As a pilot wife and frequent traveler, we travel together quite a lot as a family. During those travels, we have fine-tuned our process for traveling in general but especially with little kids. For those who have traveled with tiny humans, you know this is a large feat that many dare not master. However, if you are the adventurous type, this list will come in hand on your next big excursion – even if it is just a weekend road trip to Grandma’s house.
This list is put together with careful consideration of particular aspects of traveling as a whole, including packing, making travel arrangements, any necessary travel must-haves, and a plethora of other categories to consider. This list is a result of our combined experiences, by figuring out which things worked well and what definitely did not. Even though traveling with kids can be a little crazy, we hope these tips will make life easier so you can enjoy the time you have to spend together. If you love these tips, be sure to snag our Summer Resources eBook for Families FREE for a limited time. Included in the eBook is over 30 pages of useful printables for the summer, but there is an entire travel-related section full of great printables just for you. Download it here! Now let’s get into these travel tips.
Let them help.
Get the kids involved in packing their carry-on bag or picking an activity for the trip. They will love being included in the preparations!
Be strategic about flight and travel times.
Take into account your child’s schedule and the time of year in which you’re traveling. You can also get a greater discount on tickets and reservations if you travel during lower travel periods.
Make reservations ahead of time.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but nothing is worse than trying to make hotel or flight reservations last minute during high travel times.
Try alternate stay accommodation options.
Since my husband is constantly in and out of hotels, we typically choose an AirBNB-type place to stay for our trips. Places like AirBNB typically have lower costs than your regular hotel stay. You can get a better bang for your buck and have a lot more living space if you look around!
Pre-book as much as you can.
This one is also a bit of a no-brainer. Just keep in mind the potential repercussions of messing with toddler schedules.
PLUS, if you’re planning on dining in at any table-side restaurants in any theme parks (ahem… Disney parks to be specific) there is a high chance you’ll now be required to make your reservations ahead of time. Get them while you can!
Have a budget and stick to it.
If it helps to break things down into a daily allotment for food/souvenirs etc. do it! You’ll come out on top of your budget every time. Another great way to stick to your budget is to plan your tips with Getaway Today. They have an amazing layaway program that allows you to book your vacation ahead of time and make monthly deposits towards your trip. They also have really great discounts and Disney perks that are only available through GAT. Make sure you use our coupon code: MommyConvos to get an additionla $10 off your vacation package. 😉
TIP #2 Packing Secrets:
Use a packing checklist and stick to it.
Print it off and keep it in your bag. When you are repacking to return home, use it as a reference for what you brought with you so you can make sure you bring everything back home. (If you purchase anything on the trip, you can add it to the list as well.) Be sure to snag our favorite packing list and all our other free travel printables here for a limited time.
Pack necessities in your carry-on bags.
This includes clothing and basic hygiene items like toothbrushes and deodorant. Basically, anything that you can’t live without for an average of 48 hours, pack in your carry on luggage. Don’t forget to include a backup device charger!
Use luggage organizers.
This is a game-changer for parents traveling with multiple kids! Using luggage organizers saves space, keeps things tidy, and helps you keep track of what they have. We like using an inexpensive set like this for us and the kids. I like using the cube-type organizers for their outfits, swimsuits, and pajamas. Then I’ll use the pouch-type organizers for their socks and underpants, plus any other little items I might need some extra room for. With the organizers we have, I use the coordinating cubes and pouches for each kid. (I.E. the oldest gets the largest cube and pouch, middle kiddo gets the medium-sized ones and so on.) They work perfectly! Don’t forget a little laundry bag for any dirty clothes if you plan on wanting to wash something while you’re gone or just want to keep stuff separate.
Sort travel entertainment and bring comfy headphones.
Ziplock bags can come in handy here as well to keep things organized.
Vacuum-sealed clothing bags for the win!
Speaking of Ziplock bags, if you have never tried a vacuum-sealed bag for your clothes then you are totally missing out on a great way to organize and consolidate your storage space. These bags work PERFECTLY for travel as well! They are great as make-shift luggage organizers.
One time, I was able to pack clothes for ALL THREE kiddos (our youngest a newborn at the time) in an adult-sized backpack for an entire week thanks to the travel-friendly version of the Ziplock Space Bags. They don’t require a vacuum, and work great for many uses! One for each kid and we were set.
