Whether you are about to take a long trip home or to head out on a grand adventure traveling with kids can be a bit daunting. I admit, with four kids ages 2-16, traveling can sometimes be trying, but I have never regretted a trip. Annually on average we take six flights with the entire family that are between 10-14 hours. Trust me when I say you can find peanut butter and diapers in Cambodia, Egypt, and the Czech Republic. Traveling with kids is great if you are prepared and pace yourself. Please add your advice in the comments section below.
20 Tips For Traveling With Kids
1. CHECK YOUR PASSPORT expiration date two months in advance of traveling. Children’s passports usually last only five years and seem to expire just when you plan to travel. The cost of a last-minute passport is very expensive and stressful.
2. PREPARE BACK-UP DOCUMENTS in case of emergency. Take copies of all passports, insurance cards, emergency contact list, medicine prescriptions and travel details. Also have a list of credit cards and bank numbers in case of lost wallets. Pack these copied documents separate from the real documents while in transit, but then lock in the safe at your hotel. TIP — If only one parent is traveling with the children, take a signed note from and a copy of that parent’s passport stating you have his/her approval to travel with the children alone.
3. PACE YOURSELF by first discussing with your partner and older children before the trip about top to do items, and what are the nice to dos. Each day will be different for you and the children; from totally energized to exhausted. You need to go with the flow and the energy of the day.
4. HAVE THE BIG RESERVATIONS BOOKED before you start out. When I backpacked in Europe the summer of 2014 with two teenagers and a toddler we did not have an exact plan each day but we knew where we were sleeping and any major train or boat plans. Safety first, so make sure you have a comfortable place and know how to get there in daylight, not a night.
5. INVOLVE YOUR OLDER CHILDREN in the planning of the vacation. Give them one spot a day to decide or an entire day. My oldest son’s list included the catacombs of Paris and a beer hall in Munich. Ask them for their input, to get their buy-in and avoid sulking teens!
6. DO NOT START POTTY OR SLEEP TRAINING a few months prior to a big trip. Toddlers will be very confused and you very frustrated. Deal with diapers and co-sleeping for a few weeks more. If you are breastfeeding, don’t wean until after vacation. Wait until you come back!
7. PACK YOUR CARRY-ON STRATEGICALLY since it may be the only bag you have for a few days. I have learned to assume my checked luggage will get lost. Pack an extra pair of clothes for yourself. Pack one outfit per child for every 6 hours of travel (door to door). If the baby is still in diapers than double the amount normally used within the same period when not traveling. Kids tend to drink a lot when traveling, so you need more. Other must haves are; 1. baby wipes (they clean everything), 2. an extra bottle or sippy cup, 3. ziplock bags of hand snacks/cereal, 4. fever medicine/pain-killer, 5. a plastic bags for wet clothes and other wet gross stuff!
8. PACK MEDICINE IN YOUR CARRY-ON AND CARRY-ON SIZE ready and accessible from the moment you leave the house. Remember; 1. antibacterial wipes, 2. bug spray and bite medicine, 3. sun protection, 4. basic medicines; stomach problems, fever, cough/nose decongestants, and headache, 5. bandages of all sizes & cut medicine, and 6. a thermometer. Tip — Take prescription medicines in your carry-on with a doctor’s notes for customs (they may check – depends on medicine and country).
9. DON’T LET THE CHILDREN PACK THEIR OWN CARRY-ONS, or you may realize they are carrying their cap gun collection or 5 lbs of pennies. I can officially say I have shut down the TSA line and been photographed by the airport police due to trying to get cap guns throughout the x-ray. Not a happy moment. Tell your children to pack their carry-on, but then review and edit before leaving the house.
10. PLAN FOR THE TRAVEL TIME so you are in the right mindset for survival and enjoyment (if possible). If you are only traveling a few hours than a few books, apps or toys will do. But over a 5 hours trip takes a bit more planning. For example, if your flight is at 11:00 am you will be up with your child quite a bit so plan for a variety of activities. If you flight is at 7:00 pm you are lucky since your child will probably fall asleep after a few hours. For travel time with a lot of wake time, I recommend having a secret bag filled with activities. I go to the dollar or 100 yen store before the flight and buy little games and activities that get left on the plane. Wrap each one and have your child take one out as needed. Other great items to have are washable crayons (draw right on the fold down tray and wash with wipes), Playdoh and origami paper with a roll of tape. When desperate, paper cups from the airplane toilet can buy you 30 mins of fun tower building.
