Tons of tips for travelling with toddlers and preschoolers: preparing kids for travel, flying with kids, travel activities, snacks, apps and just generally trying to maintain sanity.
What are we dealing with here?
There are some families who have the opportunity to travel with their young kids a lot. I think this is awesome and it really helps kids to become familiar with flying/road tripping and everything else that goes with being away from home for a long period of time.
However, that’s not us.
I hope that we have the chance (and are a little braver) from here on out and that we’ll do more exploring with our kids when they’re young, but for now, we’re not hopping on a plane every month or two with our kids.
For this reason, every time we go somewhere it’s a totally new experience for them and the unfamiliarity can be a little overwhelming at times.
We had two girls, ages 2 and 4.5, when I originally wrote and shared this on The Recipe Rebel, and this was our 2 year old’s first flight and our 4 year old’s second flight.
It’s new to them but not necessarily something they’re afraid of. If your kids are older they will likely have slightly different interests and needs, but you may still find some of the information useful.
Preparing kids for travel:
Here are a couple of the things we were working on in the weeks leading up to our trip so that we could have the best experience.
Our kids had been waking pretty early in the morning and going to bed pretty early at night a few weeks before we were to leave. Because we were going to be in the same room with them (and a cozy room at that!) on the cruise ship, we didn’t want to have to stay in the room, in the dark, from 7pm until morning. We also didn’t want them dragging us out of bed at 6 or 7 in the morning.
We gradually started having them nap later and keeping them up later before bed, and they started sleeping in later, and it worked out really well when we went on holidays and wanted to go out in the evening with the girls. For the most part, they slept great!
I don’t know if any of you have 2 year olds, but maybe you have an idea what it’s like to be at the table or in a restaurant with a toddler with ants in her pants.
Let me tell you: it’s not all that enjoyable.
Our oldest daughter was a little more mellow, and a little easier to take out to restaurants. And at the age she is now, she can easily entertain herself quietly and sit nicely.
Our youngest is a busy, busy little girl who hates to sit still. For the month before we were to go, we worked on having her sit at the table until everyone was done, and really worked on her table manners.
If she had a fit or wanted to leave, we had her sit in timeout until she was ready to come back, but we never let her get up and wander.
(P.S. I will add here that it still wasn’t easy for her, and the only thing that saved us was having a slew of new, quiet activities packed. More on that below 🙂 )
What to bring:
Three pieces of advice:
- Bring a wheelie carry on bag — at least one. This way you can use it as a cart to carry your other bags but slinging the straps over the handle. Carrying heavy bags while you’re rushing around the airport is not going to make your life easier!
- Use a backpack. I was really adamant that I wanted a good backpack because they distribute the weight more evenly and are easier on your back. Plus, they keep both hands free to drag other bags, push strollers, or carry a kid or two. (I asked my friends at Lug to send one of their Echo Backpacks so I could try it out and include it here, and they so kindly did! This post isn’t sponsored — I am just their #1 fan 😉
- Stay organized — for your own sanity. Being unorganized drives me crazy, especially when I have kids in airports to worry about! Have a spot for everything and know where your important documents are all the time. A travel wallet can come in really handy when you need somewhere for all of your passports, stubs, flight tickets, etc. I also love these packing cubes because I can put everyone’s clothes and toiletries in a separate cube, and when we arrive at a hotel I just pull the whole thing out and put it in the drawer. No stepping over unstuffed suitcases!
Stroller v. Collapsible Wagon
We really considered getting a collapsible wagon instead of a stroller that could fit both kids. Having our oldest walk everywhere (and whine about it!) wasn’t really an option we considered.
In the end, we got a sit ‘n’ stand stroller (this one) so that if needed, our 2 year old could still sleep in the front while our oldest sat in the back. The kids loved it, and it gave us lots of space in the basket underneath to store stuff.
In the Carry Ons
You might want to include:
- Ziploc bags (for half eaten snacks, loose crayons or toys, etc. — I always find a use for them!)
- Empty water bottles (to fill after security)
- Your valuables: all electronics (place the heavy items in the wheelie bag so you’re not carrying them!) and things that are important to you
You definitely want to include:
Because we were travelling internationally, we were a little limited as to what we wanted to risk bringing through security and customs. As much as I would have loved to bring it, we stayed away from fresh fruit and veggies, cheeses, and stuck with clearly labelled packaged goods.
Our kids don’t eat a lot of prepackaged foods at home, but when we travel that is what we take. I figure it’s less of a hassle at the border if the officers can easily tell what something is!
- Squeezable applesauces (in a resealable plastic bag)
- Real fruit twists and gummies (these are great for chewing on when taking off and landing!)
- Small crackers
- Granola bars
- Dried fruit and mixed nuts
- Chocolate covered dried fruit
I made up different bags of snacks for the way down and the way back, so that we wouldn’t have to figure that out on our way back to the airport. I like to stick with small snacks so there is less mess and less left over.
Obviously, it’s important to keep your child’s interests in mind and plan accordingly! For young kids, I think having a good variety is so important. They don’t all have to be big expensive toys, but a variety of different things to keep their attention.
We brought out the activities on the plane and at dinner, when they need something to keep them busy while sitting still. And I definitely don’t regret bringing so many! We went through almost all of them in our 12 day trip.
- Reusable sticker books
- Notebooks with new crayons, markers, stamp markers, glitter markers, smelly pens, etc.
- Pipe cleaners
- Small figurines (for my girls: Paw Patrol!)
- Travel Aquadoodle
- Dry Erase Marker Books
- Magnetic Paper Dolls (my kids love them!)
- School activity books (writing practice for our preschooler)
- Story books
- iPad or tablet with apps, downloaded movies or TV shows if available, with kids headphones
- iPhone with apps, downloaded movies or TV shows if available
- small family photo album (my kids love looking at family pictures!)
I had an old iPhone that I wasn’t using kicking around, so we loaded it up with free apps (we love coloring apps and puzzling apps!) and downloaded a few of their favorite shows on iTunes. For $10, you can get 5 or 6 shows and it’s enough to keep the kids occupied if you need to!
We packed all of the kids activities, snacks, blankets, teddies in my Propeller bag and it worked perfectly!
Our kids favorite free apps:
The 4 year old:
The 2 year old:
- Thomas the Train racing app
- Strawberry Shortcake Puppy Palace
- Sago Mini Friends
- Laugh & Learn Learning Letters Monkey
I hope that you have found something helpful in here! If you have questions about anything, feel free to ask, and if you have other advice, feel free to leave it in a comment below 🙂