More Ideas for Simplifying Travel with Young Kids

I am not a fan of travel with the under five set.

While I love being at our destination I find the getting there exhausting and often stressful.

When will they have teleportation figured out?

I think I have now flown trans-Atlanticly four times round trip with young kids and have done another half dozen or so flights ranging from 25 minutes to five hours. Each time I’ve learned a new trick to making travel easier on the family (and other passengers).

Our latest was our easiest so far and the most compliment filled: people love to tell you how awesome your kids are when they slept, ate or watched movies the entire time and never made a peep.

Here are a few of my tips for making travel with young kids easier. Please share yours in the comments!

Sitting for hours is unnatural. Adults are used to it, most of us sit at desks or in front of the television for a good portion of the day.

However, young children are not yet indoctrinated into the culture of sitting for long stretches. Lucky them.

With this in mind I have found it best to relax my rules for media consumption while we travel.

Once our oldest was about two and a half he would happily sit and watch cartoons on long flights. Of course I would prefer he was playing in a park or running outside but until they build airplanes with playgrounds in them, or they get that teleportation thing figured out, it’s easiest on everyone if we allow him to watch several episodes of The Backyardigans.

Of course, we also engage with him, talk to him and read books but a little television can be a wonderful thing when you’re stuck on an airplane.

Other tip: we take red-eye flights. Sleep is the easiest way to get through a long flight.

Look for entertainment in small packages.

We filled a one hour day time flight with a box of raisins, reading a small book a few times and looking out the plane window. 50 raisins eaten one by one, mini clementines that take a few minutes for small hands to peel, string cheese. Well worth it to plan snacks for their engagement value.

Pack for most-likely, not disaster scenarios.

It’s always easier to travel with one less bag.

On a recent flight I saw parents puling down a large rolling suitcase filled with things for their infant. They spent a lot of time finding space to open the suitcase and then sorting through the piles of clothes and diapers to find what they were looking for. Rookie mistake in my opinion.

With two children and myself to look after I brought a backpack, small cross body hand bag that holds my purse and our passports and my older child wore a very small backpack. Two changes for the baby, diapers, two receiving blankets, water bottles, snacks, a coloring/sticker book and my Kindle were in the backpack. My son’s small backpack had two small books and a few toys.

If we all got massive amounts of projectile spit-up on us I was not prepared. Likelihood of that happening: 0.5%.

There was however a 50% chance the baby would soil his footie pajamas at least once over 18 hours of travel.

And our potty-trained oldest son who often gives little warning about urgent bathroom needs? I took the easy way out and put him in a pull-up for the journey. Rather a pull-up than two to three sets of extra clothes to carry around.

Let your kids run. A friend that does a lot of long haul flying told me as soon as they are off the plane she lets her kids find some space to run around. Helps them burn off the energy from sitting still for hours on end.

Give your family lots of time on layovers. We always hit the bathrooms after coming off of a flight and let our oldest run for a bit. Why bother rushing to baggage claim just to stare at an empty carousel for twenty minutes.

Be creative. We were loaned a box of toys on a recent trip and used the infant car seat from our rental vehicle as a seat/bouncer. We hung one of the infant toys off the car seat handle and it made a fun mobile for Wil to watch and swat at.

So much easier just to make do with less while away than lug the contents of your living room around with you.

What do you do to make travel with young children easier?



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  • Travel within the US has become horrible because of all the carry-on luggage. But that’s to bypass the check fees, which are steep.

    I’m flying with my three children in a few weeks, and we’ll be watching movies and eating snacks non-stop. And I’m checking the big baggage (only one bag) rather than trying to do multiple carry-ons. Thankfully, only one of the airports is huge (Atlanta). The other is our beloved Kansas City airport, which is small and extremely easy to navigate.

    • That’s another tip: small airports if you have a choice.
      I try and avoid London Heathrow as much as possible. So much work to get around.
      Check fees: I think this is making air travel more stressful. I understand it for competitive pricing but I would prefer they just include one checked bag with every ticket. Rather that than getting hit on the head by a heavy suitcase.
      I’m with you. I would rather pay for a checked piece of luggage than haul all of that stuff around. Especially when traveling with kids!

      • I know this is an old comment, but I’ll add that in the past year or so, Heathrow has added a large, enclosed, supervised soft-play area in Terminal 5 (British Airways terminal). We route through Heathrow intentionally because the little ones can go wild in there while we sit and take a break between the flights. Then they’re wiped out by boarding time. So my tip is know who has a good children’s play area!

  • Timely post for me! We’re leaving in 3 days and I had no idea what to take for my 1.5 year old. I’m thinking a coloring book/some paper since she can entertain herself at home for a good hour with just a few markers. I am a little worried about having to pick up a marker off the floor every 3 seconds though. Thanks for the tips!

