“Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.” ~ Bob Bitchin
We love adventures! Big ones, small ones, close ones, far ones! And all of our adventures wouldn’t be nearly as fun if it weren’t for our toddler, Huckleberry the Trail Baby (yeah, I know, he’s not a baby anymore). And that quote above rings oh-so-true when adventuring with toddlers…it could be an ordeal or, with a slight change in outlook, a real adventure! We are by no means experts when it comes it adventuring with a toddler, but have learned a few things along the way and would love to share some tips with you!
To paint a little picture of our experience adventuring with a toddler, here’s a little list of where we’ve been and what we’ve done since our little guy turned one just 8 months ago…
*This is based on an average of 3 hours/day, noting that some days we spend a lot more time outside and others none at all.
Through all of these adventures, Onya Baby has had our back, literally. Our Onya Baby Outback was what got me quickly back out on the trails after welcoming Huckleberry into our lives, and it has been our favourite carrier since. The few times that we’ve forgotten it were not our best adventures, by far. And although we still happily use our Onya Baby Outback (I have a post in the works about growing with our Outback), we’ve recently “graduated” to the Onya Baby Pure – a lightweight carrier designed for adventuring with a toddler. It packs really well, breathes, has a wider seat and taller body, is ridiculously comfortable and adjusts easily. And we consider is an important piece of equipment for adventuring with a toddler. Read on to learn why we bring our Onya Baby Pure along on all of our adventures, plus 9 more tips for adventuring with a toddler!
10 Tips for Adventuring with a Toddler
Just because you have a kid doesn’t mean you should stop adventuring. A child is also no excuse not to start adventuring! But we all know that toddlers are a special breed of human being – they have hopes, dreams, expectations (and attitudes) that are much bigger than their little bodies, and they have their own agendas, too. Here are a few tips that will make it a little easier to get out there with a toddler in tow and have an ADVENTURE, not an ordeal.
1. Plan to be flexible.
That sounds like an oxymoron, I know, but it is often in planning that we have the ability to be flexible. If you plan well, then making little changes along the way won’t affect the adventure on the whole. Plan so that you have more than enough time, and then moseying along at a toddler’s pace is no big deal. Plan to spend some time with your toddler walking and being carried, and be up front with your toddler about this. Plan a route that allows for some choice in direction, varying speeds, curiosity-driven exploration. Plan an adventure around a nap such that the nap falls at a convenient time and hopefully doesn’t cause a meltdown. We often plan it such that Huckleberry naps on the way to our hiking destination, or during his time in the carrier and then he gets to walk afterwards. A little bit of planning goes a long way in making for an enjoyable adventure with a toddler!
2. Start small & adventure often.
If you haven’t gone on many adventures with your toddler yet, no worries, but start small. Trying to tackle too much too soon is often a recipe for disaster. Start with a walk around the block, a nearby trail or park, and learn from the experience. What worked? What didn’t? I have a running note on my phone of things to bring and how to do things differently next time. And the more often you adventure the more “normal” it becomes – you and your toddler get used to what it means to adventure together, you know what to expect. Also, leaving a big gap between adventures makes it more likely that you’ll make the same mistakes twice…go again right away and you’ll see progress, it gets more fun each time!
3. Let your toddler take the lead.
From deciding where to go before you even leave the house, to choosing the left or right fork in the road, where you stop to picnic or whether you climb over or around that big boulder, give as much decision-making power to your toddler as you can handle! This is how you raise an outdoor leader – give your toddler responsibilities and he or she owns part of your adventure and is more likely to enjoy it and want to go next time. I absolutely love seeing the look of pride on Huckleberry’s face when we let him make big decisions and when he gets to be the leader. It’s an easy reminder of why we get outside with him.
