Traveling with small children is an enriching experience, yet it is a bit more challenging. There is a lot more to consider during the preparation of your trip, to make sure you won’t have to deal with unnecessary problems and inconveniences along the way. Here are 31 tips for traveling with small children to help you to organise a trip you and your children won’t ever forget.
1. Choose your destination wisely
It is easy to dive head over heels in some ‘best destinations’ list, but not every destination is as perfect when you travel with children. Venice in Italy for example. The city itself is beautiful, the people are amazingly kind and which kid doesn’t like pasta, pizza and gelato? But there is a lot of water and many, many bridges. It is not the most convenient place to walk around with a stroller or to have your children run around on their own. I had many almost-heart-attacks when Sophia started running. She also refused to sit in the stroller, but I still had to carry it up and down every single bridge we crossed. With a little one in a babycarrier it would be perfect though. This doesn’t mean Venice is a no-go, nonetheless you’ll be able to admire the beautiful city a lot more when you don’t have to worry about every street ending into water and another bridge.
There are more destinations like this, with pro’s and con’s when carrying around with a young child. Obviously it also depends on how adventurous you are and how disciplined the children are. In case of a ‘more dangerous’ destination it’s worth it to investigate if there are safe ways to transport through the city. Also make sure that your accomodation is in the better part of the city, or at least alongside a busy street.
2. Consider your children: Are they able to enjoy themselves at the destination?
Don’t get me wrong here, children don’t need that much to enjoy themselves. In other words, it is not absolutely necessary to have a huge playground or attraction park where you decide to go. Traveling with small children doesn’t mean directly that you’ll have to limit yourself when picking a destination.
Although that depends entirely on your children and their sense of imagination. Usually a city trip can still be a lot of fun and you’ll find playgrounds almost everywhere. There can also be many fun museums, but don’t expect your child to stay as disciplined as you desire when you visit museums and places that are absolutely borings in the eyes of a young child. If you go for a hotel with a pool area, it is good to see for yourself if your child can safely enjoy the swimming pool. When you’re looking for an all-in resort, to get maximum relaxation, you might want to check out what sort of entertainment they offer the children.
3. Sleeping conditions at accomodation
When you’re traveling with small children, you’d better make sure the accomodation will fit you and your childs needs. It might not be the best idea to stay in a party hostal, for example.
What are the needs of your child at night? Does your baby sleep in a baby bed, together with you or are they able to sleep independently in a single bed? Are you planning on bringing along a travel cod? Before you book accomodation for the trip, consider what the needs of your family are at night. Does the accomodation offer a baby bed? Will there be enough place to put a travel cod? Can they place an extra bed in the room? And in case you’re co-sleeping, how big is a double bed actually? I sleep together with Sophia, so for me it is important to have a double bed, which I push against the wall to avoid her to fall out of it. When we were still a family of three, we had to sleep in a 1,20m bed once, which the owner called a ‘kingsize bed’. With the three of us! Needless to say, we didn’t sleep comfortable at all. Now I take a narrow look at the pictures of a hotel room, trying to avoid to get fooled again.
4. Self catering or hotel room
What does your child eat? Will you be able to manage feeding moments from where you are located? In case you’re still 100% breastfeeding this is one you don’t need to think about. But when your child drinks formula of milk it’s important to consider how you’ll be able to organise this. You might need a microwave or stove to heat up the water or milk, an option hotel rooms usually don’t offer. Although sometimes the reception might help you with a microwave, if there is a restaurant available. You’ll also need a fridge, or to bring milk in individual packages. A convenience store next door can also be a solution to all of your problems. They’ll have fresh products, a fridge and often a microwave all in the same place.
Another option is to bring your own milk bottle warmer everywhere you go. In that case you’ll only need an electricity plug. If you don’t have one yet, I recommend this one from Wander Gadgets.
5. Check if the water is potable, can you safely give it to your child?
Here in the Netherlands we are used to tap water. Unfortunately that’s not everywhere the case. Whenever I travel, I check if the tap water at my destination is potable. I know I want to avoid getting sick, but when the water is meant for Sophia I am even more careful. In any case of doubt, I will go with bottled water. When you are staying at least a few days, consider buying large capacity and bottles made of recycled plastic. Never forget the environment. You can simply pour the water in a durable water bottle to bring with you during your day trips.
Is there a supermarket or supply store close to your accommodation? Or maybe a restaurant? Think of unexpected or emergency moments. It might be nice to have a shop nearby for when you run out of something important at a not so convenient moment. It might also be nice to have a restaurant nearby, for when you’ve been up and running all day long and simply need a quick bite before you crash down on your hotel bed.
