Toddler travel timetable

How does one even attempt to explain to a toddler how long the journey to the other side of the world really is? Is it even possible to prepare little ones for what to expect?

"So let me get this straight... 
I'm not yet 3, 
it's currently nearly midnight, 
and although I had a little, later than usual siesta today, 
Have I not mentioned before how TOTALLY IN LOVE with planes, 
trains, buses, elevators, trucks, cranes, 
escalators, control towers and landing strips I am?
 - not to mention my new, completely adorable, new ladybug wheely suitcase;
and you're suggesting I sit still, 
amidst bells, announcements & food trolleys, 
strapped into a strange seat 
- possibly next to a cool movable window blind revealing the flashing lights on the wings, 
and certainly within easy access of 
light switches, cabin crew alert buttons and TV remotes
... and simply, 


cuddle up to sleep?

... Are you kidding?!" 

Yes, it certainly does seem ambitious to expect a 2-3 year old to manage the trip conditions like a seasoned traveller! Toddlers by definition are curious, excitable and energetic. They need movement, variety in activities, and from our personal experience - a comfortable, familiar sleep routine! Here's how we used a toddler travel timetable to help prepare our almost 3 year old for a 35-40 hours 'door to door' itinerary across different time zones and modes of transport.

The idea behind the toddler travel timetable:
  • I wanted something both visual and 'hands on' - and what says active fine motor work out like sticky dots?
  • The references added to the timetable had to be something meaningful to our son, so I found a photo of B with his grandparents from here, and another of him with his grandparents from there.
  • It had to be super light weight and easy to pack/store and move around with us, (making it easily accessible) - An A4 laminated page was the answer.
  • It ideally would be a reference tool not just for our travelling hours (experiencing time throughout the trip), but also for day and night differentiation - after all, adapting to different length 'light hours' is even a struggle for adults! 
  • I was keen to be able to see the whole journey there and back again on the one page - so that we could talk about this new, strange and super exciting adventure we were embarking on, at the same time as seeing and knowing that we would be coming back to the familiar and comfortable. 
  • I liked the idea of a kind of journal of our own particular travel story - a prompt for chats, questions and answers, before, during and after the trip itself.
I know it's not the prettiest work of art, but it was super quick and easy and I think it did the trick!
    What do all the circles, arrows, symbols and pictures mean?
    It might look a little confusing at first, but I basically just drew a 'flow chart' of sorts - with a sticker/picture of the mode of transport (car/plane/ train..) or a hotel (stop over), followed by circles - each representing an hour of travel

    I also threw in a symbol for day time/ light hours (sun/clouds), and night time/ dark hours (moon/stars).

    How did it work?
    I didn't pull it out every single hour - but rather, whenever B asked, as a tool for discussion every few hours or so, or when a bit of assistance was needed to re focus on where we've come from, where we were going and what was coming up next (eg. time to sleep, eat, play, look around an airport, change planes...)

    He definitely loved the stickers, which could be stuck on and easily repositioned if needed:-) Extras were fun to stick on hands, notepaper - whatever!

    It stored well in the seat pocket - along with the menu, movie guide and safety instructions.

    Some of the best moments with this toddler travel timetable were showing family and friends before and after the trip (and even whilst we were away)!

    The chats to try to help B to understand the many, many hours involved in our upcoming trip, using this little toddler travel timetable were so much fun. We certainly didn't discuss everything all at once, but rather - in bite size bits. And honestly, I think it paid off! He settled down to sleep so well! We looked at the timetable, identified a few sleeping passengers, had a cuddle, and off he drifted!! (He must have been tired too!!) He also seemed to (for the most part) really enjoy each stage of the journey. (After all, airports are like the most exciting theme park ever to him!)

    A toddler's concept of time: NIGHT and DAY...

    "We're going to take a car to the airport, 
    then get onto a really big plane for a long, long, LONG time...

    It's going to be really dark, and the stars and the moon will be out - 
    so we'll need to go to sleep after the plane takes off,

    then we're going to change planes at another airport for another long flight 
    and the sun will be out - that will be play time,
    ... and then we'll go to another airport to catch a small plane for a quick flight. 

    Then we're going to meet grandma and grandpa at the airport 
    and hop in their car to go to our holiday home!

    When we finally get there, it's going to be late and dark and sleep time again!"

    A toddler's concept of time: DAILY ACTIVITIES ...

    "And do you know what we are going to do on the plane? 

    ... we are going to SLEEP on the plane! 
    We are going to snuggle up on the seat with a pillow, blanket and teddy (and dummy/paci if need be!!)... close our eyes, and breathe in and out... (that's our little mantra at home!)

    ...then we are going to EAT on the plane!
    The trolleys of food and drink will move up the plane right past us at breakfast time and we'll eat off a little table!

    .... then we'll have a PLAY and a WALK and go to the really small bathrooms and toilets!

    ... and we'll also look out the window! What will we see?

    ... and then, guess what? We are going to SLEEP some more!" (*see what I did there! hehe!)

    Variations and other ideas:
    • A clearer, straighter, easier to read flow chart!
    • Maybe the journey there could be on one side, and the journey home on the reverse.
    • It'd be really cool to make up a little book (even stick a few pictures into a cheap little 4 x 6" photo flip album) of the journey - including the different transports, night and day, and activities to expect (sleep, eat, play, toilet, walk, sleep, look out the window...) I took a bunch of photos (of course!) - to put into a little travel journal/scrapbook for B, which might be good to look back on before our next long trip.
    • I think any themed activities in the lead up to the trip can also be helpful in getting the most out of a toddler travel timetable, and the journey as a whole.
    • Other meaningful pictures/symbols for kids might include: pictures of familiar houses/ places or other things specific to different destinations...
    Stay tuned for more tips for travelling with little ones!

    I really hope you enjoyed this post! If so, you may also like to check out: 
    Mama's going back to work - a childcare transition visual timetable
    Cereal box city - dominoes -an easy DIY travel toy
    Construction sticks - loose part play inspiration, perfect for travel

    Thanks for visiting Kids' Play Space!
    'til soon, 
    happy playing!

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