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7 Essential Family Travel Tips

Oh, the joys of family travel.

Traveling with children, especially young children, can be so challenging, so exhausting that it will make you question why you thought this was a good idea in the first place …and by that I mean having children.   There are, of course wonderful moments on the road where it all feels totally worth it, like when they finally fall asleep.  But we parents of toddlers know that those moments do not come at the amazing Aquarium you paid over 150 dollars for the whole family to enjoy, but usually in its parking lot where the kids have stumbled upon an empty can and are now having the time of their lives merrily kicking it.

After three years of traveling with two toddlers on planes, trains and one very dirty mini-van here are my go-tos for keeping the peace so I live to travel another day.

1. Bubbles. God bless them

Blowing bubbles allows children to jump up and down while essentially staying in one place.  This way I can wear my kids out before we board a flight without a lot of running around-which only wears me out and annoys other waiting passengers. Note that you need the size of the container to be under 100ml (like this) in order to get it through TSA…

2. Lollipops

A handy treat to have for take-off and landing to acclimate the ears.  Not appropriate for babies but totally awesome for toddlers.  I buy dum-dums by the case (I’m not kidding) it’s a small hit of sugar but enough to make them really happy they are getting a treat.

3. A bag of Balloons

I have a handful of these in every purse, travel bag and diaper bag I own.  I get the large size balloons since the smaller can be a choking hazard.  It’s an instant toy to be inflated at the first signs of your kids getting antsy but with little chance of destruction the way a ball would bring on. It utilizes a tremendous amount of energy and focus in a small child and yet the balloon itself moves in super slow motion. Finally something I can catch! I love them. Especially in hotels as I don’t believe anything has ever been knocked down or broken by a floating balloon.

4. Crayola Twistable Crayons

They don’t break, need to be sharpened or melt in a hot car.  You will also receive a year supply of normal crayons, one small 4 pack at a time, at every restaurant you sit down to eat at so no need to bring the run-of-the-mill variety.

5. Inflatable bed rails 

At night children move their bodies wildly about in a dance that would impress Martha Graham.  Make any queen or double bed more child safe with these extremely easy rails (pump included). Compared to the big job they do they take up very little room in your luggage.

6. Colorful duct tape

I mean you could bring the big grey roll you have out in the garage but that’s the color most criminals are found in possession with so I just want to keep it fun and vacation-y.   This is definitely one miracle product that people use for everything except, it seems, taping ducts.  It’s a one stop child proofing tool; tape over electrical outlets, tape up dangling chords on lamps and shades, mold into nice corner guards as well as tape drawers shut.   But there’s something about its super sticky texture that kids love and until Ellis duct tapes Elizabeth to a hotel door I’m bringing it.

7. Soft cover books

The I Can Read Books usually displayed in a tall metal turnstile at bookstores are the best.  My kids are nowhere near reading but these books are thin, lightweight and perfect for travel.  10 I Can Read Books don’t even equal the weight of ONE Knuffle Bunny Book.

7 Essential Family Travel Tips

Items that only make things worse

Disposable table toppers

Imagine a sheet of plastic wrap with four sides of adhesive tape that once you peel off now clings and sticks all over you.  Mind you, you are attempting to unfold and peel off infuriatingly thin plastic with a fussy/flailing/hungry child who once you have finally secured the table topper rips off easily in one fell swoop.  Just keep a packet of handi-wipes to clean the table.

A favorite toy or blanket

It makes perfect sense to travel with a beloved toy or blanket that a child will take comfort in and help them adjust to their new environment. Until you leave it at a rest stop that you drove away from 3 hours ago.

I just couldn’t risk that and so I when I told my daughter that her blanket “Greenie” needed to stay home while we went away I was shocked (cuz it’s never happened before) when she understood and accepted it.   I told her this a few days before we were to leave and kept reinforcing that each day so she wasn’t caught off guard.

When my husband and I travel we like to bring toys they forgot they had and so are happy to see as well as super cheap fun things at a dollar store that I actually pray will be left behind.

What are some of your go-to items for traveling with kids? Share in the comments!

After three years of traveling with two toddlers on planes, trains and one very dirty mini-van here are my go-tos for keeping the peace so I live to travel another day.

This Post Has 29 Comments

  1. The Travel Channel (or someone) needs to give you a new show. “Great Family Vacations with Samantha Brown!”

    1. I agree you should do a family travel show! You don’t have to share your family too much- but give us that Witty humor of yours after the fact! Places you have been with them and so on…

  2. We just returned from a trip to Bogotá, Colombia, and our eight-month-old grandson traveled with us for the first time. Five adults to share the baby and luggage chores was not too many!