7. Bring the right baby products
Especially if your child has a very sensitive skin. You don’t want to go through the trouble of testing a new product while you’re on vacation. And don’t forget to bring sunscreen for children. Why spend time in the hot sun looking for sunscreen if you could have brought your own?
8. Bring right travel documents
This one speaks for itself. Before you book a trip, make sure that you know which travel documents are needed at your destination. In most cases a passport is sufficient, but sometimes you will need a visa. And in some countries a visa is simply given at entry, while in other countries you’ll actually need to go through a real visa procedure. There is nothing more frustrating than getting denied entry into a country. The same counts for when you travel by car, there is always a possibility that you’ll have to show your documents. And when you’re traveling with small children you definitely want to avoid all kinds of trouble.
9. Carry birth certificate
In case your child has a different surname than you, it’s better to bring a birth certificate, adoption papers or other important documents. In that case you can prove that you are the (legal) parent. If you’re a single parent or traveling alone with small children, you’ll have to bring a document that shows the other parent approves that you’re taking your child out of the country. Border control can be very strict with this, as they obviously don’t want to carry the blame for having cooperated with international child abduction.
10. Transportation safety rules for traveling with small children
Make sure to check the protocol of the companies you are going to travel with, or to check the laws at your destination. As you are traveling with small children, it is important to know how you are required to transport them. If you are traveling by car, use a safe car seat. Sometimes in an airplane, bus or on a boat they also demand your child to travel in a car seat. It is better to know and bring one, otherwise you might get denied access. There are many products available for making traveling with small children in airplanes more comfortable, be sure to check with your airline company if the product you desire to bring along is allowed.
11. Bring toys
Traveling will be a lot more fun if your child can play, so it’s best to bring some toys along. Times goes a lot quicker if they can enjoy themselves. It’s also a great way to wind down at the accomodation after a long day outside. They’ll get a feeling of being at home, as they have their own toys to play with.
12. Let your child pack their ‘toybag’
Children like to feel responsible. If you let them pack their own toys, they can decide for themselves what they would like most to bring along. Pick their favorite bag and let them fill it with the toys they choose. You’re assured that the toys fit in one place, they won’t bring too much and you can even give them the responsibility of packing their own bag everytime it’s necessary.
If your child is a bit messy and you’re afraid to lose toys, take a picture of the contents of the bag. Each time the bag needs to be packed to go someplace else, you can check with that picture if nothing is being left behind.
13. Don’t forget their favorite stuffed animal!
The most important of all tips, I guess. With most children it’s almost impossible to go anywhere without their favorite stuffed animal, while other children only use it to sleep with at night. In any case, before you close the front door of your own home check if you have your travel documents, money, and your childs favorite stuffed animal.
14. Download entertainment before departure
Not everybody might agree, but there is no easier way to keep your child quiet for some time by letting them watch a video or movie. Download your childs favorite movies or videos before departure, as you never know if you will have Wifi or internet when you’re on the road. Time will fly for them while they’re entertained and you can cross another 1,5 hour off the travel time, hopefully.
Depending on the form of traveling, sometimes you are lucky to find onboard entertainment. Although you never know what they offer for small children, so if you still want to play it safe: make sure you have something on your own portable devices.
15. Download kids music
Have songs ready that might sooth your child or get him out of boredom. I’m not a big fan of listening to childrens music when we’re on the road, but when Sophia is really tired and nothing seems to help you’ll definitely hear some Baby Shark in our car. You might be obligated to sing along. But hey, anything for a peaceful ride, right?
16. Medication/Medical kit
Does your child use prescripted medication? Pack enough for the trip, or make sure to ask your doctor for a medication passport. It’s not necessary to bring the whole pharmacy with you, most things you’ll be able to buy on your destination. But there are always a few things that I prefer to have close with me for the more urgent events. We always pack paracetamol suppository, nose spray and cream for when she get’s an unexpected cold. I’m sure you can find all else on the destination, but it never hurts to carry a few items in case they get sick. If your children are a bit on the wild side, consider bringing band aids and disinfectant.
And if you forgot to bring anything, don’t worry! Usually you can try to get something at the reception or ask them where you can get what you need.
17. Moist wipes
Since parenthood, moist wipes are my best friends. They are indispensable when your children are still wearing nappies, besides that I use them to clean her face, hands, clothes, the surface where she spilled something. Heck, sometimes I even need them to clean up something for myself. Make sure to bring a package of moist wipes along the way, so you can clean anything that needs to be cleaned!
With one package you should be fine though. Anywhere you go, you’ll be able to buy new moist wipes if necessary. Remember: there are babies growing up everywhere :-)!
