The Ultimate Simple Guide for Traveling with Kids: Planning, Prepping + Packing

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Traveling with young kids has taught us some things.

Sure - some of what we have learned is specific to traveling with small humans, but honestly a lot of it is just good, simple traveling wisdom that applies to just about anyone.

If you aren’t traveling with kids, I still think you will find value here. Just take what applies to you and ignore the kid-related stuff or pass it on to your friends + family members with kids.

Wherever you are - I hope this post helps you get where you are going with less stress and the stuff you need.

(NOTE: This is a LONG post - want to just print out the basics of what to do and what to pack in a check-the-box, to-do list format? I’ve got you! Click here.)

Traveling with small children is NOT “vacation”.

Seriously. It will be an adventure. It will be fun. But it will not be the lazy paced, late night dancing, ordering room service and do-whatever-sounds-fun-at-the-moment vacation you may remember from your pre-kid days.

It’s still parenting. Of the same kid(s). Only now with different scenery! That said, it IS an opportunity to make memories together and have a lot of fun.

Just how MUCH fun you all have depends largely on YOUR mindset and how well you have planned, prepped and packed leading up to the trip.

Ready to have an awesome trip? Here we go! You’ve got this!

PLANNING

Set Expectations

Ever have this grand vision of how things will go and halfway through the trip you are feeling disappointed and annoyed? Mmmhmm. Me too.

Here’s the deal.

Everyone has expectations - you, your partner, your kids, your friends/relatives. There is nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when we don’t SHARE them with each other and PLAN to make them happen.

Own your expectations and get them alllll out on paper.

Make a grand wish list of everything you, your partner and your kids would like to do. Then ask your relatives/friends what their hopes are for your visit and add those to the list too.

What do you want to eat and where?
What to do you want to do and see?
Who do you want to spend time with?
Do you want to have a date night?
Are there special family events to attend?

Next, start putting those things into your calendar. You can’t do everything or be everywhere, so choose the things that are top priority (aka the things you would be SUPER bummed to miss out on.)

And also remember to schedule some unstructured downtime and to give yourself some margin in case things don’t go to plan. This is still life with small kids.

PREPPING

Go over this list with your partner and/or older kids and assign responsibilities. Divide and conquer! You’ve got this!

WHAT TO DO FIRST…

Notify People Who Need to Know You Will Be Gone

  • Put your mail on hold

  • Notify school of planned absences

  • Put a hold on/cancel/skip automatic deliveries + subscriptions (Amazon, HelloFresh, etc.)

  • Put a vacation hold on gym memberships

  • Double check your calendar and reschedule appointments

  • Contact your bank + credit card companies to let them know you will be traveling.

  • Set “out of office” messages.

Deal With Important Things

  • Make sure your passports and/or other ID are current and won’t expire while you are gone.

  • Book appointments: salon, waxing/sugaring, nails, etc.

  • Refill prescriptions.

  • Take stock of your fridge/pantry and meal plan around what you have to avoid wasting food.

  • Finish gift shopping (if you can order online and have things delivered to your destination, DO IT!)

  • Taking a carseat on the plane? FIND THE STICKER THAT SAYS IT IS FFA APPROVED (It will always be in red). Can’t find it? Look up the manual online and if it says it’s approved, bring a copy with you to show the airline. (This link has lots of info about taking carseats on a plane. Trust me - you don’t want to have to do this for the first time when you are trying to board. It’s super stressful.)

AT LEAST 48+ HOURS BEFORE...

  • Send copy of your travel itinerary, destination address + contact info to a family member or friend

  • Confirm hotel + car rental reservations

  • Hide an extra key to your house (or give one to someone you trust)

  • Put gas in your car

  • Return Library Books

  • Reserve a parking spot at the airport

  • Write down your contact info/instructions for house sitter

  • Scan/take photos of your travel documents

  • Research airport kid zones

  • Load shows/books/games onto devices

  • Get cash in small bills for tips (shuttle driver, housekeeping staff)

  • Write down your destination address + contact number and put it in your wallet (you will need this for filling out immigration forms - it’s also just good to have.)

  • Print/Write out your itinerary

  • Start catching up on laundry (the goal is to have it all done before you leave.)

  • Meal plan and/or Prep + Freeze a couple meals for when you get back

  • Shop for snacks

THE DAY BEFORE...

