Are we there yet? If any of you have heard this phrase it could be that you are undertaking an adventure with children. Unfortunately for us, this question usually happens when our travels have just begun and we still have many hours to go. With four children who have been on what seemed never-ending plane and car rides, we have learned a few lessons along the way to make traveling a little easier for everyone.
A quick background on our family and our enthusiasm for traveling. I started a travel company Fun For Less Tours with my family in the year 2000. As of now I have been to over 100 countries and it has been an incredible experience. I love meeting new people, seeing new cultures, learning history and glimpsing in person this beautiful world. I grew up traveling with my parents and siblings. I had a passion to explore the world and of course when my husband Josh and I started our family we wanted to make sure we could continue traveling. Our children are ages 12, 9, 7 and 2. As of now my oldest has already traveled with us to over 50 countries starting when he was a baby. With each new addition, we continued traveling and learned many ways to make it work with our crazy insane family. Here are some of the things we have picked up along the way.
I always recommend that when you travel with kids you have a sense of humor. I love exploring the world with my children, but I know that most things can and will happen. If at all possible begin traveling when your children are small. If they grow up with long car and plane rides it is easier for them as they are more used to it. My favorite childhood memories almost always deal with visiting places with my family. These will be the moments my children will always remember. It is worth it to take your kids to fun places. Even if it is just a weekend away visiting a new city. Do it!!! Have adventures with them. They will gain knowledge and memories that will last them a lifetime. Now let’s talk about ways to make your trip easier. With kids in tow, I must say that some of my best advice is to be organized. A lot of my sanity comes from knowing where items are when chaos strikes. I need to be quick in finding solutions to help the kids and I need to know where those items are located. If a child is hungry, thirsty, has a diaper stinking up the city or needs a bandaid I need to be ready. I use small bags inside of my main bag to keep everything in its place. Let’s begin with packing. For air travel, most airlines have a 50 lb. limit on check-in bags (always contact your airline to check on this). And for car travel I only have so much room in my trunk. I always want to bring enough, but I am not wanting to overpack.
I have included links to any of the items I use. If you would like more information or to purchase click on the link.
Basic Travel Tips for Kids
- Always check the weather before going. Many places can be cold in the morning and warm in the afternoon. I dress myself and children in layers. Bring a poncho or umbrella in case of rain. And don’t forget to pack sunscreen and mosquito repellent. I know I am miserable when I am sunburned and have bug bites, but if it happens to my kids, that is another story.
- We never want to get to an amazing site and need to leave because one of our kids is hungry. Our kids always seem to need a lot of snacks. Depending on where you are traveling you might want to bring snacks for the trip. When traveling overseas many times our kids won’t always eat what is being served (and sometimes I don’t blame them as not everyone wants to eat frog dumplings with crunchy bones). We also need to be careful they don’t get sick. Other times we will be visiting a place like Disneyland where we need to dip into our children’s college fund to buy 6 hamburgers. Or we are doing a road trip with many hours on the road and have found that snacks are very much appreciated. I will put together bags of snacks to use throughout our adventure. When the bag is empty we then use it to hold wrappers and other garbage.
- Always bring extra medicine. Especially for kids. I bring allergy medicine and other children medicines in case they get sick. Of course, talk to your doctor if you have any questions or recommendations on what to bring. I am not a doctor I am just telling you what I do.
- Don’t forget your toiletries! Make sure you pack enough for you as well as your children. To make things simpler, I will bring a shampoo and wash combination such as the Philosophy ones. This means only one bottle of conditioner and one bottle of shampoo/wash in the shower. I use these items on my children and me. Many times showers are small (especially on cruise ships) and having only 2 bottles to worry about is wonderful.
- This is very important! Check your passports to make sure they are not expiring within 6 months after your trip. Always keep your passports on you in your carry on, however, I make copies of my passports and place them in my suitcases in case we ever have an emergency.
- Dress comfortable. I will admit that my kids will definitely not be entering any fashion shows when we travel. I let them wear their cozy clothes. If a child is cozy it will hopefully make the trip easier. Plus I always like to travel in something comfortable as well.
- Always set up a designated meeting spot in case anyone gets lost. You can also buy temporary tattoos to put on your child with your name and number if someone finds them.
- Two of my kids have very sensitive ears. Take-off and landing on the plane can really hurt them. I always bring gum and suckers for them to chew or suck on. Their water bottle is always filled during this time so they can also drink. For babies, I always make sure that they are drinking their bottle/sippy cup or sucking on a binky during this time.
