All My Tips and Tricks for Traveling with Little Ones!
I will never call myself an expert at anything because I feel like I will forever be a student at life. However, I have had a lot of friends ask me for travel tips because my husband and I both started traveling internationally with our kids at 4 months old (Austin) and 3 months old (Siena), and had very successful and ENJOYABLE trips. Yes you heard that right- you CAN travel with children and actually have a great time! Between the two of them we have gone to 9 countries and several US states, and though I am no “expert”, I can say we are probably more experienced with traveling than the average parents. Keep reading for my curated list of tips and tricks to help make your travel experience with your family as smooth as possible. PS- I would love for you to tag me @theplantbasedmama_ on your next trip!
Everything leading up to the trip:
Explore travel insurance options- I only bought travel insurance once and that was when we went to Costa Rica because the country required it from tourists entering the country during the pandemic. Although it can be a little pricey and chances are high you will never need it, I must say that it did give me a little peace of mind considering Siena was only 3 months old and if god forbid something ever happened we were covered. Another perk of travel insurance is that most cover non-medical related incidences as well, such as lost luggage, canceled trips, stolen property, etc. Admittedly I did not get travel insurance again when we went to Europe a month later, but if you are the type of parent that would feel more secure traveling with it then I definitely suggest looking into it. (Bonus tip- Google “travel insurance” and get a few quotes before settling on one. We used a Costa Rican provider so I am not much help for other destinations, but here is an article comparing different insurance providers that you may find helpful: The 10 Best Travel Insurance Companies).
Buy diapers at your destination- bring enough to last a couple of days in your luggage and/or carry-on, and buy the rest at your destination. Diapers take up too much precious space in your luggage and chances are high that pretty much anywhere you travel to you will be able to find some at a store!
Definitely pack a little “medicine” bag- things I put in it include a thermometer, bandaids, diarrhea meds, children’s Tylenol, Neosporin, nasal saline spray and that squeezy booger thing for the baby.
Make a packing list before you pack- about a week before my trip I make a list of the “absolutely necessaries” and the “if there’s enough space left” items. I do this before I start the actual packing process so that I have a couple days to add to it incase I remember things I may have forgotten and then when I'm ready to pack I feel clear and organized about exactly what I need to bring. For example- the little sound machine that your baby cannot go to sleep without may be a definite on your list, but you may be able to skip bringing the travel bassinet by calling the hotel and asking if they provide bassinets instead. In all honesty, I have learned the less we need to bring, the better. In fact, we now travel with all carry-ons (see tip 7!)
Do bring a baby carrier- if you have a little one, don’t forget to bring your wearable baby carrier. It comes in super helpful when you are getting on/off the plane, and some places (like Costa Rica) don’t have the best roads and sidewalks for strollers, so its a great baby item to have on hand. We used our Ergo Baby a lot in Costa Rica because all of the roads were pretty much made of dirt and the sidewalks were often non-existant!
Get your toddler their own little luggage- once Austin started walking, keeping him with us at the airport became more of a challenge. Once I bought him his own little luggage, though, it was fun for him to pull it around and it definitely slowed him down so he couldn’t get away from us as fast! I have seen a lot of kids at the airport on these little suitcases that also act as a scooter which seems right up any toddler’s alley, so if that sounds like something your kid could get down with, check them out on Amazon here: Kiddietote Lightweight Carry-on Scooter Suitcase.
If you can, travel with only carry-ons- before you think I'm crazy, hear me out! Having just carry-ons means that you can de-plane and get the hell out of the airport faster and don’t have to worry about any of your things getting lost along the way. However, I know this is a tough thing to ask (ok, maybe a VERY tough thing to ask hehe), so if you must check your luggage, always always always make sure to pack a carry-on with spare clothes and essentials incase your things get lost (trust me, I learned this from experience!)
Check your stroller at the gate- do not check it with your luggage if you are checking any, it comes in SO handy at the airport. You can load up the bottom with shit you don’t want to carry and you can keep your kid(s) in it without having to carry them around. The airline attendants are extremely accommodating and will give you tags for the stroller before you get on the plane (99.9% of the time for free) and it will be waiting for you right when you exit the plane so you can load it right back up. I cannot recommend this enough!
2. Trust that people are willing to help you- this isn’t really a tip, but more something I have noticed. Airport employees are more likely than not very willing to help out families with younger children. I cannot tell you how many times we have been ushered to a special line in security or customs to help speed up the process as a traveling family. Even other travelers have been extremely helpful to us, like holding Austin's hand while we de-plane and have our hands full with luggage, or playing with him at the airport to keep him busy. A lot of people have children themselves so they feel for you/us! (Bonus tip- keep a distressed look on your face to make sure they really notice you and want to help you. LOL.)
3. Buy your toddler (or even older child!) luggage to sit on if you are traveling without a stroller- these little luggages are so great, especially if you don't have a stroller for your kid to sit in. The smaller luggage holds children ages 3-6, while the larger one can hold children 6-12 years of age (although I believe it is too big to be a carry-on). It is shaped a bit awkward, but fun for a lazy toddler to be pulled around on and/or to sit on while waiting to board the plane. Find on Amazon here: AO WEI LA OW Duffel Bag for Kids Ride-On Suitcase Carry-On Luggage.
