The advantages of family travel are many. Showing your children the world exposes them to new experiences and can instill values of curiosity, adventure, and openness. It’s also precious bonding time, away from the distractions and routines of home. Still, there are stresses and challenges that will be unfamiliar to even the most seasoned kid-free traveler. But with some advanced planning and a sense of fun, traveling with your child can be an eye-opening adventure for both of you. To help, we looked to the experts at some of our favorite family and travel blogs for advice on everything from finding a homestay with a baby gate to keeping toddlers entertained on a long-haul flight.
Plan On It
Even if you were a spontaneous, go-where-the-wind-takes-you traveler before you became a parent, having a solid itinerary and a comfortable, pre-arranged crash pad will do wonders for your family’s happiness—and your sanity.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
When possible, choose flight times that work with your child’s schedule. “If you pick flights where you and your baby are likely to be at your best, then your chances for a successful flight are much greater,” writes Leslie Harvey of Trips with Tykes. Flying during nap time, steering clear of short-haul red-eye flights, and shelling out for the non-stop option are all excellent strategies for avoiding the pitfalls of traveling with a fussy tot.
FIND A PLACE TO LAND
You have lots of options when seeking accommodations. Hotel review site Oyster.com regularly rounds up the best kid-friendly spots, while the family travel specialists at Ciao Bambino! offer detailed reviews written by real parents. Home stays can offer extra space and flexibility. Airbnb has a kid-friendly search setting, while Kid & Coe features curated lists of host properties and lets you zero in on a place that suits your very specific needs—whether that’s an urban apartment with a crib and baby gate or a country house outfitted with a TV and gaming console.
PREP YOUR KIDS
“Children (especially toddlers) don’t do well in unknown environments,” writes Carly Anderson of Lipgloss & Crayons. “Discuss your trip, describe the hotel, what you will do. Explain that you will be sleeping away from home.” For nervous first-time flyers, Vic Parker’s My First Trip on an Airplane explains all steps of the journey, from packing to X-ray machines to airplane safety.
THINK AHEAD (WAY AHEAD)
Vera Sweeney of Lady & the Blog also has this killer tip: Sign your children up for airline miles now and they’ll accrue points on trips you all take together, which they can use to score free flights when they’re older. “It’s literally tickets they earned throughout their lives because we chose to be loyal to one airline,” she writes.
Pack It Up
Family travel is no time for minimalism. Keep organized by making detailed lists, setting a packing strategy and confirming the applicable regulations and limits so you’re not caught off guard. Get older kids involved in the packing process as a fun learning experience.
IN THE BAG
Sweeney offers a packing method that combines choice with organization: Select a complete outfit for your child for each day of the trip (plus a few spares) and place each in its own one-gallon, resealable plastic bag. Each morning, they get to pluck one ensemble from a neat stack of options and you don’t have to repack your entire suitcase because their favorite dinosaur T-shirt was at the bottom of the bag.
A TEACHABLE MOMENT
Let your older children pack their own bag—with your guidance. Jessica Bowers of Suitcases & Sippy Cups set her pre-teen boys the task of assembling their wardrobes for a long trip. She started by giving them a list of each day’s activities and let them figure out which clothes were appropriate. “I think the key to this system was listing the clothing needs so that they could see it in black and white,” she writes.
The first time traveling with an infant can be overwhelming. Does your baby need extra clothes? What about snacks? How many diapers? Print out this list of airplane essentials from Travel Mamas, which lays down everything you need for your carry-on bag, including surplus diapers, a second (even third) pacifier, and a favorite blanket or stuffed animal. Our lightweight Ricardo Travel Totes double as the perfect diaper bag when you’re traveling with little ones.
Remember that bottles and jarred baby food are exempt from 311 liquids regulations, but are still subject to screening—as are your child’s toys and blankets. Check the TSA site for the complete list of security procedures for traveling with your children.
Long stretches in cramped quarters can make anyone antsy. Let your kids know what to expect on the flight and plan for some fun distractions — a new book, fun snacks, or even your tablet loaded up with a favorite movie or three will help pass the time.
Add some novelty to the proceedings—little surprises that you can dole out over the flight. Shana Draugelis of The Mom Edit recommends engaging options like stickers, play dough or a new book, while Amber Fillerup Clark at Barefoot Blonde wraps the toys in paper or foil to really keep things immersive. “Sometimes [wrapped] toys last more than an hour and sometimes it just kills a good 30 minutes. Which I still consider a win!” she writes.
Snacks can double as nutrition and entertainment. Favorites like dried fruit, clementines or cereal can be eaten in small pieces and will occupy little hands. Special treats that your child wouldn’t normally eat at home can be big winners in the diversion game. Corinne McDermott of Have Baby Will Travel writes: “For our first flight when my daughter was a toddler, I discovered the power of potato chips and have not looked back. Snacks that are fun and/or cute have excellent staying power.”
A flight can be the perfect opportunity to teach your kids how to pay attention to their needs. Katie Dillon of La Jolla Mom packs an amenity kit for her daughter that includes lip balm, hand sanitizer, and tissues and walks her through the different things she might experience on the flight, such as chapped lips, sore legs, or nausea. “Gently—without freaking them out—walk through what they might feel during a long haul flight and reassure them that there is (usually) a solution,” she writes.
RELAX AND HAVE FUN
Yes, traveling with your children can be stressful and though there are infinite strategies for staving off tantrums, boredom, or dirty looks from fellow passengers, these situations can and will happen. Our advice is just to relax and do your best. Betsey Crozier of Legos in my Louis writes: “More often than not an extra smile and taking the effort to make sure not only your baby but your fellow passengers are comfortable will go a long way.”
Where Is My Suitcase?
Never wonder whether your checked bag made the trip with you. Stash a Tile Bluetooth tracking device in your suitcase to keep tabs on it with your phone. The app will notify you when your bag is within Bluetooth distance, so you can sit comfortably with your little ones in the arrivals area.