I love to travel. My dad has always joked that I was born holding a suitcase and asking "where are we going?" When I became a parent, my love for traveling didn't change, but my approach certainly did. From my experiences of flying and driving many times with my boys at all ages, here's my tips on how to survive travel with kids.
This post contains affiliate links that helps to support MHE. There is no additional charge to you to shop through these. This also makes it easy for you to quickly find the products that I use and recommend. Thank you for supporting brands that MHE believes in.
#1 - Start Well Rested
I know this might sound like a pie in the sky goal but it could be the #1 thing you can do for yourself to achieve a successful trip. If you are rested you can handle delays, meltdowns, and fights with so much more ease. This is a physiological fact of life. Your brain needs to recharge every night to work at full capacity and manage your emotions as smoothly as possible.
To allow yourself to be as rested as possible, start trip preparations as early as possible. This may even be 2 weeks out. Here's some ways I do this:
- Pull out the suitcases and pack 1-2 outfits a day or pack 1 type of thing a day (socks, shoes, shorts, etc.)
- Make a packing schedule for the week leading up to the trip.
- Give my kids each one packing task 2 days before the trip to avoid last minute panic and enlist extra hands.
- Pack the car the day before the trip, before 6pm (give or take). If I can, I might even start packing the car 2 days ahead.
- Set out pantry snacks several days before trip.
- Check in ahead of time for as many things as possible.
- Wash, dry, fold AND PUT AWAY all laundry 3 days before trip. After that day, everyone is one their own to clean any clothes they want to bring.
#2 - Pack Smart
I've learned that packing can sort of make or break your traveling experience. One of the best tools I have found to help make packing very organized, are these EzPacking Packing Cubes.
They make packing and living out of a suitcase a dream come true. It's really helpful when packing because I can give my kids one packing cube with a specific assignment of how to fill it (i.e. 7 t-shirts) They bring me back a zipped up cube that I can just place in their suitcase.
When at your destination, you open your suitcase and everything is easy to access without turning your suitcase into a crazy mess. When you pack back up, the cubes help make sure it all fits back the way it started. I also use them in my carry-on suitcase and it made finding things in the airport bathroom so much easier.
I bought 2 starter sets from the get-go and use them regularly, even when not traveling (like in my gym bag). Buy your first set here and use the code MHE and get 15% your order. You'll probably end up buying more. 😉
#3 - Choose Good Flights for Your Kids
When traveling with kids I think you HAVE to weight the pros and cons of flights for YOUR kids. You may make different decisions when you travel solo or with another adults but kids need special situations.
If your kids get up super early, then early flights might work for you. If you are not an early morning person, choose a later flight. If a layover would actually help your kids to be able to move around, take it! If flying from a different airport gives you a direct flight instead of a 3 flight trip, do it!
Even if a flight is $20 more but the schedule is more ideal for your family, PAY THE MONEY! You'll be thanking yourself I assure you.
#4 - Bring Amazing, Travel-Friendly Toys
We definitely use a lot of movies to entertain our kids on trips, but I don't want them to necessarily watch a screen the ENTIRE time. It usually turns them into crabby, whiney messes when they're done. Here's some great toys we have used through the years that still require a little brain power and can be fun for adults too.
The first time I flew with my boys I racked my brain of all my favorite old-school toys I remembered playing with. For whatever reason, a Magnadoodle came to mind. I found this great travel version on Amazon and it has given us hours of enjoyment on planes, in the car, at football games, waiting for an oil change, you name it. This is a must have in my opinion.
At one point in our travels, my oldest was really into blocks and Legos. Building kept him entertained for a whole 20 minutes or so. That's amazing. But the thought of bringing Lego's on a plane sounded like self sabotage. So, in looking for a solution, I came across these magnetic block tiles. They are amazing and because they are magnetic, they rarely fall on the floor. The combinations of what you can build are endless and my boys to this day still love to play with these.
This art toy is still fun! The best feature of the travel set is that all parts store in itself as the top cover slides open. Inside is the stencils, paper and markers.
These are the safe, travel version of play-dough. They are perfect for building letters to glasses you can wear. Trust me on this and just order them. They are also amazing for restaurants!
I think these books are really just sentimental for me. I remember LOVING these as a kid and they only showed up on trips. Now, there are all kinds to choose from, but I'm still partial to the activity book depicted below.
For younger kids, this brain teaser coloring book is the perfect travel companion. At under $2 you can't beat the price. Our boys love finding things in books and I feel good about them getting a littler smarter. =)
I ordered this travel addition of Where's Waldo for a trip on a sentimental whim (i.e. "I used to love these books!"). Turns out, kids still love finding Waldo. It remains a daily favorite in our house. This travel addition is a combination of 4 different Waldo books so it's literally hours of entertainment. Keep in mind the travel addition is smaller than the original books and may be a little small for adult eyes.
#5 -Portable DVD player
While all the above activities help pass the time while traveling, sometimes a good movie is the trick to peace and quiet. For car trips especially, we’ve found that a portable DVD player is just easier than messing with the iPad. Our kids don't have their own iPads anyways but the DVD sits up on it's own and just makes life easier. Call me old fashioned, but it’s certainly wayyyy cheaper than an iPad and therefore I am less worried about it getting banged up along the way. We have this portable DVD player from Amazon and it works great for us. If 2 kiddos are watching at once with headphones (which are mandatory in our house), you will want a splitter cord for sure.
#6 - Keep Travel Journals
Whenever I travel to new places I like to keep a small journal to write down everything we do. I’ve found it helpful for remembering favorite places, meals, experiences, names, etc. I will keep either a glue stick or glue dots in my bag to easily attach mementos like business cards or tickets. This helps prevent pockets in bags and coats from being stuffed with papers.
