Before kids, you could get away with last minute trips, loose plans and “let’s see what happens” escapades. Now? Not so much. But that doesn’t mean family-friendly getaways can’t still be exciting and adventurous. It just calls for a bit more prep and a lot more flexibility for new unknowns (caution: roadside blowouts ahead).
Whether it’s your first time on a plane, train or automobile with a baby or it’s been awhile since your toddler’s last jaunt, here’s a list of 20 genius tips (and some bonus pro-parent hacks from our community!) for kid-friendly travel to help keep everyone healthy, happy, and sane.
#1 – Talk to your doc.
If it's baby's first time, you’ll want to check in with your pediatrician before you go to eliminate any risks to their health. Headed out of the country? This is especially important, as you’ll want to ensure you’re up to speed on vaccinations and any other requirements/risks where you’re headed.
#2 – Plan ahead… like way ahead.
Yes, you *can* still be a spontaneous traveler with children, but it can be tough to find last minute family-friendly accommodations. Spend extra time researching hotels, cars and whatever else you’ll need well in advance, and book one or two must-see pit stops or activities. This added layer of preparation ensures your trip makes sense for your family's current needs and interests.
#3 – Make a list & check it twice (or thrice).
Before you pull out the bags and start packing, make a list of everything you’ll need to bring - passports, documents, IDs, and other important items. You can separate it by family member, or make a cheat sheet of must-haves for all. Check items off as you go, including to-do tasks like “charge up devices” or “pack baby’s blanket”.
#4 – Stick to your schedule.
Is there a specific time your toddler knocks out? Does your babe love mornings, but fusses in the evening? Try to travel during their best hours. Keeping a similar schedule and habits to what they’re used to at home - like reading before bed - will help them adjust better to life on the go.
#5 – If you can, spend the dough.
If you’re traveling by plane or train, you’ll inevitably deal with the awkwardness of assigned seating. Smaller babies under 2 can usually sit in your lap, but that also means you’ll constantly have your hands full (unlike most planes, you can at least wear babies on a train). If you can afford it, purchase the extra seat - it’ll provide a little more comfort for naps or wiggly littles and give you more peace of mind.
#6 – Rental or hotel?
While hotels have great perks like pools and accessible entertainment, they also lack home comforts, like a laundry room or kitchen. Instead, check out affordable rentals in the area, especially if you have smaller children. Having your own space also provides more control over noise level and a safe space for kids to run around freely.
#7 – If hotel, check amenities.
If you opt for a hotel, call ahead and see what types of amenities they offer for travelers with children. Some have stroller rentals, sparing you the effort of bringing your own, and others have special discounts for family visitors. It doesn’t hurt to ask, so explore your options!
#8 – Take a test drive.
The open road is a whole different animal than your trips to the grocery store, so give your tots a chance to adjust to longer spans in the backseat. Spend an afternoon driving to a park further than your usual spot, or take a longer drive home to see how things go. This will also help you understand their tolerance level and plan wisely.
#9 – Invest in travel-friendly accessories.
Diaper backpacks, changing pads and travel car seats are an added expense to consider, but having an option for backseat changes on the road, a place for in-flight naps or a stowaway-friendly bag to fit emergency diaper stashes provides a convenience your day-to-day items may not be able to accommodate (community tip: a fanny pack works great as a quick change diaper bag!)
#10 – Keep toiletries handy.
This is especially helpful if you’re packing for more than one child. Having individual bags with each family member's toothbrush, medications and emergency items allows you to quickly grab what you need instead of rooting around in multiple bags. Bonus: have a clean-up kit ready to go for worst case scenarios, like motion sickness.
#11 – Bring what you need - plus a little extra.
Prepare for inevitable spills, accidents and cooler weather with an extra outfit for you and your child, and pack double the diapers and wipes (community tip: pack each outfit ready to go in a reusable ziplock bag with accessories). Just try not to bring the whole house if you don’t need to: having extra hands is better than being bogged down by bags.