18. Bring clothes for any occasion, no matter where you go
Usually we have a good idea on what kind of climate we can expect and we know what kind of clothes to pack. But when you are traveling with small children, it’s best to be prepared for anything. It can always get hotter or colder than expected and sometimes children simply feel different than we do. Also, you don’t know if your child might get sick. It doesn’t hurt to have an extra sweater or a summer top for the unexpected moodswings of the local weather. Or for the crazy airconditioning or you sometimes find in warm countries.
19. Pack your kids favorite clothes
Some children have favorites, some children don’t care at all. My daughter has certain pieces in her wardrobe that she likes a tad bit more. I always pack clothes that I like, but I also pack clothes that I know she will feel happy about. There is not always a struggle, but some days she might have a very outspoken preference. Those moments are a lot easier when I carry a few of her favorite clothes, tantrum avoided!
20. Prepare your child, tell him about the holiday
As a child, each new day is full of surprised. You never know what your parents are up to! Most days they have to go with the flow and see where their parents will bring them today. It’s quite a surprise when this ‘where’ turns out to be a tad bit further away than the local supermarket. Also, even when you don’t tell them anything, a child always knows when something different is about to happen. It might stress them out a little, as the only thing they know about it, is that something big will happen.
The fun in traveling with small children, is to make them a big part of the experience. Everything is still so magical in the eyes of a child. Help them a little to see the magic in the experience of traveling. Tell him where you’ll go and what they can expect. If they’ve never been on an airplane, show them videos about airplanes, on YouTube for example.
For example the airline KLM has a YouTube playlist of their little airplane Bluey. It can be quiet fun for the little on to see an airplane and then all of a sudden sitting inside on! You can view their playlist here.
Try to show videos and images of the destination, foods they might explore there (if your child isn’t a terribly picky eater) and look for cartoons that might show something about the culture. Peppa Pig for example has various travel videos that might give a slight idea of what to expect. It’ll be a fun experience to see the things your child has already seen, but now in real life!
21. Look up some games you can play with your child
There are many kinds of games you can play along the way, without needing to bring anything to be able to play. Besides all the virtual entertainment, it’s always nice to have a game in which everyone can play along. You will see that the time will fly when you’re having fun! I Spy for example, is a great time killer. Or counting the amount of cars of a certain brand that you come across. It’s a lot of fun for yourself as well!
22. Kids camera
As fanatic as I am taking pictures and filming videos when we’re on the road, as is my daughter’s level of boredom. She doesn’t like it when I take too long, because I’m trying to get the best shot. But in this case, the perfect solution does exist! My daughter has a kids camera, which she can use to take her perfect shot. The camera is perfect for small children, as it has a thick plastic layer – serving as some sort of bumper for when it would drop on the floor.
Besides, how cute is it when your mini-you is standing right beside you with their own camera? And the bonus is that you can check the pictures your child took afterwards, who knows they might have produced an unexpected gem!
23. Bring a stroller or baby carrier
It might sounds like a good idea: let’s leave the stroller or baby carrier at home, as they take in a lot of space. We can always carry our kids around when it is really necessary, right? After all.. they should be big enough by now to walk some parts!
Well, my advise is not to be too hard headed and bring whichever tool that could help you and your child out! You never know, travelling can make children more tired than usual. The distances might be larger than you expected them to be, or you might fancy an unplanned hike. In my case, I know that my daughter doesn’t like to walk a lot and I know that I would cut myself in the hand if I would refuse to bring the stroller. It’s also convenient for the unexpected naps – traveling really can be exhausting! And for transporting a part of your luggage.
24. Pack wisely!
Don’t pack too much, but don’t forget things either. When you already have to watch over little kids and expect the unexpected, it’s better not to carry too much stuff around. It’s way too easy to lose something or to forget something. But, it’s also unconvenient if you leave important things at home.
The recommendation is to make a packing list. Start with all the móst important things when you travel with your children. Also add the things that might be useful in some case of emergency. Paracetamol and a thermometer, for example. It’s always better to have these things close. Don’t exaggerate this though, there is no need to bring the whole bathroom cabinet with us. Just the most probable we could expect.
After noting the indispensables, write different categories for each family members that you have to pack for. Make sure to check the climate at your destination and expect that it might be colder or warmer than you thought. In other words, when you go to a warm destination pack at least a sweater and vice versa.
25. Pack your childs favorite snacks and drinks.
At gas stations, restaurants and catering services you might not always find something that goes along with the delicate taste palette of the little ones. Also, your child might get hungry or thirsty long before you have the possibility to direct yourself somewhere to get food. And there is nothing as frustrating as a hungry child!
I always pack a few different things of which I am sure my daughter likes to eat. In this way we have something for the emergency situations and if those don’t happen, it never hurts to have a little snack to reward them for behaving so well during the trip.
