Let's Talk: Simple Tips for Travel with Kids

We are on the road today, the first road trip of the Summer season for our family. This is the perfect time to re-post this question from 2010: I would love to hear your tips on traveling with kids and how you make it simple. Happy trails! – Kara

This month at Simple Living Media we”ve been talking about travel.  It has been a while since I”ve done a Link Love Showcase, so I thought I would list some of my favorite travel related posts and then open up the comments for some discussion.

Here at Simple Kids, contributor Catherine,  of Adventures With Kids, discussed letting go of expectations and relaxing in The Art of Travel with Young Children. Emily, the Pilot”s Wife, gave us some tips for Stress Free Flying with Infants and Toddlers.

Over at Simple Homemade, Megan discussed Incorporating the Art of Babywearing into Summer Travel Plans.  My youngest is an active toddler now, but we use the sling  when she is tired of walking or if the crowds are overwhelming her.

I loved Jamie”s post on 4 Natural Ways to Learn While on Vacation over at Simple Homeschool.  Renee Tougas” article on Lessons Learned While Camping has good advice, too:  “Food, Clothing, and Shelter is all you really need.”

Speaking of casino online camping, did you read 8 Tips for Stress-Free Camping?  Amy”s got a checklist of stress-free camping essentials and there”s lots of good advice from Simple Mom readers in the comments, too.

They are camping at Simple Organic, too with 10 Tips for Successful Camping with Young Children, including six things to do with preschoolers and toddlers and survival tips for family camping.

Tsh, Simple Mom, is an expert on travel around the world with children.  One of my favorite posts on travel from her comes from a few years ago where she gave advice on How to Travel Long Distances with Little Ones (and not go insane!)

Let”s Talk

Now, we”d love to hear from YOU:

  • What are some of your favorite tips for simplifying travel with kids?
  • What are the essentials you take with you?
  • How do you stay organized while on the road?
  • Any tips for making a hotel room more cozy and kid-friendly? Your camp site?
  • How do you keep your kids entertained during delays?

Do you have questions about traveling with kids? Need some advice? Leave a note in the comments and see what other Simple Kids readers have to say – maybe someone has a solution that will work for you and your family.

Leave a comment with your tips and questions for other readers.

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at KElizabethFleck.com.

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  1. As our toddler was approaching 4, we decided to get him involved with his own appropriately-sized rolling luggage and he absolutely LOVES it! He relishes how grown-up having his own suitcase (that he’s responsible for both packing and pulling) makes him feel. He just beams with pride over this. Best $20 spent yet!

    We also make sure to take a few more-or-less disposable toys (think: kids meal fodder) and some sensible little treats for the airplane ride. And he chooses one of his favorite, familiar stuffed animals or other plushy to take along, which serves as much as a pillow as it does a plaything. If you can spare the space, we’ve also found it nice to take along a small, light blanket. If there’s any chance at all that your little one could simmer down enough to do so, these kinds of comforting, familiar items from home could go far towards encouraging some naptime. (They can make bedtime in an exciting and/or strange new setting much less stressful too!)

    Things to avoid: anything that’ll easily roll off the seat-back tray, like cars or crayons. You don’t want to be trying to fold yourself in half to retrieve those from under your seats and/or the aisleways. Also, it’s well worth avoiding very sugary snacks and rocket-fuel-inspired beverages unless you’re just aching for an extra-jittery travel companion. We avoid taking toys that are treasured favorites since things do tend to get easily misplaced in transit.
    .-= Rob O.´s last blog ..Sunscreen Sundries =-.

  2. We found the best tip for pleasant travels is to make sure that least 1 or 2 of the toys/books we are bringing are either new or haven’t been played with in a long time. Some thing new will keep their interest a lot longer. We also got each kid their own little container (think, pencil box but a little bigger), so we could pull it out of the carry-on and give them each their own on the plane.

