There are so many details a person has to think about when it comes to traveling. Now add little kids to the picture and it can get much more complicated. By little kids, I mean those that are four or younger. The logistics can drive a person mad. With kids, you have to plan out everything from what will they be sleeping on to having enough entertainment. Little kids can have such weird preferences, like my son who only likes certain cups or his specific bedtime blanket. I make sure that these get the pack just to avoid unnecessary tantrums.
As parents, we work hard to establish a good routine with our kids. So it makes sense that we want to find a way to keep it going when we take them out of their comfort zone. I’m just saying that if I could find a way to pack a rocking chair, I would (both kids love to read some books with us in the rocking chair before bedtime).
Now before we go dive into planning and packing, let’s date a deep breath.
Find a way to take a step back before figuring out what you need to do. I tend to worry about everything. My husband says I have this ability to drive myself crazy and he is right. I get in my own head and freak out over small things. For example, I was worrying if we had a portable bed that Charlie would sleep in (because he’s two and has strong opinions on what he sleeps on) or would I need to go buy something else. I literally just went through this crazy line of thought while planning for our Thanksgiving 2019 trip. And I kept doing it with everything almost every day till we got on the plane. So don’t be like me, take that deep breath and remind yourself you are an awesome mom and that you got this.
First things first…let’s figure out what mode of transportation you should be considering.
This can be a really hard decision even though the choices available are limited. The typical choices to choose from are a car, plane, train or bus. Now right off the bat, the bus and train are not options for me based on the fact that I live in Las Vegas and most places are about a 3-4 hour distance by driving. So start to think like that when figuring out how you are going to get from point A to point B.
When it comes to traveling for me, my only options are car or plane. Now how to decide which is the best choice.
Begin by asking yourself some simple questions:
- How long will it take to travel to your destination? Compare the differences between a car and a plane. If it is more than four hours by car, you may want to consider flying because it will be a shorter amount of time that your kid is stuck in a seat. Think about your kid having to be strapped down in a car for that long without the ability to move. I mean, I get antsy just sitting in the car for more than an hour, so I can’t imagine how it would be for a two-year-old.
- Are you able to travel by night or will you be restricted to a specific time? If you can travel at night while the kids are asleep this could help with a long car ride or flight. If you have to travel when your kids are awake, then you should see if you can choose the shorter travel option.
- How much time do you have to travel? By this I mean will it take a full day? For example, I have a family that is about a 7-hour drive or a 1-hour flight. If we decide to drive, we have to add that time in. This could mean we have to take more time off of work or we spend less time with the family.
- Can you afford to fly? Now that Charlie is two, we have to pay for his seat. Bummer! As I’m sure all of you know this can be a large expense. One way to cut that expense for flying is to invest in a credit card that accumulates points. We use the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards credit card and love it. With the airline points, we are able to pay for all of us or even just one of us.
- How much do you need to pack? This can be a dangerous question as there tends to be a lot to think about when packing for your kids. Especially if they are under a year old. Calculate that into your travel needs, because it could be the difference between driving and another mode of transportation.
Most of these questions fall into two lines of thinking: how long will traveling take and how much can you afford to spend on it. Once you know the answer to these two questions you can figure out your travel mode of choice. I recommend driving for trips four hours or less and flying for longer trips.
Now let’s figure out what you need to pack?
This is different depending on how many kids you are packing for and what their ages are. If you have only one kid, this will be a smidge simpler. I have created two types of packing lists to help you awesome parents figure out what you may need to bring and what you can purchase at your travel destination. One list is for kids under 2 years old and the other is for kids 2-4 years old.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using this link.
Here are the basics though that you will definitely want to pack:
- Clothes (3 per day for kids under 2 and 2 per day for kids 2-4 years old)
- Season specific clothes (like a swimsuit for summer or jacket for winter)
- Portable bed if needed (like a pack-n-play or portable cot)
- Check out this awesome portable toddler bed! We recently used it on our 2019 Thanksgiving trip and my son Charlie just loved it! He slept like a log. Plus it comes with an attachable sleeping bag.
- Portable mattress for the pack-n-play (my kid slept so much better with the mattress)
- Portable high chair (for kids under 2)
- Umbrella or lightweight stroller (as much as I love my jogger stroller, this is definitely more convenient for traveling)
- Click the link for a great lightweight stroller option that has been tested by two years old and 8-month old!
- Favorite blanket (if they have one)
- Favorite stuffed animal (if they have one)
- Books for both travel entertainment and bedtime
- Bottles or sippy cups
- Baby food
- Age-appropriate snacks (like puffs for babies or crackers for toddlers)
- Bottle cleaning brush
- Either a backpack diaper bag or a regular backpack to be used as a diaper bag (this is one less thing you will have to carry in your arms)
- Enough diapers/pull-ups to get you through the time it takes to travel
If you would like to have a more detailed list for your upcoming trip, please grab my free printable PDF traveling with the kids packing list. This list has been tested on more than four of our family trips.
Finally, here are some tips for traveling with kids.
- If you are staying at a hotel, check to see if they will provide a crib. They are usually pack-n-plays.
- If traveling by car, do a trial run the day before to make sure everything will fit. This will relieve some stress for the day of travel and allows you time to figure something else out if you need to.
- Avoid toys or books that make noise when traveling with other people. This is just a general courtesy for your fellow travelers.
- Review airport policies with bringing formula, breast milk, and/or baby food.
- Review airport and airline policies for traveling with children.
- Bring an empty isolated water bottle that you can fill with hot water after you pass security at the airport. This will allow you to have to make a warm bottle of formula if you need to.
- Use baby food pouches when traveling instead of jars. They save space, are easier to pack and have a less likely chance of breaking.
- When driving with a child that is awake, plan on stopping about every 1.5-2 hours and give your kid at least 30 minutes to run around.
- Mentally prepare yourself for your kid to get upset with the restricted movement that goes hand in hand with traveling. They might cry for 1-2 hours straight and this will drive you mad (true story).
- Take advantage of the technological age we live in. Disney+, Hulu, and Netflix all offer you to download videos onto your phone/tablet. This is a great and easy way to distract your kid. I know it is the easy way out, but this could potentially save you from having to deal with a meltdown.
Remember you got this!
Packing for a trip can be nerve-wracking. Trying to figure out what you need to bring and making sure you don’t forget the important items can be overwhelming. Kids tend to have specific needs and are not always the most adaptable. Just remember to breathe and that in the end, everything will be okay. If you forget something, there is a good chance you will be able to purchase a replacement quickly. Instead, focus on all the awesome family memories you will be making.
Do you have any tips that have helped you when traveling with kids? I want to hear them. Write them in the comment section below.
Happy Days ~