One if by land, two if by sea. That’s about the number of cocktails you’ll require when you travel with kids. (And, that’s PER kid.) That’s why you need a vacation strategy this year, Mama. Whether you’re planning a multi-city globe-trotting tour, a road trip across a couple of states, or boarding a a plane with your tribe, here are some kid travel tips and products to keep them engaged and your sanity intact.
1. Set Expectations
We all know new environments and schedules can throw kids for a loop, so give them plenty of time and info to get ready. Get them excited about your vacation destination through picture books or online videos. If this is their first time on a plane, talk through the process of security lines, boarding, and taking off, so they’ll know what to expect.
2. Give Yourself Extra Time
Last-minute rushing to catch a train or flight is stressful. Dragging kicking and screaming kids along is soul-crushing. Leave extra time to get to the airport or wake up a few minutes early to enjoy a leisurely breakfast if you have to get on the road by a certain time.
3. Don’t Overpack
Trust us, your kids will not need every stuffed animal they own on this trip. Bring the essentials like the kids travel bags, but embrace a “less is more” approach, because the last thing you want to do is throw your back out lugging around heavy suitcases of things you don’t need. Unless you’re traveling to the Australian Outback, you can probably pick up anything you forgot.
4. Bring Entertainment
A vacation requiring long stretches of car or plane time is the perfect excuse to temporarily throw your screen-time rules out the window. Preload tablets with new and favorite shows, movies, and educational apps. Just remember to do it before you leave your home Wi-Fi! And don’t forget those travel games for kids.
5. Surprise Them With Gifts
6. Snacks, Snacks, And More Snacks
Did we mention snacks? Behold the powerful distracting capabilities of Goldfish, Cheerios, or fruit snacks. Some carefully curated finger foods will cure their hangriness — and yours.
7. Stroll Lightly
Consider picking up a lightweight travel stroller before your trip. Your regular stroller might be too bulky and heavy to lug around during travel.
8. Plan Perfectly
Back in your backpacking days, you probably hit 10 landmarks before sunset, but good luck doing that with kids in tow. Keep expectations low and don’t over plan. Try to schedule activities in the morning when younger kids have the most energy and don’t schedule stuff back to back.
Create a travel strategy that keeps the energy levels high and the number of tantrums low. And don’t book a single ticket ’til you invest in these critical globe-trotting kid essentials.
Products That Will Make Traveling With Kids Easier
Screen time becomes pretty much unavoidable when traveling with kids. This Fire HD table was made especially with little ones in mind. It comes with one year of FreeTime Unlimited, which provides access to over 20,000 books, movies, TV shows, games, educational apps, and Audible books appropriate for kids ages 3-12. Parents can download some of the content so it can be viewable when Wi-Fi is unavailable, as well as create individual profiles for different kids. Parental controls let you limit screen time, set age filters on content, and set educational goals, and while kids are in FreeTime, they don’t have access to social media or the internet, and they can’t make any in-app surprise purchases without parental approval (phew!). The tablet also comes with a kid-proof protective case, because inevitably, they will drop that thing at least once a day. One reviewer calls it a win-win situation, saying, “Got this for my 3 year old daughter, she loves it. I love it because, I have my cell phone back.”
Avoid pissing off everyone around you by keeping your kids’ Baby Shark addiction under wraps. These Bluetooth wireless headphones are sized for kids ages four and up and have a soft mesh material on the ear pads and headband for comfort. They’re quieter than adult headphones to protect young ears and come with a microfiber travel bag to help with carrying and cleaning. There’s a 12-hour battery life and 180 hour standby, as well as a cable in case you forget to charge the headphones ahead of time. Your kiddos will love all the color options and your traveling companions will love not having to listen to Peppa Pig episodes on repeat.
One reviewer said, “Even though these cost a bit more then some cheaper $10 or $20 headphones, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth. Having a quality pair of bluetooth headphones (which can also be used as wired headphones) that are comfortable enough for your child to wear all day, as well as allowing your child to start to enjoy their favorite movies and music with more detail and clarity is a worthwhile investment. And these headphones were definitely designed with kids in mind. I highly recommend these for anyone looking for a great pair of bluetooth headphones for their child.”
Toddlers and snacks make a great (i.e., quiet) but messy combination. These spill-proof containers fit in most car and car seat holders and have soft plastic flaps that allow easy access for chubby toddler fingers. They’re BPA-free and safe to put in the top rack of the dishwasher. Fill ’em with cheerios, blueberries, wasabi peas…whatever gets them through the trip.
One reviewer said, “These things are a lifesaver for a toddler on the go. I throw a cheapo dollar store carabiner on them and its perfect. I use these every day at the store as a easy way to keep my kiddo happy. The carabiner makes sure that when he gets bored or tries to get my attention that it doesn’t get tossed overboard when I’m not looking (secured to seatbelt in shopping cart). Great size for most dry treats, keeps them off the floor and is a nice little diversion. The material is soft on the top so it won’t hurt little hands but provides plenty of positive containment for the goods inside. Cleaning is a snap, just a quick wipe down usually, but I’ve thrown them in the dishwasher too when more heavily soiled. Great buy, and huge mess saver.”
