Kids change everything. Even just going to the store requires more planning, with nap schedules and snack preferences to consider. So you can imagine how that translates to travel, whether it’s a short weekend away, a road trip, or a glamping getaway. As someone with a vested interest in this topic, I used this opportunity to tap industry experts and fellow mom travelers (and pull together the lessons learned on my dozens of trips with a little one) to create a list of the top family travel tips. These clever tips and tricks for every stage and age will have you prepared for anything that comes up when traveling with kids and prove once and for all that it’s possible to take a relaxing family vacation.
1. Get kids involved in the planning process.
I’m not suggesting that you give your kids a globe and ask them to point to your next vacation destination (although, that sounds pretty cool to me), but rather get them involved before jetting off. That might look like creating family flashcards with fun facts about the places you’ll be traveling to or cooking a recipe from that place together.
2. Leverage travel as an opportunity for education.
Journeying to new places opens our minds — and the minds of our little ones. The educational travel trend has skyrocketed in popularity with hotels, resorts, and tour companies realizing the value in presenting experiences that teach visitors something new. “Allowing children to let their interests guide activities and excursions improves their engagement and energy level while increasing the educational component,” explains Tom Marchant, founder of Black Tomato.
3. Consider using a travel company.
It takes a lot to organize a trip — and that workload grows exponentially when kiddos are involved. While some parents excel at arranging every last detail, it’s a source of stress for others. Using a travel company can help alleviate the burden of coordinating everything, freeing up time for the myriad of other things families need to do leading up to a trip.
4. Encourage little travelers to pack a bag.
This obviously doesn’t apply to babies, but it will bolster excitement for everyone from toddlers to teens to pack a bag with stuff they want — even if it’s just a tiny backpack with a few toys and a coloring book for youngsters.
5. Get yourself a great travel stroller.
You will absolutely not regret buying a compact travel stroller like the Bombi Bēbee Lightweight Stroller that’s lightweight, breaks down with the push of a button, maneuvers easily, and does triple duty as a mode of transport, snack station, and place to nap on vacation.
6. Take advantage of kids under two flying free in the U.S.
Infants and tots under two years of age can fly on the lap of an adult for free within the United States — a huge cost savings and a cozy way to introduce little ones to flying. (Keep in mind that while international flights allow lap infants, it typically comes at a small cost.)
7. Book bulkhead seats.
Bulkhead seats are great for families with lap infants since many airlines actually provide an in-flight bassinet for babies. Even as kids get older, just having the extra space to spread out and access bags and not having to worry about little legs kicking other passengers are reasons enough to reserve these seats. Quicker deplaning is a bonus.
8. Make use of priority boarding with little ones.
Most airlines allow parents traveling with young children to pre-board the aircraft (typically after first-class passengers and elite frequent fliers). This allows families time to get settled before the busy and sometimes chaotic general boarding.
9. Gate-check car seats and strollers for free.
Rather than checking your stroller (or car seat, if you choose to travel with one) at the baggage drop off, hold onto it to wheel tired little ones around the airport. Then simply gate-check it for free before boarding the plane. You can pick it up before leaving the plane area when you land.
10. Carriers come in really handy.
While a stroller certainly has a ton of selling points, sometimes a carrier reigns supreme — especially for really little bubs. It’s nice for infants and babies to feel close to trusted caregivers in busy, crowded settings like airports and train stations. It also gives parents two hands free to carry bags, pull out passports, show boarding passes, etc.
11. Pack snacks, snacks, and more snacks.
Think you have enough snacks to feed a football team? Then you’re probably good for one kiddo on a short plane or car ride. Jokes aside, hunger can lead to crankiness (in all ages), so you definitely want to avoid that. Because little palettes can be finicky with food on any given day, it certainly never hurts to bring extra options — especially for opinionated toddlers. (Peter Rabbit Organics pouches, Serenity Kids grain-free puffs, and Cerebelly granola bars are our current two-year-old-approved favorites.)
12. Always carry reusable water bottles.
This is a tip for every traveler, but it’s particularly important for little ones who may need special kid-friendly bottles and can’t just grab something out of a cooler case. It’s better for the environment (and for hydrating the whole family) when you bring a reusable bottle that you can refill at clean water stations as you travel.
13. Prepare a first-aid kit.
That old expression, “prepare for the worst, hope for the best” definitely applies to family travel. Of course, we all hope everyone will stay healthy and uninjured the entire time, and that’s likely to be the case. But should something happen, you want to be prepared. That means putting together a first-aid kit with age-appropriate medicine, electrolyte packets, syringes, and a thermometer as well as bandages, gauze pads, and antibacterial ointment.
