Thoughts on Traveling With Kids.

June 11, 2012

{been here, done this}
A post I have been thinking about and writing in my head for years now is the Master How to Travel With Kids one.  But I have come to accept I am no expert and there are certainly lots of other people out there who have compiled great lists and suggestions.  But since I am in the middle of packing for 5 (five!) people, I will give a brief list of things that I have found to work for our family on long-haul flights (I think there are special issues with overnight flights lasting 10+ hours....don't you?).  We have done this four times now with small kids, so I have learned a thing or two.

1.  Don't overpack.  This is the cardinal rule for travelers of any age, but it is even more important when you have small bodies that will likely need to be carried through an airport at some point.  We try to bring just what we think we will need and then cut that in half (ha).

2.  You have to pack a lot in your carry-on bags, so accept it and just be super smart about it.  We each bring one carry-on.  The kids have small backpacks that have a special toy (ONE), a new drawing pad and crayons (buy these....they won't roll off the tray and sending you crawling on the disgusting airplane floor for "GREEN!  I need GREEN!!") and a snack.  B and I carry big carry-on bags that zip or snap closed (very important as you don't want your crap falling out).  I wish I had a good, roomy backpack so that I could be hands-free, but I haven't found the perfect one.  Suggestions?

3.  In the big carry-ons, I use separate ziplock bags for everything  (juju's jammies and change of clothes in one, toiletries in another, snacks in another, you get the picture).  This helps prevent the stuff from falling out everywhere when you are looking for something.  Plus you can never have too many ziplocks on a trip.  They come in very handy to use later for wet clothes, food, all sorts of stuff.

4.  I bring little presents for the kids to entertain and delight (my mom has been nice enough to help me with this in the past).  Smaller and lighter the better, obviously.  I usually give them things I might not normally buy, so they think it's a real treat.  I also bring stuff like post-its, band-aids, tape and string.....they will provide hours (hopefully!) of entertainment.  For C-Man, the Where's Waldo Travel Book has been a lifesaver.  For Juju, she'll play contentedly for a long time with little tiny animal figurines and a playsilk.  Not totally sure about Little E yet....she was just a year and a half last summer when we went on our last big trip so she didn't really play much.  I am still nursing her, so there's always that.  ;-)

5.  For food, I am always trying to think of good food that doesn't need to be refrigerated (and that isn't purely carbs....carbs are easy).  Someone once told me to bring pancakes, which I always do now.  Nuts, string cheese, peanut butter sandwiches....but I need more ideas.  Help?

6.  I use Rescue Remedy.  I think it helps them relax (me too) and fall asleep more easily.

7.  Take a red-eye flight.  We have done both.  Leaving the West Coast at 8 p.m. and arriving in Europe the next day (without having to change planes) makes it a whole lot easier for everyone to sleep.   I highly recommend this.

8.  Dress them in cute clothes (or even matching clothes).  I really think it softens up the flight attendants and passengers around you (for reals!).  Last year, the kids wore matching navy and white striped shirts (nothing fancy) but everyone was ooh-ing and ahhh-ing about the shirts.  We have always had good luck with the people we sit by on planes.  Let's hope it continues.  :)

9.  The obvious: bring movies and books on your computer or iPad.  This is a treat for our kids so it works like a charm.  However, the kids entertain themselves really well and usually they watch just a movie or two.  (We once flew from Pisa to San Diego and they didn't watch anything!)  They also like to mess around with the screens on the plane.

What I really need help with is what to pack for myself.....I am thinking dresses that can work as a beach cover up, sandals, striped t-shirts, a hat, linen pants.....  What are you tips and ideas (for what clothes to pack or how to survive long flights with little kids)??


  1. We have been flying from Switzerland to the US twice a year lately (expats). One thing that my 2 and 5 year old girls like is when I bring one of their pillow cases. When I get on the plane I put an airplane pillow or two inside - they can snuggle with it like they do at home but it doesn't take up too much space.

    Thanks for your tips - especially the snack ideas.

    Have fun!

  2. It's hard on really long flights to bring food that needs to be refrigerated, but if I know I'm going to want a meal sooner rather than later, I'll bring a gigantic salad in a big tupperware. I put the dressing in a ziploc right inside the tupperware, and I've never had security problems. It's nice to eat a healthy meal on a plane! (plus, my daughter loves helping me eat it.)

    My 4 year-old loves stringing pony beads on pipe cleaners on the plane. I put all the beads in a fun little container with a lid, so they don't spill all over, and it has provided hours of entertainment, creating headpieces and jewelry and other random things.

