15 Tips on Traveling with Kids: Your Top Fears Debunked
Over the past 5-years we’ve traveled by planes, trains, and automobiles with our three young children. Even once with a 4-week old to Disney! OK, so right now you’re thinking why in the world would we consciously make such crazy life choices? Why not?! We’re learning as we go and for all of the moments that question our sanity, some pretty extraordinary memories and life lessons have come out it.
Traveling with kids does not need to be stressful, overwhelming, or impossible. In fact, it can be some of the most rewarding experiences you will share with your family. I recently polled numerous online mom forums on "If you could wave a magic wand and make all of your travel fears/challenges with kids disappear, what would they be?”
Read on to hear the responses and how we tackle these common fears!
Preparing for the Trip
1. I don’t know what to pack / packing everything: lean in close here, the more you pack the MORE work you’re making for yourself. Period. Kids and babies really don’t need a whole lot! And unless you’re traveling to a deserted island, there’s nothing that you can’t buy or borrow once you reach your destination. With my assistance, I let the girls pack their own outfits in order to minimize future arguments. We generally pack enough outfits and pj’s for half the number of days we’re staying (see tip # 9).
Other travel essentials for kids include: two bathing suits, a hat, two pair of shoes (sandals and sneakers), sweater/sweatshirt, underwear/socks/diapers, noise machine (see our favorite here) and voila, that’s it! Rule of thumb: If you don’t use an item regularly at home, then there’s absolutely no reason to bring (or worse, purchase) something "just in case."
2. It’ll be SO expensive: Yes, adding tiny humans to your travels will increase the cost, BUT it doesn’t have to break the bank. Ways that we save money:
a) Maximize free air travel while your child is under two
b) Eat as many of your meals/snacks in your hotel room as possible
c) Skip the Starbucks and opt for complimentary in-room coffee that most hotels provide
d) Take advantage of the resorts FREE transportation
e) Pick and choose. What activities do you REALLY want to do? And at what cost. Many resorts offer a wide variety of amenities and daily kid-focused activities at no charge
f) Research the area’s tourism board for discounted coupons and special savings
g) If possible, travel mid-week and also avoid school breaks for lower hotel/airfare rates.
3. My baby will cry the ENTIRE flight: We’ve taken over two dozen flights with our small children and this has NEVER happened. Not once. Flying with a newborn or toddler does not need to be scary! There’s nothing a bottle, boob, or snack can’t fix.
Time your flights according to baby’s regularly scheduled nap time and plan for nursing or bottle during takeoff (this can help them adjust their ears to the change in cabin pressure). And should you face a tricky situation, you may be pleasantly surprised to see the kindness and generosity of other passengers to lend a helping hand.
4. I'm terrified how to keep my kids entertained in the car / plane: *pro tip* DO NOT bring the entire toy chest!
For the girls, I allow them to bring one 'stuffie,' one Barbie, one figurine, a new coloring book/blank paper, and perhaps some stickers. Portable DVD players or iPad’s with downloaded games or movies are always an option for longer flights /drives with kids.
As for the baby / toddler travel checklist, the same applies: a few small cars, a 'stuffie,’ and a wide assortment of snacks. (All the snacks!) Jewelry organizers make great travel snack containers and kids love picking and choosing what to eat!
*pro tip* DO NOT include chocolate covered blueberries. They will melt.
5. What about long airport layovers: When traveling by plane with kids, we like to keep our layovers around 90-minutes. This allows for ample time to get from Point A to Point B, grab some snacks, bathroom breaks, and not feel super rushed. Should you have a longer layover (or delay), keep them moving! Continue exploring the airport shops or ride the escalators - anything and everything to burn time (and energy!) before you board.
6. My kid will get sick: In all of our flights / car trips this has only happened twice. Lesson #1: withhold any milk products before or during travel. Lesson #2: withhold juice products before or during travel (especially if they plan to watch a movie!) Stick to easily digestable drinks and snacks.
Our favorites: peanut butter crackers, dried fruits, trail mix, pretzels, bananas, fruit pouches, teething biscuits, etc. This is not the time to start experimenting with new foods! (It's a good idea to carry travel-sized hand sanitizer, a change of clothes for each child, and Tylenol should this happen.)
7. How do I handle car seats: these are a pain even if you’re not traveling! So why complicate matters? For us, we prefer destinations that are:
a) within driving distance (avoiding air travel all together),
b) resorts where you don’t have to step foot off the property, or
c) if we do travel by plane, we'll stay with family so they can transport us safely to and from the airport.
This way, we don’t have to worry about lugging a heavy baby car seat through the airport only to have it lost, stolen, or damaged. If you’re renting a car, most companies have the option to provide car seats, BUT you can never be sure of the safety or how the heck to install them.
