Packing and preparing to travel with kids

How to travel with kids

Travel with kids

So you have done it, booked that amazing trip, waited for travel day to come and now its time to head out and travel with kids!  What can you do to best prepare yourself, your luggage, and your kids for a successful journey?


Be rested!  There is always the flurry of last minute packing, things to buy, prescriptions to fill, house to clean, a long sundry lists of “to-dos”.  We are very strict with ourselves about having our TRIP COUNTDOWN

  • 14 DAYS OUT – Find your papers! Double check the location and expiration date of your passports, and any required documentation for travel with kids.  This is especially important if one parent is traveling alone. Many countries require notarized affidavits to allow one parent to take a child without the other parent.  This is a great time to double check your itinerary and make sure no flight changes have happened to your trip.  Also make 2 color copies of your passports if you are traveling outside of the country (each parent should have one set).
  • 7 DAYS OUT – go online and order electrical adapters if you are going out of the country.  These adapters will convert the wall plugs in your destination country to those of your home country.  If you’re heading to a new country make sure you are prepared!  Typically travel accessories are much cheaper online than at your local market.  We lay out all the electronics we plan to travel with and make sure we have enough chargers, cords, and adapters.  Next call whatever credit cards you plan to travel with and tell them your travel plans so they don’t ping your account for fraud protection.  You can do this online or by calling the number on the back of your credit card.
  • 4 DAYS OUT – today we do our first packing of bags.  This is when we do all the “big bags”.  Pay special attention to the weight of your luggage and try to keep it around 45 pounds.  The max for most airlines is 50 but a 5 pound buffer allows for a discrepancy between your scale and the one at the check in desk.  Make sure you know what the luggage allowance is on your flights! Most carriers allow 1 free checked bag if flying international and charge for the second. Some credit cards also can get you a free checked bag for yourself and others traveling on your reservation.
  • 3 DAYS OUT – now is the time to go out and find/buy all the stuff you realized you didn’t have when you packed.  This is especially important for personal amenities when you travel with kids.  The kids need diaper rash cream (if your going to the beach as they WILL get a sand rash), Tylenol, parents need ibuprofen or whatever your preferred pain reliever, allergy medication, and sunscreen.  We try to always buy medication in tablet form to ease the hassle of TSA with liquids.  If you’re going to the beach; swimmer ear solution.  All those things you realized you don’t have but will make the trip and travel with kids much more enjoyable.
  • 2 DAYS OUT – today you pack your carry on.  For us, each adult has a roller bag and a personal backpack.  Each roller bag gets a change of clothes for each kid, pain management for kids and adults and any of the lithium batteries we need to take with us (lithium batteries can not go in your checked luggage), and snacks.  Dried fruit, nuts, anything that is easy to eat that doesn’t melt is a good idea.  If your traveling internationally make sure all nuts/fruits are eaten or thrown away before customs.  Next goes in the family electronics.  We allow each kid to travel with 1 electronic device that is stored in the communal roller board.  Our personal backpacks have our computers, toiletries, a portable recharging battery bank for the electronics, and little else.  We learned quickly that letting the kids pack their own carry on eventually meant that we would be dragging an overstuffed heavy backpack around for the entire trip after they got bored of carrying it.  Since then during travel with kids we allow the kids each a small backpack with 1 book, one personal item, a pair of headphones (each kids has a pair of over the ear headphones), and a change of clothes that match the climate you are arriving in (if we are going from hot climate to cold climate or vice versa).  The last thing we do is put an empty water bottle in each carry on.  You can not carry water through security but you can take an empty water bottle, then fill it up after security.  Before the kids could read we would allow a coloring book with an 8 pack of crayons instead of a book.  When the kids were still in diapers we would pack a diaper kit in EVERY carry on! That way we could easily get to a diaper and wipes no matter where we were.   Once carry ons are packed we do a final cleaning of our house and prepare it for our absence.
  • 1 DAY OUT – nothing.  The goal here is to have everything packed, cleaned and ready.  If there are any chores left on the list the morning is the time to get it done.  Wake the kids up early and in the afternoon take them out for a physical activity. We always do dinner out the last meal so that the house stays clean and go to bed early!
  • TRAVEL DAY – Get there early! Standing with kids in line for an hour is way more difficult than sitting with kids for an hour.  Get there early before the lines and spend that extra time waiting by the gate instead of trying to corral a herd of your children in line.  For international flights we always arrive 2.5-3 hours before the flight time.  We happily travel with TSA PreCheck which helps with security lines because we travel with kids a lot, but if you do not travel a lot that may not be worth the expense.  Look for the kids/handicap/crew line if possible to get through a bit faster.  We frisk the kids before we get in the security line and make sure that everything is in their backpack with nothing in their pockets so there are no surprises.  Upon arrival (if in a foreign country) we always either convert $100USD to the local currency, or find an ATM to get out around the same amount in local cash.  You will likely pay a bit more in conversion fees by not using the ATM but either way getting local cash in your pocket is important as many smaller shops, taxi, food, and tips don’t accept USD.