Pack a change of clothes for each kid.
Having an extra set of clothes is helpful on many levels; potty accidents, mud, food spills, etc. Don’t forget one for yourself as well!
Pack to be prepared, but don’t overpack. Trust us. If you don’t want to lug it around, don’t bring it.
Have decent luggage. Especially if you’re flying. Splurge a little for the better luggage. Baggage handlers are not careful when they are packing that cargo space. Having a bag that might break on you mid-travel is definitely not the way to go… and yes, we’ve learned this one first-hand.
Bonus Packing Tips:
Know what items travel for free on your airline.
Most airlines have generous baby gear policies where you can check large baby items free of charge. Generally, airlines will allow items like strollers and car seats, but many will also allow diaper bags and other items too! (Yes, that means an additional free carry-on).
Double-check your stroller dimensions.
Especially if you are going to be attending any amusement parks (like Disney World or Disneyland) you’ll want to make sure the stroller fits within their acceptable size range. As of 2019, Disney parks have changed their policies on strollers, so be sure to check it out beforehand.
Know TSA’s 3-1-1 policy on liquids.
Note- this rule does not apply to baby items like milk, formula, breast milk, juice, baby food, or any other items listed here.
TIP #3 Travel Must-haves:
Use a smaller travel-friendly car seat for kids big enough for a booster.
We love the Mifold Grab-and-Go booster. It is amazing! You can check out all our favorite travel-specific items here on our Amazon shop.
Bring ALL the snacks.
No one likes a hangry toddler in a car, a plane, a train, or anywhere else. Having a reusable water bottle is great too! Just make sure it’s empty before you go through TSA checkpoints.
Keep Ziplock bags and baby wipes on hand.
These plastic bags come in hand way more than you might think. Plus you never know when disaster strikes and you have an accident of some sort. You will be grateful to have a place to put any soiled clothing.
Pack a first aid kit with basic medications.
You’ll thank me for it if you ever need to use it. Things like bandaids, Neosporin, kid’s Tylenol or Motrin, kid’s Pepto Bismol, melatonin supplements, and Dramamine are great to have on hand. (I recommend getting as many items as you intend to pack in a tablet form wherever possible. This will cut down on the number of liquids toward your TSA 3-1-1 limit.) Having a little bag like this one is SO handy for first aid stuff and any other items you might need. We LOVE Inapikle bags!
A car seat travel tray is worth its weight in gold.
Having a small space where the kids can entertain themselves, eat food without making a mess, and keep their travel activities neat and contained is this mama’s preferred way to travel. We made super inexpensive travel trays from cheap dollar store baking pans and velcro straps. They worked perfectly! AND because they were metal the girls could use them as magnet boards as well. There are all kinds of travel trays online. Pick an inexpensive one that will fit your needs and budget and you’ll be golden!
Grab a little luggage scale.
This is a great way to make sure you don’t pay any heavy bag charges. You can find super cheap ones on Amazon or other places like Ross or TJMaxx. They work wonders!
Toddler and Baby-Specific Items:
Two words: baby gear.
Baby items like a wrap or carrier are handy when traveling by airplane. I have had many times of traveling by myself with kids in tow, where having an infant strapped to my chest has been a life-saver. Two kids strapped in the double stroller with the baby in the wrap and we are in business, my friend.
Another great travel-friendly baby item is a collapsible portable highchair.
We came across this amazing little gadget called the Anywhere Chair when our oldest was a baby and it saved us on many occasions even when we weren’t traveling. (Sadly the Anywhere Chair isn’t sold anymore, but we’ve linked an updated alternate version in our Amazon Shop under Travel Necessities.)
Get a car seat bag for your child’s car seat.
Not only will this help protect it from getting damaged by baggage handlers, but it’ll keep it nice and clean in the dirty cargo bay. We have a backpack style one that is comfortable and works great when I do have to travel with kiddos by myself.
Child harnesses will save your sanity.
You may not be keen on the idea of a child harness, but I’m telling you- when you have more than one little kiddo to keep track of these will save your sanity! We came across these Anti-lost Wrist Links by recommendation of another mama who has young special needs children. My husband and I used them on our latest trip to Disney World and they were beyond AMAZING!