The Final Destination
8. My baby won’t sleep in the hotel room: OK, so this is possible. VERY possible. To this day Rory still struggles. BUT, there are a few tricks to make this less painful:
a) Keep the bedtime routine as normal (and as close to the scheduled time) as possible
b) Evacuate the older kids. Ryan and the girls always use this opportunity to hit up the resort hot tub while I Iay Rory down
c) Ask for an upgrade. If a two bedroom suite is available, jump on it! That way, the baby can sleep peacefully once the rest of the clan returns, or if they are struggling in the night then not everyone has to have to suffer
d) Request a pack-n-play or crib in advance to make sure they don’t run out AND have them assemble it for you. (I can’t be the only one who fights with these, right?!)
9. How do I handle all the laundry? In my opinion, there’s nothing worse than coming home to a mountain of dirty laundry. For this reason, I always do at least one, if not multiple loads of laundry during vacation. Not only does this ease my mind upon returning home, but also cuts down on the actual amount of clothes we have to pack.
10. My kids are picky eaters, will they starve? Pack your breakfasts, snacks, and stop into a local grocery store upon arrival to stock up on perishable items you know they enjoy. Make sure to call ahead to see that a refrigerator is included, or if one is available to be added to your reservation.
*pro tip* DON’T waste your money on the free breakfast packages. Never have my kids ate more than cereal or yogurt cup from the $15 per person breakfast buffet.
11. My child will runaway: I’ll admit this is a legitimate fear of mine, too! For us, it works best that Ryan generally handles the girls while I focus on Rory. We also specifically choose locations that aren’t super congested or off-seasons when it’s not as busy.
When venturing into a more touristy spot (i.e. Disney the day after Thanksgiving!) we always bring the double stroller, and often the baby travel stroller as well. This way, everyone is contained and accounted for. Even at five years old, the girls are still quite tired at the end of an epic vacation day, and pushing them in a stroller is much preferred than the alternative. (Heck, I’d take a free lift if I could get one too!)
12. How do I balance downtime: Play. Nap. Rinse. Repeat. At first, I felt that mandating 'downtime' during family vacation was a total buzzkill. But then, I met grumpy, overtired, overstimulated Rory. It wasn’t pretty. I would much prefer to take some time for everyone to decompress for an afternoon siesta then try to handle all of his emotions through dinner. (Mommas love a good nap, too! Who's with me?)
Don’t overbook your day and try to cram EVERYTHING in - 120% schedule some down time into your daily itinerary.
13. Taking family Pictures AND enjoying the moment: Prior to any family vacation, I use hashtags or Google to search the destination to find inspiration for travel pictures. From there, I'll make a list of a few 'must-have' shots. (Kids splashing in waves, building sandcastles, etc.) Then once we arrive, I first like to experience the moment together, snap the desired shots, and be done with it! (Want to learn more on how to take better family vacation photos? Read my latest post here!)
14. I want to do adults things too: I hear ya, momma!I love my kids dearly but 'me time' is a requirement for my own mental health. From spas, to fitness classes, or a dinner date with you significant other, there are plenty of ways to fit in time away from your kids while on family vacation. Options:
a) have your hubby entertain the minions while you enjoy some quiet time,
b) travel with your parents/in-laws, etc and recruit them as back-up! or,
c) take advantage of the resorts kids clubs / childcare. In our experience, these clubs always offer a slew of fun, engaging activities. Your kids will be having so much fun - they won't miss you one bit!
*pro-tip* Do research your hotel in advance as many kids clubs require 24-hour advance notice.
15. How to cope with post-vacation blues: You survived vacation, everyone is alive and well, but now it's back to life, back to reality. And the reality is, you're likely tired, dreading going back to the grind, and your bank account is a few hundred or thousand dollars less than before. How do we cope with that?
a) Set a daily budget for food, activities, entertainment etc and try to stick to it as best as possible! We like to plan one 'big' adventure for each trip. After all we're traveling to experience the world and create lifelong memories
b) Reflect on our incredible experiences; creating a photo-book or video, and
c) Plan our next trip! We involve the kids in the entire family vacation planning process, they love it! This also ensures that everyone is satisfied and enjoying activities that suit their individual preferences. Plus, having another vacation to look forward to makes the harsh return to the real world a little less painful!
And there you have it! Your concerns addressed! A smooth, stress-free family vacation is possible! Slow down, don't over do it, and leave your expectations at the door. After all, it's always the mishaps that make the best memories!
What are your tried and true family travel tips? I'd love to hear!
Did you enjoy this? If so, sign up to our newsletter to get instant access to my Top TSA Travel Hacks, newborn, and toddler travel checklists!