    Another thing I learned when we were faced with a long plane right while my 6 month old had a double ear infection is that you can actually get ear numbing drops from your doctor. It seems like a lot to go to, but worth it if you have little ones with sensitive ears. I have to wonder of a little simulsen’s would do the same trick?!

    For staying organized on the road, we always bring a couple plastic bags so that we can seperate out the dirty clothes from the clean ones as we travel. It certainly makes it easier once we get home.

    Looking forward to learning more tips.
    .-= Angela´s last blog ..Where have I been hiding? =-.

  3. We’ve travelled by car quite a bit with our 4 kids. In fact, we’re getting ready to embark on our first cross country trip in about a week.

    I always make sure that we have snacks and drinks available and we pack a travel potty for those “I have to use the bathroom RIGHT NOW!” emergencies. For the oldest 2 (11 and 9), I’m going to be providing journals for them to write about their experiences. Also, the older children will have their own cameras to take pictures. We break up the monotony of driving by pushing hard one day and then having a short drive with a fun excursion on the next. Also, whenever we stop (for gas or food) we have all the kids get out of the car and run around to stretch their legs and burn off a little energy.

    I also bring along a travel folder that has hotel 1-800 #’s, information on various attractions along the way, emergency contact info, and any other paperwork that is needed for the trip. It’s nice to have all the information in one place rather than scattered throughout the car.

    We’ve found that it’s best to not rely on a DVD player to amuse the children. We discovered years ago that if you constantly have a movie playing the kids are more likely to be irritable and they won’t relax enough to doze off. Instead, we play the typical car games or I spy.

    A lifesaver has been a plastic ice cream bucket with a lid. One of our kiddo’s occasionally gets car sick. We keep the bucket at her feet and if she’s feeling sick it’s right there. Having a lid to put on it is nice when you’re miles from a stopping place to clean it out. Sure beats having puke all over the car! Also, baby wipes. They’re handy to clean up any spills and to wash hands/faces.

    I’m planning on blogging about our trip at http://www.siestasandtravels.blogspot.com I haven’t done anything with the blog yet beyond setting it up. I plan on updating it every few days while we’re travelling to keep a record of our experiences and to share what being on a road trip with 4 kids is really like!
    .-= cindy´s last blog ..B-Saurus and brief update =-.

    • Jennifer says:

      YES! Someone else who thinks DVD players keep kids irritable and napless. Only tried it once 3 years ago and haven’t again. Also keeps kids from seeing scenery of different areas of the country. We were driving by O’Hare one night and the lights from the planes coming in was awesome. My daughter LOVED it. I glanced over at the vehicle next to us where all 3 kids were plugged into their own movies and oblivious to it. I thought it was a shame.

  4. One of the best things I did at Disneyland was give each kid a waist pouch full of snacks and marked with my cell number. Not only could they eat to their hearts’ content, but we weren’t slowed down by clamors for food. And in case someone got away from our group, I knew they had my number.

  5. Anyone have good/bad experiences with 2 year olds and headphones. I have a 3 hour plane ride coming up with my 2 year old twins and I’m not sure if headphones for our DVD player are worth the investment. I am wondering if 2 1/2 is too young. Will they keep them on? I hate to go buy 2 sets and then not use them.
    .-= Diane´s last blog ..More summer fun =-.

    • It’s tough to find earphones/buds that’ll get the volume up to a level where it can drown out the ambient noise on an airplane. Models made specifically for kids tend to have volume “governors” to prevent hearing damage. I’d recommend skipping the DVD player for the plane ride.

      We did a 12 hour flight with our little stinker (he was 21 months old at the time) who never napped a wink. On longer flights, you can stave off some of the pent up energy by taking a few brief strolls up the aisle and back, but this is admittedly easier on larger airplanes where there are 2 aisles.

      Here’s another tip (for which I cannot take credit) that helped us: Find an old mismatched tube sock and cut the toe off. Slip this tube of elasticy fabric over the seatbelt buckle to help keep fidgety fingers from constantly jacking with the latch.
      .-= Rob O.´s last blog ..iDolphin =-.

