When I was younger, single, kidless, and making enough money to have some disposable income, I traveled. I had wanderlust and couldn’t wait to explore a new city/state/country. I had status with an airline and hotel chain. My carry-on lived packed, in a constant state of “ready.” At one point, I was checking off European countries like items on a grocery list.
….Enter two kids born 18 months apart, and the wheels fell off my travel bus a bit.
However, it is important for me to share my love of travel with my children. As a wise coworker shared with me, you only get (*maybe*) 18 good vacationing years with your kids before they leave the nest and explore the vast world on their own. Traveling affords a person the opportunity to learn about a new culture or place of historical importance, to get a fresh perspective, to recharge one’s batteries. Traveling is both a privilege and necessity, and one I fully intend on sharing with my children as often as possible.
So, how do you travel with kids? Here are my top 10 tips!
(1) Pick a destination, wisely.
Choosing where to go is often the hardest part! For us, having small children and a dog means we drive, so we are range-bound. Depending on your child’s age and comfort level, here are some suggested destinations by driving time:
- Within 2 hours from Toledo: Catawba/Put-In-Bay, OH (~2 hrs), Ann Arbor, MI (~45 min), Detroit, MI (~1 hr), Windsor, ON Canada (~1.5 hrs), Grand Rapids, OH (~30 min)
- Within 4 hours from Toledo: Traverse City, MI, South Haven/Saugatuck, MI (~3hrs), Chicago, IL, (~ 4 hrs) Indianapolis, IN (~4 hrs), Columbus, OH (~2.5 hrs), Pittsburgh, PA (~4 hrs), Hocking Hills, OH (~3.5 hrs)
- Within 8 hours from Toledo: Smoky Mountains/Gatlinburg, TN (~8 hrs), Louisville, KY (~4.5 hrs), Nashville, TN (~7 hrs), Toronto, ON Canada (~5 hrs), Mackinac Island, MI (~5 hrs), Washington DC (~7.5 hrs), Niagara Falls, NY (~5.5 hrs)
- Within 12+ hours from Toledo: Myrtle Beach, SC (~12 hrs), Orlando, FL/Disney World (~16.5 hrs), Denver, CO (~18.5 hrs), New Orleans, LA (~14.5 hrs)
(2) Strategize your travel times.
Fly direct when you can. Use apps like Google Flights or Hopper to find the cheapest flights with the best schedules. If your kid can sleep while you travel, try to schedule a drive/flight around nap schedules and nighttime sleep. If driving, try to avoid hitting big cities during peak rush hour times. Using an app like Google Maps or Waze has saved us HOURS of time from construction delays, accidents, etc.
(3) Have a Go-Bag Ready.
We leave our suitcases partially packed at all times. This includes wet/dry bags for dirty clothes, travel sized toiletries like shampoo, body wash, sunscreen, wipes, a few diapers, and a mini-medicine cabinet (Children’s Zyrtec, Children’s Benadryl, Children’s Tylenol, saline nose spray, Q-tips, Zarbee’s chest rub, and Aquaphor, to name a few).
(4) Have 1-2 extra outfits, a pack of wipes or paper towel, and plastic shopping bags and/or wet/dry bags accessible while traveling.
I unfortunately learned this one the hard way on our most recent vacation. If it isn’t vomit, it’ll be a blowout, potty accident, or spill. Trust me on this. Also, there is the possibility your luggage could be lost when flying so having backups for a day or two will help alleviate some of that pressure and frustration.
(5) Buy stuff on site, especially diapers.
Diapers are so bulky to pack in quantity, so I bring 2-3 days worth of diapers and then buy a small box at our location. If you know the address of your destination, you could even Amazon Prime a shipment there to be waiting for you upon arrival. Shopping for a small pantry of snacks is also wise, as my kids eat a lot of snacks. Which brings me to my next suggestion….