26. Plan road times around nap time
If you’re able to choose at what time you’ll drive, try to plan your time on the road around the nap time of your child. The vehicle you’re traveling in might hum your child to sleep within no time. Better for the kids, as time will go a lot quicker and they will have to keep up with sitting still a lot less.
And you can concentrate on the road, driving, talking to the driver or entertaining yourself with the books you brought in good hope to be able to read at least one while on holidays.
27. Don’t take too many breaks along the way – take longer breaks
Many of us prefer to travel as fast as possible, to arrive at the destination as fast as possible. Who doesn’t prefer to add the time of a break to the amount of time you have to relax at the destination?
When you’re traveling with small children, breaks are inevitable though. Sometimes it’s necessary to change diapers, to take the time for a feeding moment or simply to let them stretch their legs and play without worries. For small children it’s often a strange experience. All of a sudden you’re trapped in the car or another vehicle for so many hours. In their little head something doesn’t add up. At home, usually car rides don’t take that long. ‘We’re going home’ normally implies a 15 minute drive. So why are they stuck in the car all day long now?
At some point you might expect some resistance from the little one. They are done with traveling! There is no way that they will get back into that carseat. For that reason, it’s better not to take too many breaks. Only the most necessary – and the rest will come later.
On the other hand, when you do decide to take a break: allow your child to forget about the long trip for a little moment. It can be a pretty boring experience for them and all they want is to run around. You can do all the necessary things at once, in the same break. Or even take a moment to get to know a new place that’s along the way.
When I did a roadtrip with Sophia, we planned a few consecutive travel days between different cities. As expected, each day that Sophia noticed we got back into the car for a couple of hours, she became less pleased. Knowing this now, it would have been better to plan more travel-free days for her. And to take more time exploring the beautiful places we saw along the way.
28. On airports: look for childrens areas
Most airport count with a special area for people traveling with small children. These are perfect when you are waiting for your flight, or when you have a longer stopover. There can be toys, a small playground or the area is painted in a fun way for the child’s eye. Some airports even count with quiet places where your child can nap in all peace. Look, before you leave, on the website of the airports you will cross. So you’ll know what you can expect and where to find it. Diaper changing rooms and sometimes also breastfeeding spaces can be found throughout the airport or in the standard restrooms.
29. Think of which luggage to bring when traveling with small children
When you’re traveling with small children, it’s best to think well about which bags and suitcases you want to bring. As a single mom, for example, I always have to remember that I only have two hands. I can’t bring a stroller and various suitcases on wheels. In my case, it would be best to bring a large backpack. That way I can still drive the stroller everywhere and carry our luggage. But, if you carry your child around in a baby carries a large backpack might not be the best option.
Think about how many hands and arms you have to lug along your suitcases and make sure to always be able to keep a hand free for the little one.
30. Take it easy!
The experience of traveling with small children will be a lot more stressful if you expect everything to go in a hurry. You probably already know from day-to-day life that things doesn’t always go as planned. There is always that tantrum, a playful child refusing to put on clothes, a dirty diaper when you were about to leave or a kid that gets sick.
While you’re planning, try to give yourself some space and time for the unexpected. If you’re on a roadtrip or traveling further, plan stops and rest time. If you’re traveling with children, a long bus trip after a long flight is a no-no. Give your child a moment to feel free, or to rest without too much pressure. Don’t try to arrive at your destination as soon as possible. And expect a jet lag or exhaustion because of the many hours of travel. It’s a very exciting experience for kids, and they see lots of new things. All these external stimuli are exhausting.
And when you arrive at your destination, don’t expect being able to go out and explore many things on your first day. Your child might need some peace of quiet. Or you, after all that organizing! It is always best to expect nothing. In the end, you can always adjust your planning and go out after all, if everyone is still full of energy.
31. Don’t stress too much about forgetting something
You can (probably) buy almost anything at your destination. We all know that feeling, the fear of forgetting something when we leave on a trip. It definitely helps to have a check-list, so you can reassure yourself that you did pack everything you will need. But apart from that, is everything we carry absolutely necessary? Sure, you need clothes, your toothbrush, diapers, maybe. Pack all the indispensable things in your handluggage, and then let go of this negative feeling. There will be shops and pharmacies everywhere you go.
Before you leave the house, just double-check if you have prescripted medication, your passports and travel documents, money and… your child’s favorite stuffed animal!
Last but not least: don’t forget to enjoy the trip. These memories will last a lifetime. Take pictures, gather souvenirs. Your kids in a few years will love to hear about the places they’ve seen when they were little. This type of memories is absolutely mesmerizing.
What about you? What is your first travel memory? Do you still have many memories of trips your parents took you on back in the days?
I hope these 32 tips for traveling with small children will help you to let your next trip go as flawless as possible – so you and your children will have the time of your lives.