Packing for yourself is the easy part. Then you have to pack for your kids — clothes, snacks, whatever their at-the-moment favorite toy is, etc. Let your kids help carry the load with their own pint-sized backpack. The Vaschy backpack comes in lots of different colors and patterns, including this dino-mite print. It’s lightweight and made of water-resistant polyester and has a main compartment, an easy-to-access front pocket, and two side pockets to hold water bottles. The shoulder straps are padded and the zippers tags are easy for tiny hands to open and close. It can also double as a school backpack.
One reviewer said, “Adorable! It’s perfect size and so well made. While the design of this backpack is certainly eye-catching. Got this backpack for my daughter who is 3 years old. It seems to be of decent quality and size. There are two zipper compartments, one much larger main compartment fits her homework folder and lunch also some extra clothes and the other smaller on the front fits some toys. I like the water pockets on both sides for drinks. The zippers seem to be good quality meta and smooth. My daughter loved the print. I loved the size and that the fabric is fairly durable.”
Consider these your ripcord for when the sh*t hits the fan and you need something to placate your screaming child, stat. The YumEarth lollipops are organic, all natural, gluten-free, non-GMO, and have no artificial dyes or high fructose corn syrup — so they can’t be bad for you, right? The bag comes with eight different flavors that have fun names like googly grape, pomegranate pucker, razzmatazz berry, and mango tango. You may find yourself sneaking a lollipop or two when your kid isn’t looking. One satisfied reviewer said, “I only needed 28 of these for classroom goody bags (they are free of gluten, dairy and nuts), so I set the rest aside for the family to eat. After having one tonight, I must say that I am pleasantly surprised at how much flavor these little ’pops’ have. They don’t have that tacky, sticky, sugary feel a lot of suckers do have. I don’t normally purchase organic items, but with so many classroom allergies, I thought I would give these a try. I am not disappointed.”
Got some budding artists? The pictures in these pads magically color when painted with the refillable water pen, which also conveniently stores in the pad’s cover. The pack is great for 3-7 year olds and comes with three different themed coloring books: farm, safari, and under the sea. Not only is this an easy, mess-free way to color and keep them busy and creative, but it’s also reusable! Once the pad is dry, it’s like a BRAND NEW picture. (Hey, we won’t tell if you don’t.)
One reviewer calls them “good clean fun,” saying, “This is a great fun toy for kids that like to color on things – like coloring books, your walls, etc. But, saves you the hassle of having to stop them from coloring on things they shouldn’t with markers / crayons / etc. This makes a good travel toy, as it’s small enough to go in a diaper bag too.”
Sure, we’d all love our kids to conk out on cue and sleep soundly during overnight flights, but drugging them can be unpredictable and risky. Stick with melatonin instead, a natural way to regulate sleep cycles. It’s a safe, effective, and drug-free way to get your kids the rest they need without leaving them groggy afterward. It’s also helpful for jet lag! The Zarbee’s children’s melatonin comes in chewable grape-flavored tablets and are suitable for kids ages three and up. Sleeping kids = happy mom.
One parent said, “I was hesitant to start giving my 3-year old melatonin, even though I personally have had some great results with it. However, his nighttime shenanigans were getting out of hand. No matter how tired he was, he fought bed time hard. We have had a solid bedtime routine in place since he was an infant, but once he transitioned from crib to bed, he would keep coming out of his room and cry to come downstairs for a solid hour, with the cries often escalating to full blown screaming.
His pediatrician recommended this product in particular, as she uses it successfully with her own kids. We’ve been using it for a month now, and he literally asks to go to bed. Even if we skip a night, bedtime is much smoother as it’s re-set the routine. Bedtime is back to being a happy experience for all involved.”
If you have to pack a stroller, for your own sanity, make sure it’s a lightweight one. No one wants to be wrestling a squirming child and a bulky stroller at the same time. The Summer 3DLite stroller has an aluminum frame and is just 13 pounds, and it can hold a toddler that’s up to 50 pounds. It’s foldable and compact but still has a large seat area, four-position recline, and includes an extra-large storage basket and removable canopy.
One traveler and reviewer said, “We had a bigger, bulkier stroller before this one, and after using this stroller it has made our lives so much easier. First thing is its so much move maneuverable, we brought this to the museum which was packed and we were able to move it around with ease. Second the stroller is so much lighter than the previous stroller we were using. We use to hate bringing our son out to places because we would need to drag along his heavy stroller, but this stroller is so much lighter that we don’t mind bringing him out anymore. This stroller is easy to collapse and doesn’t required much trunk space, very travel friendly.”
Now, put these travel tips to use, Mama! Check out our fave fun destinations for families:
And for more great products to keep children entertained, check out our Kids Gear picks.