Traveling with kids is, in a word, challenging.
In more words, it can make you want to stick a red-hot poker in your eye. But not all the time. Sometimes they fall asleep.
But seriously, it does take work to keep things from spinning out of control, or before you know it, you’re driving with the windows down praying for an exit while your little boy pees (or tries to) in a soda bottle. Let’s say that happened to a friend.
So here are some of my tips, gathered painfully over eight years of nine + hour road trips between the south and midwest with two little cranky humans. And some tips from 12 other moms who’ve been there, done that and lived to tell about it.. possibly over a glass of wine.. or to our therapists.. or over wine with our therapists.
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I can only wish we flew more often. With airfare so high, flying a family of four can come close to a mortgage payment. But on the rare chance we find a great deal on a low-cost carrier, I jump at the chance to fly. I’ve suffered through too many road trips for me to count.
The upside to flying, hopefully, is that you get there a lot quicker. But there can be lots of downsides, especially when flying with very little ones.
My must-haves are:
1- Tablets or portable video game systems WITH headphones
I make sure the kids’ tablets are loaded with games and movies and the batteries are fully charged before we leave. Sure you want to limit kids’ screen time but IMO traveling is NOT the time to do that.
I prefer snacks from home that are much cheaper than what you can get at the airport.
Elizabeth from The Home Business Owner also suggests some distraction..
“Take some things to keep the kids occupied, like their favorite coloring book or tablet with a lot of downloads of their favorite games to keep them busy at the boarding gate. If you have more than one kid, you don’t want the second and third running all over the place.”
And once you get on the plane with little ones, proceed carefully. Inez from For The Love Of Mom suggests..
“Wear your baby or toddler when flying! It makes getting through security so much easier. If you are flying with an infant, keep the baby on you until you have pulled out any items that you will need handy during the flight. I pull out diapers/wipes, snacks, my tablet, headphones, etc. It is much easier to get these things out while still wearing the baby. If you have a toddler and the seat next to you is free (or you’ve purchased it) you can have the child sit there while you get everything out that you might need.“
Inez also recommends borrowing or renting some big necessities at your final destination like car seats and pack ‘n’ plays. I actually bought two booster seats (for a great price online) and had them shipped to my sister’s home where we visit at least a couple of times a year. It’s such a stress reliever.
You might want to lighten your load even more by taking this advice from Claire from The Frugal Family…
“When staying in the same country.. order any food, nappies or other bulky/heavy supplies to be delivered the day you arrive.”
Flying can be especially tough with young kids who don’t understand and don’t know how to deal with air pressure changes. We’ve had so many inconsolable crying fits because of that.
Julie from Fab Working Mom Life has a solution…
“Have your baby/toddler start eating/drinking before takeoff starts so they don’t get pressure pain. Waiting until we started rolling was always too late for my kiddo.”
For more, check out Julie’s awesome post, How To Survive Flying With A Toddler.
My must-haves for road trips are pretty much the same as when flying, with water bottles added.
1- Tablets or portable video game systems WITH headphones
I pack healthy snacks, which aren’t always easy to find on the road, like crackers and fruit. It also saves money by avoiding impulse buys at gas stations.
3- Water bottles
We take reusable water bottles filled up at home, to avoid paying for water and creating plastic waste.
Food is also a key to success for Sheyla from The Momma Chronicles…
“Pack lots of snacks before you go. A full baby is a happy baby and that way you spend less money at our stops along the way. It saved my life traveling with my oldest.”
Having fulling charged and loaded electronics is a life saver. And Kathryn from Digital Savvy Parent has a genius tip for making that work…
“Back-up and remove all photos, videos and old movies on your devices. This will free up storage space on your device to take photos during your trip and add books, movies and music that you want to have for entertainment while traveling. If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can back up your photos and videos for FREE with the Prime Photos app as well as download shows and videos for free. For my kids, I try to have separate movies and tv shows on their devices. I do this in case they get bored of their own movies, so they can switch devices to watch something different.”
Check out Kathryn’s Top Family Vacation Travel Tips for more.
Probably a close second to electronics in importance is your child’s lovey, whatever that may be and whatever you call it. I couldn’t even imagine leaving home without those worn and tattered little stuffed animals my kids love. It’s seriously the stuff of nightmares.
Chelsea from The Crazy SAHM says…
“…ensure you do not forget the basics. We do a lot of car travel, and I cannot tell you the number of times I check and double-check that my kids have their favorite blanket, stuffed animal, and pillow in the car with them. Nothing worse than arriving at your destination after a long car ride to have your child not be able to sleep because you left one of these at home!”
Adel from Kwah Family Blog says the key to travel sanity is preparation…
“Traveling with kids can be stressful but [the stress is] avoidable. The answer is PREPARATION!
1- Know your destination from climate, food and culture to pack the necessary for the young ones.
2- Be prepared to forgo one or two destinations. Enjoy the trip with your kids rather than rushing off the travel plan.
Adel writes about what she learned from taking her toddler to Indonesia and other destinations. You can read more in her post, Traveling With Kids.
Packing and preparing is the easy part.. hopefully. The actual trip is where it gets real.
Marissa from DIYtified knows all too well…
“I traveled from Arizona to California and Las Vegas (total 6-8 hours drive time) with a 3-year-old and an 8-month-old still breastfeeding. We traveled during the day. I would say to stop about every 2 hours for potty breaks and feedings. And bring lots of easy snacks.”
And Jenny from Kindness In Demand makes a great suggestion for kids who are newly potty trained..
“Have younger potty trained kids wear pull-ups for long car rides. It takes the worry out of having to stop before you’re ready and is especially helpful if there just aren’t any bathrooms for a while.”
Jenny also suggests driving through the night…
“Have the driver sleep during the day and leave when they wake up.”
My husband and I tried this once and we were totally wrecked when we got there and the kids didn’t sleep very well. At the time my kids weren’t good sleepers anyway. But it is worth a try. Some parents have a lot of luck with this method.
Whether you’re driving or flying, Leigh from Chatty Mamas also suggests something that can be hard but great when successful…
“Keep your baby on their normal schedule as much as possible.”
Check out more great ideas from Leigh on flying with a newborn, like checking your stroller and asking the airline for a bassinet.
After all the preparation and packing and agonizing over schedules and feedings and potty stops, the whole trip can get so stressful. It’s important to let some things go if you can, for the sake of your sanity.
Jessica from A Modern Mom’s Life says…
“Don’t worry so much about what your kid is eating (it’s vacation after all!) and pack/bring what you know they will eat!”
Check out 7 Things Jessica Learned Vacationing With Kids.
And if you can, try to have some fun yourself! Jenny from Kindness In Demand says..
“Make sure you plan something for parents. Dealing with crying and traveling is a lot easier if you have something to look forward to once you arrive.”
Check out Jenny’s 8 Tips For Enjoying Yourself During Kid Activities.
There’s also a long list of things you should NOT do while traveling with kids. And those things are usually learned the hard way. You can check out that post here.
And be sure to check out the Frugal Mom’s Guide To Summer series.
Free Kids Activities has lots of ideas for summer activities for kids that are free or nearly free like bowling, skating, crafting and building. You can also get a Free printable Summer Activity Calendar and a Summer Adventure Checklist.
Library Games has a Free printable Silly Summer Mad Libs, Library Scavenger Hunt game and a Summer Reading Challenge sheet.
And Educational Subscription Boxes has reviews on eight of the most popular boxes for kids of all ages. From science, to language and nature, you can find a subscription box that’s perfect for your child and your budget. It’s a great way to keep kids learning over the summer.