We have Houdini kids that can pretty much escape anything and they could NOT get out of these. (I had them practice for a week before our trip haha.) I use them all the time on our 2-year-old. They’re comfortable and breathable for parents and kiddo and have a key-type lock on the kid’s side so they can’t get out of it by themselves. Plus they come in bright colors so you can see them better, come in a two-pack, and are super affordable. Mama win!!
TIP #4 Kid-Specific Travel Tips:
Dress them in bright colors.
Speaking of bright colors, having your kid dress in bright colors makes it much easier to keep track of them or spot them in a crowd. Bonus tip – take a photo of your child at the start of the day. This way you have a current photo for reference- heaven forbid- in case they get lost.
Always ask for child discounts.
Many places offer kid discounts, but don’t always advertise the price differences. The worst thing any vendor will say is “no”.
Prep kids mentally for the trip beforehand.
Explain things like what you do at TSA security checkpoints and what to expect when it’s your turn to board an airplane.
Make sure your kids can contact you.
Give your contact info to your child or have them memorize it. You can pin it on an inconspicuous part of their clothing where they won’t play with it. My friend used little tags like these that worked perfectly! Hopefully, they never need to use it, but it’s there just in case.
Bring copies of birth certificates for minors.
Sometimes a school ID will suffice for school-aged children, but it’s better safe than sorry for toddlers and babies. Keep in mind that each airline has a specific policy on identification for minors- just check their site FAQs or give them a quick call before your trip. Just be sure to keep sensitive items like these in a special spot where they won’t get lost/stolen.
TIP #5 Things to keep in mind:
Build time into your itinerary for jet lag and travel exhaustion.
Even if you’re used to traveling, it can mess with your kid’s ability to nap/fall asleep. (This is where a little dose of melatonin comes into play.)
Make a general schedule of events/activities, but be flexible.
We like to have a “wish list” of sorts when it comes to our travel activities. We prioritize the activities and do what we feel like the day of (keeping in mind any pre-booked reservations, of course).
Have realistic expectations.
This goes for activities, time frames, the age and ability of your kids, and yourself as well! You are amazing and definitely a super parent, but no one expects you to do it all.
Take photos of all travel documents.
You might never need them, but it’s good to have just in case.
Take things slow and build in a buffer of time for activities.
No kid (or adult for that matter) wants to be rushed all over Timbuktu. Build downtime into your itinerary. Take your time and enjoy the ride!
Assume something will go wrong. Crappy things happen. Take it in stride and let it go. You’ll be happier and less stressed for doing so.
TIP #6 Traveling with COVID-19
Wherever you stand on the viewpoint of COVID-19 and its aftermath, the fact of the matter is that it has had an astronomical impact on the way we travel.
Double-check your travel plans.
Because of COVID-19, you might need to make special accommodations with any travel-related plans because of the virus statistics in the area in which you are planning to travel. Keep in mind the possibility of having to self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning home as well.
If possible, add a stash of hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes and face masks to your packing list.
Have a mask and some sanitizer available for each member of your family over the age of two. Some areas require masks inside of many businesses, so if you’re planning a quick trip to Costco for some snacks make sure you have a mask since they may not allow you to enter without one.
A little patience and kindness go a long way.
When we have less patience and kindness we allow ourselves to project our insecurities onto others. While this is a difficult thing for many of us to handle, it is important to remember that COVID-19 is affecting every person/family on some level across the entire world. Let’s remember to have a little bit of patience for that essential worker who’s had to wear a mask for the past 8+ hours or the family down the street that’s struggling to make ends meet because COVID took their job away – even if it’s temporary. A little patience and kindness are invaluable every day, but especially during a crisis such as this.
Whew! That’s a lot of tips and tricks… I hope that as you plan your family adventures these tips come in hand. They have saved our bacon on many occasions! With that, Family travel is such an amazing way to make memories, learn new things, and experience life in a way that you might not otherwise be able to. I hope that you choose to travel at least for a small staycation at some point throughout the year. Go on those adventures! If you haven’t checked it out already, we have our brilliant Summer Resources eBook for Families available for FREE to download for a limited time. In this eBook, you receive tons of resources and printables on all kids of categories including family travel, summer reading, meal planning, family communication, and more. Get your copy here!
In the words of Og Mandino,
The greatest legacy we can leave our children is happy memories.
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