Traveling with young children: Dare to have fun

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Traveling with young children can be pretty darn fun. Don’t believe me? It’s true! 

By the time my son was 2 and a half, I stopped having pre-trip anxiety. By then, I knew that he was a great traveler, and he loved everything about it. The key was making sure that it was an adventure for him. Airplanes? Check. Great snacks? Check. A chance to run around and see new things? Check. 

Below find my recipe for a successful trip with a young child. 

Table of Contents

Hack #1 for traveling with small children: Bring snacks & drinks

Bring lots and lots of special, exciting snacks-- some healthy and some special treats.

A snacking baby is a happy baby. Bringing the right snacks on a trip can make a world of difference.

Throw in some new ones (or old favorites) that you know will be a hit. This can be as simple as getting something in a different format. For an example, I picked up Trader Joe’s fruit buttons– they’re 100% fruit (a win for me!) and interactive (a win for both of us!).

Fun travel snacks for babies. If your baby is eating solids, snacks can help keep them engaged and happy while you’re on the go. Organic teething wafers, cereal puffs, and Beechnut yogurt melts can be great options for snacking while you travel. Bringing your little’s favorite pouches can also make eating cleaner and more straightforward on the go.

Fun travel snacks for older children (you know, the ones with teeth). Freeze dried fruit is one of our favorites– though I suggest you throw these in some portable containers so they don’t get squished in transit. Sweet potato puffs, fruit yoyos, and organic crispy chews can be other great travel snack options. I also toss a few lollipops in our diaper bag for good measure. They are perfect when you need a fun, engaging activity with limited space. I’m always surprised how long a toddler can suck on a lollipop, and in a pinch, 25 minutes of a sitting activity is worth it. Other benefits- they can help pop their ears, and you can eat one yourself if there is a lot of turbulence and you get plane-sick.

Easy-to-use travel snack supplies can also make your life simpler. Just before I hand any snacks over to my son when we’re on the go, I throw them in a snack cup so we keep our mess to a minimum but he can manage his snacks himself. When we’re out and about, I like to bring a silicone snack mat that we can put over surfaces (hello, airplane seat tray and restaurant table).

Bringing empty, reusable water bottles can save you money and time. Most airports now have water bottle filling stations. So, if you bring empty water bottles (one for you and one for your kiddos), you can fill them up inside the airport, once you’re through security. That way, you avoid standing in line and paying an arm and a leg for water at the airport. I’ve had our Thermos Funtainer and Hydroflask for years, and have not had a problem with leaking.

Hack #2 for traveling with small children: Bring appropriate toys & activities

Let them pack their bag with toys and books they want to bring.

I found that my son also wanted to help pack his clothes, and insisted on bringing a pair of pajamas and socks in his personal suitcase (separate from the one we packed for him). “In case he ran out,” he explained to me. Next time, I’ll actually let him help pack his clothes, too. While he’s not quite old enough to pack all of his own clothing, he’s old enough that he likes to have a say in what he wears, especially on vacation. Plus, he loved pulling it himself around the airport.

Pack a few group of toys for different stages of your trip

Good for on the go. I like to bring a few portable toys when we set up camp somewhere– whether it’s at a relative’s house or hotel, it’s hard to know what entertainment may be available when you get there (if any at all). Busy Books come with figurines and a play mat that fit in the back of the book. Though, the little pieces will likely fall out in transit, so I recommend storing those separately until you get where you’re going. They have countless books available– Thomas the Train, Paw Patrol, Mickey or Minnie Mouse, Cars 3, Disney Princesses, Frozen 2, Eric Carle and more.

Puzzles are also totally portable and can entertain kids when you’ve got some downtime at an unfamiliar place. Larger floor puzzles can be great if you know you’ll have some space to spread out. These travel tin puzzles are perfect for restaurants and other places that you will be stationary for a while. They have both 24 and 50 piece options available.