#12 – Give the toddler a bag.
Ever seen a tiny traveler toting their own luggage? It’s insanely cute, and it’s also a fun lesson in responsibility. Let them pack their own bag (maybe with preset items to eliminate the desire to bring unnecessary stuff) and explain the trip as they pack to add an extra bit of excitement.
#13 – To stroller, or not to stroller?
If you’re the carry-on type, bringing more may sound counterproductive. However, having a lightweight travel-friendly stroller can provide some much needed help with transporting both babies and toddlers quickly, as well as soothing tired kids between destinations. If you’re traveling by plane, be sure to tag your stroller so you know which one is yours and check it at the gate to lessen wear and tear.
#14 – Dress for comfort (and chaos).
Cute vacation outfits? Easily the best part of packing for yourself. When it comes to packing for the family, though, quick, comfortable layers are practical and preferred. Wear a breastfeeding shirt, keep jackets handy and emphasize blowout preparation over style (community tip: double up on diapers for travel days - one normal size, plus one size up on top).
#15 – Get to the airport early.
Yet another pre-kid routine you’ll want to toss: last minute arrival to the airport. You’ll have extra items to check in, and even if you check in ahead of time, there’s still security to deal with. Trust us: adhering to the “at least two hours before takeoff” rule is your best bet for less sweat.
#16 – Don’t forget to feed.
Pack a cooler (or carry-on if you’re flying) full of extra bottles, breast milk, easy foods like yogurt, apple slices and some snacks for you so you can travel further without stopping for meals. Dry cereal is a quick & easy distraction for toddlers on the plane, while breast or bottle feeding during take off and landing can help relieve ear pressure pain.
#17 – Crowdsource pro-hacks.
This might be your first rodeo, but oodles of others have gone before you – and their recommendations can be invaluable. Here are a few gold nuggets from our staff and community:
- Krista shared: "For planes, we bought these blow up foot rests which actually fill the entire area of the foot space in front of kids - level with their seat (who don't need the legroom anyway). Then we covered with a blanket and the could lay down on the entire area, their seat and the area which would otherwise be void. it was great for international travel... they slept perfectly comfortably."
- Brendan shared: "TSA pre-check! Little ones are covered and gets you through security so much faster."
- Gigi shared: "Take a late night flight (aka 7pm), dress them in jammies + overnight diapers + our HB melatonin gummies — smooth sailing for us this past weekend in our first flight with 3!"
- Erica shared: "Buy little toys/puzzles/games/stickers at the dollar store and wrap individually...... then let them open them one at a time after certain periods of time (e.g. if it's a 3-hour trip, one an hour)."
- Laura Lynn shared: "Shelf stable milk (like horizon boxes) are a toddler diaper bag must."
- Ashley shared: "Not putting a time limit on anything. Kids are unpredictable & that's ok!"
- Jasmine shared: "Have zero expectations! and go with the flow!"
#18 – Bring the fun.
It’s a well known fact that youngins have short attention spans. Spread that out over hours of travel, and it could spell disaster. Bring plenty of toys, books and mess-free activities, swapping them out to keep it exciting (community tip: window clings are fun, easy and work for every type of travel!) Even if you’re not big on electronics at home, they’re especially helpful for calming finicky moods with sleep noises or music.
#19 – Start the music.
Preparation is good and all, but let’s not forget: vacation is supposed to be fun! Longer trips call for some music to match, so make a playlist of all of babe’s faves to listen to either on headphones or in the car. After all, their best memories of the trip may very well be the moments spent belting out greatest hits with you.
#20 – Lastly: forget everything we just said.
No, not really - but, kind of? The truth is that traveling with your littlest love is unpredictable, and even the most prepared vacationers still run into problems here and there! Try to stay calm and let go of the need for everything to go perfectly. And if anything crazy happens… Hey, at least it’ll be a great family story to tell for years to come.