Get a good night sleep the night before so you are rested and ready to go! To travel with kids can try your patience but if you approach it correctly it can be great.  Prepare yourself to do what we call “tending the flock”.  As soon as we start our traveling we realize for the kids its a new environment and things that they normally proficient at can be challenging (like tying their shoes, going to the bathroom, remembering their backpack, ect.) so we pay extra attention to make sure they have their stuff, are not hungry or thirsty, and don’t need to go to the bathroom!  Cause if you don’t all three things somehow simultaneously become an issue moments into boarding your flight.

Your luggage

For a very long time we found ourselves dreading the airport as we had to drag around nine 50 pound bags (and often a 12 foot kayak).  Since then we have honed our packing skills to try to make our travels easier.  Don’t take too much with you.  If you are taking an extended trip and have laundry service, plan on less clothes for yourselves and your kids and do laundry while abroad.  We pack shoes and let the kids travel in flip flops as they are infinitely easier to slip on and off.

Your kids

Be prepared and plan.

Who is ready to board a 17 hour flight?

When they were infants/toddlers we would take shifts tending to the child/ren (our kids are all 2 years apart in age).  So if we had 2 flights in a trip, we would have the parent in charge for each of the flights while the other was able to try to relax.  Obviously if needed the other parent would come in to help but we both realized how important the relaxing time was so we would do our best to leave the other parent alone.  When they are toddlers the center seats become your friend! If there are three seats across the middle putting your child in the center allows them to stand and move around with out getting ran over by other passengers or the beverage cart.  If you can get the front row (on the bulkhead) you will have way more room for the kiddos to stand and move.  Most airlines now up-charge you for the premium seats at the bulkhead, but they can be worth while to have the space for your child.  If you are traveling with an infant some bulkhead seats have a bassinet that actually affixes to the bulkhead itself and your infant can sleep away on their back.  If you’re taking an overnight flight and can get the bassinet seats your life will be drastically improved by allowing your baby to sleep comfortably all night!  When the kids were toddlers we would go to the dollar store and buy a few new toys that we would let them play with for the first time on the plane. But still, less is more, if you take 20 tiny toys in your carry on, you will likely lose half of them and your child will only play with one!  For the infants and toddlers be certain to have plenty of sippy cups with water or juice as the drinking motion can help them clear their ears during takeoff and landing.

Once they are about 5 travel with kids become much easier.  For our brood we try to find a balance of screen time vs book time vs sit in your seat without bothering everyone time.  We are pretty strict on them NOT kicking the seat, yelling, standing and generally making themselves be heard.  We try to be as courteous to other passengers as possible.  We allow them to watch screens or play with their electronic device after take off, but they must pause or put down their device (including taking out headphones) ANY time the flight attendants are providing service (lunch, dinner, beverage).  Most long haul flights have in seat entertainment systems, in those systems there are kids movie and TV sections which allow the kids to choose movies and TV shows that are age appropriate.  On shorter flights where there are no inflight entertainment options the personal electronic device or book comes into play.  If we are taking an overnight flight then screens are off after dinner until the breakfast cart comes around. DO NOT LET YOUR KIDS WATCH MOVIES ALL NIGHT!  They can and will do it, then proceed to fall dead asleep while you are standing in the long slow moving lines to immigration or customs!  We make each child try to use the restroom right before we board and right after the inflight service to avoid the rush on the restroom that happens an hour or two after the food cart comes around.  When they make the call for prep for landing we send the kids for one last try before landing.

This is by no means an end all guide to travel with kids but these guidelines have gotten us to be able to travel pretty happily with our kiddos!

One thought on “Packing and preparing to travel with kids

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *