Travelling with kids

Tips and Tricks For Traveling With Kids

Travelling with kids

Traveling is the best way to expose children to cultures and ways of life that are different than their own. It allows them to be immersed in the experience, rather than simply reading about other places in a schoolbook, and is an ideal way to encourage exploration and curiosity.

For these reasons, a considerable amount of parents make the decision to travel or live abroad with their little ones in tow. But as any migrant parent can attest, the logistics of traveling with children can be tricky at best.

Fortunately, however, with some systemized preparation and a bit of masterminding, parents can (and do) enjoy high-spirited, relatively stress-free vacations with their children.

In this post, we’ll be sharing our definitive, step-by-step guide to traveling with kids.

But first, let’s start by laying the groundwork.

Before the Trip

Before stepping foot in a plane, train, boat, or automobile, there are some precautions you can take to ensure a smooth and smile-filled trip.

1.     When to Book

There are some timing strategies parents use to avoid meltdowns or major mishaps, including the following:

  • When booking your flight, connections, and transport to and from the airport, remember that getting to-and-from as a family will be slower than you may expect. Make sure you’re booking with some flex time, for a smoother schedule. And speaking of booking your flight, keep in mind that the prime booking window for optimal pricing is generally 3 months to 3 weeks before your departure.
  • Kids under the age of 5 tend to get crankier and more tired as the day progresses. Thus, booking early morning flights (between 7-10am) are recommended. These flights are late enough that you don’t have to wake your little ones at 3:30 a.m. (a recipe for disaster), yet early enough to avoid afternoon exhaustion-fueled temper tantrums.
  • There’s more to pre-booking a vacation than just the flights: you should aim to know where you will be staying before you leave. That way, you’ll be able to go directly from the airport to your home base, and unload the stroller and extra packs you’ll have from traveling with children. If there are activities or landmarks that require tickets or bookings, you may want to pre-book those as well. This will save you having to make decisions on the fly after you arrive, so you can focus on enjoying the trip with your kids.

 

2.     What to Pack in the Checked Bag

This is where you’ll store clothing, any items that are on the restricted list for carry-on items, any larger toys, and items that won’t be needed en route.

Some smart (and often forgotten) suggestions include:

  • Extra footwear (Boots for colder destinations, sandals for warmer ones, plus a pair of comfortable sneakers.)
  • Extra underwear (You can never have too many.)
  • A lightweight jacket or sweatshirt (Even tropical destinations are susceptible to unpleasant weather.)
  • Sunscreen
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • First aid kit
  • Barrettes/Ponytail holders for girls and boys with long hair
  • Sun hats or winter hats (Whichever is appropriate.)
  • Sunglasses
  • Swimsuits, towels, beach toys, swimming shoes
  • Umbrella

3.     What to Pack in the Carry-On

We’ve included a list of must-have carry-on items for parents traveling with children:

  • Breast milk/formula (There are currently no restrictions on the amount of milk a parent can bring on board for their infant. Bring as much as you feel will be needed during your flight.)
  • Teethers/soothers
  • Personal documents, passports, and boarding passes
  • Gadgets (iPads, cameras, cell phones, laptops, etc.—these items can be damaged during the transportation process if packed in checked luggage.)
  • Reading material (For adults and children.)
  • Prescription medications
  • Sanitary wipes
  • Comfort items (Your children’s favorite stuffed animal, blanket, etc.)
  • Healthy snacks
  • A sippy cup (To avoid spill-induced outbursts.)
  • Diapers, a change of clothes, and even an extra top for mom/dad (The back-up apparel will come in handy in the event of spills or an unexpected vomiting incident.)
  • Plastic bags (For dirty clothes, garbage, etc.)
  • A hand towel (Most planes only offer napkins, which don’t always cut it during a major spill.)

 

4.     How to Explain the Itinerary

Let’s face it, children aren’t always great at understanding the urgency or the protocol for certain situations—a critical part of what makes travel with kids more complicated than traveling with adults.

Parents can ensure their children are prepped and have a basic understanding of schedules and expectations by completing the following steps:

  • Explain how you will be traveling and have your children engage in the conversation.

    For example: “We will be in an airplane. Do you know where airplanes go? That’s right, they go in the sky.”
  • Explain any new or unfamiliar experiences your child might have.

    For example: “The airplane is going to make a rumbling noise and start to go really fast. Do you know why airplanes are loud? Because they have big, big engines.”
  • Describe what will be happening next to give your child something to look forward to and be excited about.

    For example: “In 15 minutes the plane is going to start to descend so we can touch the ground again. Then we will go through the airport, find our suitcase, and get some lunch. Would you like a hamburger or chicken fingers for lunch?”

 

By discussing upcoming steps with your child in advance, you can avoid being bombarded with questions while trying to handle details—such as checking your luggage or finding your gate.

On the Plane

On the Plane

1.     Flying with a Baby

We’ve all been on a plane or in another confined space (like a doctor’s office waiting room) where a fussy baby is crying. It can be bothersome, to say the least. Especially if it’s a late-night flight and passengers are trying to sleep, or if the baby continues to cry for extended periods of time.