Suitcase Packing: I love using separate packing cubes to pack. I really like the set of three (small, medium and large) ebag packing cubes that come in many colors. Another set of packing cubes I like are the Eagle Creek ones and they also offer a compression packing cube which I use when I am really tight on space. I use a label maker to label each cube so I know what is inside without needing to open it. When packing for kids we are usually going out of the country for over two weeks so I will let them help me pack but I don’t let them do it themselves. My kids are also younger and I only have so much space to fit everything. I recommend if you want to be organized that you at least supervise your kids. This will ensure they have enough but not too much. Have them set out all items of clothing before you begin to make sure nothing is forgotten. I usually pack enough underwear and shirts for each day. I pack pants or shorts that can be worn for a couple of days (depending on how dirty or sweaty we will be getting) and pajamas that can be worn a few nights. Once all the clothes are set out, get ready to start rolling. You can also have music playing in the background as it is always nice to be rocking as you are rolling. Here are the two ways that I pack using the packing cubes.
One stop trip: If we are going to only one hotel or staying on a cruise for the entire trip I will assign packing cubes to each child. I have a different color for each child (but sometimes I need less or more so I still label). My child and I will roll up all of their clothing and put it in the large packing cube. If it is a short trip all items should fit in one cube. However, if it is a long vacation then I will use the medium packing cube for sweatshirts, pajamas, and other items needed such as swimsuits and the small packing cube for socks and underwear. When we arrive at our destination I take the packing cubes out and put them in a drawer for each child. So Easy!!
Multiple stops trip: If we are switching hotels frequently then I will assign them by location. For example, if we are staying in a hotel for 3 days I will roll up 3 days’ worth of clothes, underwear, and socks for each child in one cube. I then label the cube so I know which days this one will be used. This allows me to only remove one cube at the hotel and the remaining clothes stay in the suitcase. I am only taking out what is necessary for those few days. After we are done at the hotel I put the dirty clothes into the cube and then back into the suitcase and it is out of the way for the rest of our destinations.
Baby Items: Before going on a trip with a baby I recommend charting out a week of diapers and wipes to see how many are used. I then always add a few more just to be on the safe side (especially if you are traveling out of the country). I bring a lot of extra baby wipes for cleaning up kids or wiping things down. To make life easier when traveling with a baby, I use a lot of disposable items which allows us to be gone for long days if needed. These are the disposable items that I bring.
- Disposable bibs. I usually have one for each day that I will take out with me as we are exploring. I also bring a couple of regular plastic bibs that I can rinse off and leave drying in the hotel.
- Disposable changing pads. I find that airports and public places can be dirty not to mention babies can leak onto their changing pads. I bring a few of these that I can throw away throughout my trip.
- Odor free bags for dirty diapers. I use these all the time (even when I am at home running errands) for dirty diapers. This is great if you are stuck somewhere without a garbage can or you don’t want to stink up the room. They are lined with baby powder so the smell is somewhat contained. If it is the middle of the night and we are in our hotel I will double bag the stinky diaper and it isn’t overwhelming our room.
- Disposable bottles and formula. I love these, especially for plane rides. I will bring the Playtex bottles along with enough drop-in bottle liners and plenty of extra nipples for the bottle. When I am done feeding my baby I will throw away the bottle liner and remove the dirty bottle nipple and put it in a plastic bag that I can clean later. Then I will put in another liner and clean nipple so it is ready to go for the next feeding. I use a formula dispenser to hold my formula in pre-measured amounts. Then I can just dump the formula into the bottle.
- Disposable sippy cups. These are great for toddlers. I have had sippy cups get lost on trips or get filthy (especially if they are filled with juice and nowhere to clean the cup). I will keep a few of these with me so that I can throw them away if they get too dirty. And if they get lost I am not worried.
- Bottle cleaner and a small container of soap. I will use this to clean out the bottles or sippy cups in my sink at the hotel. I love the bottle brush because there is a small attachment that can clean the bottle nipples really well.
- Snack Container. This is great for crackers and small snacks. It keeps all of the snacks safe without spills.
My Backpack: For air travel I have a separate small bag/purse that I keep with me at all times that contain passports, money, airline tickets and my travel itinerary. For car travel, I will also bring a small bag or purse to carry my money and travel itinerary. For any type of travel I do, I carry a backpack filled with many organized small bags. These are the items I bring regardless of whether we are going by plane or car. I have a small bag that has the items I might need quickly that I stash right near me. This contains baby wipes (we always bring lots of baby wipes), tissues, antibacterial soap, medicines, etc. I have this in a safe place right up front that I can get to quickly. To make it easier when boarding a plane I will already have the liquid items from this bag such as liquid medicines and antibacterial soap already in a zip lock baggie so I can take it out when we go through airport security. For my baby, I have a separate bag filled with all the items she will need so I can grab it quickly for a diaper change or feeding. I keep a compact blow up pillow and blanket for her in my bag. I have an extra battery to charge any of my children’s electronics if their battery is dying. I bring extra snacks for myself as well as for the kids. I always keep some suckers and/or gum (to help with ears on the plane) in my backpack. One of my favorite things to do besides traveling is reading. I love that the kindle app allows you to bring hundreds of books on one device. I have my headphones and Ipad (filled with movies and kindle books) in my backpack and for those moments when my children are all entertained or sleeping I will read, listen to music or watch a movie. A water bottle, sweatshirt and blow up pillow are also in my carrier.