  3. I love when you do these posts because I am starting to think of the same thing. I rely on Ipad because Joseph has so much energy and in the past it's been enough to drive me crazy. Plus he likes big trucks and trains and carrying that on was no fun. I feel guilty about it but I am hoping now being 3 is a little easier. Now with clothes I can help! Go to piperlime and look up Roberta Roller Rabbit tunics, they are light as air and gorgeous! I will take about 4 and pair with some of the new Jbrand cut off shorts. Easy and light to pack! Long maxi dresses are always great too! Splendid has this short called the La Jolla short that is heaven! Comfy and chic! You're leaving soon so you have probably done your shopping! Anyway, hope to see your adventures on Instagram!

  4. You are a brave woman to travel with the kids so often- I'm still working up to it! We are taking our two on a long day of planes (not direct unfortunately) in a few weeks and I'm nervous. I'll use your packing tips. Also, I was thinking about some of those Trader Joe's dried fruit type snacks for the plane as well. I found a cute art book for Norah at Solo in Solana Beach that has plenty of activities to do, and a book where you draw in neon pencils on black backgrounds (kind of like using a blacklight.)
    Good luck and have a great trip!

  5. I love Mexican dresses (I get them at the grocery store). They're light but colorful, and I wear them mostly as housedresses, but also as a cover up to the pool, and they are nice enough to wear to casual restaurants, too.

    Shoes are my big issue when I'm doing any real traveling. I want to be able to walk (a lot), comfortably, but without looking like, you know...

  6. I have only one child (5-year old son) and I have traveled, mainly alone, with him since he was 7 months old. For me the key item has always been something to make sure I would not have to carry him myself through the airport -- because being alone I could have never mastered the big carry on and him as well. Up until the age of three. An umbrella stroller has thus been my life saver. Afterwards, a friend of mine made me discover the power of a scooter: hours of endless entertainment and no need to carry him through the airport.
    On all the other points, I am with you: snacks, special toy, crayons, movies. As for the bag to carry, I have always found a roomy tote to be easier than a backpack. The latter, you need to get off your shoulder and open in order to get stuff in and out: the former is just there, nicely open, ready for action.
    As for the travel attire, I have learnt to bring a spare t-shirt for me as well, not just for my son: it is almost inevitable that you will get dirty :-)

  7. Hi! We just traveled to China with our 3 children, who are older than yours (13, 11, and 6). What about apps for the plane? We don't do much screen time at home, but on a plane, well, it works. I even found a fun app for my son to practice learning math facts (whackymath; like whack a mole but with math). Another thing I learned along the way, as they get older, is that each person gets their own backpack/bag to carry their own water, snack, and supplies; this is great for when hiking or out all day. Anyway, those are my tips for travel with (slightly older) children... I hope it helps!!

  8. We have traveled a lot with our 2 boys (ages 8 and 10) and are going to new Zealand next year so I'm very interested in tips for long plane rides! For snacks, a few favorites are trail mix ( Whole Foods has one called Island Hopper that's our current favorite), dried fruit(Little Duck organics or dried pineapple), turkey jerky sticks (also from WF...the one we like is called Tom-Toms snack sticks) and any of the Justin's single serve peanut or almond butters. I also bring crayola modeling clay ( sold in small packages at Target). My boys still love playing with this but just put it in a ziplock when you're done or it dries out. Have a great trip!

  9. We recently purchased Kindle Fire's for each of our little guys (9 and 6)... I have been impressed with these... Not only can they download books, but they can get apps as well... They think they have their own personal computers... We limit screen time, but with our upcoming road trips we thought these would help them (and us)... Don't forget the urbanears...

    Happy travels...

  10. There are some great ideas here. I flew across country with my then 3 year old and 9 month boys last year and it was a nightmare! My 3 yr old couldn't fall asleep and we had to stop 3 times! ugh. Next time I definitely would go for a red eye and pay extra for direct flights.
    In addition to your snacks (we do pancakes too) I also like carrot sticks. I love the idea of individual almond butters.
    For activity (my boys barely ever sit still!) A special sticker/ activity book worked really well for my older one.
    Have a wonderful trip!

