Kid Travel Tips and Ideas
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When you first have kids, it seems like even a simple trip to the local supermarket involves packing and taking along countless items. There are diapers and wipes, pacifiers, toys, snacks, extra clothing, and gobs of other items. Preparing for an outing like this becomes exhausting and it’s just around the corner. That’s why it’s not surprising many parents feel overwhelmed when planning a trip with the kids. But it doesn’t have to be, whether it’s a staycation close to home or a long journey to another country, lightweight travel with kids is possible. We’ll share some kid travel tips and ideas to make your journeys even better.
It might seem daunting, but you can pack up an entire family and take them thousands of miles away for an epic adventure without having to take everything you own. These kid travel tips are designed to help simplify your trips with kids so that you can do what’s most important – spend time together as a family making memories you’ll cherish forever.
How to Pack Lighter and Smarter
It stands to reason that the more people in your family, the more things must come along. After all, everyone needs clothing and basic toiletries. But do the kids really need every stuffed animal and toy in their toy box? Of course not! Here’s how to get the most coverage with less lugging.
Choose Coordinated Clothing
This isn’t just for the kids; it’s for Mom and Dad too. Think about how many days and nights you’ll be away, the weather and the activities you’ll do. Then pick pieces that coordinate together. If your kids are big enough to pick their own clothes, give them a list of items and make it like a scavenger hunt. Have them choose the clothing they want based on the specifications you give them.
For example, if you’re off for an island getaway, you’ll want your kids to pick a swimsuit and clothes that are suitable for warmer weather. That means no sweaters and jackets. But don’t leave anything to chance either. We all know how kids can be. If you don’t oversee packing operations, you might very well open up your child’s suitcase once you arrive in Fiji only to find it completely filled with Barbies. To avoid that, have them lay out their clothing, footwear and other essentials for your approval. In this way, you’ll make sure they’ve got what they need for the trip without an excess of things that take up space.
- Coordinate pieces
- For older kids, give them a list and turn it into a scavenger hunt
- Choose according to weather, but plan for the unexpected
- Have kids layout all of their choices and oversee actual packing
Learn to do Without
When you have little ones in tow, nothing is more agonizing than schlepping through an airport with screaming, crying kids while trying to carry portable cribs, diaper caddies, strollers, and car seats. You don’t need any of that stuff. If you have a child under the age of one, a great way to simplify your travels when flying is to use a wearable baby carrier (we particularly like the Ergo 360). Strollers can be a huge pain and although airlines will let you check them free of charge, they can be cumbersome in some locations instead of being useful. Car seats aren’t necessary unless you have a baby that you’ve purchased a separate seat for.
Be forewarned though that on planes, babies cry. And often what you plan for will go the opposite way. So you’ve shelled out money for an extra seat for a baby who doesn’t want to sit in it and only wants to sit on you. You don’t need the car seat on-board. Instead, try a CARES Kids Fly Safe Child Airplane Travel Harness. If you’re renting a car at your destination, you can rent a car seat. However, these are generally only available on a first-come basis. Also, you don’t know if those before you treated it well. We highly recommend bringing your own and checking it at the airport in a Bebishi Car Seat Travel Bag. Take a look at our Top 10 Lightweight Family Travel Products for more suggestions.
Are you traveling abroad? Most international flights have bassinets that you can reserve. This gives you a place to safely let your baby sleep so you can either drink more wine, watch that rom-com you’ve been hoping to see or just plain sleep.
Basically, when it comes to packing, just take a minimalist approach. In most places, you can buy things you need or discover that you actually don’t need that wipe warmer (FYI, you really don’t need it at home either). Focus on the essentials, though do know this: no matter how old your kids are or where you are headed, hand sanitizer, tissues, and snacks are always a smart idea. ALWAYS.
How to Expertly Wrangle the Kids at Any Age
And now that we’ve safely landed from our minimalist packing excursion, we’ve got to talk about how to deal with the kids. Since there are many ways to travel, there are a few ways to go about this. One of the popular modes of transport among Americans is the road trip.
The advantages of driving mean you can go at your own pace and stop off wherever you wish. It can add an element of spontaneity too if you see something that piques everyone’s interest. The downside though is that it does take you longer to get where you’re going and the accommodations you might find along the way could be more rustic than you were hoping for. Still, the road trip is one of the best ways to adventure when traveling domestically so let’s explore what you can do to make life on the road less frustrating for the whole family.
Car - Kid Travel Tips #1: Take a Cooler
Yes, we’re doing the minimalist thing, but to keep from stopping every hour, pack some sandwiches and cold drinks for the crew. It will save you money too since you won’t have to buy every meal on the road which means you can save more for better meals when you get where you’re going.
Car - Kid Travel Tips #2: Bring Entertainment
If you get into that car with your kids without a game plan, you can bet on one thing – your kids will drive you insane 10 minutes into the trip. Load some kid-friendly tunes or teach them about classic rock. Bring the tablet, a few good books and allow a few toys. Then teach them the art of road trip games like “I Spy” or finding license plates from other states.
