Reading time 7 minute read

Travelling in California with kids.

My husband and I love travelling.

Together, we’ve been to Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Hong Kong, USA, Croatia, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Greece, Germany, Ireland and Egypt. Some of these countries we stayed in for months and others for days. We explored some of them by bus and others by boat, sleeping under the stars at night and swimming during the day.

All of our spare cash used to go towards holidays.

When I got pregnant, for the first time, nearly three years ago  (I’m pregnant again with number two) we agreed that a baby wouldn’t stop us from going away. No way. We promised that we’d still holiday lots, and fly to far flung destinations.

….Well fast-forward two years and we haven’t been on as many far-flung trips as we’d like. A lot of the trips we have been on were UK based – does that still count as travelling? But, I can’t blame that all on baby, lots of it was linked to buying a house and having less spare cash, and also getting cats, which doesn’t help in terms of being spontaneous – sorting out people to feed them etc.

But, we have been on more holidays than any of our friends who have kids: whoop! Winning.

Our first break was when our daughter was 7 months – just to Norfolk, but it was wonderful. After that we went to the Cotswolds, Devon, Cornwall, Leeds, Manchester and Bristol (city breaks aren’t so great with a baby – beaches, riverbanks, meadows are much better).

Then feeling brave, bold and in a rush to fly somewhere long haul before our daughter turned two (and we’d have to pay full price for her flight), we decided on a three-week holiday to California. And not just a holiday, oh no, we wanted to go on a road trip and relive our travelling days, by staying in different places for a night or two.

 Planning a big trip again was exciting – we booked it nearly a year in advance (no way to back out), and I spoke to as many parents as possible who had done similar long flights to get tips and advice. I certainly needed tips on how to pack light because I had so much baby gear!

 Travelling with a Toddler in Tow: California Dreaming

Pre-flight nerves

Now, from the get-go we were excited about the holiday but a little bit anxious about the flights. Our daughter would be 21 months. She’d just started having the occasional tantrum. Plus, she has never been able to keep still.

She crawled at 7 months and walked at a year, the longest she’d sat on anyone’s lap, whilst awake was about 10 mins! But, still we weren’t that worried, until everyone made us feel scared.

A typical conversation in the run-up to the holiday would go something like this,

Friend/family member/hairdresser: “You excited about your holiday?’

Me: ‘Yes! Can’t wait’

‘How do you feel (cue scrunched up/grimacing face/general look of horror and disgust) about flying with your toddler?

‘Ok, you know – other people do it’

‘Hmmm, but how long is the flight again’

‘around 10 hours’ 

‘…………….(silence…..- well let me know how it goes, hee hee/ or ‘good luck’ (in a sarcastic tone).

Safe to say this didn’t help, and we worried more. But then we decided to flip it.

I teach hypnobirthing classes:  and one of the things I teach is about focusing on your ideal birth, and I get clients to write their birth story out as if it’s already happened. It’s a neat trick. It’s something athletes use often. You see, when you visualise something, your subconscious can’t tell the difference. Experiments have been conducted to show that we use the same cells and area of our brains when we visualise something as when we actually do it.

So, when you write something down as if you have already done it it tricks your subconscious into thinking you have already done it. Remember, your subconscious can’t tell the difference between a real and imaginary event, it’s why if you watch something that you’re gripped by, and something sad or scary happens you can cry or feel tense or afraid. It’s not happening to you but you have a physical response anyway!

So you write something down and read it back, you feel more confident, you feel like you’ve done it and the fear fades away.

We wrote down in vivid detail that the flights were great. And you know what? Our daughter was incredible.

Our flight was delayed (everyone was already on board and it didn’t take off for an hour). She sat on mine and my husband’s lap the whole way. She played with stickers, read books and slept – she only tried to run up and down the aisle once and she only cried very briefly (but very loudly) before she fell asleep!

The passengers who had rolled their eyes when we got on, commented on how good she was at the end.

California dreaming

And the holiday? My favourite ever – it was incredible. We landed in San Diego and stayed with friends who also have a toddler. We travelled around a bit and went to San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, beaches, beaches and more beaches. We headed to La Jolla at sunset to see Sea lions swimming near the shore, and ran across the sand at Coronado Island (where they filmed Some Like it Hot). San Diego is a great place to start off your family travel trip. There are loads of cool things to do and some great beach resorts in San Diego for any budget if its a bit of down time that you’re after.

We stayed almost a week, then drove through LA, stopping at Santa Monica for pizza and the most scenic park ever on Mission Beach before heading to Santa Barbara for the night. The three of us went out for dinner and drinks and ran back to our hotel along the beach.

Then we drove up to Cambria and stayed in a motel for a night. We walked along the sea-front, saw seals, condors and prairie dogs. Had a delicious tapas meal, where, like in every restaurant they had child-friendly cups with straws, colouring in and generally made a fuss over us. After pudding we grabbed some blankets and sat by the sea to watch the sun set – California has lots of great small beach towns!