    • Hi Diane –

      I recommend getting the headphones that go over the ear, instead of ear buds. Our three-year old enjoyed watching the in-flight movie (“Cars”) on our last flight, but HATES the ear buds. We brought along an ‘old school’ pair of headphones for him to use. FWIW, our son was 3 and 3 months when we used the headphones. I would buy two cheapie pairs, if possible. That way, if they don’t like using them, you haven’t invested too much.
      RE´s latest post: Happy Birthday Liesl!

  6. Katie G. says:

    We’re on vacation now!
    And we had the least painful car trip (16 hours!) thus far. I’ve been really meditating on simplifying the process of packing, but the area that I didn’t skimp on was travel entertainment for the kids. Here’s what worked for us:
    -I packed a backpack for each boy, leaving out any toys. The “no toys” rule has saved our lives. They always argue over toys, no matter what they are.
    – I got a ton of books (comic books, picture books, “where’s waldo”-type books, etc.) from the library before our journey for maximum visual engagement and hoping to please both ages. We also got a few audiobooks which also saved the day (Thank you, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle! even our 9 year old-going-on-17-years-old loved it).
    – The kids were allowed to play with their electronic things (a Leapster and a PSP) for one hour each of our two travel days and only after lunch. It provided us grown-ups with a much-needed mental rest.
    – Making EVERYONE get out and try to pee every time we stopped helped us, too.
    – Mad Libs by the whole family was fun and I also did a scavenger hunt (just a list of things we’d most likely see for checking off).
    – The last thing (which is only a theory) is that we didn’t eat any sugar on the journeys (not even any fruit juice). I swear I think it made a huge difference for all of us.

  7. Rachel hill says:

    If you can possibly afford it, I recommend purchasing a plane ticket for your under 2 year old. Jude travelled on our lap at 6 months and it was hell (if your child is the calm snuggly type who likes to sleep on you this might not matter but our child did NOT want to be held and wanted to be put down to sleep. The second trip at 9.5 months, I purchased a ticket for him and brought his bucket car seat. I planned the trip around naptimes and he snoozed through the first leg of the flight, and by the second leg it was bedtime so he happily dozed off in his car seat, which he was used to sleeping in. I had possibly the most relaxing flight of my life! Best $250 ever spent! I’ll never
    fly without buying him his own ticket again.

  8. We live in the Northeast and do a fair amount of turnpike travel (can you get ANYWHERE in the Northeast without driving on I-95? Not really!)…and also take a few 3+ hour airplane trips each year. Over the last few years I’ve gathered a couple of tips that make traveling with our two little ones manageable. My favorites:
    1) For car trips, I pack meals and snacks in Rubbermaid plastic, disposable (but reusable if need be) divided containers. Mine were sold under the name TakeAlongs at Target. They have several sections and are perfect for a sandwich, chips and/or fruit and they come with a lid. I pack and label them the night before we leave and put them in the fridge. When we’re ready to go, I take them out of the fridge and just stack them in the cooler, along with lots of drinks. When someone is hungry, I just hand a container back and lunch is served! My daughters actually think it fun, almost like getting a tv dinner – with everything in its little compartment. It saves so much time and money on the road.
    2) I always bring Potty Toppers toilet seat covers for rest stops (roadside gas stations don’t always have the cleanest facilities – and the same goes for airplanes!) and I also tuck a portable potty seat under the front seat of the car for the little ones, just in case we don’t make it to a rest stop in time.
    3) I always bring a collapsible market tote when we travel by car and fill it with paper towels, antibacterial gel, wet ones, plastic trash bags and a small plastic container filled with first aid supplies, medicine, a hairbrush and extra flip flops or socks (my kids seem to always take their sandals or socks off in the car – and sometimes it’s impossible to find them when it’s time to get out at a stop). Having all of those items handy eliminates a lot of frustration.
    4) Three words: The Taby Tray. It’s a plastic tray that straps over the car seat and/or stroller. It’s perfect for toddlers. Kids can eat on it, color on it, play on it. We have used it on all of our trips and it’s fantastic.
    5) I buy each child a small disposable camera before each trip. The cameras keep them busy and occupied on the way to our destination, during the trip and even after the trip (when we develop the pictures). They also come in handy when waiting in line at museums or amusement parks – they keep kids engaged in their surroundings and often times eliminates the “this line is too long” whining.
    6) And my favorite tip of all…for each trip we go on, I keep a “Travel Tips” notebook. I just use a small but sturdy spiral notebook and label the front with the name of the trip, such as “Outer Banks 2010.” Then I make observations and take notes on the way there, during the trip and on the way home. I make sure to include any mistakes made, items forgotten or suggestions for the next time we make the same trip…such as “Take 2nd Richmond exit, rather than 1st” or “Great, clean rest stop at Exit 8” or “Need to pack more sweaters, cold at night!” You always think you are going to remember things from one trip to the next, but when months go by between trips, it’s easy to forget. My travel notebooks are a livesaver!
    Sorry to be so longwinded…I just love reading others’ tips and hope these can be helpful to someone out there!

