With flight delays, cancellations, hotel mix-ups and road traffic fast becoming the norm, summer is among the busiest travel seasons for families. Be prepared for anything with this time-tested advice from parents who’ve been through it all while traveling with kids.
With a little organization, the right gear and a positive mindset, your summer family travel plans might lead to your best family vacation yet. Whether it’s your first time traveling with kids or your family is a group of road warriors, it never hurts to be prepared.
We spoke with parents to find out what they recommend to make for a more stress-free — and enjoyable — travel journey with kids in tow.
Ask any parent what their greatest wish is when traveling with kids and they’ll likely say, “When my baby snoozes as much as possible.” This is especially true during long-haul flights, but that’s not always easy when it’s hard for them to stretch out.
Sometimes referred to as inflatable footrests, air travel mattresses extend the length of an airline economy seat or sit on the ground between seats, creating the perfect spot for little ones to snooze. “When my daughter was a baby, an inflatable bed made for airplane seats made a huge difference, but keep in mind that most, but not all, airlines allow them,” says attorney Gina Polo, who recently returned from a 10-day trip to Spain with her toddler.
As the world’s only premium ride-on suitcase for kids, this is a no-brainer for keeping your little traveler happy on long travel days. Better yet, once on board your flight and at a cruising altitude, the suitcase can be brought in to act like an in-flight bed for your kid or as a leg rest. So not only can you store things in it, but it’ll make for a more comfortable in-flight experience too.
If your little one still rides in a stroller, experienced family travelers recommend a compact stroller that fits in the oversized bin.
“Any other type of stroller gets checked at the gate and once when we arrived late to our destination, we had to pick it up at baggage claim, which was a long walk,” Polo says. Alternatively, when gate-checking your stroller, you can run into issues such as it arriving back into your possession damaged or broken.
The best travel strollers are lightweight, more compact and often easier to close than your everyday stroller.
This travel stroller is a great option not just because it’s lightweight (15 pounds), but it also fits in most overhead bins. Are your hands constantly full when traveling? You’re in luck, as this stroller automatically folds with a one-handed push into an easy-to-carry, standing stroller.
At just more than 13 pounds, this stroller is compact and lightweight enough to take on most journeys. Plus, it can be stored in the overhead bin on most commercial planes. Parents love, too, that it folds and unfolds with one hand.
When you’re traveling by road — even if that means hopping in an Uber once you arrive at your destination — you’ll want to have a car seat with you.
“We have a travel car seat that only weighs 8 pounds and has backpack straps, so it’s easy to carry around,” says musician Richard Rey, a father of four. “Sometimes waiting for an Uber with a bulky car seat can be daunting.”
The best travel car seats are compact and lightweight enough to carry through the airport, and many are approved for use on planes by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). You’ll want to find the right option for your child’s age and needs.
A good travel seat goes a long way to making your travel experience less stressful. This option from Costco weighs less than 7 pounds and can be used rear- and forward-facing. It features a five-point harness that can be adjusted to best fit on your child. If you’re flying, this car seat also is certified for use on airplanes.
Versatility comes to mind with this travel car seat that does it all. In fact, it’s a 2-in-1 car seat and stroller combo for infants that’s also FAA approved. It can be converted between a stroller and a car seat with the click of a button, and it only weighs 17 pounds.
Airport travel doesn’t have to be stressful when it comes to carrying all of your gear around. Kids as young as 3 years old can tote their backpacks, loveys and more.
“It makes them feel big and in charge, and it’s less work for you,” says family therapist and mom of two Tania Paredes. Just be sure to choose a kids travel backpack or piece of luggage that’s made for their size so it’s easy for them to carry. Look for lightweight but sturdy designs made of durable fabrics.
What’s more fun than a themed children’s travel suitcase? The Skip Hop kids luggage with wheels comes in several different animal designs and can be used as a backpack or rolled like a suitcase. It features a 13-inch handle for easy carrying as well as a mesh bottle pocket and a front zip pocket for easy access.
At just more than 4 pounds when empty, this lightweight bag is a great option for traveling kids. With a slew of Disney-themed options available, your Disney-obsessed kiddo will love to show off their favorite characters. It’s not only easy to carry and features a push-button handle and zipper pulls, but it offers great value for money.
Traveling with a favorite toy to keep kids entertained and comfortable is great, but their familiarity with it means they may become bored long before you make it to your destination. Instead, bring a game or toy they’ve never used before, which might hold their attention longer.
The best travel games are easy to transport — and clean up. If your kid’s favorite in-flight activity is to make a mess, be sure to clean it up before you depart the aircraft.
Travel games help to pass the time — for you and your little one — on longer flights. This activity book packs multiple games and puzzles into one softcover workbook that fits in just about any carry-on or travel backpack.
