Before we started our family, my husband and I loved to travel. I prided myself on being able to pack two weeks of clothing into a carry-on bag, and walking miles everyday seeing every museum/monument/national treasure in the guidebook. Well, now with two kids, we don’t travel as light as we used to…but we do still travel.
Not as often, or as extensively, but it IS possible to see the world with little ones in tow. The trick (well there are many tricks, but the packing trick) is to bring *just enough* to make the trip comfortable for your children. They will be far out of their comfort zone, schedules will be out of whack, and routines up-ended. But there are some things you can bring to make things easier for both them and for you. Now, you have to tailor every suitcase to the location and occasion for your travel, but here are 10 packing tricks that have generally helped every member of the family enjoy our long-distance vacations:
1. Packing cubes:
These mesh bags come in a variety of sizes and colors. Each member of our family has their own unique color, which helps keep things straight. Best part is, I can start packing these cubes before the bulky suitcase even comes out of the closet! I know some people use giant ziplock bags, but I prefer these because they’re far more durable and reusable. More importantly, once we’re in the hotel I just unzip the top open and they go straight into the drawer as is. You can buy packing cubes online or in any good travel store.
BONUS TIP: Designate a packing cube for emergency clothes that you keep in your carry-on luggage. My baby once pooped all over my back in the carrier right before our cross-country flight started boarding. Yep, I was that lady in the airport restroom cleaning her soiled shirt in the sink and then drying it with the hand blower. Don’t be that lady. Bring one set of extra clothes for everyone!
2. Folding step-stool:
If you’ve got a little one who can walk, chances are they are learning how to be independent at home. So you can imagine how frustrating it can be in a hotel room for them to not be able to reach the sink to wash their hands, or grab their favorite book off the dresser. Though you may be willing to lift them up every time for a short stay away, if you’ll be settling into one spot for a week or more, this gem of a folding step-stool is a life saver. Plus, it doubles as a kids seat for the coffee table, perfect for snack time or coloring.
3. Faucet extender:
We keep this little do-hickey, which helps bring water from the faucet closer to small hands, on our home sink at all times. And on the occasions that we’ve remembered to pack it, has helped make even the most modern style faucet accessible to short hands. We own the Aquaduck, but there are many different brands that make portable faucet extenders. Just remember to take it with you when you check out of the hotel!
4. White noise track on phone:
You never know when that beautiful city apartment you booked through airbnb could end up being directly over an active subway line. Or your hotel room neighbors decide that 12am is the ideal time to argue at the top of their lungs. Download a white noise track onto your phone, and play it as your phone recharges for the night. It’ll help drown out whatever noise is going on outside your room (or yours if you’ve got a snorer) and help your kids sleep sounder.
5. Safety vest for the car:
When our son was younger, we’d bring his infant/convertible carseat on the plane for trips where we’d be renting a car. But once he got to pre-school, he became booster-seat size. There are some wonderful lightweight booster seats out there (even an inflatable version!), but they can be bulky and inconvenient for city travel with spontaneous taxi rides. Also, can you imagine telling a New York cab driver “hold on sir while I inflate this giant seat balloon”?? So when we discovered this safety vest for children over 50 pounds, that uses built-in buckles with existing seatbelts and is highly rated for safety, we were thrilled! It came in handy when we visited Denver last year, and also doubled as an extra layer of warmth in that cold mountain environment.
6. TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry:
This isn’t a packing tip exactly, but a very helpful item to have when traveling especially if you plan to fly at least once a year. Basically, at $85 for a 5 year membership, TSA Pre-Check allows you to eschew the longer security lines at the airport. When traveling with little ones whose patience is limited, you’ll be glad to get through security quickly. This also allows you to keep your shoes on so long as they don’t have large metal buckles, and you can even keep little ones in your carrier as you walk through the metal detector! If you plan to travel internationally, you’ll want to get Global Entry which costs $100 for 5 years, but you can use at almost every airport in the world (TSA Pre-Check only works within the US). Some high end credit cards even include Global Entry as a built-in benefit! NOTE: TSA Pre-Check memberships are for adults. Children 12 and under who are traveling with you don’t need to pay a separate fee.
7. Lollipops (for the air pressure):
Some people, myself included, experience intense inner ear pain during take off and landing due to the cabin pressure change. My trick is to wear ear plugs and chew gum especially during landing. However, I wouldn’t recommend that for young children who may pull the plugs out or swallow the gum. If they’re no longer nursing or using a paci, try giving them a lollipop. (I buy organic ones from the health food store so I don’t feel super guilty for plying my kids with candy). The act of sucking should help their ears adjust easier to the pressure change. Also, they may be so happy to have a lolly they won’t even notice any discomfort.
8. Leg-rest travel pillow:
I picked this trick up from my travel blogging friend over at www.milanastravels.com. She flies multiple times a year, all over the globe, often on red eye flights with her daughter in tow. This inflatable travel pillow fits exactly into the legroom area in front of a typical coach seat. This allows little ones to sleep comfortably by laying flat instead of in that awkward, slightly reclined position, or at least extending their legs so they’re not dangling all night long.
9. Kids’ volume-limiting headphones:
Though we are fairly strict about limiting screen time at home, keeping a child seated for hours calls for desperate measures. But the earbuds the airlines sometimes hand out are usually too big for child-sized ears. We – and a bunch of other parent friends – love these earphones for kids. They come in a variety of colors. But the best part is that they have a volume limit. That means, your kid can’t crank up the volume to ear-splitting decibels and permanently damage their hearing.
10. New toy/book:
Especially for long-haul flights, there’s only so much iPad that your kid will be willing to watch. Seasoned family travelers stock up on a few new toys or books that they debut during the trip. These do not have to be expensive, they just have to be portable (the smaller the better!) and something your kid has never played with before. New coloring books, magnetic games, a toy from the $1 bin at Target. Never underestimate the power of play to keep your child happy in flight!