Travel tips for families: part 1

After three and a half years and over 60 flights(!) with kids, we’ve become efficient with our travel process. I wanted to share a few tips I find helpful when flying/traveling with little ones, as well as some places we loved with kids, and some I recommend avoiding until the kids are older. This is a two-part blog, so this first post focuses on the process and the next post will be on locations.

Here are my tips broken out by category. First up:

Airplanes and luggage must-haves:

  • A collapsible stroller that fits in the overhead bin. However, the collapsible/overhead-bin-sized stroller does not have a great under-carriage basket, which can be a huge help when walking around all day with a little one.
    • Addendum: When you’ve got two kids, the collapsible stroller/carrier combo is a winning combination.
  • If your child has his or her own seat (and subsequent luggage allowance), I love having a lightweight backpack just for his toys and sleeping needs, i.e. stuffed animal for sleeping and a small pillow for the plane. This allows my guy the freedom to choose what he brings on board but also separates out his stuff so that you can access it easily when he is tired of looking out the window. Bonus is that when we’re at our destination we use that same backpack during our sightseeing.
  • A carry-on suitcase with full change of clothes for mom and kids. I pack the carry-on with all the necessities for a good night sleep at our destination, as well. It’s critical to have the books/diapers/bottles/pajamas at the ready for all parties if luggage is lost, or you don’t have time to rummage through a large suitcase when you arrive to a hotel late at night.
  • SNACKS! I don’t care how western your location is, having snacks on hand saves everyone traveling with you. Delays on planes, waiting for luggage, long car rides from the airport… it’s amazing how helpful a package of gummies or a granola bar can be to your families’ wellbeing.
  • New (cheap) toys like stickers, a small puzzle, or coloring books add an extra layer of excitement to the flight.
  • DOWNLOADED (not livestreamed) tv shows for the inevitable delays and early hotel mornings. You can’t trust airlines or hotels to have the shows kids want to watch.

On-the-ground necessities:

  • A lie-flat stroller for long days exploring—especially helpful when you find a bar to sit at while the kiddo naps! This is one of our favorite ways to explore but still have a well-rested kid. We love our Joovy Groove umbrella stroller for the lie-flat seat and decent storage basket, but as mentioned previously it is not as easy to find the umbrella stroller when you land.
  • A flat craft bag that can house crayons, coloring books, stickers, etc and a fabric bag to house the latest favorite small toy (cars, trains, dolls, etc).
  • SNACKS! I cannot say this enough. Milk boxes, sippy cups full of water, and individual snack-size goodies are a lifesaver.
  • Travel bottle brush/bottle soap/bottle drying rack
  • A nightlight/noise machine/bedtime books

This next thing is not an item but rather a mindset. My advice is to get over the fact that you won’t be sightseeing the way you used to. If you have Littles, the amount of activity you can do in a day is diminished by about 4x over what you could do before you were a parent. We do the best we can but accept that with two kids under 4, the likelihood of spending much time outside the resort is minimal. We pick one or two activities for the entire trip if we’re at a beach resort, and one or two activities a day if we’re in a city. Beyond that you’re just asking for a meltdown.

Hotels vs. Airbnb:

  • At this stage, we strongly prefer hotels over AirBnB. I like the chain hotels that offer kiddie pools, kids clubs, and babysitting services, because it means that if you’re at the hotel most of your stay, at least there are options for you and your family. I have not had much success picking good AirBnBs for our family, but I know others swear by them.
  • You’ll probably need to send clothes out for cleaning at a hotel. Yes, it’s expensive. But overpacking is worse. You’re already lugging around so much stuff, why make it harder (and heavier) by packing 3x what you may or may not need. Our son wet the bed every day on our first trip after we potty trained him. Luckily our hotel in Vietnam charged only $1 or $2 US dollars per item of kids clothing. We spent $100 on laundry but I was pregnant, so we weren’t racking up big drink bills. It all evens out in the end.
  • Spend more money (if you can) on a hotel room with a kitchenette or balcony or separate bedroom and living room. Or a combination of these three. Let’s face it, you now spend much more time in the room than you ever did before kids. Why not make it an enjoyable experience? Once the kids are down, you can enjoy a glass of wine on the balcony with your spouse or shut the door to your room and watch TV while your little one(s) sleep soundly in the living room. I never much cared about the layout of a room until I had to creep around it in the dark!
  • Find hotels that offer free buffet breakfast! It’s so much easier to just walk downstairs first thing in the morning for coffee and food with little ones in tow…especially when they might nap soon. Walking the streets for Starbucks every day gets old fast.

I’m sure if you’re a veteran family traveler you will have your own list of must-haves/must avoids. What would you add or change to my list? For the new parents out there fearful about the first flight… all I can say is the pain is (hopefully) temporary but the fun memories are forever.

You will become savvier every time you fly with your kids. Unfortunately, your children will continue to change and develop so what you need can and will change each time too. But by the time they’re out of diapers and don’t need the stroller so much, travel becomes infinitely easier. If you remember a couple of their (small) favorite toys, and you know how to get them to sleep in a new place, you should be able to overcome almost any obstacle.

My sister-in-law asked me the other day if Gabe will remember any of the trips he’s taken thus far. I said that as a three-year-old he remembers the trips we took a year ago, but I’m sure a lot of it will be lost as he ages. It’s one of the bummers about traveling so young, but I look at it as an investment in his general adventurousness, his ability to adapt to new surroundings, and his interest in learning someplace new. Currently one of his favorite games is “going to the airport,” where he packs a suitcase and walks around the house waiting to board a plane for his next destination. If he keeps that sense of excitement and nothing else, I feel like our efforts to take him and his brother all over the world will be well worth it. ff

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