14. Ring Pops are the best plane treat.
On the theme of plane snacks, Ring Pops actually make the best sweet treat — and here’s why: Sucking on them is good to help alleviate ear pressure during take-off and landing, and they take a while to finish, so it will keep kiddos busy and stationary for a little while. (Credit for this tip goes to my friend who is an amazing, ingenious mom of five boys.)
15. Screen time doesn’t count on airplanes.
Yes, there are going to be some people who disagree with this point. But for the vast majority of parents, giving the kids an iPad or letting them pop on a movie is a small price to pay for peace and quiet — for themselves and other passengers.
16. Grab some sticker books.
Reusable sticker books such as the Melissa & Doug Reusable Sticker Pad are great because kids can use them on paper and also put the stickers on plane, car, and train windows.
17. Get creative with entertainment.
Kids need a lot to keep them occupied on long-haul (and, who are we kidding, even short) flights, trains, and car rides. Besides stickers and screens, create an entire entertainment arsenal with age-appropriate activities — whether that’s busy boards or doodle kits.
18. Download music, podcasts, audiobooks, and shows before you go.
This may seem obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I show up to a flight only to discover I forgot to download a podcast. The simple act of downloading playlists of music, podcasts, or audiobooks before your flight means you’ll always have that entertainment available regardless of whether your devices are offline.
19. Always bring a change of clothes.
It doesn’t matter the age of the kid (well, maybe teens should do this for themselves) but it’s always smart to bring along a change of clothes for each child in case someone spills, gets sick, has a blowout, or just feels “icky.”
20. Create a calm sleep environment.
We’ve all heard stories about parents putting pack-and-plays in hotel room walk-in closets or bathrooms to create a dark, quiet place for little ones to snooze. But that’s not always feasible depending on the setup of your accommodation. Buying a SlumberPod — which, as the name would suggest, is a sort of tent-like dome that goes over a crib to blackout all the light — and a portable shusher allows you to turn any corner into a cozy, tranquil sleep space.
21. Rent big baby gear at your destination.
Rather than traveling or even shipping big, bulky stuff like high chairs, car seats, and cribs, just rent it through a company like BabyQuip, which is available in most major U.S. cities. You can even pre-order diapers and wipes and have everything delivered to your hotel or vacation rental ahead of time.
22. Use packing cubes wisely.
Another great idea from my mom friend of multiples is to use a different color set of travel cubes for each kid, so there’s no confusion and everyone has easy access to their clothes.
23. Take a road trip.
Having more family members means having to book more plane tickets, and that adds up fast. A road trip is a great alternative that allows you to explore destinations with more flexibility, which works really well for families. There’s something to be said about driving by versus flying over a place. See something interesting? Just pull over and check it out. Plus, a lot of kiddos nap better in the car, so that opens up the possibility of a few hours without Cocomelon playing on repeat.
24. Give glamping a go.
Struggling to get the kids off their screens? Re-introduce them to the great outdoors with a nature-filled holiday that includes hiking, stargazing, s’mores, and snoozing in a glamping tent with the whole family.
25. All-inclusive resorts are awesome.
Many parents love the ease of an all-inclusive, where they can slap on a wristband and have everything from food and drinks to activities covered from check in to check out. Beaches and Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts, for example, have created an entire business out of catering to families.
26. You don’t have to give up luxury.
Many parents assume that their days of five-star luxury are behind them, but that’s not true. Tons of super high-end hospitality brands such as The Peninsula, Rosewood, and Four Seasons actually roll out the red carpet for kids with dedicated programming, special food menus, and fun in-room amenities.
27. Choose your room wisely.
If you’re traveling with a kid who needs to nap, aim for accommodations with outdoor space if possible. “Since you’ll be so tethered to the room for at least a couple of hours, it’s great to be able to escape to a terrace or patio for some fresh air,” says travel writer and new mom Katy Spratte Joyce.
28. Bring a Haaka if you’re breastfeeding.
If you’re breastfeeding or pumping, bring along a Haaka or hand pump as a backup. “I’ve heard horror stories about electronic pumps dying or malfunctioning and chargers being left at home, so it’s always good to have a plan B in that situation,” notes Joyce.
29. Travel slower.
Traveling will likely look a lot different than it did before kids. And that’s okay! The beauty of a family vacation is getting to explore somewhere together at whatever pace feels right. It’s about the experience. That might mean doing one planned activity and leaving the rest of the day for free-range wandering.
30. Go with the flow.
While research shows that children thrive on a routine, there’s also something to be said about spontaneity and adventure. Years from now, your kids won’t remember skipping that afternoon nap, but they will remember how vacations were always really special family time — and that will become a core memory.