Growing up, my dad worked for Northwest Airlines and each summer, after my youngest brother turned 2, my parents would take us on a summer trip. We either loaded up the Suburban and drove West or we would fly (stand-by). This family tradition made it so traveling wasn’t so daunting to my husband and I once we started our family.
Jason and I both like to travel. He often travels for work, him on 4 (or more) wheels to all different areas of the US to work. When we travel as a family, depending on time, we have usually chosen to fly especially if we have a child under 2. There was a point in this past year that in 12 months we had gone to Arizona, Alaska, Florida and South Carolina. Only one of these trips was a road trip and two of these trips were for sibling weddings. This type of travel schedule is not normal for us, but it did allow us to trial and error some of our travel methods with the kids. And traveling with 4 kiddos in tow, organization is KEY!! So what are our MUST HAVES?
When flying with kids, the MOST important thing is organization! For each paying passenger, take full advantage of the 1 carry-on suitcase and personal bag rule! Each of my kids has an appropriately sized rolling suitcase that they can pull through the airport.
Each child also has a mini-backpack that they have their flight activities in. Most discount airlines are not like Delta, which usually has a video screen in every seat. Even so, they don’t always work right.
In the mini-backpacks my kids have:
- Their tablet: games and movies previously downloaded.
- Neck pillow and a thin blanket that folds up small (for longer flights)
- A book, activity book or sticker book.
- 1 toy to play with. Cars, action figures (NO LEGOS! 😉 )
I carry a backpack diaper bag that has a change of clothes in it for the baby (Honestly, I almost ALWAYS need to use them!), diapers, wipes, a thin blanket/nursing cover (Aden & Anais swaddle is my favorite), a few toys, our travel info and identification.
Our youngest two kids are in car seats and airline travel creates a challenge anyway since you need to bring ALL. THIS. STUFF! Did you know all US based carriers allow you to check strollers, car seats, and infant carriers for FREE? They are called special items (like wheelchairs) and you need to see a ticketing agent to check them. I found car seat travel covers on Amazon that have backpack straps which makes getting these items to the ticketing counter a little easier. Once we realized that we could bring our own car seats for the younger kids, the logistics of renting a car and having proper restraints wasn’t so challenging after all.
A stroller and a baby carrier are also really helpful on vacations. Depending on the reason for traveling and the ages of the kids, we sometimes skip the stroller and just take something similar to an Ergo baby carrier.
Another thing I make sure to bring, especially when I was nursing an infant, was an empty water bottle. I would bring it through security and fill it up once we got to the gate or I’d ask for water once we got on the plane. Most of the flights I have been on with our kids, the flight attendants are so helpful and are willing to get us what we need. Usually they see kids coming and out come the wings buttons, coloring books and they ask us if we need anything!
A travel tip we we learned the hard way was NOT to use a backpack as a suitcase! In theory this seems like a great idea but they usually wind up rather heavy and dad typically ends up carrying it all! On our first trip to Alaska, we had an 8 month old, a 5 yr old and 8 yr old. I had the baby in a baby carrier on my chest and we had 1 rolling suitcase and 4 backpacks or duffel bags. Due to weather, we got into our Seattle layover late and our connecting flight left early trying to get out in the short weather window they had. So, we were stranded, had to stand in long Customer Service lines to re-book our flight, with kids and all of our stuff that didn’t move well. When we were walking to our next gate, my husband, who we were joking looked like a pack horse, would ‘neigh’ every once in a while. It lightened the mood but when we flew back home we had 3 rolling suitcases!
For us, road trips are usually less stressful than trying to naviagate an airport with kids and luggage. Plus, you don’t have to watch your size limits on liquid items and toiletires or on bag sizes and numbers.
We usually stick to a similar system of packing, taking 1 suitcase and small activity bag per person. This usually prevents us from taking unnecessary items. Sometimes I’ll condense the younger kids and my items into 1 large suitcase.
Then, I pack a cooler or larger lunch box with cold snack items and drinks and one bag with crackers, granola bars, and dry foods.
So, car travel:
- 1 suitcase per person
- small activity bag per child
- diaper bag
- 1 cooler and 1 snack bag
- stroller and/or baby carrier
Keeping to my set list usually allows us room to bring a few pool or beach toys and gifts for whom ever we are traveling to see.
So there you have it. Those are my travel tips and must-haves for traveling with kids. Taking trips with our kids is one of my favorite ways to make memories! Happy summer vacations and don’t forget to take pictures! 📷