Next stop was Monterey and beautiful beaches at Carmel and Pacific Grove. We enjoyed lots of sandcastle building and eating ice creams, then off up Big Sur (the driving the whole way was a joy – not like driving in the UK at all. The highway was quiet and scenic the whole way up. At one point we were stopping every five minutes to take photos!) We arrived at Santa Cruz for some fairground fun and the best grilled-cheese sandwich ever.

In the evening we ate a Mexican meal at the end of a pier, while spotting seals. They are so family focused in all their restaurants it was amazing! Every eatery we went to, especially in southern California, they wanted to chat to her, play with her – they asked us questions, gave us the best tables and generally made us feel like VIPs!!

I didn’t want to leave Santa Cruz after only a day, but we headed to San Francisco via a few nights in Palo Alto and a walk around Stanford Uni.

In San Fran we explored the crooked street, drove over the Golden Gate bridge, got a bus tour around the city and had more amazing food in delis and diners.

Mission beach with baby

Returning home

It was such a special holiday. It felt like we were making amazing memories every day. We got back to the UK mid October to the dark and cold. 

I have to admit it took us a while to get over being back. One of the things we loved about the holiday was how fun it was to eat out as a family, so we’ve been going out for breakfast every week here, to keep that holiday feeling alive. It’s something we really look forward to.

I wanted to share some tips and advice from our experience.

Pros of travelling with a little one

We spent so much time outside, walking, playing on the beach etc

We got over the jet lag fast as we had to go to bed early with her (see cons also)

Seeing how happy our daughter was. She was literally in heaven. It didn’t matter that for the first two days – 48 hours she’d had 4 hours sleep! She had her mum and dad with her all the time, she got to sleep in our room (and our bed – see cons) and she got special treats, and to be outside non-stop.

We met loads of families, and people were so friendly, as everyone wanted to say hi and ask us about our daughter – how old she was etc

Having a buggy was really handy for popping food and other bits under and not having to carry much.

Our daughter reminds me of our trip every time we walk anywhere – she loves planes and whenever she sees one she says it’s going to see Jenny and Harrison (friends we stayed with in San Diego)

And the cons

She won’t remember this trip – we’ll be those annoying parents who say to her yes you have been to Cali (When you were 1 and 3/4 so no you don’t remember it). Oh well, another reason to go again!

Early nights. At home she loves sleeping in her cot, but all the change and new places meant that she’d only settle in our bed. This was great at the start as we were jet lagged. But in motels, we’d end up getting her to sleep then sneaking out of the bed and hanging out in the bathroom!

We probably didn’t enjoy San Fran as much as we would have done sans toddler – so many steep hills and a buzzing city that would have been fun to explore late at night. 

The jet lag. When we got back to the UK, she went to sleep fine at 7pm but then woke up at midnight ready for the day, and went back to sleep at 7am! However she did adjust pretty quickly.

Tips for flying with a 1-2 year old

Tell them about it again and again in the run up, no matter how young they are. It really helps. We kept saying we were going to go for months before and hammered it home in the weeks leading up to the flight. She had an idea of what was coming and she didn’t freak out.

If you’re using a dummy (or should I say pacifier, in a bad American accent). Keep it until after the holiday – it was amazing for take off and landing and stopping the pressure in her ears.

Fill your bag with goodies. I wrapped presents so she could open them, some were toys she already had, but at that age they like the paper better sometimes. I got a few new things too.

Stickers worked great for us, but other mums took a pad and crayons

Bring an iPad – Let them watch TV. I’m one of those annoying/easily prone to feeling guilty mums who doesn’t like her daughter to watch much TV. I like her to play or be outside – should really live somewhere hot eh? But I was fully prepared to watch Sarah and Duck (or other CBeebies shows the entire flight), in the end she hardly watched any TV and just wanted to put stickers on me.

Make sure you have spare clothes too. I learnt this the hard/amusing way. I felt really prepared – had several changes of clothes for her, but a badly put on nappy (yes husband I’m blaming you) meant that one wee went all over my lap. She got changed, but I was uncomfortable and slightly smelly for a while.

Pack lots of snacks and drinks. She got really thirsty.

If you’re going to America check wordings – after we landed I asked for our buggy and got a blank stare, then I said, oh I mean push chair, nothing…gah stroller!

With number two on the way we’re not planning any big trips yet, but we are off to a tree house in the woods next, and I can’t wait!

Deborah Pryn is a hypnobirthing instructor and hypnobirthing mum. She blogs at , for The Huffington Post Parenting section: And at Selfish Mother: She also writes for a range of magazines.

Deborah Pryn hypobirthing

Psssst! By the way, I have recently designed a flight log book to allow your kids to record all of the journeys! If you’re looking for a special way to record your children’s travel memories then head over to Amazon to take a look!

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