Last week I told you how to plan for travel with young kids by giving you my best advice on booking and researching for your trip. This week, as the second part of my four-part series on travel with young kids, I’m going to give you my best advice on how to prepare for the trip. I’m going to discuss things like packing tips and my favorite products to help you on your journey. This is sure to help you prepare for your spring break trips that are right around the corner!
Probably the biggest stressor when it comes to vacation is packing. Traveling with kids makes packing a whole new ball of fun, especially with infants in diapers! I’m going to help ease your mind with some great tips on packing.
(Most of these tips are geared toward air travel because that is the most stringent when it comes to luggage rules; however, this can all be easily applied to other modes of travel like car, train, or cruise.)
First, give yourself plenty of time to pack and prepare, so you’re not doing it hastily at the last minute.
Second, make a packing list. I’m not going to get into specifics on packing lists, because this will vary for each person, child, and vacation/ destination. But, for two general rules: try not to over-pack and layers are always good!
Consider getting a packing app on your smartphone to help you put together an organized packing list. Pack Point is a nice, simple app that I recommend.
Carryon Items vs. Checked Items
When traveling with kids, check as much as you can. Bite the bullet and pay to check the bags. The last thing you want is to have to chase your three-year-old up and down the airport while carrying a bunch of bags.
Checked Bag Tips
If you are sharing luggage with other people, get packing cubes to separate each person’s clothes. It also makes it so much easier when you get to your destination(s) and unpack. I have a set of SpacePak’s Print Packing Cubes and love them!
Bring a spare empty duffel bag for souvenirs acquired during the trip or to separate dirty clothes during your travels. I have a few of Vnina’s Foldable Travel Duffle Bags that I like because when in use, they slip nicely over your rolling bag’s handle for ease of carrying.
Attach bright or distinctive luggage tags to your checked bags to distinguish them from other bags to prevent other people from accidentally grabbing them from the luggage carousel. (This has happened to me before.)
If you plan to check strollers or car seats (which I highly recommend, if you can), I recommend putting them in a Gate Check bag to better prevent them from getting dirty or damaged. I have a simple JL Childress Gate Check Bag, but I have considered purchasing a waterproof bag because I have had a car seat returned to me on the luggage carousel partially wet after a flight.
[Check out my video to see how I roll (with bags) when traveling solo with a young child.]
Carryon Bag Tips
Carryon bags are where you must be most strategic in packing, as all airlines are different in their limits and rules. So, first, check the carryon rules of your particular airline before you get too excited about what you’re bringing onboard. Also, do not forget the TSA rules for what can be taken through security screening checkpoints. If traveling internationally, check the rules of the countries you are traveling through as well (for example, the EU’s rules).
What bags should I bring? This will vary for each family, but I’ll tell you what I bring when I travel with my daughter.
- My purse (or a tote) with all our essential travel documents, my phone, headphones, a scarf for warmth, hand sanitizer, wipes, and my kindle (All the stuff I want immediate access to from my seat on the plane)
- My backpack with my laptop and other things that can’t fit in my purse, including my empty water bottle, snacks, a change of underwear and socks, toothbrush, my quart sized bag of liquid essentials, and medications
- My daughter’s little backpack has everything to keep her entertained on the flight and it is light enough for her to carry it herself – a couple snacks, an empty water bottle, her Kindle fire, headphones, and some small toys
- My daughter’s Trunki is filled with her change(s) of clothes, underwear, and PJs; also, snacks, toys, and her little pillow and blanketA Trunki is an amazing little plastic suitcase with wheels that is shaped to ride when your kids are tired but can also be carried easily or pulled. [Check out my video to see my daughter demonstrate the Trunki on our last airplane trip.]
What should I pack in my carryon bags? Here’s what I recommend bringing with you onboard when traveling with kids.
- Snacks and an empty water bottle– You never know what is going to be available to eat or drink on the plane or at the airport. I’ve been to airports with nothing – not even a vending machine available. Bring a good combination of healthy and “exciting snacks” (snacks that kids like such as, character fruit snacks). Fill up your water bottle before you board the plane to avoid dehydration.
- Food and beverage for toddlers and infants – The TSA makes exceptions on the 3-1-1 liquid rules for infants and toddlers. Check out the rules before you head to the airport so you know how you can bring your formula and food through security without issue
- Toys/ Games – This is soooo important for your sanity! There are so many articles out there with great, cheap, and creative ideas to keep your children entertained while traveling. The Dollar Store is a great place to find small, cheap entertainment for the airplane.
TRAVEL HACK: My favorite thing to do for my daughter is to get her a few new little toys for each flight to keep her interested, engaged, and…. to bribe her to be good for me. (Yes, I said it – I bribe my kid.) Some of the things I get her are: play dough, silly putty, new crayons, small notebooks, and some of the varying mystery bags of toys such as, Shopkins, My Little Pony, and Paw Patrol. Throughout the trip I use these as incentives for her to cooperate with me when she is not cooperating. “Zora, do you want a prize? Ok, I need
you to be good for me and when you get in your seat on the plane and in your seatbelt, I’ll give you a prize.”
- iPad/ Kindle/ DVD Player/ old phone – I think you probably already know this. Just make sure it is pre-loaded with entertainment (movies, games, etc.) and that it is fully charged. Oh yeah, don’t forget the charger! Also, bring headphones and I recommend a headphone splitter if you have multiple kids so they can watch movies together.
- Essentials – These things are pretty darn important, so I recommend carrying them on so they have less of a chance at getting lost.