  11. Love your blog. Am also a lawyer married to a lawyer and doing the family thing--we have 4 aged 12, 9, 6 and 4. We haven't gone off the continent yet but planning to do Europe next year so I'm looking forward to reading about your experience. A couple things I have learned traveling this year: For shoes, try these sandals. They've got runner soles so they are super comfortable and the ankle support helps as well. The slight heel makes them work with lots of different lengths of dresses and pants / capris for a slightly more stylish/dressy look.
    For the kids on the plane, try these in addition to your crayons. The lids are attached so you can't lose them on the plane--saves the digging under the seat to find the lid / throwing out half your pens because they dried out on the flight.

  12. I always bring a change of clothes for myself, or a pair of leggings anyway- not nice getting puked on at the beginning of a flight! Lollipops are great for going up and coming down, I think they can help little ears - and they are a serious treat in our house! A new book each and some stickers etc to pull out when needed!

  13. Oooh, I like those shoes that Anon linked above! Def bringing baby wipes to freshen up and a small tube of toothpaste/brush.

  14. Great tips here Jora. Bookmarked.

    Have the greatest vacation...Italy is magical.

  15. Jora,
    Hey! We just returned from Norway/Sweden last night with Sara and Casey (10 and 12). I realize it doesn't compare at all to your kids' ages (ours were so easy - carried their own luggage, etc!). However, I think the "Bendaroos" or whatever name they are sold under are great. They are strings covered in wax that they can make things out of. Be sure to bring a finger nail clipper so that they can get different sizes. They don't make a mess and can be re-used.

    Audio books are also a favorite of ours.

    I hope you have a great trip!!! - Dana

  16. Traveling with children used to scare me half to death till I figured out the key to family vacations, keep the kids entertained! If they are preoccupied, there is more time for my husband and me to pretend we are honeymooners again! Since I seem to never be able to get away from my job at Dish, vacations are few and far between so it’s crucial to make the most of it. Like Kathy mentioned, my favorite way to keep the kiddos pleased is through apps like the Dish Remote Access. No matter where we travel, we can have all their favorite shows loaded up on our iPad with a few swipes. Trust me; it’ll be your savior especially on those flight delays. Happy and safe travels everyone!

  17. As your extra on the most recent trip to the Almafi Coast, I'd have to say that I fully agree with your travel suggestions! Having been a live witness to the success of traingle crayons, silks, and wheres waldo books... I can say confidently that youve got it down pat Jora! Chapeau! Gros Bissous

  18. great tips! We travel wuite a bit with our little guy and he has always been easy, but then again...I have "just one".
    Wikki Stix are great too. I store them in this little art travel bag from Dwell I got years ago. They don't roll around and he will create with them and build with them for hours. I had not though of pancakes! But that makes me think you could do veggie/cheese fritters too! (great way to use up wilting produce with the cheese that will go bad while you are on your trip. Just add to your pancake batter).
    I do okay with packing on warm vacation trips...but when I know they weather will be cool? I overpack big time!
    I agree with the cute clothes thing. I like to put my son in a bright colored shirt (and my husband too!) so that we can find each other.

  19. Your trip has been an INSTAGRAM inspiration!!! xo

  20. Ok just got back from Italy too and wow is all I can say. My first trip there. I LOVED it! Can't wait to hear all about your trip. I was so scared to travel with the kids but as long as they have a few of their favorite snacks and some small new things to do, they're good.

  21. I just traveled with my 20 month old, and he loves Larabars (I make them myself) For traveling, I cut them into small nuggets. They last longer because he can munch on them like chips. Plus, they last forever, and I found worked really well:)

  22. very informative, thanks for the great tips:))

  23. Love the post. And LOVE the picture lol

  24. Where is Jora? All this talk about Italy...I'd love hear how the trip actually went! Is she in hiding?

  25. Very helpful list! I laughed out loud at the picture. I'm itching to take a long trip... and terrified about how our 22-month-old and 2-month-old will travel.

  26. i use a chrome backpack as my carry on when traveling a lot. they're super durable, constructed super well so that they feel light on your bag even while it's stuffed full, and have great pockets. they're built for bike messengers, so they hold all sorts of stuff and stand up to any weather or conditions. they don't have the one i own on the website anymore, but they have one in herringbone that's kind of cute (yalta london). :)

  27. i use a chrome backpack. super durable, super comfortable, and great weight distribution that makes it feel light even when packed full. the one i own isn't on the web right now, but the yalta london in herringbone is kind of cute. great pockets, and they're built for bike messengers, so they'll stand up to any weather/conditions.

  28. Those shoes is so nice. There are many great ideas in post and comments. I fully agree with your travel suggestions! xoxo
    ~ Herman Swan


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