  • Pack your bags

  • Prep snacks

  • Load bags into car (or put them by the door)

  • Charge all devices

  • Empty perishables from the fridge

  • Take out trash, recycling, compost

  • Run the dishwasher

  • Finish up laundry

  • Clean bathrooms

  • Wipe down counters

  • Water plants

  • Make beds with fresh sheets

  • Vacuum

  • Sweep / Mop

  • Set out what everyone will wear on your travel day (if traveling super early in the morning, consider having your kids sleep in whatever comfy clothes they will be traveling in.)

  • Empty your wallet/purse to just the essentials

THE DAY OF...

  • Wash dishes (and/or consider eating out)

  • Double check that there isn’t wet laundry still in the washing machine.

  • Double check that all toilets are flushed (potty training, anyone?)

  • Grab all chargers

  • Turn off extra lights, set lights on a timer

  • Unplug appliances

  • Double check that you have:

    • Phone

    • Wallet/Purse

    • Passports / ID / Travel documents

    • Medications

    • Toiletries

    • Glasses

    • Mouthguard/Retainer

  • Make sure you DON’T have anything prohibited hiding your pockets or luggage (pocket knives are a common one).

HEADING HOME...

  • Buy + pack snacks

  • Gather up all chargers + devices

  • Pack dirty laundry together in one bag

  • Make sure nothing is hiding under beds or in drawers

  • Order groceries for pick up or delivery upon arrival

PACKING

We no longer check our luggage. Having only carry-ons saves us so much time - which is essential since our itinerary usually includes multiple flights with different carriers.

I will do whatever I can to avoid having to deal with baggage claim, rechecking bags and trying to keep track of two little kids - especially with one who loves to stop and admire every billboard and another who treats the airport like he is on American Ninja Warrior.

HOW TO PACK…

Use packing cubes.

I LOVE packing cubes. These are the ones we have (there are LOTS of options out there. I find we use the medium sized ones the most.)

  • You can separate things based on what you need for different parts of your trip or by person/category.

  • I love how easy they make packing + unpacking. It’s like each kid gets their own “mini suitcase”.

  • They are also awesome if you have to open your bag before reaching your destination. No awkward piles of underwear falling all over the place or having to hurriedly shove everything back into the bag in the security line.

Choose your luggage wisely.

If you are going to be traveling a lot, it makes sense to invest in bags that make life easier.

We have two eBags Motherload Weekender backpacks. They can hold a lot while also remaining compact enough to be carry-ons. The different pockets and sections are well-designed and make getting things in and out of the bags so easy - especially when combined with packing cubes.

We also just purchased two rolling Micro Lazy Luggage bags that our kids can actually ride on top of! (There is currently a 20% off coupon for these on Amazon.com)

They were the only carry-on bag + kid seat combo I could find that would work for our tall 4 year old and after a few test drives around the house, I can already tell they are going to make our trip so much easier!

With a daredevil and a daydreamer, knowing exactly where they are and being able to move through the airport as a single family unit without having to chase down or hurry along either of them is going to be a dream come true. PLUS…the kids love them.

There are several other kid seat + carry-on options out there - including seats that you can attach to your suitcase like this or even some that attach your child’s carseat to your suitcase like this if you were already planning to bring your carseat on the plane.

Micro Lazy Luggage
Micro Kickboard

THREE SIMPLE PACKING RULES…

1) You can always buy things when you get there.

When Javi (our oldest) was 3 months old, we went to Mexico for a month. And we packed SO. MANY. DIAPERS. We even brought our huge, fancy-pants stroller. Bless us and brand new parents everywhere. We practically brought the whole house.

On our last trip to Mexico with kids in diapers? We packed just enough to last us for the journey plus one day and made a trip to Wal-Mart soon after we arrived to stock up.

Traveling somewhere where Amazon or some other service delivers? You can buy what you need online and have it shipped to your destination.

2) If in doubt, LEAVE IT OUT. Don’t pack things "just in case”.

3) It’s better to rent or own double than to be a pack mule.

Before our most recent trip to visit Juan’s family we looked into renting carseats from the rental car company in Mexico. You guys…it was the SAME PRICE as buying brand new carseats.

Since we travel there often and can store the carseats at his parents’ house, we went ahead and bought some online and had them shipped to their home.

If it doesn’t make sense for you to purchase a duplicate item, consider borrowing from a friend/family member at your destination or renting when you get there!