4. Invest in a cheap travel stroller- when we only had Austin, we ditched traveling with our big Uppababy for a crappy travel stroller that we found on Amazon for a few reasons. Firstly, it was only one piece and therefore much easier/lighter to travel with. Secondly a lot of European streets are so tiny and it was better to have a smaller stroller to maneuver our way around. Lastly, when the airline employees check your stroller they are not particularly careful with it so your beloved stroller may take a beating (especially after several trips). However, once we started traveling with two kids we resorted back to the Uppababy and have not had any issues with it so far. When Siena’s a little older, though, I will definitely try and find a smaller travel stroller for both of them to sit in.
5. Be sure to take out baby wipes, snacks, and breast milk/formula from your bag at security. From personal experience, I have set off the alarms for all of those things, so make everyones lives easier by taking them out before being asked to. PS- YES you can bring breastmilk on the plane, and don’t be surprised when they take a little sample of it to test to make sure it’s not anything hazardous in disguise at the security line.
We love traveling with little babies because they aren’t on strict schedules, they sleep most of the time, and they fly for free (until 2 years old). With that being said, holding a baby for a long ass flight isn’t ideal, so here’s a few ways around it without having to purchase them their own seat:
Plan A- ask for a bassinet- if you have a baby and are traveling internationally, ask at the gate before you board if you can have a bassinet for the baby. Sometimes you can call ahead and ask and they will “make a note”, but it is never guaranteed until the day of because only certain seats on the plane can accommodate a bassinet and its a first-come first-serve type of thing. The bassinets are only for babies up to a certain amount of pounds (different airlines have different weight limits for the babies), so that’s something to look into before asking as well.
Plan B- ask for an extra seat- if your flight is not full and you have an empty seat next to you, ask if you can bring the baby’s carseat and put it there. (You can ask at the gate if the flight is full, and if not, if you have an empty seat near you or if you could be moved to another row with extra space. Again, the airline attendants are there to help you and make sure you have a smooth travel experience, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you need!) This was such a game changer during our last Euro trip because we didn’t have to hold Siena for the 9+ hour flight and she slept comfortably (and so did we!) **NOTE- I kind of pre-planned this situation because our row had 4 seats and I booked two on one end and the other end seat knowing that there was a very small chance that someone would put themselves in the middle of us on a non-full flight. Luckily my plan worked out perfectly because when I asked to bring the carseat on I already knew there was an empty seat for us to use.
Plan C- if a bassinet or carseat is not an option, my mom bought us this great little belt that I can strap Siena to me so she can sit up without me having to hold her. If your baby can hold his/her head up without assistance definitely check it out. Find it on Amazon here: Primo Lap Baby.
Other plane tips:
Breastfeed or bottle during take off- I find it helps to sooth them and keep them calm especially during the change of altitudes when their ears may pop.
Pack supplies to keep your toddler busy- for my Austin that means an Ipad (bonus tip- download shows/games beforehand incase your flight doesn’t have wifi or if the wifi is no bueno), snacks galore, coloring books and travel size packs of crayons, travel play dough (I throw it out after the trip is over so I don’t bring plane germs back to our house!), stickers or post-its are great for younger kids to stick all over the seats and plane window, Melissa and Doug Paint With Water book, any of their go-to books (Austin loves
these I Spy books, they are super thin so easy to shove in a full bag and they keep him busy for a bit. Find them here: I SPY Things that Go.) For babies or smaller kids, you can bring snacks, books, their favorite stuffed animal/blankie, and a couple hand-held toys for them to play with.
3. Invest in a Pico seat, it's the BEST- I cannot recommend this enough for a toddler! Toddlers with their own seat on a plane need a booster seat that is FAA approved and this seat is not only good for planes, but also works as a carseat, so it’s perfect for traveling. It’s a bit pricey, but totally worth it and it passes all safety testing according to U.S. standards regulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Find it here: Pico Travel Seat.
4. Bring Pull-ups for a non-potty trained toddler. I have learned that European bathrooms are extremely small, and therefore a pain in the ass to change a baby and/or toddler. More times than not I end up changing both my kids on the sidewalk and have found it easier to just have Austin step in and out of a pull-up (of course this is for pee situations only!) It's also great when you want to avoid lying them down on dirty airport bathroom changing tables!
5. Sanitizer wipes- no explanation other than let’s be real, airports and airplanes can be total germ fests!
6. Binky mask- if you are like me and have a toddler that loves his binky and hates wearing a mask, then sew his or her binky into a children’s mask! Worked like a charm.
7. Baby carrier to go on plane- this is a tip I already mentioned, but after you check your stroller at the gate you can put your baby in the carrier and have free hands for boarding the plane. Very helpful!
8. Book an overnight flight if possible. Your kids are more likely to be tired and fall asleep faster, especially because once you take off the plane is dark and fairly quiet (besides the humming noise from the plane which actually acts as a great sound machine for babies!)