  9. Reading your post after the fact–we flew in from Portugal yesterday (a 7.5 hour flight followed by a 3.5 hour flight with a 4 and 5 1/2 year old)! Living overseas makes us face these flights more often than I’d like, but I have hope that they’ll continue to improve with time.

    One thing that helped yesterday: Letting go of my desires for the girls to not watch a bunch of movies. It is difficult to say “no” when each seat has a screen in front of you, and they see everyone else watching something. We did try the short shows first interspersed with activities we’d brought (coloring with pens/crayons, dry erase activities of things I’d laminated beforehand, books to read, Highlights/Puzzle Buzz magazines the girls had not seen, IPod applications for their age, Leapster games, etc.). By the last flight, we were exhausted and at peace with the fact that screen time like this only happens on these flights every 1-2 years. We have bought childrens’ headphones from Toys ‘R Us that work much better than the ear bud kind.

    We have to maximize our carry-on luggage with the current checked baggage limitations. We fill up our girls backpacks with their activities, personal blankies/animals, and a lunch bag of snacks. They have rolling carry-ons they picked out with a change of clothes, shoes, and other things we might need in case we have an unexpected accident or overnight layover–it’s happened many times before! We usually end up carrying their back packs on top of our carry-ons (with our back packs on our backs), but it is worth it for the space and weight allowed. My husband has even wheeled the girls down the airport as they rode on these carry-ons!

    On the note of children at their wits end after minimal sleep, we’ve found the cart drivers in airports and asked if they can carry all of us and our things to the next point. Most have obliged, and it’s been a life saver!

    Great to think all this through while it’s still fresh!
    .-= Jenni´s last blog ..Blast From the Past Shirt to Dress =-.

  10. Oh goodness! I wish I had read this post and the great comments before this weekend. We just got back from a car trip with the girls and some of these ideas would have been so helpful! Oh well – I will definitely be using these suggestions for the rest of our summer travel!
    .-= Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last blog ..SortaCrunchy Q-ampA – Parenting Books- Some Favorites of Mine =-.

  11. Danielle says:

    Love all of the great ideas! Here are a few things that have worked for us on long car trips.
    1) Pipe Cleaners. I bought a bag of mixed pipe cleaners and my then 5 and 2 yr old kept themselves entertained. Each child played with them very differently which made it a great activity.
    2) Bubbles. The rest stops on the highway always seem to have a picnic area surrounded by grass and are far enough from the parking lot. I just happened to have a tiny bottle of bubbles in my purse and we blew / chased bubbles for a few minutes at every stop we made. It provided the kids a fun way to burn off some energy before getting back into the car.

    • I just got back early this morning (2 a.m.!) from a plane trip with my toddler. He’s never really played with pipe cleaners, so I threw some in our bag of fun and pulled them out while sitting on the plane at the gate for about 2 hours. He loved them…once he saw what they could do! I loved that they were so small and so engaging for a long time!