Children Backpacks: My kids carry their own backpack on the plane or a smaller bag if we are traveling by car. I let them each pick out 1-3 items (depending on size) of personal toys that they would like to bring. At home, it seems I am fighting my kids on electronics every day to put them away. However, I will tell you that when we travel I suddenly begin encouraging their use the entire time if it keeps them quiet, entertained and fight free. In their bags, kids can bring their iPad, iPhone, or iPod (whatever one they have) and some headphones. Before going on a trip, I will download books for them on the kindle app and make sure they have music, apps and movies ready to go. If they do not have electronic devices or a portable DVD player I supply a few thin light books for reading. Coloring and sticker books are also fun. I buy the triangle shaped crayons so they will stay put and not roll off the table. They each have a sweatshirt in case they get cold driving in the car or flying on the plane. Be sure that your kids are wearing shoes and socks for long plane rides as it can be too cold sometimes for sandals or flip flops. They each have their own water bottle, I like the insulated ones because they will stay cold even if they are left out in the sun all day. This is filled prior to traveling if we are going in the car. If we are going by plane as soon as we go through security, we buy water and fill their water bottles. We fill these water bottles each day during our trip. Always make sure your kids stay hydrated when traveling. A dehydrated child is not a fun one. Each of my children also has a blanket and blow up pillow combo. They come in different colors and I love that the blanket and deflated pillow are contained in a small bag. We usually get these out right when we get on the plane or in the car. Each child also has their own Ziplock bag with snacks. The snack bag can then be used as a garbage bag for their wrappers.
Carry-on: Always bring a change of clothes for each child. I roll up a change of clothes, underwear and socks for each of us and place it in a packing cube to put in our carry-on for a flight or in a reachable spot for car travel. You might be using these extra clothes if there is a spill (which has happened) or you might lose your luggage on a flight (which has also happened) or you might have a flight delay and be stuck in another city (and yep this has happened too.) If we are going for a long flight or a long drive, I will bring a set of pajamas as well. For electronics, I bring my own little outlet charging station. Since we are a family of six I will then not worry that things won’t be charged in the morning. With a baby traveling, I always put extra diapers, wipes, bottles or sippy cups and a little of everything else in my carry-on. I plan for the worst and yet I will expect the best. However, it is better to be safe with all of your baby needs taken care of in case of an emergency. I bring an ergo baby carrier and use this throughout our entire trip. I love this one because it can fold into my carry-on and I can use it for carrying in the front when they are little or the back when they get older. I use this for any type of hiking or touring with lots of stairs. This is also great for airports if you are making flight changes.
Prior to Boarding: Get those wiggles out. Let the kids walk around and explore before boarding the plane or loading into the car. Make sure kids have used the restroom and babies diapers have been changed right before departure. On a flight, if you are gate checking in a stroller or car seat be sure to get a tag prior to boarding so there is less chaos getting on with the kids. I make sure all water bottles are filled and each of my kids has a sucker or gum for take-off. For my baby, I have her binky as well.
Have Fun: This is the most important tip of them all. You are together as a family and really our children stay young for such a short time. Take advantage and enjoy everything, even the messy chaos. I know that these will be the memories I will cling to as my children get older and do their own thing. I suggest getting a travel journal (we love the Smash Scrapbook) for each of your children. This has been a lot of fun and entertainment for our family. Let them write down what they do each day. We will bring a glue stick so they can glue in any tickets or postcards they get on the trip or the Smash Scrapbook comes with a pen that has glue on one side. Regarding souvenirs let them find something memorial that they can keep at home. My children can pick out one toy in each state or country we visit. We also collect pins that they display in their room. Postcards are fun to pick up for kids as they can mail them to family and friends or even to themselves to read when they arrive home. I know some people have a flat Stanley. While on your trip play games with each other. Whenever we are in a long line or kids are beginning to argue I will quickly yell out “I spy with my little eye” … and the game begins and the kids focus on having fun. I will also go to the dollar store before we go on a trip and pick up a few items that I can give out during long travel days. Something inexpensive and new that they can play with. Don’t forget to take lots of pictures. It is so great that even with our phone we can record so many memories. I will let my kids take pictures as well and it is fun to see their perspective of the places we visit. However, just a word of advice regarding electronics. It is easy to get caught up on different apps or texting while on a trip. I love when we leave the country or go to an isolated location where there is hardly any Internet. This allows us to focus on our family. Even if you have access to everything try to put your electronics away (unless it’s a long plane or car ride). Spend time with each other and get to know each other better without the day to day business that happens at home. It is during our tours that I will usually see a new side of my child. They have left behind the stress of school, sports, and friends and are just focusing on having fun. Enjoy this with them. Hold hands as you tour this world. Get down on their level and encourage their imagination. Traveling is one of the best ways I have found to force me to live in the moment. Traveling with my children will always be my greatest adventure.