Car - Kid Travel Tips #3: Don't Completely Wing It
While driving gives you freedom to stop when you’ve got to go to the bathroom or you see a cool roadside attraction, have a plan and try to stay on track. This way, if you do decide to make an unscheduled stop, it won’t throw your vacation plans completely out of whack. It’s also a good way to make sure you don’t find yourself without lodgings when you need to stop for the night.
Fun With Flying
The other most popular option for travel, especially when you’re going further, is to fly. Some people choose trains for domestic travel which can be a fun way to see the country without having to be in charge of driving. That also gives kids some fun stuff to look at though some kids might get squirrely being stuck on a train for a day or two.
A plane will get you where you’re going much more quickly though it’s more expensive. Plus, if there are delays, you’ll need to help your kids cope with that. Here are tips for airplane travel with your kids.
Plane - Kid Travel Tips #1: Prepare Them for the Journey
If your kids are little and it’s their first flight, talking to them about it long before it happens is a good start. Do some make believe interaction with them to help them prepare. When kids know what to expect, it makes them more comfortable. Talk about the destination too and what you’ll do when you get there.
Plane - Kid Travel Tips #2: Arrive Early
With kids, it’s even more important to be early for check-in. Little kids will find walking through the airport exhausting and ask you to carry them when you’ve got your arms full. There’s no better invention than that suitcase that you can turn into a stroller, but don’t despair. Many airports have strollers to help you along should you decide not to bring your own. Remember, some destinations in this world are not conducive to strollers. China, for example, has tons of stairs everywhere and it’s not very convenient to use one there.
Even when you’re traveling alone, you know you’ve got to get there early to check-in. With kids and all the things you need for them from strollers to car seats plus your luggage and diaper bag, having extra time to check in makes all the difference. You see how slowly kids put on shoes on an ordinary day to get out the door. Imagine trying to make a flight with minutes to spare with kids in tow!
Plane - Kid Travel Tips #3: Make that Carry-on Amazing
If you have a kid that is still in diapers, pack the majority of them in your carry-on. You will never be happier should your flight become delayed to have plenty of them on hand. The same goes for a change of clothing and snacks. Go minimalist, yes, but pack smart with these necessities and you’ll avoid turbulence no matter what happens from airport to airport.
Plane - Kid Travel Tips #4: Explain Everything
While being delayed isn’t ideal, the best way to keep your cool is to take advantage of the airport’s offerings. Poke in and out of the shops. Get something to eat in the food court. Watch the planes on the runway. Some airports have play areas that are great for little kids to work off their energy until the flight is ready for boarding. Turn a delay into a way to explore and your kids will hardly notice the wait.
Best Kid Travel Tip Ever
From the very young to bigger kids, keeping a routine is one of the best things you can do. While traveling will certainly be a big change from the norm, try to eat as close to the times you’d normally eat. Try to sleep during normal nap and sleep times too. By keeping some semblance of normalcy, you’ll avoid tantrums which is likely your goal for the entire trip, isn’t it?
And what should you do if a tantrum arises and the entire airport, museum, shopping mall, hotel, restaurant, or ancient landmark turns to stare? Just keep your cool. Because anyone with kids knows exactly what that’s like. Remember, it’s about traveling light. Leave your embarrassment and anger at home. They are heavy burdens that don’t need to be dragged along for the ride. Be sure to take your sense of humor along though because you’re going to need it no matter where you’re headed.
Another Option for Family Travel
One last way to manage a light and stress-free travel experience with kids is to book a cruise. They are vastly popular with families because they offer entertainment for all age groups, on-board babysitting services so you can get some grown-up time, and they come with everything you need so you really can pack lightly and get the most out of your travels. It’s a destination and mode of travel in itself which makes enjoying the ports of call even more relaxing. No checking in and checking out everywhere either.
Are you planning a summer getaway with your family? Which mode of travel will you choose? Leave us a comment below!
Loved this! I’ve traveled 24 round trips with my 4 yr old and 13 of those adding her 2 yr old sister. Usually I’m doing it alone and the trips are cross country. I have each girl with their own toddler sized carryon roller bag and backpack. I pack airplane surprises, toys, pillow, blanket and special stuffy along with their tablet, headphones and 2 extra pairs of clothes in their roller bag and food in their backpacks. We’ve been stranded in airports overnite numerous times so I learned to keep 3 days worth of essentials.
One quick note: all major carseat technicians and websites will advise against renting carseats from rental car companies. Depending on your arrival time and stock on hand, you are not guaranteed a seat. There is also no way to ensure that the seats are taken care of according to manufacturers recommendations, so just not safe according to experts. We pack ours in their original boxes and pad with clothes/diapers for xtra protection. You can check the box for free at ticketing counter and not hassle with it until your destination!
Thanks for a great site!
Thank you for the comment and the great additional advice! We agree, renting car seats is not ideal. Short of hauling your own, you have no idea what awaits at your destination. We’ve updated the article to reflect this.