These markers are perfect for little travelers. Because they’re a no-roll triangle shape, that means you won’t be picking markers off the floor of the plane for hours during your journey. If your little one prefers crayons, triangular-shaped crayons are also an option ahead of your next trip.
Packing cubes are great tools for travelers of all kinds — and that means for family travel too. They help save space in your luggage and keep items separated, making it easier to track them.
Buy a set of six cubes (or more!) and fill them with your child’s outfits for each day. Doing the hard work of outfit planning at home means you’ll save time getting them dressed on vacation. You can also use the packing cubes to keep items like socks and underwear together so they don’t get lost in a larger suitcase.
This set of five packing cubes is perfect for joint use for you and your little traveler. The set includes a water-resistent envelope, which is perfect not only for clean clothes but also for still-damp summer swimsuits for the journey home.
Sometimes bigger is better — and in this case, we mean more packing cubes. This set of eight packing cubes offers enough space to store everything your little one might need on vacation. The set is available in 13 colors and you’ll get the following: a drawstring bag, a cosmetic bag, a shoe bag, a sock bag and an underwear bag as well as one small, medium and large standard packing cube.
Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path just because you have kids, says James McAnally, general manager at Beaches Turks & Caicos and father of twin 13-year-old girls. “Trying something new together and discovering the world through your kids’ eyes always makes for the best memories,” McAnally says.
He recalls a favorite family vacation spent rafting with his girls when they were much younger. “The thrill on their faces was priceless.”
One of the best ways to ensure your kids are prepared for any activity this summer is to pack a quick-dry, sun-resistant shirt that will keep them cool and comfortable no matter what they’re doing. Whether they’re hiking trails alongside you or floating down a river, the Patagonia Capilene Silkweight Hoodie is the perfect travel companion.
What better way to remember all of your family’s memories from a trip than with a travel journal? If your kids are old enough, invite them to write in the family journal or buy their own. If nothing else, to be able to document the best vacation memories to recall years down the line is what it’s all about.
If any one of your children is small enough to fit in a carrier, it’s worth traveling with a lightweight carrier that folds down easily. “It keeps your hands free, and for many babies, it gives them a feeling of calmness in the middle of chaos,” says Sandra McLemore, travel industry expert and in-flight TV host.
The Ergobaby Omni 360 carrier can be worn four different ways for ultimate comfort at every stage of your travel journey. Whether you’re transiting through airport terminals or through a new city, there’s an option for you — and your baby. Plus, we love that it comes with a UPF 50+ baby hood for extra sun protection.
This carrier can fit children ranging in age from newborn to toddler. We love that it has six different carrying styles as well as a zipper front, revealing a breathable mesh at the front to allow for better temperature control. Weighing just 2.53 pounds, it’s lightweight enough to pack away when not in use.
Having the right headphones is extremely important for younger travelers on longer journeys. This is especially true if you’re traveling by plane, says Keri Baugh of the travel blog Bon Voyage With Kids. “We bring two — one pair that is wireless for the iPad and one set with a cord to plug into the TV if there is one on the plane,” says the mom of three.
Not only is this set of headphones wireless to avoid any tangling, but it also features SharePort technology. In other words, if you’ve got two kids or if you want to watch something with your kid, you can connect multiple headphones to one device without needing a splitter. The set is available in 10 colorways to best suit your little one’s style, and at just $50, it won’t break the bank.
If your child only has a set of wireless headphones, the AirFly is a useful tool to carry along. The Bluetooth transmitter plugs into the in-flight entertainment system and pairs with your favorite set of headphones or earbuds so you can stream entertainment without any cords.
The top tip we heard over and over from parents is to never underestimate the number of travel snacks you’ll want to always have handy. Hunger can ruin a whole day, not just a mood, so keeping hunger at bay is key.
Stasher bags are some of our favorite sustainable products out there — and better yet when you can use them for travel. Pack them up with pretzels and other favorite snacks for easy access. This set comes in a pack of three, the smallest of which is the perfect size for small hands. Read our full review of Stasher bags here.
Trail mix is a timeless classic travel snack for good reason. It’s nutritious, easy to take on the go and simply tastes good. This 48-ounce bag might be too big to take on a plane itself, but pack some of the mix away in Stasher bags and you’re all set.
You know the adage “Safety first,” but there’s a difference between having a couple of basic Band-Aids and having ointment for scrapes when your child is having a meltdown.
Look for compact kits that include everyday children’s medicine as well as some lesser-thought items. If one of your offspring needs pain relief from pesky bug bites, for example, consider itch ointment. After all, who wants to search for a pharmacy in an unfamiliar place at night?
This handy first aid kit literally fits in the palm of your hand. It comes with 110 items, including an emergency blanket, safety pins, tweezers and more, in a tidy compartment that’s easy to pack.
We love the Bug Bite Thing for travel. While we found it to be most effective when used right after being bitten, it was useful to have on hand to prevent hours of itchiness. You can read our full review of the Bug Bite Thing here.
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