Pack so many snacks. Seriously, enough to feed an army! When the kids are bored or overly tired and fighting sleep, a snack might help tame the lion. Pick things that are easy to eat on the go, don’t require refrigeration, or pose choking hazards. My go-to’s are fruit/veggie pouches, Lara bars (no added sugar! But they do contain nuts), bananas, and graham cracker/PB sandwiches.
(7) Travel Gear.
Kids (at least my kids) need a lot of stuff – safe sleeping space, their preferred stuffed animals, baby monitors, etc. Check local postings near where you are going, because some accommodations have port-a-cribs or high chairs for rent (be sure you can guarantee your rental – not just first come, first serve!). There are also independent baby gear rental agencies that can connect you with short-term rentals of what you need. In the event you can’t rent gear, pack stuff made to travel. If you are flying, be sure your carseat is FAA-approved. Also remember – you can gate check strollers and car seats for free with most airlines.
My personal recommendation for a travel crib is the Guava Lotus. Non-wifi baby monitors (like the Infant Optics DXR8) are plug-in and ready to roll, so you don’t have to rely on WiFi connections, speed, or security to keep an eye on your precious bundle. A baby carrier, like a Lillebaby Complete, can be used even more toddlers. Foldable strollers like GB Pockit+ save precious space. Last ditch option – head to a local superstore and buy a $10 umbrella stroller for the trip once you arrive.
(8) Keep a travel journal with pictures.
I use the app Evernote to keep track of my trips. I start a new notebook with each trip, and enter a new note for each day of travel. I record details about traffic delays/funny stories from the road, where we eat & what we each got, sites we toured, and anything else I want to capture. You think you’ll always remember a trip – but after years of sleep deprivation, I can hardly recall what I had for breakfast most days. This system also allows me to make recommendations to future travelers more easily!
(9) Look for rentals with laundry and/or kitchen spaces.
This might not suit your family, but having somewhere to make a few home cooked meals really helped us save a bit of money on our weeklong vacation, instead of having to dine out. It also helped us keep the kids on their nap schedules, since we could feed them around those times. And, see #4 – puke, blowouts, spills, etc. WILL happen, so having laundry prevented me from having to scrub week old vomit out of my daughter’s car seat and clothes. “Cooking” and “doing laundry” certainly were NEVER on my pre-kids travel list, but times – they are a-changin’!
(10) Be flexible with your schedule.
I’m pretty regimented when it comes to our kids’ sleep schedules because it is what works best for us and our kids, but when we are traveling sometimes they’ll nap earlier or later than usual – or sometimes not at all. It happens and it will all be fine. I also don’t make concrete scheduled plans (like purchasing tickets in advance) whenever possible; however, I do have tentative itineraries of what I’d *like* to do/see. Though I used to have almost every minute of a vacation planned before kids, I’ve realized that children like to throw wrenches in your best laid plans. It’s better to lower expectations and go with the flow – or tidal wave, as is sometimes the case 🙂
…and remember, enjoy! Everything won’t go exactly to plan – and that’s half the fun! Eventually, the memories of the naps that they missed or the times they got sick will fade away, or become funny focal points, and you’ll just remember the quality family time you were able to share for those all-too-short 18 years.
General recommendation for all travel:
- Any international travel (even Canada) will require a passport that does not expire within 6 months of the completion of your trip, for all passengers (even babies).
- Domestic flights require drivers’ licenses or other identification. You may even need to bring birth certificates for littles.
- Take pictures of all of these documents, front and back, as well as the credit cards you’ll be traveling with, and store them to the Cloud in case they get lost, damaged, or stolen.
- Save contact numbers for the agencies or companies for each to reach an agent for help.
- Alert your credit card company you will be traveling so they don’t freeze your card for “suspicious activity” as you charge outside of your usual spending locations.
- Have a neighbor or local police do “well checks” on your house when you’re gone, putting mail and packages in a place not visible from the street.
- Wait to post pictures of your trip to social media until you return, so no one knows you’re gone (and that your empty house might be an easy target).