    • A friend gave me a tip for the toddler age: put a few small toys on a loop of rope. Easier to pick up off the ground, keep track of and the toddler can move between all of them easily.
      I found 6 months to 2.5 years a challenging age for air travel. They want to be everywhere! If your 1.5 year old is into colouring that is fantastic. For sure bring those along.

    • They sell triangle shaped crayons – if she’ll do these instead of markers, they’re awesome and don’t roll. A little expensive (okay, way expensive for crayons) but better than diving for crayons under plane seats all day. Stickers also worked well for us, and you probably won’t be the first one to put stickers on the back of that particular plane seat…:) Mmm, post-it notes are also fun to color on and then stick up on the plane wall/ window for entertainment. super small and cheap entertainment – work well in cars too.

      We used to live overseas with small ones and flew a TON. But getting them used to travel is a great skill for kids to have – I’ll now fly solo with my 10, 7 and 5 without a thought.

  • I can’t get over my paranoia about rented car seats. I am convinced they are death traps, and we have two kids, so bringing our own adds a ton of bulk? How can I deal with this?

    • In my experience rental car seats aren’t the nicest but I always check the manufacture date (always been in compliance so far). I also think it would be a huge liability for them to be renting unsafe car seats. That gives me piece of mind.
      I would love to take car seats to save on expenses but I literally had no way of taking them on my last trip. It was me and the boys for the first leg of the trip. Would need three extra hands to carry everything. It was a workout as it was with the baby on me in the Ergo, pushing the big one in the stroller and pulling a suitcase. Oh, and we went to the airport by public bus!

    • We are in Germany and find the rental car seats RIDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE. For what they charge you, you could buy two brand new, nice ones! Our airline (United) allowed us to check the car seats at no cost, the carts at the airport helped us get checked in (or completely worth the small tip to the guy wanted to carry it for you), and the United rep at check in packed them safely into a sturdy plastic bag.

    • I found last month that the easiest way to carry the booster “butt” when I traveled with my 5 y/o was to use a shoulder strap from another duffel bag and clip it to the seat with carabiners. Then I could sling it over my shoulder and be hands free (backpack only for the weekend). Never tried it with a bucket or toddler seat but with a little creativity and two straps I bet it would work to get one of those larger seats on your back while baby is on the front in an Ergo or wrap (probably better than a sling so you are more balanced).

  • I recently traveled for 16 days with my 20-month-old. The trip included 3 long red-eyes. We used an Ergo instead of a stroller. We took our small and light convertible car seat (two car rentals on the trip), but we could check it for free. In the car seat bag, we put the wet cloth diaper bag to save on weight for the suitcase. I did carry on a tiny suitcase that had cloth diapers and a change of clothes for everyone in case our one giant checked bag was lost, which I was for one day. We took lots of small and new toys for my son, but it was too much. He was more interested playing with buttons on the plane, nursing, and sleeping. We also took way too many books. Three would have been enough. We took about 4 days of clothes for everyone and did laundry since we had to wash diapers anyway. The thing that made the trip the easiest though, was being able to nurse my son. Wherever we were, if he was tired, I could pop him in the Ergo and nurse him. He’d nap during whatever we were doing!

    • Ergo could be the best money I have spent on a baby item. We have gotten so much use out of ours. And learning to nurse in it makes life so easy!!
      Great tips in here and thanks for sharing. Smart move stashing the CDs in the car seat bag :)

  • Packing light has been our best trick. Typically we pack a backpack each, making it really easy to get around. We went on a cruise recently, and due to the activities we were planning had to take much more luggage. I forgot how much trouble it was to lug suitcases around.
    When we take road trips or long weekends, we usually bring some entertainment devices like a movie player or our iPad. That usually keeps her entertained for a while.

  • Bring one of each child’s favorite things enabling self-comforting and one brand new thing to explore. Plus, the busy time snacks like your examples, of course. More toys only if you have room.

  • We have never flown with our 5 kids but we have done many road trips ranging from 40 minutes to over 12 hours. some things that come in handy in the car (and can just stay in the car) we have cookie sheets with those little magnet sets from the dollar store so they can dress up princesses or create dino landscapes in car, washable markers for doodling. we keep some travel games in the car as well. any travel over an hour we just pack a cooler off food (all fruits veggies and healthy protein’s as nothing is worse than a sugared up kid who cannot run). we stop every 2 to 3 hours to Stretch, run, play, pee, rotate seating. We keep in our car at all times (at least from march till the snow flies) sun hats, bug spray, extra clothes, dollar store clogs or flip flops, a bucket with some shovels, a soccer ball, a beach ball, a flying disc or two, Charcoal and lighting fluid as many road side stops have little grills. We travel with the kids all summer long and have for several years, Their ages range 4 to 10 this year. :) life is an adventure.

