It started with a 3,000-kilometre bike ride around South East Asia. With a toddler. Who didn’t eat rice.

When Stubborn Mule founder Liddy Pleasants decided that having under threes were no impediment to far flung adventure travel, she also perfected the art of how to keep a toddler entertained. Or not.

The good news is that you don’t have go to quite such lengths to benefit from her, and other members of the Stubborn Mule team’s, insights into keeping toddlers happy on a long-haul adventure family holiday.

Here’s our team’s tips on how to make sightseeing less, ‘tantrum’ and more, ‘terrific’.

Travelling with toddlers - toddler meets a Masai warrior on a Kenya family safari

There’s more than one way to get to grips with a new culture…

1. What to pack: The toddler tick list

– Take wet-wipes, a spare pair of pants and a couple of Ziplock bags in your hand luggage. You’ll never know when you’ll need them.

– Inflatable booster car seats are a great idea for child safety and peace of mind. Many countries simply don’t have them in taxis or mini-buses as standard. My kids love their ‘Bubble Bums’ and use them back home, too.

– Pack a few snacks from home they’ll recognise and won’t be able to get abroad. Marmite, muesli bar etc. In fractious times, these can prove an instant comfort and salve. When travelling with toddlers, there’s nothing worse than ‘hangry’.

– If you have to take malaria tablets or other travel pills, take a pot of chocolate spread or similar and hide the pill in a spoonful. Mary Poppins, we salute you!

– A child backpack (i.e. something to carry the child in, not just for them to carry their own stuff, although that too helpful!) is essential. Many archaeological sites, such as Petra, do not allow pushchairs or strollers.

Family using a child back pack when travelling with toddlers in Morocco

When travelling with toddlers abroad a child carrier is essential

– Allowing them to bring their own child-friendly camera will help them develop a new skill, give them something to focus on and provide a lasting souvenir for their travel diary / scrapbook. If you’re going on safari or a wildlife trip, also pack a pair of binoculars (again, child-friendly), no matter what their age and whether they can use them or not.

– If your child is still high chair age (and most toddlers are), it’s worth bringing a fabric harness that secures them to a normal chair.

– Take a look at our Ultimate Packing Guide for more suggestions.

Young family in Cambodia on a toddler friendly holiday

Taking a favourite drinking cup for little kids is always a good move

2. How to ace that mid or long-haul flight

– Take a good pair of earphones if doing a mid or long-haul flights. The ones provided for free on planes are rubbish and won’t fit in a toddler’s ears.

– Bring colouring pens, pads and books – something non-screen to entertain on the flight as well as during the holiday.

– When travelling with toddlers, pack a ‘treasure bag’ filled with little treats (some parents allow one per hour, to help make the time go faster and give them some incentive to consistently behave). What you fill it with is up to you, it could be colouring pens and a book, a snack, a toy. You’ll know what keeps them happy the most.

We found these ‘flying with toddler’ tips very useful: ‘Flying with a toddler’ and ‘Flying with children: 25 top tips to keep children happy’

Young child asleep on plane cuddling a soft toy

And don’t forget your child’s favourite toy… we’re sure you wouldn’t!

3. Get involved with and engage with local culture

– Cookery classes and foodie tours will inspire future chefs and fussy eaters alike. You’ll be amazed (or frustrated!) at how children will try most things on holiday they wouldn’t normally touch – or encounter – at home.

– Do a treasure hunt or spotting game – if you can find five different coloured flowers or name five different fruits at the markets you get a prize, like an ice-cream!

– Pack or buy an inflatable football or similar game at a local market when travelling with toddlers and young children. Language is no barrier when it comes to the universal language of shared fun, playing with local kids at a homestay or whilst out and about.

– Trying as many different transportation types (destination allowing) can provide unique experiences and a chance to mingle with local culture. Bring a scorecard so they can get a ‘point’ for every different form of transport spotted or used!

Young child playing on the Plain of Jars in Laos

Get up close to ancient cultures on the Plain of Jars in Laos where the kids can explore unimpeded

4. Strop-free sightseeing

– Forewarned is forearmed
This is so true when it comes to toddler friendly holidays! Prep your children beforehand and explain what’s going to be happening today. Once briefed, you’ll find even the most reluctant toddler is likely to complain much less than springing things on them unexpectedly.

– Consider dressing up
One of the best ideas we’ve heard of is from a family who transformed their Ait Ben Haddou experience from a day spent sightseeing into a real-life action movie. Enter stage left, Indiana Jones (“all it took was a hat and his dad’s waistcoat). Stage right; daughters dressed in local costumes they’d picked up at the local market. “It captured their imaginations so much that they hardy realised they were sightseeing, and of course everyone wanted to stop and talk to them, which kept them engaged for the whole day.” Brilliant!

– Take a favourite doll or teddy
And take photos of them in amazing places to show friends back home. They can get up to all sorts and you’ll still talk about their exploits for years to come once home!

– Play hide and seek
Transporting a game which your kids know well to a location they don’t can really boost their attention spans. Given them an incentive as to who has the best hiding spot and it could last even longer – just make sure you lay some boundaries as to how far they can go and where. Counting, ready or not!

Travelling with toddlers - The old games are the best

Older kids will often help out with a good old fashioned game of hide and seek

– Snack Happy
The red mist of low blood sugars can descend at any moment – and that’s just for adults. Make sure you have a stash of healthy snacks and refreshing drinks (fruit, bread sticks, bagels, bottled water) as although there are refreshment stalls at most tourist hot-spots, you can be far away from them in large sites and temple complexes.

– Schedule Down Time
Heat can’t just sap energy, it can make kids ill. We can’t emphasise enough how important it is to take regular breaks in the shade. Take half an hour out, so that younger kids can run around on their own (also in the shade), whilst allowing older kids to explore (agreeing first on a time to meet you). Great for when you want to listen to an informative guide in key sites when your kids might lose interest after mere moments.

– Get savvy with souvenirs
Maybe it’s just us, but it seems that kids’ collective desire to acquire cheap, plastic tat seems to increase in direct proportion to the miles you’ve journeyed from home. For a small sum, inspire your kids to ‘just say no to the plastic’ (easier said than done with toddlers, we admit!). Instead, challenge them to find the most interesting locally made product, or maybe the funniest item. You’ll be putting money back into the pockets of local communities and giving them a lasting reminder.

Travelling with toddlers - helping out at the Millennium Foundation

Even young children can help care for rescued elephants at the Millennium Foundation

We’ve been travelling with toddlers and young children too…

As parents ourselves, we understand that you’ll want to be as clued up as possible ahead of your trip. If you’re still unsure about something, do give us a call 01728 752751 or email. There are no silly questions!

Also, check out our toddler-friendly holidays abroad blog for advice on the best destinations for younger family members.

Travelling with toddlers - No comment required!

When all else fails, hit the ice cream… we’ve all done it!