People act like traveling with kids is impossible.
The amount of “guess you’ll have to cool it now” and variations thereof that I heard while pregnant were endless.
People also seemed to take pleasure in saying it even (and let’s be honest, misery does love company).
And if by cooling it they mean travel less…
I love to travel and I want to keep doing it, even with kids.
We shouldn’t have to let go of things we love just because we have children, especially the things that are good for our mental health, the things that make us happy.
Travel is also something I want to share with my children.
I want them to grow up to be curious, respectful, and informed adults.
Nothing can beat exposing them to new people, places, and cultures.
That’s a lot of why, and it sounds very romantic, but how do I travel with kids so often without hating life, myself, and my children by the end of it?
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How to Travel with Kids: Figuring it out as I go
Disclaimer, I’m no expert.
I don’t know a lot about kids despite having two of them.
I wasn’t too into kids before having my own and I doubt I’ll be too into kids after they’re grown.
That said, I love them so much (it’s true what they say about it being different with your own).
It has been a gift to see the world through their eyes as we travel.
Here’s a few things I do to travel beyond all inclusive resorts (not that I’d hate a good cocktail by the pool these days…).
Say Goodbye to “Vacations”
This isn’t relaxing travel.
If you want to relax, sweet talk the grandparents into going with you to an all-inclusive resort.
We always come back from our trips more exhausted than we started.
Yet I keep booking these trips.
You have to love it.
Travel is something I want to instill in my children. I want to expose them to everything possible and have them grow up to be curious, open, and patient adults.
So I push through and I love it (mostly).
But damn if I’m not tired.
Know Your Limits
That said, I’m in no mood to travel on across multiple time zones and encounter MAJOR culture shock and all of that.
While I’d LOVE to see Thailand or Tanzania, I’m too tired right now.
I’ll stick to the Americas for now. It’s what I can handle.
Don’t feel like you have to push yourself beyond what you really feel up to.
Maybe you just want to road trip near home, that’s fine!
Maybe you DO want to backpack Asia with your newborn, that’s also fine!
Respect Their Sleep Needs
There is nothing more important to a baby and small child than their sleep.
You need to prioritize their sleep even (especially) when traveling, despite them rudely depriving us of our precious sleep for years.
Even if you don’t travel much, it’s good to get your little one used to sleeping in a variety of situations beyond the crib before you ever leave home.
Car naps make road trips possible, baby wearing is a hiker’s best friend, and stroller naps are worth their weight in gold.
Sleep Travel Tips:
- Make it familiar and exciting | The second you arrive at your hotel/house, immediately and excitedly show your baby/toddler their new sleep space. Put them in the new crib with a squeal of “you’re SO lucky you get to sleep here tonight!!” and let them get familiar with it WAY before bed time.
- Bring comforts from home | Bring their loveys and stuffed animals (if they have huge ones it’s in your interest to buy them tiny alternatives to attach to that travel easier, we have a BIG osito and a TINY osito, for example).
- Re-create the bedtime routine | Do not skimp here. We bring three books that my toddler chooses when packing (it also gets him involved in the packing process). We don’t bring bath toys but let him play with shampoo bottles, kitchen utensils, whatever works.
- White Noise | I went FULL ON with the black out curtains and white noise with my first baby and now there’s no going back. This is helpful in that I can turn that white noise on anywhere from Patagonia to Texas and it sounds like home and they feel safe. The black out is more complicated but we make it work.
- Time your day around their naps | If you have a long drive, leave at nap time. Pit stop at playgrounds to wear them out.
- The same goes for hiking, timing the bulk of your hike for their nap will make your time more enjoyable. Haul ass while they sleep to cover as much ground as possible, enjoy the views when they’re awake and you have to slow down and let them out.
- Stay in | We put our kids to sleep at 7 (baby) and 8ish (toddler) so late Argentine dinners are out of the question. Instead of a stressful night out with crying kids, we just put them down and order in. We’ll enjoy nights out again in a few years, it is what it is.
As my toddler aged out of the crib and is now in a bed, this is slightly easier (no more crib!) but also hard (he’s scared he’ll fall out).
At home we use a pool noodle under his fitted sheet to signal to his body that he’s nearing the danger zone.
If you do that you can easily travel with it, or do as we do, shove a couple chairs against the bed. It does the job.
A friend of mine pulls the mattress onto the floor and let’s her kids sleep there next to their bed. Our toddler didn’t take to that. He wants to be at our level so we’ll just barricade him in until he ages out of the wild flailing sleep habits.
Don’t Overpack but Pack Smartly
Take a hard look at the forecast and pack smartly, something I rarely do.
My poor kid has frozen in Ushuaia and boiled in a heatwave in El Bolson.
We always have to shop for the clothes we forget.
Don’t be like me.
Bring a few extra shirts/onesies but don’t forget you can simply wash what you need. I often wash a couple items while I shower if we’re in a pinch.
It doesn’t come out sparkling but it does the job.
I try to be judicious when buying baby gear, only buying what I REALLY need.
That said, I always invest in good travel baby gear. It really pays off and makes your life easier.
Here are some things I bring and recommend:
- A good travel stroller | These days they compact into such tiny packages you can put them in the overhead bins. This one is actually our daily stroller (and is severely beat up because of it) and has held up beautifully.
- Ergobaby Carrier | This carrier is very comfortable for both baby and your back. We have worn ours into the ground with both kids and it’s still going strong. Not every city is stroller friendly and forget about it in the mountains or beach, you need a carrier.
- Travel white noise | This tiny white noise machine takes up no suitcase space.
