Why Are Day Trips Better Than Half Day Trips With A Toddler?

Are day trips really better than half day trips in the first place? Our answer after taking lots of short trips with Tomi in his first 2 years is a confident yes. Yours might be different, but one thing is certain: you need to consider your toddler’s daytime nap and daily routine when planning any trip, and that’s why we prefer day trips to half day trips.

And by trip I mean a hiking trip, sightseeing, visiting the local zoo… Whatever it is, it’s an activity that’s not part of your daily routine. It actually replaces (or partly replaces) your daily routine. Now, here’s the problem: you can’t partly replace a daily routine. Like Yoda said, do it or not, because doing it halfway is the best way to catastrophe.

Teide National Park, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

Okay, putting aside the drama, the truth is that we didn’t enjoy that few half day trips we’ve done with Tomi. They ended up leaving everyone stressed out. We never got why daily routine is such a sacred thing to parents until we ourselves became parents, but then we quickly found out. Daily routine makes the difference between peace and madness. 😛

The sacred daily routine

Any explanation needed? Okay, I’ll try, in case you don’t have the hands-on experience. On a normal day at home our 1.5 years old Tomi wakes up around 6 am. I dress him up and make breakfast around 7.30 am, I take him to a nearby playground until about noon, then we come home, and I put him to sleep. He sleeps about 1.5-2 hours, then we eat lunch around 2 pm, and he gets tired again at 7 pm.

Börzsöny Mountains, Hungary

Every single day we spend at home looks like this. No, I don’t watch the clock, and honestly, I didn’t do much to establish this daily routine. I only paid attention to Tomi’s needs – and he gets tired (or hungry) about exactly the same times of the day each day.

I bring in some change from time to time (so that I don’t go crazy after a few weeks), like taking him to different playgrounds, taking him to meet with my friends or doing the shopping together in his “play time”. However, I quickly knew better than to try to adjust his sleeping schedule to my activities.

Velence Hills, Hungary

It’s possible, but it’s not worth it. If I don’t put my child to sleep when he’s tired, he becomes unmanageable. He doesn’t listen to me, he throws himself to the ground, he throws his toys away. It’s not that he’s bad, he’s tired, and he can’t control himself then. (It’s not that easy for adults either, is it?) But put him to sleep when he needs that sleep, and let him sleep as long as he needs to, and you’ll get an angel. Well, almost. But the difference is HUGE.

Does it mean you can never change the daily routine if you don’t want to lose your mind?

Of course, not. Our daily routine changed as Tomi grew in the first place. But it also changed temporarily when we took a road trip or had a few weeks holiday. Even when we had a day trip, like a day hike to Pilis Mountains near our home. We had lots of these, and they rarely caused any trouble to anyone in the family. (If they did, it was us, because we had to stay awake to play with energetic little Tomi who slept enough on our way home in the car.)

Teno Rural Park, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

It’s because the daily routine for a toddler is basically the eat-play-sleep cycle, and as long as he gets what he needs at the right time, everything is fine. So every day trip was different, but adjusting our day to Tomi’s sleeping time was always easier if we had the whole day for it. We knew we had to be on the move while he’s sleeping – either driving somewhere or carrying him while walking/hiking.

On these trips Tomi didn’t necessarily sleep at the same time as when we were at home. A short nap during our drive to the destination in the morning or an especially exciting activity could shift his sleeping time to later. But day trips offer this flexibility, and it was never a problem. (Especially day hikes are great, because we can put Tomi in the carrier any time, and a hiking trail is rarely noisy or crowded which can be a problem in a zoo or in a vibrant city center.)

Half day trips are too short

Istria, Croatia

Half day trips are less flexible. They take a few hours by definition, and we have to start on time, and get back on time. And if we were truly unlucky, we got home 15 minutes after Tomi had finally fallen asleep on our way back in the car. Since we can’t take him out and not wake him up, by the time we tried to take him into his bed, he was not sleepy enough to have some actual sleep, but sleepy enough that it was hard to deal with him for the rest of the day.

Daily routine is not all about sleeping, I know. But we rarely had problems with the eating or playing part. It’s easy to pack fruits and snacks that can be eaten anywhere, and toddlers handle the whole world as their playground. Sleeping was the hard nut to crack.

So while it might not seem to be logical at first that a shorter trip is harder to handle with a toddler, for us it was. It’s long enough to disturb the daily routine, but not long enough to replace it with a completely new one that fits better to the activities of the day.

Teide National Park, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

It’s a stressful thing to get anywhere on time with a toddler, anyway. If we plan a freetime activity (and want to enjoy it), we plan it in a way that we won’t be in a hurry.

And what about the day after the day trip?

Home brings back our home daily routine automatically. We might need a day or two after longer trips, but a day trip didn’t cause any confusion in the next day’s routine. Either we are lucky, or toddlers work like that. They’re fond of their routines, and they re-establish them as soon as they can.

We’re eager to hear about your experiences. Do you prefer day trips or half day trips with your toddler? Is daytime nap a challenge?


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By Beata Urmos

Bea is the co-founder of Our Wanders. She’s the writer and the trip organizer, and she’d love to help you plan your own amazing trips! She likes hiking, good novels and chocolate, as well. Her motto is: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” (John A. Shedd)

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