- Travel documents, passports, copies of passports
- Medications (prescriptions and pain relievers (i.e. children’s IB Profen)
- Hand sanitizer
- Wipes (flushable wipes, baby wipes, and Clorox wipes)
- Extra bags for dirty diapers, dirty clothes, etc.
- Gum, lollipops, or gummies for the kids when air pressure starts to bother their ears (feed your baby milk during these times)
- Pull-ups (for kids not quite potty-trained yet)
- Extra clothes and underwear for you and your kids (in case of messes, potty accidents, and unexpected travel disruptions)
- Comfort items (blanky, stuffed animal – trust me)
What baby gear should I bring with me? This is a tough question because it all depends on where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and whom you’re going with. But, here are some general considerations to keep in mind for the following items when deciding whether or not to bring them on your trip.
First, consider where you are going. Can you rent or borrow any baby gear when you get to your destination? There are reputable companies that specialize in renting car seats, strollers, cribs, and high chairs all over the place. Also, rental care companies and some Uber locations offer car seats for additional fees. Renting may be worth it to save your sanity in transporting all these items throughout airports. If that is not an option, consider these points.
- Stroller – you can check your stroller at the gate or at ticketing for free with most airlines; therefore, for many families, it is worth it to bring a stroller for ease of getting through the airport, especially with multiple children. Don’t take one that is big, bulky, heavy, or with wide wheels like our City Mini GT. The wheels were often too wide to go through the metal detector belts.
- Car seat – you can also check your car seat for free with most airlines, but it may be worth it to bring it onboard as well. Once your child is older than two, you must purchase them a separate seat and they can’t just sit in your lap anymore. Bringing a car seat onboard and installing (as long as it is an FAA approved seat) is technically the safest thing to do. And, it is a good idea for kids that will sleep more comfortably in a car seat than a plane seat. However, it can be a pain to tote around and install a car seat, especially when you are traveling with your child solo. (I’ve done it and decided never to do it again.)
- If you decide to bring a car seat onboard, here are some tips to make it easier for you:
- If you can, get a lightweight car seat just for travel. For children under 40lbs, Cosco makes a cheap, lightweight convertible car seat, the Scenera – $50 at Walmart. For older children, Evenflo makes a cheap, lightweight harnessed booster, the Chase LX – $65 on Amazon.com.
- For transporting your car seat through the airport, there are two options:
- Car seat travel cart/ stroller – It’s like a dolly with wheels for your car seat. Some are even sturdy enough to allow your kid to ride in the car seat while you push him/her around the airport. We have the Go-Go Babyz Travelmate Car Seat Stroller and it worked nicely until the wheels popped out enough times that the bearings were lost.
- Car seat straps to connect to luggage – This may be a better option if you’re kid will walk on their own, or in my case, roll on her Trunki. These are simple nylon straps that connect your car seat to your rolling suitcase. We have the Traveling Toddler Car Seat strap and its worked great. [To see it in action, check out my video.]
- Crib – I have never flown with a portable crib, but most airlines will allow you to check it for free. Most hotels provide cribs upon request, but many parents are hesitant to do so, given the horror stories about hotel crib conditions. Again, this is a personal preference, but at a minimum, I recommend you bring a crib or pack-n-play sheets of your own, so you can at least be sure the sheets are clean.
- FAA Approved Travel Harnesses – I have not used these, but it is a safe alternative to bringing a car seat onboard. CARES makes an FAA approved harness for children 22-44 lbs. that attaches directly to the seat, augmenting the airplane seat belt.
Now that I’ve covered the packing and products tips you need to better enjoy your upcoming trip with children, I’m going to close by giving some other tips on how to mentally prepare you and your kids for your next trip.
Talk about the trip beforehand. Discuss where you are going, what you are doing, and how it’s all going to work with your kids.
TRAVEL HACK: Take the time to describe what it is like to go through security and what takeoff, landing, and turbulence is like to your kids. Make it exciting! Set up some chairs in your living room and pretend to be on the airplane, while simulating the take off and landing experience. Even tell them their ears might hurt. By the time it is really happening, they’ll be excited to know what air pressure really feels like! Go to the library and check out books about airplanes, airports, and the destination you are going to as well. You’d be surprised how much a 2 or 3-year-old absorbs/ retains!
Ask for them to be a helper during your travels. Tell them that travel can be stressful and that mommy or daddy may be rushing or stressed. Tell them you need them to be a good helper to make sure you can get to where you are going. Kids love to be helpers! If you are up for it, incentivize them to be helpers. For older kids, ask them to get involved in the planning of the vacation and to pack their own toys/ snacks.
Get sleep before the travel begins. You may not get great sleep the first 24/48/72 hours of your trip because of flights, time zones, new beds, etc., so try to make sure everyone is well rested before you embark on your journey.
Expect hiccups (and meltdowns). If you go into the journey expecting to experience challenges and the occasional toddler meltdown, you will be better off. Plan time to get the airport so you are not rushing. Plan plenty of breaks throughout the trip to allow for tantrums and mindless wandering.
Enjoy the journey as much as you can because life is not just about the destination. Life is the journey.
Stay tuned on how exactly to “enjoy the journey” (aka not just survive, but thrive the actual travel part) and how to nicely recover from your trip with kids.
In the meantime, Happy Wanderlusting!
P.S. If you need help planning your next trip, start by filling out our trip planning form and we’ll work together to create a trip that will bring you and your loved ones together in an unforgettable way.
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