Happy travel season! It’s that time of year where it seems like everyone is traveling with kids and running off to vacation with their pants on fire – and really, who can blame them?
We are prepping for a trip to Florida soon, and I’m rapidly being reminded of how difficult it can be to travel with kids. We consider ourselves pretty savvy travelers (oh, how I miss the days when we could travel with just a carry on!) and it has still been a learning process for me to figure out how to efficiently pack for two kids and two adults.
I’ve learned a lot through trial and error. Here are my best tricks and tips for traveling with kids.
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1. Use Packing Cubes (a.k.a. the Product I Wish I’d Invented)
If there’s one thing that makes packing for a family easier, it’s packing cubes. They are so simple, yet so helpful. Buy a different color for each family member and you have instant organization. I also like to put specific types of clothing into each cube to make it even easier to find that random pair of socks for my son. Here are the groupings I normally do:
- Shorts/Pants and Socks
- Tops and Dresses
- Pajamas, Sleepsacks, and any lovey – i.e. stuffed animal, blanket, etc. – that your kid cannot sleep without. Depending on how long the travel day is, I will pack the lovey in a carry on so we can access it on the plane.
- All things swim/pool related – bathing suits, swim coverups, rashguards, hats, etc.
- Sweaters, sweatshirts, hoodies
- Burp cloths, swaddle blankets, hair accessories
We own these packing cubes in several different sizes and colors, and these, which are a little more structured and higher quality. Both are great and do the job well. These also get great reviews on Amazon.
2. Figure Out an Easy Way to Travel with Your Carseat
I absolutely love the convertible carseat we have for our son (you can read more about my love for his carseat here), but it is very heavy. Traveling with it once was more than enough. If you have little ones who need a carseat at your destination, I’ve found that there are a few options:
Option 1: Buy a lightweight carseat specifically for travel.
- This is my preferred option. We purchased this inexpensive seat for our son. It weighs about 10 pounds, is FAA certified, (find the tag on the seat that says this before you get on the plane in case the flight attendants ask) and has easy installation. It was so much easier to get this carseat through the airport, and if we ever have to check it in, I’m not as concerned about it getting damaged and needing to replace it, since it’s much much cheaper than the convertible carseat we own. *Note that the seat I’ve linked is forward facing only.*
Option 2: Buy a backpack or cart to help you haul the seat through the airport.
- If you’re bringing your carseat on the airplane, having some mechanism to help you travel with it through the airport is key. Backpacks – we own this one and it has held up well – are large, but leave your hands free; carts are better for heavier carseats, but are notably more expensive.
Option 3: Check the carseat with your luggage.
- This is not my favorite thing to do because of the notorious mistreatment of basically everything by airlines, but if you are not buying a separate seat on the plane for your child and still need to bring their carseat with you, checking it in is an affordable – and usually free – option.
Option 4: Buy a CARES harness and either keep a carseat at your destination, or check your carseat.
- We opted to buy the CARES harness for our 2 year old son and try it for our upcoming trip. Our families are in Florida, so keeping an extra carseat there makes more sense for us than traveling with one. If you haven’t heard of it, the CARES harness is an FAA approved harness that gives your toddler a little less wiggle room than just an airline seatbelt. It gets great reviews and is obviously very easy to travel with, so we are excited to give it a try.
3. Ask the Airline about Pre-Boarding for Families with Small Children
I never fully understood how helpful pre-boarding is until we moved internationally with our 20-month old, five week old, two carseats, and as many carry-ons as the airline allowed. To be honest, it was a really rough travel day, but pre-boarding allows you to at least fumble your way to your seat without knocking everyone out along the way with your bags.
Tip: Check the pre-boarding regs online for your specific airline before your flight, because occasionally, the gate staff may not know the rules.
4. Bring Snacks, Wipes, New Toys, and Go Easy on Your Screen Time Rules
Rule number one for airplane or car travel with kids is bring lots of snacks. You don’t want to get caught in an airport or plane without anything for your kids (or yourself) to eat. Bring more than you think you need, and pack snacks for each child in a large ziploc bag to stay organized. Bring extra wipes as well.
We also like to buy a few new toys for the plane so that they’ll hold our kids’ attention longer. New and shiny wins! Another option is to put away some favorite toys two weeks or so before travel, and then give them back on the airplane.
Screentime is a controversial topic, but in general, we tend to throw our screen time rules away when traveling. If it keeps them (and us) from going crazy on the flight or a long car ride, we think it’s worth it. Our son absolutely loves watching Super Simple Songs on YouTube (download YouTube videos to your tablet before you travel). The Amazon Fire tablet also comes in a kid version, with a tantrum proof case and a ton of toddler friendly apps.
5. Schedule Your Flight During Nap Time
This is a stretch, but if it’s possible, we try to plan our flights so that the bulk of the flight is during at least our toddler’s nap time. If they’re naturally tired and used to sleeping at a certain time, it’s definitely possible they’ll sleep on the airplane as well! Same applies to car travel — we try to leave right before nap time so that they get some rest in the car.
6. Pack at Least One Change of Clothes. For Everyone!
When we moved to Guatemala, our daughter was five weeks old and completely pooped through her clothing right before we boarded our first flight, and twice during the actual flight itself. We didn’t think it was possible, but she did it.
Think about how many changes of clothing you may need for your child, and pack two beyond that. You never know if they will get motion sickness (yes, we’ve been there too; both in the car and on the plane) or just have several blowouts.
Also, don’t forget to pack a change of clothing for yourself! And if your child will be traveling in their carseat, these piddle pads are a lifesaver when it comes to protecting the seat from leaks and blowouts.
What are your best hacks for traveling with kids?