling.

By the time they got to this age, my kids had slightly improved in their abilities to tolerate, communicate or self-regulate when it came to basic physical discomforts and requirements for sleep and relaxation. I was also starting to get a handle on what they found stressful, which helped tweak our itineraries so as to reduce everyone’s risk of nervous breakdown. However, the average crawler/early walker is a little bugger when it comes time to restrict their play – especially to monotonous environments such as the cabin of an aeroplane – and mine were no exception.

It wasn’t just the threat of tantrums or whining – it was also the threat of injury and death. Drunk on their new-found powers of locomotion, but without even the slightest hint of common sense or an attention span, they flitted willy-nilly at about a million miles an hour only to flit somewhere else a second later, as if someone had sat them down and filled them full of expresso coffee, red food colouring, and amphetamines. Sometimes I longed for the days when they would watch the world go by from their seats in the stroller, especially given that I was trying to keep up with them from underneath an absolutely mountainous pile of travel necessities.

T can't decide between strangling herself, jumping from the aeroplane, or tripping over a massive pile of luggage. In the end, she settles for wearing her parents ragged.

T can’t decide between strangling herself, jumping from the aeroplane, or tripping dangerously on a massive pile of luggage. In the end, she settles for wearing her mother ragged.

Despite all that, travelling with crawlers and early toddlers can be done, even enjoyably – and I say this as somebody who has single-handedly wrangled a child of this age plus a sibling only a couple of years older on four or five long-haul flights (though never anywhere at the far end without at least one other adult to help me – I left that for home). Toddlers are hard-wired to explore, and they have a delight for it which is unique to their age group, and quite infectious. They’re usually still little enough to carry or push (when they wear out enough to let you), sit on your lap instead of buying their own ticket, and snuggle into your bed in the hotel room or on the sleeper train. Not only that, but their baby-cheeks and budding attempts at speech will attract friends and helpers wherever you go.

So how is it done? Well, all I can tell you is what I know. It’s entirely likely we missed a few tricks, and if you can see where we went wrong, please say. I promise I won’t collapse under the weight of regret that we didn’t know everything earlier (although I may sob quietly).

Most important categories of trigger: All of the above, plus Boredom and Restricted Play.

On each trip with a child in this age bracket, we have used some of the following strategies:

  • Avoid the problem by staying close to home, thus minimising journey times.
  • Reduce the problem by choosing limited-stop itineraries with longer gaps between major journeys.
  • Reduce the problem by booking longer journeys overnight, so that it happens mostly in the kids’ sleep. Boats, ships and sleeper trains are great for this. I sometimes do it for long-haul flights as well, but this requires us to plan in pre-and-post-flight rest as economy class is not great for sleeping. I try to avoid long-distance buses with young kids as a general rule so I can’t report on it, but I suspect it’s similar (but perhaps slightly worse) than the red-eye flight.
  • Reduce the problem by scheduling journeys around sitting-still or sleeping times. I know lots of people will blanch when I say I feed them in the car, but the idea of getting my eighteen-month-old out of her seat only to strap her straight back in at the table fills me with dismay (and her with angry frustration). I would rather vacuum, or, uh, visit someone who owns a dog on the home stretch of the trip, perhaps. No, let’s stick with “vaccuum”. Wisely-chosen car food and a good bib can help a lot. If you have a child who naps worth a damn then this is an obvious time to put some miles on the road, too, though we’ve never experienced this as neither of our children have ever napped worth a damn.
  • Reduce the problem by using transport options which are less restrictive or have a constantly-changing view, such as trains or boats.
  • Reduce the problem by adding child-led or less restrictive activities into the itinerary, such as playing at the park, trips to the beach, children’s museum exhibits with a hands-on focus, or casual bushwalking.
  • Reduce the problem by adding some activities which specifically cater to their interests (farm visit, train ride, etc).
  • Alleviate the problem by using flexible transport options, such as hire cars or private vehicles, and making the necessary amount of stops at the appropriate times.
  • Alleviate the problem by learning seven new ways to entertain young children in-seat.
  • Alleviate the problem by using the stroller as a restraining device when safety demands it. I have also sort-of used a harness, and if my kids were more closely spaced or I was having to care for them single-handedly more often, I would probably have used it for real.
  • Alleviate the problem by adding adults to the party to share the workload around.

And the biggest tip – do not, under any circumstances, feed your young toddler red food colouring, expresso, or amphetamines. Can. You. Imagine.

Here’s where we went – and/or dreamed of going – when our kids were in this age group. Suggestions for late toddlers are here and a post on little kids is coming.