9. If you can’t book an overnight flight, try and tire your kids out before your day flight. This one’s a little tricky because you can either end up with an over-tired grouch of a kid who will refuse to sleep on the plane, OR a tired little nugget who will pass out- so take this tip with a grain of salt. The night before our flight home from Amsterdam we stayed out until midnight walking up and down the canal-lined streets soaking in the last few hours of vacation. Siena (the baby) slept the whole time, but we let Austin our 3 year old night owl stay up. The next morning we had to get up at 5:30am to catch our flight so he was obviously pooped. Lucky for us, though, he sat in his stroller the entire time at the airport and then passed out the second we got on the plane. Tiring him out worked like a charm thankfully, but I know we were playing Russian Roulette at the same time, so like I said, take that tip lightly!
10. Remember, the flight crew wants to help you! Not only do they want you and your family to have a good travel experience, but they want everyone around you to as well. So ask for what you need- more water, an extra seat, help putting your luggage in the overhead bin, etc and I trust they will do their best to accommodate you and your littles.
11. Butter up the people in the rows around you. If you are paranoid about your baby crying on the plane and disrupting people's travel experience, make up some little goody bags before your trip to hand out to people in close proximity to your row. Most people will be very understanding that having a crying baby on a plane is not easy for the parents, but this kind little gesture may make you feel better about it and make them go easier on you incase the baby does have a cry fest! Your little bag could have a note like "This is my first trip, so I wanted to say sorry in advance if I cry! Love, *baby's name*. You can fill the bag with some candy and ear plugs.
Call the hotel and ask if a crib is available before booking (and if not consider investing in a portable travel crib). Most hotels will have a crib available for babies and they will have it all set up for you when you arrive. If your hotel/place of stay does not have one, I highly recommend this travel crib from Amazon. It's lightweight and comes with its own little carrying backpack (and can easily be stowed in the overhead bin on the plane). Find it on Amazon here: Lotus Travel Crib Backpack
Consider renting out baby essentials once you are at your destination. If you don't want to travel with big items like strollers, car seats, high chairs, hiking carriers, etc, a simple Google search may help you find places/people you can rent them from for a small fee once you reach your destination (most I have found will even deliver to you at your hotel or the airport). Check out this website which has over 90 locations throughout the US: Baby's Away.
Reach out to hotels direct when you book for a better deal. We have found that a lot of hotels charge us more even with a baby because for fire code reasons they have to consider the amount of people in a room regardless of how tiny those people may be! Since you may be charged more as a family, most hotels will will usually give you a better deal if you book directly through them because they pay a fee to other sites (such as Priceline, booking.com, Hotel Tonight). My husband swears by this little tip (it's actually his one contribution to this blog post!). He finds a deal online and then calls the hotel directly and they will usually either match it or give an even better price.
If you can, and if you desire to, be loose with your itinerary. This tip is not for everyone, but if you are like my husband and I and you like to travel around and explore different parts of the country you are traveling to, we don't book hotels until we arrive. Yep, you read that right. We fly into wherever we are traveling to and then we book our first hotel once we land and then the rest of our hotels throughout the week. Why in the hell would you ever do this?! you may be asking. Well, it's because sometimes you may land and have some juice left in you to drive a couple hours to a better destination, or you may be pooped and want to stay close to the airport for the night. You may have one location in mind, but find out when you arrive that the weathers terrible and if you go south you will have sunny skies. You may end up landing in a location that you really like (or don't) so if you only booked a night or two you aren't committed (or can commit longer). Most hotels have good deals for day-of-booking because they just want to make a profit off an empty room (we have gotten great free upgrades from last minute bookings too!) If this tip is stressing you out just from reading, though, have no fear- if having a solid plan and place to land is what puts your mind at ease, then by all means- book in advance!!
In closing, my final, and arguably most important, tips are:
1.) Be loose with your kids schedules on vacation. Let them nap on the go and/or stay up late if need be. I promise you aren’t ruining them by doing so!
2.) When you get home from your trip try to make your kids go to bed at a regular time (example: we got home from Amsterdam at 12pm EST, but it was really 6pm Amsterdam time. I had Austin stay up until bedtime, so by the time he hit the sheets he was pooped and immediately got back into a regular schedule). It may take a few days to get back into routine if there has been a time zone change, but don’t stress because it will all get back to normal in time!!
3.) 9 out of 10 times the chances are you can buy any essentials at your destination. So if you are traveling light- consider buying things like diapers and liquid items bigger than 4oz at the store when you get there rather than packing them in your suitcase.
4.) Lastly, and my most important tip of all- HAVE FREAKING FUN!! Vacations are meant to be fun, to make memories, to enjoy time with your loved ones. Traveling with kids definitely adds a new layer of stress and worries, but that doesn’t mean that you have to have a terrible time. You made the effort to take the leap and travel with kids, so enjoy enjoy enjoy as much as you can and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Like anything, traveling with kids takes practice (and a shit load of patience!), but if you go in with an open mind, low expectations, and a genuine desire to travel with your kid(s), then you can do it!! XOXO