My daughter took her first flight when she was 3-months-old. It was a nerve-wracking experience filled with laughter, tears, and vomit, but ultimately we got to our final destination in one piece, and have since taken dozens of flights — including several flights from New York to the UK, a ferry to France, and a 20+-hour journey to rural South Africa (that was a doozie). As exhausting as traveling with small children can be, getting somewhere awesome usually makes up for it and erases whatever harrowing traveling woes you endured.
But, here’s the thing: Traveling with children doesn’t actually have to be that bad! Having taken my kids to so many places (both exotic and local), I have some pretty good travel tips up my sleeve. I asked a few of my fellow globetrotting mamas and, turns out, they have some pretty brilliant advice, too. Whether it’s putting your kids in their Sunday best (to offset their demon inflight behavior), or stocking up on ingenious inflight goodies, we’ve got the best tips to get you through your next family vacation.
1. Travel first thing in the morning. You’ll encounter less traffic, fewer delays, happier people. And you know how your kids become insane in the evening during the “witching hour”? Yeah, you’ll want to avoid that scenario as much as possible.
2. Make an on-the-go art supply station. Say goodbye to ground-up crayons in the bottom of your carryon! You may not be needing those multi-compartment lunchbox containers while you’re on vacation, but they work great for tightly storing kids art supplies — from crayons and pom-poms to glue, tape, and kid-scissors — without making a mess. Here’s something else: Triangular crayons that won’t roll off the tray table will change your life. Seriously.
3. Pack special snacks (and lots of ’em). No child can go long without snacks, and anything longer than a two-hour flight is like the Apocalypse in their little minds. Make it more fun by packing a pill organizer full of nuts, mini crackers, or fruit snacks for the journey (and bring extra for refills or the return flight). Letting kids scoop goodies out one by one will be like giving them an inflight advent calendar.
4. Bring new toys (and wrap them, too). Pint-sized puzzles, popup books, reusable stickers — all of these will wow your little one on a long flight. A tip for making these trinkets even more exciting (and dragging out the game)? Wrap them up to so that unwrapping them becomes a gift unto itself.
5. Tuck a colorful guidebook into your carry-on. Headed somewhere beautiful? Buy an especially visual guidebook and put it in your carry-on bag so the kids can flip through it like a picture book. It’ll keep them occupied on the flight, and if they see anything particularly cool, you can make sure to add it into your travel itinerary.
6. Rent an apartment or house, instead of staying at a hotel. You’ll save money on nightly accommodations and you can cook a few meals at home rather than subjecting your picky eaters to three meals a day at pricy restaurants.
7. Pack extra diapers for the flight. What if it’s delayed or cancelled? What if you arrive in a new city and can’t find the pharmacy, or it’s closed for the night? Don’t let yourself get into that jam. Pack at least one diaper for every hour that you are supposed to be traveling. Sounds like a lot, but it’s better than running out.
8. Don’t forget a headphone splitter. This is crucial if you have one iPad and two kids. Whether they’re playing games, listening to music or watching a movie, give them one less thing to fight over by attaching a headphone splitter and two sets of headphones.
9. Swap out the stroller for a carrier. You’ll need your hands free from time to time. Even if you bring a stroller, consider also packing a baby carrier to make life much simpler. Wraps are quite versatile and can double as blankets, pillows, booster seats, pulleys, etc. They’re pretty awesome.
10. Bring hand sanitizer and wipes. Whether you’re staying in a five-star suite or a roadside motel, you never know where germs may be lurking. Key-ring hand sanitizer doesn’t take up any suitcase space, and will help keep you and your kids clean, and germs to a minimum.
11. Travel with blackout shades. Simple blackout fabric packs down small (or rolls up) and will be a lifesaver if you are traveling with young children, especially if you’re changing time zones. Tape the fabric to hotel windows, put your kids on the “new time” immediately, and you just might whoop jetlag’s ass.
12. Don’t forget a first-aid kit. You never know what you’ll need or when you’ll need it. Fill a Ziplock bag with a thermometer, bandaids, antibiotic cream, Tylenol, plus bug repellent and itch cream for summer. Easily switch the bag from your suitcase into your purse or backpack when you get to your destination and you’ll be ready for any situation.