As my boys get older, I’ve given them travel journals too. I found a 3-pack of journals on Amazon and we spent some time decorating them before we left. This summer my oldest son will be reading and writing for first time so I am excited to see what he records in his journal.
Reviewing your travel journals at dinner every night is a fun way to debrief from a day of family fun and see what everyone enjoyed the most.
#7 - Stock Up On Dollar Section/Store & Target Finds
This section of Target has so many wonders that could save the day for traveling. I bought several pairs of cheap glasses, more toys, coloring pages, fun socks, and more. This is the place to find things that might be unique and special, and therefore buy you 20 minutes of entertainment.
Other items that were really helpful to me in keeping my sanity were purchasing everyone their own mini umbrella (on this trip we were going to Seattle). There's nothing more frustrating that trying to share an umbrella with someone half your size who insists on holding the umbrella. Also I brought these nice smelling face wipes (they can change your mood in a hot second) and shoe inserts if my dogs started barking.
#8 - Snacks, Snacks, & More Snacks
Let's just face the cold, hard truth together: Snacks keep kids happy.
While I have philosophical trouble with using food to maintain peace and happiness, travel is sort of an all-bets-are-off situation. Therefore I come prepared with a lot of snacks and try to bring nutrient dense ones.
You'll also see vitamins picture there. I ALWAYS travel with supplements to be ready to attack any sniff of sickness that might be trying to steal our fun. If you are interested, these are the "multivitamin" our whole family takes.
I pack them in a gallon ziplock and rectangle storage box to protect those that can't be crunched.
Here's my list of favorites (click links to shop):
GoGo Squeeze, Jerky, Nuts and trail mix, Nature Valley Granola Cups, Clif Kid Z Bar, Belvita Biscuits , Raisins or other dried fruit, freeze dried fruit (ALDI and Trader Joe's have a great selection), and these amazing Enlightened Roasted Bean Crisps (trust me).
For fresh snacks, try clementine oranges, grapes, and carrot chips. These won't last the whole trip, but they'll get everyone started on a healthy foot.
#9 - BYOWB (Bring Your Own Water Bottles)
I'm not sure if this is a no-brainer or not for everyone. Don't waste your precious budget on beverages while traveling. Instead, pack your water bottles and fill up right on the other side of security.
To save room, because let's face it, water bottles can be bulky and take up a lot of space, try a collapsable water bottle like this one from Que. While it's not my favorite bottle of all time, I love traveling with it because it's light weight and can collapse whenever needed.
A tip I got from my friend who has flown international with 3 small children (she is my hero) is to ask one of the airport restaurants if they will fill up your bottle with ice and water. They seem to always oblige.
#10 - Bring Baby Wipes (Even if you don't have babies)
The friend I just mentioned also gave me this tip. In her opinion, "baby wipes are the mom version of duck tape." On that note, maybe packing duck tape isn't a bad idea either. I'm a mom of boys; I could see how that could come in handy.
Anyways, whether you have babies or not, pick up a few packs of baby wipes to keep in your bags. They really are perfect for cleaning up the many, and I mean many, messes you will encounter as a traveling family.
Bonus Tip - Stock Your Freezer (to make coming home easier)
When people get ready to travel they tend to try to clean out the fridge before they leave. This makes total sense as you don't want to buy more food that may go to waste while you are gone. However, upon arriving home, what do you encounter? A completely empty fridge, hungry travelers, and feeling forced to eat out once again. I think this sometimes contributes to the mindset of "vacation eating" and can make it more challenging to switch back to a more balanced of way eating.
To help yourself out while you are gone, why not stock up your freezer with a few quick prep items that won't go bad? Then when you come home, simply reheat a few things and a meal is ready. Here are a few suggestions of healthy, frozen foods to have waiting for you in the freezer:
- Asian stir fry mix with rice, meat, and veggies. Buy an additional bag of frozen vegetables to add to it.
- Frozen pizza and mixed vegetables.
- Individual frozen meals to fit everyone's preferences.
- Frozen fruit to make smoothies.
- Frozen breakfast sandwiches.
- Frozen soups.
As I conclude this list of survival tips for travel with kids, a few random things come to mind from the baby years of my life that I feel inclined to pass on.
If you are traveling with babies...
Purchase THIS Travel Crib. If easily fits in checked luggage, can be placed inside a hotel closet (speaking from experience), and becomes a really cool "tent" for when baby gets to toddler years. I know it's pricey but if you are traveling with small ones, you need it folks.
These toy leashes are EVERYTHING when baby when is going through the throwing stage. Simply connect one end to toy and the other end to a stationary object and you have saved yourself from picking things up every 15 seconds. Connect 2 or 3 leashes together to allow baby the sensation of throwing something far, but it not making it to the ground. I think I had these connected to every toy for many months.
If you are traveling with a lot of kid crap (diapers, food, wipes, etc), order it through Amazon and have it sent to your destination. It's so brilliant. Many hotels will receive shipments for you if they are alerted ahead of time. If you are staying with friends or family, this is a no-brainer.
Lastly, the one thing I wish I had when I did have little ones, and am so thankful for now, is the Apple Air Pods. Hello! -- No wires for baby or child to rip out of your ears while you're attempting to listen to something adult-ish! I can't tell you how many times that happened to me. If you can swing it, treat yo-self ( and your sanity) and buy these.
So there you have it folks - my list of survival tips for travel with kids. I haven't been doing this parent thing for that long, but I have learned a thing or two.
Do you have a survival tip? Leave it in a comment below.
To Infinity and Beyond, as a family,