11. HOW TO GET YOUR KIDS TO SIT OR SLEEP IN THE PLANE, TRAIN OR BUS is an art and takes training. Tip one: do not walk in the aisle to amuse the child. This will start years of exhausted walking. Tip two: do not let your child sit in the aisle seat since people with brush-up against them, and child will see people walking and will want to walk themselves. Tip three: keep your child awake on the way to the airport, through customs and waiting for the plane. The excitement of getting on a plane/train/boat, etc. will zap their energy and may buy you a few sleeping hours! Tip four: if you are alone on a plane and need to go to the bathroom do not wake the children. You can also ask the steward to keep an eye if you feel uncomfortable (most will help). Make sure they are buckled in safely and go quickly.
12. INVEST IN NEW APPS before you leave home. There are a lot of great toddler and older children APPs that will buy you an hour or two of quiet time. However, do not assume you will be able to charge your phone on every plan. Watch your battery level, so you do not arrive at your destination with no power.
13. INVEST IN A EBOOK DEVICE and load it with age and interest appropriate books and travel guides for the entire family. One will not be enough. Do not forget the power cords. Do not assume you will be able to download later.
14. PACK YOUR LUGGAGE A WEEK IN ADVANCE and then edit items out over the week. Do not wait until the day before or you will forget items, over pack and cause yourself great stress when you should be resting before the long trip. Whether you are staying at a hotel or backpacking, I believe five days of everyday clothing and one dressy outfit is necessary. The most import things to think about for clothing are 1. what is the temperature going to be during the day and night? 2. what special clothing will you need – swimming, skiing, hiking? Other luggage tips are; 1. Pack the dress set of clothes in a ziplock storage bag to protect and put in bottom of bag since it will not often be worn, 2. take a ziplock bag of powered detergent with you – great for quick washes in a sink when you are in a pinch, 3. always take two hats for each kid (sunburn ruins a vacation). 4. remember there are diapers and kids clothes in every country, so you do not need to over pack! I personally believe that every child over five should carry their luggage (not just carry-on). Buy your children a 30-80L backpack and let them carry it on their own back, my 10-year-old has a 40L, 14-year-old a 60L and 16-year-old an 80L – which is more than enough space for 5 days, and extras. Fun for them to also buy patches of the place the visit and attach to the backpacks.
15. BRAND YOUR CHILDREN by writing the child’s name, emergency contact (email and phone) and hotel on their arm in pen. Airports and museums can be busy and despite how closely you watch children wander. Never let your child out of your sight, branded or not!
16. GIVE CHILDREN THEIR OWN MAP before the trip and discuss the route and ask what they would like to see. Have multiple maps one for you and extras for the kids to color and doodle on as you progress.
17. GIVE CHILDREN THEIR OWN CAMERA to allow them to capture “their ” trip. Phones work well, but today you can buy a wide range of fairly inexpensive digital cameras. A great way to instill responsibility.
18. TRY TO GET YOUR KIDS TO KEEP A TRAVEL JOURNAL for the entire trip. Your 2-year-old can draw pictures each day while your teenager writes about the smells, food, and emotions. Pens, regular and color pencils, erasers, and a sharpener are musts (one set for the family is perfect). Also, take a small pair of scissors and glue stick for including tickets stubs, brochures, and maps.
19. MUST HAVE ITEMS FOR MOM AND DAD TO PACK IN THEIR CHECKED LUGGAGE include 1. duct tape (to fix ripped bags to Santa’s beard), 2. Swiss army knife. 3. needle and thread, 4. extra Ziplock bags, 5. small Tupperware containers, 6. large plastic bags for dirty or wet clothes, 7. mini-flashlight that can fit on a key chain, 8. Power volt adapters, 9. lighter, and 10. multi-socket extension cord. Trust me, deciding whose device will get power each night is not fun!
20. THE BEST GIFT IS TRAVELING with your kids since you get to experience the world through their eyes. Listen, learn and love.
20 TIPS FOR TRAVELING WITH KIDS
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