  • Thanks for this post. I really enjoy your blog and it has made a huge difference in my parenting approach. I really appreciate your perspective.
    My two-year-old played with a roll of blue painter’s tape for an hour on the plane recently. Make stickers to stick on pictures of dogs and cats in the airplane magazine! Stick pieces of tape on Mom! Make a bunch of little balls to shake in the barf bag! Use the roll as a bracelet that everyone can try on multiple times! A tip from a friend, and one that worked well for us.

  • Great tips (I also very much enjoyed this mom’s recent post on the topic, though her kids are a bit older: ).

    I have been very happy with the “safe rider travel vest” (try amazon or google) as an alternative to a car seat, but it’s only rated for kids 3+ (with some weight and height limits to boot). That said, we’ve used it for one trans-Atlantic trip and one US trip as our only car safety device; I’m told (by car safety specialists I trust) it’s as safe as a car seat (if used appropriately, etc. etc.) and it’s also useful in contexts where you’re mostly not traveling by car but may need to (e.g. city travel, or living, + a cab). I believe it’s approved for use instead of a car seat in the US but don’t know about other countries (though I have used it in them…).

    Otherwise I’ve got nothing much to add, except do whatever gets you through and don’t forget your sense of humor and perspective.

  • Very timely post for me as we leave this weekend for a nearly cross country flight with my almost 2.5 yo. We’ve been on about 10 flights with him so far, starting at 4 months. I think I was in my mid 20s before I’d been on 10 flights, lol.

    Things that work for us:
    – Wear baby/toddler in Ergo.

    – Push lightweight umbrella stroller with carseat sitting in it. (After a major debacle with a rental car agency carseat we always take our own. We bought a safe but inexpensive Cosco Scenera for air travel because it is so lightweight therefore easy to manage. Our regular Britax carseats are beasts)

    – If baby is old enough to require their own seat (or you purchase them a seat anyway) use the carseat on the flight. Especially once they’re in the squirmy toddler stage this saved us so much grief and struggle.

    – Don’t overpack toys/books!! Our son has never played with any toys at our destinations and doesn’t need as many in flight as you would imagine either. Half of them never even get taken out of the bag.

    – Depending on the trip we either all (husband, son and I) pack in one larger suitcase and check it, OR husband packs his own smaller carry-on and son and I pack together in another small carry-on. I will take a tote bag with toys/diapers/change of clothes/food/drinks/wallet/personal items. Husband takes backpack for his personal items/extras of anything DS might need.
    Even though DS technically gets carry-ons allotted to him now than he needs a seat purchased we don’t plan to take 1-2 extra bags. Who wants to deal with maneuvering all that stuff?

    – If you have an infant who is formula fed, take plenty more formula than you anticipate needing. Clothes and diapers can make do with substitute items and are easier found in airports than infant formula; bottles can be cleaned sufficiently with hot water/soap from the restroom sink tap in a pinch.
    We got delayed several hours once on a layover and ended up taking a rental car 5 hours to our final destination. I was VERY glad I’d packed a whole (smaller) can of formula at the last minute, especially since the one DS needed was not a standard/very easy to get one.

    – If you’re nursing and even the slightest bit uncomfortable about nursing in public take a nursing cover or lightweight blanket to cover with. You may find yourself elbow to elbow in a huge crowd of people in the airport or onboard the plane and it’s physically very awkward to nurse in such tight quarters especially with a young infant who needs to lay rather than sit on your lap.

    – If you will be in a hotel, request ahead of time that they provide an infant crib for your stay (usually free of charge in the US IME). Often they have both mini cribs and pack and plays available so you can choose. DO bring your OWN sheet for it though. They will often only provide a full sized flat sheet for you to tuck in there.

    – If not in a hotel see if your hosts have a crib/pack and play you can borrow or if they might know someone who does. Same goes for swing/bouncer/highchair/other gear you feel you might need at your destination.

    I’ve never commented before but have been reading for quite a while. Thank you for sharing you journey and thoughts with us. I really appreciate your rational and practical (ie. non-extreme) approach to minimalism with a family.

    • Oh, and I absolutely agree about letting them run around.

      Before our last flight I had him running laps with me up and down the terminal main aisle (avoiding the crowded areas). He was too young to let loose on his own so I took his hand and “ran” with him. Do the same on any layovers if possible. Really really helps get some energy out and tire them out before needing to sit still for so long.

      We also definitely indulge in shows and games on the iPad.

  • If we have a long flight we will try and hit a play area during a lay-over. It may seem troublesome to leave the airport but it is worth it for the child. We have found lots of play places right near the airport.

  • For me, the secret to traveling with my little girl is to always pack an extra pair of leggings in my carry on. That way if she spills something on her pants, or gets cold, it’s easy for her to slip them on. Plus, they pack really small! My daughter’s favorite brand is but obviously there are lots of places to get them.

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