Tips for traveling with kids

We travel a lot! At 5 years old, Milana has been on over 100 flights.  She is so used to airplanes that a lot of her pretend games include air travel, airports and security.  It’s actually really funny to watch her make her ponies go through the security screening! That said, anyone with kids knows that traveling is a lot harder once little people are involved.  Thankfully, Milana loves hotels and can sleep anywhere, anytime so that makes things a lot easier! She’s also a foodie in every sense of the word, and will eat just about anything that’s placed in front of her. So that makes traveling a lot easier, when we don’t have to rely on restaurant having kid meals since she would’t eat those anyway.  Here are some tips for making travel as smooth as possible with your child.

First and foremost, my biggest tip is to apply for Global Entry for your entire family. Not only will you not wait in passport lines when you arrive back home (you walk right up to a kiosk and are done in mere minutes, not to mention not having to fill out those awful customs forms!), but you also go to an expedited security line when you first arrive at the airport, where you don’t have to remove shoes, toiletries, etc. The line is much shorter than the regular security line and pretty much everyone in that line is a seasoned traveler, so you won’t be dealing with confused first time fliers.  Seriously, don’t wait. Apply today!

The safest place for young kids is in their own seat, in a FAA approved car seat.  Here is an excellent article about flying safely with kids: Leaving on a Jet Plane  Milana always sits in her car seat, since there is no way she would sleep comfortably without it. Many of our flights are red eye, and she can sleep the entire flight in the comfort of her seat.  Also, our last several flights have had severe turbulence, which recently has made the news when babies were held in arms were thrown several seats in front of them due to unexpected, severe turbulence. Not worth the risk!  We have a Radian RXT in our cars at home, however it’s super heavy and not something we want to lug through the airport, so after much research  we decided to purchase the Safety 1st – Guide 65 Sport Convertible Car Seat, Lydia by Safety First
for air travel/rental car use.  You can buy this seat on Amazon in several colors.  The seat is light and very easy to install, making it a great seat for travel.  To lug it through the airport, we use the BRICA Cover Guard Car Seat Travel Bag.  I know a lot of people prefer those wheeled car seat holders, where the kid can sit in the seat while it’s being wheeled however we chose this because you can stick other things (blankets, toys, sweatshirts, whatever you want) into the enclosed bag without having to pay for oversized luggage.

If you have older kids (at least 4 years old, 40 lbs and 40 inches), then you don’t have to lug a giant car seat around. The MiFold is an excellent choice, and it takes up virtually no space in your backpack or luggage. mifold Grab-and-Go Car Booster Seat, Slate Grey

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We recently went on a 14 hour flight to SE Asia and 11 hour to London. Because we weren’t going to be using cars much while there, we didn’t lug her car seat.  On the plane, we used the 1st Class Kid travel pillow (she was still buckled in) and she slept 10 of the 14 hours to Thailand.  She slept most of the flight to London, but because it was a day flight coming home, she was awake for most of it but able to stretch her legs and completely comfortable. Don’t leave home without this!

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On to in-flight entertainment.  We always bring her own headphones, since the ones handed out on the plane aren’t very kid-friendly. She uses the Kidz Gear Wired Headphones For Kids – Purple headphones, which at the age of 4 fit her great. Unlike most kid headphones where the volume is really low, this comes with a small cable that you can use to control the volume or remove the extra piece and have it at a regular volume.  We also bring her iPad, loaded with movies (use the Vdownloader or similar app to load YouTube videos prior to your trip, since WiFi may not be available). However, it’s rare that she actually uses her iPad or watches any tv in flight so we always have a ton of backups, especially for those long flights!  Remember, if you use the “child” headphones, many have volume limits, which means your child won’t hear anything in a loud plane except the background noise.

Milana is hugely into art, so I always have a notebook and Crayola (52-4016), 16ct Triangular Crayons(won’t roll away!) in my backpack. Other things that have kept her occupied are the Melissa & Doug On the Go Water Wow! Water Reveal Pads, Set of 2: Vehicles and Animals (so many options to choose from!), Melissa & Doug Puffy Sticker Pads Set: Fairy, Dress-Up, and Mermaid – 216 Reusable Stickers(also many to choose from, and puffy stickers are easier for kids to peel off by themselves), Wikki Stix Fun Favors (Assorted pack of 50),  Educational Insights Playfoam Combo 20-Pack (come individually wrapped in tiny containers) and lately Play-Doh 10-Pack of Colors (Amazon Exclusive).  Target dollar bin is also a great spot to find seasonal arts and crafts. They always have those play packs with stickers, small coloring book and crayons and it’s so small, barely takes up any space.   On one of our last trips, I got a bunch of random stuff at the dollar store and put them inside of Easter eggs. She’s obsessed with opening up eggs so this kept her entertained for a while!  You can buy already filled eggs on Amazon: 36 Toy Filled Easter Eggs with Pair of Light up Ears . Eggs Measure 2.5 Inches Filled with Easter Stampers Dinosaur Eggs Tattoos Easter Stickers and More… Light up Easter Bunny Ears Are Added to Every Bag of Eggs (Bulk 36 Pack Great for School Easter Egg Hunt). And of course, snacks. Most domestic airlines don’t give out snacks anymore (unless it’s an international flight), so it’s important to pack your own. Pack them in individual zip loc bags so if your child spills one, it’s no big deal vs. spilling an entire box of something!

Being 30,000 feet up means your straw cup will leak like crazy due to the pressure, so leave them at home (or un-attach the straw for the duration of the flight) .  For planes, we always bring Milana’s PlanetBox BottleRocket, which keeps drinks cold for many hours and doesn’t leak since there is no straw.