There are LOTS of companies that facilitate baby gear rentals between local area parents and visiting travelers.

It’s something I wish we would have taken advantage of in the past when our kids were smaller. Click here for a list of many companies offering this service around the world!

OK. GOT ALL THAT? HERE’S MY BASIC PACKING LIST!

(Want this packing list in a printable, check off the box form? Click here!)

FOR THE LITTLES…

  • Diapers/Pull-Ups + Wipes (remember you can always buy more at your destination)

  • Snacks (I love these reusable snack bags)

  • Empty Water Bottle (fill post-security)

  • Formula + Bottles

  • Pacifiers

  • Lovie/Special Blanket

  • Books + Toys

  • Wet Bag for soiled clothes

  • Carrier

  • Stroller

  • Baby Monitor

  • Easily accessible, extra change(s) of clothing

  • Toothbrush

  • Clothing (more/less depending the length of your stay + laundry access)

    • Socks

    • Pajamas

    • Mix + Match outfits:

      • 3-5 tops / onesies

      • Shorts

      • Pants / Jeans / Leggings

      • Skirts / Dress(es)

      • Sweater/Sweatshirt

      • Sneakers / Flip Flops / Sandals / Boots

    • Swimsuit

    • Winter gear

FOR THE BIGS…

  • Snacks (I love these reusable snack bags)

  • Empty Water Bottle (fill post-security)

  • Headphones (we have these and I love that they can be connected to share the audio from a single device)

  • Tablet / e-Reader

  • Books + Toys

  • Clothing (more/less of things depending on the length of your trip + laundry access)

    • Underwear

    • Socks / Tights

    • Pajamas

    • Mix + Match Outfits:

      • 3-5 tops

      • Shorts

      • Pants / Jeans / Leggings

      • Skirts / Dress(es)

      • Sweater/Sweatshirt

    • Swimsuit

    • Winter gear

    • Sneakers / Flip Flops / Sandals / Boots

    • Toothbrush

FOR THE GROWN-UPS…

  • Clothing + Accessories (more/less of things depending on the length of your trip + laundry access)

    • Underwear

    • Bra(s)

    • Shapewear

    • Socks / Tights / Pantyhose

    • Pajamas

    • Mix + Match Outfits:

      • 3-5 tops

      • Shorts

      • Pants / Jeans / Leggings

      • Dress(es)

      • Sweater/Sweatshirt

    • Swimsuit + Cover Up / Wrap

    • Workout Gear (only if you KNOW you will use it)

    • Shoes (one of these pairs will be on your feet for travel)

      • Flip Flops / Sandals

      • Heels / Boots

      • Sneakers

    • Cold Weather: long underwear, gloves, hat, scarf, etc.

    • Accessories: Belt, Jewelry, Scarf, etc.

  • Wallet / Purse

  • Passports / Visas / IDs

  • Boarding Passes (printed or electronic)

  • Laptop

  • Snacks

  • Empty Water Bottle (fill post-security)

  • Headphones / Ear plugs

  • Keys

  • Tablet

  • e-Reader or actual book

  • Camera

  • Chargers

  • Power Bank (Juan added this one to the list. And also to our Amazon cart. Great for charging phones when power isn’t available. Also MUST be packed in your carry-on luggage - can’t be in a checked bag.)

  • Pen/Paper

  • Medications: Prescriptions, Children’s Tylenol, Excedrin, Melatonin

  • Vitamins

  • Toiletries / Personal Care (remember you can always buy more at your destination)

    • Shampoo/Conditioner

    • Soap/Body Wash

    • Face Wipes

    • Feminine Hygiene Products

    • Contact Lenses

    • Eye drops

    • Glasses

    • Toothbrushes

    • Toothpaste

    • Sunscreen

    • Makeup

    • Hand Sanitizer

    • Deodorant

    • Hair brush

FOR OTHERS…

  • Gifts: consider ordering online and having them shipped to your destination, if possible. It will be less for you to physically carry and there’s less chance that things will get lost or broken in transit.

THAT’S IT, FRIENDS.

I realize it looks and feels like a lot when it’s all written down, but let me tell you - you probably had most of this running around in the back of your mind too.

Now that it’s written down - all you need to do is do the work and check off the boxes! Which is so much less stress than having to do all that AND remember it all.

If you haven’t already - click here for the printable checklists.

Happy Traveling!

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