4. Be prepared to give your toddler a lift or #AdventureWithThemOnya.
Anyone who’s left the house with a toddler and no means of toddler transportation knows the difficulty of carrying a tired tot. We are having a ton of fun letting Huckleberry do more and more adventuring on his own two feet, but we know he can’t handle a long hike, and we know I am still learning patience. So to save sanity and arms, we always bring our Onya Baby Pure. It weighs just over a pound and rolls up smaller than a loaf of bread. We can often fit it in our day pack with our other supplies, but it also straps well to the outside of the pack. If we’re having an up and down kind of adventure (where he wants up then down then up again), whoever is wearing him often just keeps the Onya Baby Pure on. Trail Dad prefers to put the straps on his shoulders and tighten the chest strap to keep it in place. I would rather let it dangle behind me, only attached at my waist. Whether we choose to put him in the carrier, or whether he asks, he’s always happy on our backs.
5. Use bribery if necessary.
Not every toddler is happy being strapped into a carrier or stroller but sometimes (read above) it is necessary to save parental sanity or sore arms. In the case of a toddler who’s not up for a lift, bribery might just be the trick. When we need to, we often bribe with the promise of freedom near the end of a hike, or whenever we’re done what we’re doing (as I often wear him while we make dinner at the campsite) and sometimes an M&M or two. Other parents use fruit snacks (or their tot’s favourite snack), a toy, or a desired activity post-adventure. Whatever works for you! There’s no judgement here. We just like to see parents out adventuring with a toddler, however that has to happen.
6. Invest in comfortable footwear.
I cringe when I see people hiking, babywearing, and adventuring in flip flops, flats and other silly unsupportive footwear. You will all have a much better time and want to go again if you don’t destroy your feet or ankles each time you head out the door. We are HUGE fans of KEEN footwear – for ourselves and for our toddler. They make durable, supportive, comfortable, lightweight footwear meant for adventures. We have been nothing but happy with our KEEN boots, shoes and sandals from the get-go. No matter the brand you choose to go with, just make sure you have something comfortable on your feet and on your toddler’s feet, for all of your adventures!
7. Pack water & snacks.
I had a friend once tell me that an outing is only as good as the snacks that you bring. I would have to agree. No one likes to be hangry, especially when out in the woods or on the water where you can’t just grab a snack from the store. And dehydration is a real concern, especially with a busy toddler. Pack enough water and snacks for your adventure, and “enough” often includes a little extra, just in case. We love to bring water along in our Hydro Flask insulated water bottle with the straw lid or HydroBlu water bottle filter if we’re in the backcountry so that we can all easily access enough to drink. And our snacks are often packed in our gogoBags or Litsie Creations reusable snack bags. Our go-to snacks include apple slices, Babybel cheese, Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies, granola bars and trail mix with dried fruit.
8. Think safety.
When adventuring with a toddler, it is inevitable that they will be walking at some point – whether on the trail, at the campsite, etc. and there are many a hazard in the great outdoors. Take a few minutes before you head out the door to run through some scenarios and check that you have the necessary safety gear packed. Bring along a First Aid kit, invest in a hiking harness, bring a life jacket if you’ll be on the water, pack sunscreen and bug spray, make sure your little one is dressed appropriately and bring extra layers if needed. It only takes a few minutes to gather what you need to make your adventure safer. And choosing locations based on safety is a great idea too!
9. Know when to call it quits.
There will be times when nothing you do makes adventuring with a toddler an enjoyable endeavour. There will be times where your attitude cannot be shifted to turn an ordeal into an adventure. And there is no shame in heading home and trying again another day. But the trick is to do just that: try again another day! There are a million and one reasons for an adventure to go awry on any given day – reasons in and out of your control. You do what you can to save it, and then you turn on your heels and head back. We’ve had a few hikes where either one of us adults just wasn’t feeling it, where Huckleberry cried the entire way for reasons unknown, and when it was a little colder or wetter or hotter than we had anticipated. We’ve also come home early from a camping trip more than once due to storms and/or extreme heat. It happens, but we don’t let it keep us away. We try again.
10. Have fun!
Above all else – have fun! Adventures are meant to be fun, so keep them that way! Find little games to play along the way (scavenger hunts, “I spy”), create a photo challenge, sing songs, play make believe, or plan your next adventure! Anything that keeps everyone smiling is a go!
*I received an Onya Baby Pure in exchange for this post. All opinions remain my own.