To save room in your luggage, let your kids pack their own little suitcase.  It’s always funny to see what items Milana thinks are important enough to pack for a trip, things I would have never thought of!  Skip the cheap kids luggage you find at Walmart and Target and instead get a really well-made Heys Disney Minnie Mouse Kids Deluxe 18″ Luggage Carry on Approved kid-size suitcase.  They’re around $50 and really well made, will definitely last you several years! And with so many characters and designs to choose from, there is one for everyone. We used this suitcase from the time Milana was 1 until 5, and now have switched to a backpack (see below).

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Now that Milana is 5, we switched to an Osprey Youth Jet 12 Backpack, Real Teal, One Size.  She absolutely loves it and is forced to think about what to pack, because she knows she will be carrying it all. It’s a win for everyone!

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It’s rare that we travel with a stroller (I think we have brought one twice in all of our travels, when lots of walking was involved) but when we do bring one it’s the JOOVY New Groove Ultralight Umbrella Stroller, Turquoise.  It weighs just 13 lbs, and has a carrying strap so you can easily carry it around.  It also has a very deep recline, making it a great choice if you have napping kids.  And a huge upside-because it’s so well made, kids up to 55 lbs. can ride in it. You won’t find that in many umbrella strollers since most don’t go past the 30-35 lb. range. When she was younger, I would wear her in either a woven wrap or my wrap conversion toddler Bamberoo.  Definitely bring a quality carrier (not baby bjorn!) for travel (one without metal like the ring slings have) so that you can easily wear little ones through security.  Most major cities have baby wearing groups, find your local one and go to an event where you can find the perfect carrier for you and your child.

Make sure you have a change of clothes for each of you in your carry on.  The easiest way to pack these is in zip loc bags, that way you aren’t searching for things when you really need them.  And pack a few empty zip loc bags as well, because you never know when you’ll need one!  A great thing to pack is a few of these World Traveler shirts. They come in many colors, so you can have one to match each outfit.

Before you fly, research your airport.  Many airports now have kid play areas.  They aren’t well advertised and take some research on your part, but so worth seeking them out! Entertainment for kids that will hopefully tire them out enough to sleep on the plane. If there is no play area, let them walk around the terminal and explore. We found the most awesome one in August in Taipei on a layover from Thailand, it had a Hello Kitty play area and being a huge fan, Milana didn’t want to leave!

If your child suffers from ear pain while traveling, bring something to chew on. Many parents recommend Starburst, however we don’t give her those and found an alternative at Whole Foods.  TruJoy Sweets, Organic Original Fruit Chews, 2.3 oz(Pack of 1) are basically the organic version of Starburst, without the food coloring and awful ingredients found in mainstream candy.

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What you’ll discover when traveling with kids, most really love being in an airplane and will behave for the duration of the flight.  Some of the worst passengers on our flights have been adults, not kids.  Don’t worry too much about other passengers being inconvenienced by your kids, you likely will never see them again!

What have you found to be useful when traveling with young children? Share in the comments below!

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15 comments

  1. These are great tips! I’m happy my kids are big enough to take care of themselves for the most part ;). We used to have our boys sit backwards on the rolling luggage and pull them through the airport. Probably not as safe as a stroller, but one less thing to carry!

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  2. Wonderful tips! Play Doh got us through a lot of flights when our boys were young! It’s so important to be prepared at that age!

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  3. Awesome tips for anyone with kids! I definitely have been thinking about global entry and I probably should do it! I use to suffer from ear pain as a kid.. i remember always crying after I land. haha

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  4. I love you tips. We travel with our young son so are always looking to keep on top of safety and the best tips for traveling with him. We always take food with us too for his sore ears – great minds think alike!

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  5. Look at her, she’s a professional traveler already! I can’t think of a better gift to give your kids than traveling with them. My daughter is not so little anymore at 13, but I remember those days. i even miss them now that she is growing up. These are all great tips, thanks for sharing!

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  6. First things first: they look so happy and cute while traveling. It makes me very happy to read that even when you have kids, traveling doesnt have to stop. So far I dont have kids. The pillow looks like a very good investment for long flights.

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  7. We just used the 1st Class Kid travel pillow on our flights to/from Europe and it worked so well! Our 3yo has been on 24 flights so far and he enjoys the plane ride as much as the destination. We play “airplane” a lot at home, too!

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  8. Every time I read posts like this I am just blown away by parenting haha. You sound like you have these long haul flights down. You’ve thought of so many activities. I’ve honestly never seen a kid in a car seat on a plane and I bet there should be a lot more of them. Great tips!

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  9. I have been traveling on my own for my until adult life and know how challenging that can be. I can’t imagine doing it with young children. I admire you for being able to continue traveling (and traveling a lot) with them. I know that they already have memories that will last a lifetime and inspire them to love travel as much as we do.

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  10. Wow, that is an incredible number for a child of five and certainly, it’ll be something she’ll thank you for later (even if she can get a little cranky on those long-haul flights now!). But as a relatively new father myself, tips for how to travel with the little one is a great help. The first class kid travel pillow looks a great little device and really, I wish they came in adult sizes!

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  11. Reminding me of my 7yr old niece whose fav game is ‘tickle tickle’ and once she went to the immigration officer and tickled him! Lolz!!! Thanks for that link on the lighter, convertible car seat! I’m not a mommy yet but in a couple of years this post is gonna be my lifesaver!

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