Here are some tips for traveling with a baby that can prevent these less-than-pleasant scenarios:

  • Pre-board to avoid cramped aisles and impatient passengers while getting seated.
  • Invest in a pair of baby noise-cancelling headphones to block out loud noises that may cause your baby stress.
  • Nurse baby during takeoff and landing. Swallowing will help their ears pop while cabin pressures are changing, alleviating any discomfort.
  • Request a bassinet if the airline has them. Most companies offer them as a courtesy, but it depends on the type of aircraft you will be boarding, and some have weight restrictions (25 bs or less).
  • Book a seat close to the cockpit, if possible. The further back your seat is, the louder it will be and the more vibration you and baby will feel. Plus, the front has easier access to bathrooms and flight attendants, who can provide a helping hand.

2.  Flying with a Toddler

Here are some of our top tips for traveling with a toddler:

  • Bring a tablet or iPod touch and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones so your little one can enjoy cartoons without disruption.
  • Bring non-electronic toys to stave off boredom in the event your device battery dies or the captain requests you turn off any gadgets.
  • Bring a wide variety of snacks to appease even the pickiest eater.
  • Run around the terminal, or walk back and forth on a moving walkway, to burn energy and increase the likelihood of napping during the flight.
  • Surprise your toddler with a new toy on the plane. The excitement will likely buy you enough time to sneak in a nap of your own!

3.  Flying with Older Children      

Our top tips for traveling with kids above the age of six:

  • Engage your school-aged children in the traveling process by giving them each a responsibility. Making a road trip playlist, packing in-flight snacks, and picking one of your must-see attractions are all duties older children can and love to take on.
  • Schedule some downtime. Tweens and teens, especially, can become irritable when every waking moment is accounted for. Give your older children space to unwind and relax.
  • Study your destination together. Practice saying basic phrases in the local language. Tell your older children about cultural differences or unfamiliar scenarios they may encounter. The more understanding your child has in advance, the less likely it is that they’ll experience culture-shock or anxiety when they are immersed in another way of life.

When You Get There

When you arrive

Congratulations! The most hectic part of traveling with kids is now behind you. You’ve made it to your destination and the fun can begin.

Here are some pointers for a hassle-free holiday:

1.  Climate

Kids may struggle to adapt to new weather conditions—especially if they are significantly different than the temperatures they are used to at home. When traveling to a tropical climate, be sure to bring sunscreen, bug spray, sun hats that protect the face, and a small cooler bag for keeping beverages cold while you hit the beach.

In colder destinations, it’s never a bad idea to bring long johns that can be worn under regular outfits for added warmth. Also, make sure everyone has mittens, scarves, hats, and waterproof footwear (there’s nothing worse than cold, damp feet).

2.  Transportation

Getting from one place to another while on vacation requires patience, concentration, and the ability to muti-task. If you have multiple children, are pressed for time, and have the available budget, it may be worth your while to pay for taxi cabs, Ubers, or even rent a car. If you’d prefer to keep costs low, however, public transportation is the best option. Subways, busses, and carpooling are far less expensive, but you’ll want to book in advance and do your research ahead of time to ensure you know your route well and to avoid any setbacks.

3.  Safety and Security

This is arguably the most crucial aspect of international travel with kids. As much as we would prefer not to think about it, there are criminals and troublemakers in every country. Thus, it is imperative to always be aware of your surroundings and stay prepared at all times. Seat your child in the middle or inside seat when riding the bus, consider a leash and harness for toddlers who tend to wander, and always pack a recent, high-quality photo of your child (to provide to authorities if your little one goes missing).

4.  Food

It’s important to remember that available goods and ingredients vary greatly from country to country. Thus, if you’re planning on engaging in international travel with children, you’ll need to explain to your little ones that they may not be able to enjoy all of the comfort foods they are familiar with. Fortunately, many international restaurants do offer American-style menu options, and some of the more popular fast food franchises (McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, etc.) have locations around the globe.

5.  Keep Kids Engaged

Sometimes, our littles just aren’t fascinated by historical museums or prestigious art galleries the way we are. This is where parents must put in the extra effort to maintain interest. Like we advised for flying with older children, giving your kids a task or extra responsibility can help them feel a sense of pride and ownership in the trip, which means they’re more likely to care and be engaged, wherever you may be.

Another fun way to keep your children engaged is to create your own version of a scavenger hunt, or arrange your own creative, interactive game. Provide your child with a list of sights they must snap a photo of (they’ll love having their own disposable camera) and let them know there will be a prize if they find them all. It’s fun for the whole family!

6.  Know That Not Everything Will Go According to Plan

Traveling with kids can sometimes be an exercise in futility—something almost always doesn’t go according to plan. From lost bus tickets, to toys left behind at the airport and unwelcome stomach bugs, the only way to maintain composure is to adapt. Always pack a first aid kit in your checked bag for bumps, scrapes, skin rashes, and other mild symptoms, research local medical facilities and healthcare policies before you go, and keep all travel documents in an anti-theft pouch on your person. Additionally, keep a small amount of cash separate from your wallet or purse, just in case, and provide someone you trust with your itinerary, planned schedule, and all information regarding where you’ll be staying before you go, along with instructions for what to do in the event something goes wrong. That way, no matter what bumps and snags you encounter, you can take it on knowing you did your due diligence and you’re prepared.