- Travel crib | I bought a used one for road trips but whenever possible I just use whatever the hotel provides
- Packing cubes | I organize all the tiny clothes into cubes by category (day clothes for toddler, for baby, one for socks/underwear, one for bedtime).
- Hiking carrier | If you want to hike, I recommend a structured carrier for your toddler when they age out of the soft carrier. It’s a game changer.
TIP | Airlines are generally very forgiving when it comes to checking baby gear, it’s nearly always free if you want to check a car seat or travel crib. You can gate check strollers. (Call and confirm your specific airlines rules).
ANOTHER TIP | When I travel to/from the US with a car seat I use this car seat bag and take advantage to stuff it full of diapers or baby outerwear.
Bring a First Aid Kit
Kids always get sick and always at inconvenient times.
Never leave home without the essentials.
I keep the following in a separate pouch:
- Fever reducer of choice (Termofren or Ibuprofen for us here, Baby Tylenol back in the US)
- Band aids
- Antibiotic ointment
- Nail clippers
Incorporate Safety Foods into a Daily Diet
In the age of the internet we’re all inundated with too much information, like how to feed our kids.
I definitely went down the road of ONLY homemade snacks filled with super foods but quickly learned how important things like chicken nuggets are to our sanity.
You really want your kid to love foods that you can find anywhere in the world.
Incorporate those into the rotation early because even though you may think it’s obvious that they’ll love it the first time they try it, it’s not.
My kid is just now learning to like mac and cheese and he still hates mashed potatoes.
My toddler not eating is a major stress trigger for me so now that we have very generic foods worked into our regular dinner/lunch rotation he eats WAY better when we travel.
These foods (for us) are: chicken nuggets, fries, spaghetti, pizza, milanesa, steamed veggies, and ravioli.
I recommend always mixing it up. Don’t always buy the same brand of nugget. Make tomato sauce with ground meat, without it, with veggies, without…
It will always be slightly different when you travel so them expecting variations is key.
Now my kid loves lentils AND nuggets and never (rarely) goes hungry.
From trial and error and mistakes being made, I recommend bringing a FEW things with you to make eating easier:
- Kid water bottle | We never leave with the toddler’s bottle. He HAS to have it.
- Spill free plastic cup | After too many hotels offering “easy plastic cups” for him and them being huge, breakable cups that he then spills everywhere, I will now ever not bring our own.
- Spoons for baby | My youngest will not allow us to feed her, she HAS to hold her spoon and metal ones get flung everywhere. She has a better time with the silicone baby ones.
- That’s it for me, you can also bring the full baby plate set if you want. We just let her eat off the high chair tray or table and clean up after.
Bring all the snacks & ketchup packets
This is no secret but pack all the snacks.
I bring his favorite crackers, chocolates, and a lunch I know he’ll eat, usually a veggie omelet.
If your kid is a ketchup fiend (they all are), squirl away packets every time you go to a fast food restaurant and bring them on trips!
It ensures he’ll eat said veggie omelet and not every restaurant has ketchup so I’m always grateful to have packets in my backpack.
You can plan way ahead and buy this bag of ketchup packets on Amazon but I find pocketing them every time I dine out is enough.
Lower your standards re: Screen Time
Like many first time parents, I was very high and mighty about how MY KID wouldn’t watch screens.
If that’s you, lower your standards when you travel.
Download episodes of their favorite shows on Netflix before you leave home in case you want a minute of peace on the plane.
No one is judging you but yourself.
Be Strategic with Flight Times
It’s time to let go of saving every single penny on flights and time to prioritize the times.
You’ll know your kids best and how they react to early mornings or staying up past their bed times, adjust accordingly.
For us, our kids are totally fine with a 3 am wake up for an early flight. They’ll pass out on the flight or the drive to/from the airport.
Staying up past their bed times for a late flight however is out of the question most of the time. Overnight flights are fine, for example, since they’ll just fall asleep eventually on the plane.
I like to book return flights at mid-afternoon (despite having to basically waste that day on holiday) because it makes the return seamless.
There’s enough time for them to make a joyful return to their toys, have a dinner at home and get back into their routines.
Of course, it’s not always possible! Sometimes there is only one flight at a day and at shit times. It is what it is. Kids are resilient. At most you’ll have a bad night’s sleep or an extra tantrum or two. Life will go on. Don’t get too stressed or hung up on things that you can’t control.
Prepare for Inopportune Tantrums
Your kid will throw tantrums and they will cry and scream.
It will ALWAYS be when you’re next to a large tour group or in a quiet museum.
They’re skilled that way.
Our kid will love an entire hike but the second we pass a group of sympathetic abuela-aged tourists, he’ll kick and scream in a way that you’d swear we tortured him the entire day.
So just get ready to leave your dignity at the door.
No one said this was easy.
Know That Everything is a Passing Season
You’ll notice quickly, if you haven’t already, that everything passes.
That annoying habit they have, the adorable hugs they give, sleepless nights…
It all comes and goes.
If you feel like travel is out of the question for you right now, don’t feel like you have to push yourself.
Wait it out, the storm will pass. You will feel in control again.
Finally, Don’t Wait
That said, don’t wait!
If you want to travel with babies and toddlers, DO IT.
Your kids form part of the fabric of society.
They deserve to be there just as much as every Karen that looks at you with judging eyes when your kid throws tantrums in museums or cafes.
They deserve to be on that plane just as much as the man in the fancy suit in first class who lets out an annoyed exhale when he sees you board.
You deserve to be there.
Your kids deserve to be there.
Get out there and explore!