  12. Jennifer Ott says:

    We also give in to electronics while traveling. I fly at least twice a year coast-to-coast with my 4 kids (under 7)…yes, by myself. The older ones have leapsters that they use ONLY on trips, so they are very happy to play for hours. My older 3 all read, so we do get them all a new book or a Highlights-type magazine. Small legos are fun in a small bin, and stickers provide hours of fun. I do bring along disposable kids’ cups for the drinks on the plane since I can’t sit by everyone and manage all the drinks. The older ones are finally old enough to carry their own backpacks with their toys! I also am sure to bring lots of wipes and some empty ziplocs for cleaning up messes.

  13. We go on road trips with the kids but soon learned you need a decent sized vehicle to do it. After stuffing all our camp gear in a small trunk, we wound up getting a flat and having to unpack it all to get to the jack and spare. Now we have an economy SUV and always have it inspected before road trips. There is also a lot more room for the kids and our gear. This year we want to install a tow hitch and buy a small boat to take along.
    Jenny´s latest post: 1998 GMC Yukon SLT

  14. I’m blogging about this tonight, in fact!!! I can always use more input, so thanks for all you shared here. On our recent spring break road trip, I prepared for weeks and gathered a whole slew of activities to engage the various senses, something new every half hour or so for a 19-hour drive. I planned everything around what I call a looney bin (because it keeps me out of the looney bin!), Every activity and snack was small enough to fit into the kids’ metal lunchboxes. They would hand over their bins and I would clean out the last activity and put in the next. Each switcharoo was filled with excitement as they opened the lid to see what was inside. This week, I’m giving away a Road Trip Looney Bin filled with some of my favorite items, so feel free to come on over and enter to win. :)

  15. For our Miss Three (at the time) who really likes routine and to know what to expect each day, we used a visual diary. Each day I had put in a picture of the main events for each day (a picture of a plane for the number of flights we had to take, and a picture of where we would be staying that night). Each day we added to it,and by the end of the holiday was a beautiful keepsake of what we had done and where we had been. Pics here: http://playtalklearn.com/2011/07/create-a-language-filled-holiday-by-making-a-travel-journal/
    Emily @ playtalklearn´s latest post: Week of Words… 21st May

  16. This is just so timely since I’ve been looking for tips for travelling with your kid. And this one is really helpful. Do you have any other tips aside from this one?Thanks.
    Shane´s latest post: How To Pick Up Girls

  17. Thanks for this great post! :)
    Stephanie@MakeMoneyOnline´s latest post: Work at home as an online tutor: Brainfuse Review

  18. Last summer we did a cross country road trip from Los Angeles to Tampa, FL with our 18 month old and our 3 year-old. I was a little intimidated at first, but we had an amazing trip! We are so excited to do it again — yet to a different destination (maybe the Carolinas?). Some tips that I have for parents with little kids: make a routine while on the road (nap time, quiet time, and bedtime should be around the same each day to help them have some sort of consistency), use Priceline negotiator (you can get 3 star hotels for $50 a night- it’s awesome!), and go geocaching along the way (you can go off the beaten path and explore really neat areas of each town).
    jen@FamilySponge´s latest post: Eco-Friendly Birthday Party Ideas for Kids

  19. Oohh.. I’ve just been sharing these over at the blog as well, but here you go, some of my fave tips are:
    1. Always make snacks easy to carry and eat. Snack sacks are our favorite for our daughter, since she can easily open them herself and tote them easily in her backpack.
    2. Investing in kid-friendly luggage is a great investment. Yes, it is for all the reasons the awesome commenters have outlined above!
    3. Dress kids comfortably. Also, never make a child wear new shoes for traveling. You’ll never stop hearing, “Mom, my feet hurt”. Ask me how I know!
    4. For road trips, take frequent rest stops so that tired tots can stretch.
    Prerna@The Mom Writes´s latest post: Awesome Travel Accessories for Kids to Make Traveling and Trips Easy and Fun


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