Mom Hack

If your child is over 2 years old or so, let them pick some of the snacks and toys for the trip. While they may not be ready to pack the whole bag for a few more years, engaging them in the process can help make your trip go more smoothly. That way, if they decide they suddenly like sunflower seeds or their favorite toy is the stuffed dog that’s been living under the couch for three months– they’ll have it.

We went to Trader Joe’s “freeze dried fruit and nuts” isle a few days before one of our trips and I was surprised at what my son chose (pistachio nuts and sunflower seeds). He was tired of eating the same ‘ol snacks at home, and these snacks were new and exciting to him.

Hack #3 for traveling with small children: Pack the essentials

Bring (some) comforts of home with you

While you don't want to go packing everything and the kitchen sink, bringing a few of the comforts of home can go a long way.

Baby carrier. These make it possible to navigate airports without bulky strollers, and are very snuggly for nap time. There are great options for babies and toddlers! For a comprehensive guide to baby carriers, check out my article here.

Dish-washing supplies. This includes a mini-drying rack, dish soap in a TSA approved 3 oz container, and a silicone sponge. With these, you can wash and dry things like sippy cups and bibs in your hotel bathroom sink. And, since the silicone sponge can be sanitized in the dishwasher when you get home, you can use it over and over again.

Silicone bib. They can be quickly washed and dried, and help shield clothing from spills, so you won’t need to pack as many extra clothes. I fell in love with these during my baby led weaning days, and three years later we are still using them daily at home, too.

Wet/dry bags. Throw soiled clothing in these so you don’t have to worry about them being packed next to everything else in your diaper bag. Note that these really should be called “clean/dirty bags” instead of “wet/dry bags,” because they aren’t completely waterproof. If you put a sopping wet swimsuit in them, it will leak through. However, if you need to throw in a muddy pair of sneakers, it will keep the dirt inside the bag. Plus, these have two pockets, so you can keep clean clothes in one part and dirty ones in the other.

Extra diapers

If you’re flying (or driving more than 4 hours or so), bring an entire extra day of diapers for every three days of travel. We had twice the usual number of poops per day on our last trip, and then we had a 7 hour delay in our flight. Needless to say, I put on our very last diaper on the final plane ride and thought we were home free, but we had a leak. Luckily, I just asked another mom if she had a spare and she was kind enough to share with us. I was really grateful and it did the trick, but it was 3 sizes too small. I don’t want to be caught in that spot again. Now, we were in size 7 diapers, which are almost impossible to find in stores. I’d change the formula to just a few extra if you are in sizes 0-6 and can easily pick some up at the store.

Mom Hack

Throw some diapers, wipes, or apple sauce pouches in with your car seat bag when you check it. It’s free to check the car seat, and it’ll free up some space in your carry on.

Bring kid-sized (and volume controlled) headphones.

We are pretty stringent on screen time, but let it go for the trip. We still ate snacks and drinks and played and watched the airplane take off, etc, but then we pulled out the iPad. It’s a special treat, and in this case it was a great way to pass many hours of time where we needed to be pretty still and quiet. These headphones go on like a headband, and the speakers are inside. If you’re looking for a more traditional travel pair, these are an affordable, well-reviewed option. Luckily now, many airplanes have great options for kid-friendly shows in flight. Some of my favorite can be found here.

You got this!

Travel can be stressful- it’s often unpredictable and it’s difficult to stray from routine when you have young children. But, by framing travel as an exciting adventure, your whole family is more likely to enjoy your trip– yourself included! Try to relish the little special things that you can do on trips— Fill up your water bottle inside the airport! Ride the airport tram between terminals! Watch TV on the plane! When we had a 7 hour delay, my husband and I groaned but my son was thrilled– “let’s go get lunch and fill up our water bottles again!” he shouted in delight. His excitement was contagious and after jumping on board with his attitude, we all had a better time. We got to sit and watch the airplanes take off and the bags get loaded, etc, and we took an extra trip on the airport inter-terminal tram.

Kids are naturally predisposed to soak in every moment, and if we tap into this ourselves, then your trip truly can be about the journey and not the destination.

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