    1. Our grandkids are 10 and older and they STILL love the twistable crayons!! I highly suggest them for “quiet time” when dining out or as needed.

  3. I so loved your travel show. I miss seeing you wandering around the world. So today I saw you on something (tv commercial on travel channel?) and remembered your name long enough to find you on the internet. YAAAA. I am very interested in traveling for a living so I will be seeing your sight frequently for tips. So happy I found you

  4. A box of band-aids can entertain a child for a long time – let them stick ’em all over. It has saved the day for us on long flights.

  5. Sharing the lollipops is also a good ice breaker. Give them to young or old alike and say something cheesey like Sorry the kids are not being as sweet as this. or can I bribe you?

  6. As parents of 6 children, we have always traveled and experienced places as a family. BUT I know for most families, this is not the case. Being in australia which is so far from everything, does make travel more difficult, but definitely not impossible.
    I agree that a travel show for families would be a brilliant idea and show families everywhere that travel is indeed possible and enjoyable with children. All you need is a bit more planning and family friendly places to go.

  7. so exhausting that it will make you question why you thought this was a good idea in the first place …and by that I mean having children. Oh goodness, this made me laugh. Great tips Samatha, though my days of traveling with my children are long past, this was entertaining, and who knows, maybe I will remember one of your ideas and pass it on to said younger beleaguered traveler, and make myself appear old and wise.

  8. I put my kids to bed at home each night I would cue up the same instrumental music. Having that same music to play while traveling, whether in car, plane or hotel room worked like a charm

  9. Sam, could you please do an article about taking babies and toddlers to expensive amusement parks? My hiusband and I don’t have kids, but we decided to go to Disney and Seaworld a few years ago in October. Both places were swarming with families with toddlers and babies. (Some of these babies were newborns!). Strollers were not allowed in attractions at Seaworld so hundreds of strollers were left parked outside while parents carried their hot, tired, overstimulated, crying, squirming children into the attraction. How is this fun?? At what age do children truly appreciate these parks enough to justify the cost? I’m thinking 5 years old at the earliest. Your thoughts?

    1. She is walking through the airport with her toddlers….what age do you think she’d say? I have brought all of my kids to theme parks as babies, I enjoyed every trip! Sometimes you go for the older kids and the babies tag along, and sometimes you have the chance to go somewhere new and jump at the chance. It’s no one’s business why someone brought their kids. It’s their choice. And there is nothing wrong with them enjoying the parks as a family.

      1. Agreed, I’ve truly never understood adults at theme parks without children. Disney and similar exist for the purpose of the amusement of children, I believe. Families are a package deal, all ages and all stages.

  10. My travel secret: small multi-packs of play dough in many colors. So much fun on the plane (for toddler and mom)! Portable, inexpensive, reusable, endless possibilities!

  11. Pipe cleaners for the preschooler and up! We’ve had lots of fun building things out of them, making funny faces (such as glasses and a nose you can put on your face), making creatures and words, weaving them into jewelry. They are lightweight, tactile, and you can straighten them back out and keep using them. If you run out, you can always pick up more for cheap at a local craft supply.

  12. We just returned from a trip to Bogotá, Colombia, and our eight-month-old grandson traveled with us for the first time. Five adults to share the baby and luggage chores was not too many!

  13. Play dough, window clings from the dollar store are great for the plane and hotel rooms and of course bribery snacks for rewarding good behavior. My 2 boys will do anything for chocolate!!

  14. Balloons, lollipops, bubbles… very similar to what a clown packs for kids birthday parties – makes a lot of sense!!

  15. Thank you for the helpful information. I am very happy and grateful that you shared this with us. Thanks for sharing and please keep us informed with new information when possible.

  16. Recently I have discovered that my nephews love the blow-up solar lanterns. These don’t use batteries, another big plus. These are great for camping, hiking and in the back of a vehicle for road trips. Great as well when the power goes out at your house or to use as nightlights.

  17. I always keep a pencil bag and blank paper and travel Uno (or other travel size games) in my travel bag. These keep the kids busy while at a restaurant or taking a rest at a Biergarten. It’s also a lot of fun to play together. Also, some favorite snacks, especially if you have a picky eater.

  18. Great ideas. We used an idea for shopping during vacation. Each child saved money for a year from spare change etc. Once we counted up all the change in the bank it was usually around $80-100 or so. We divided it by the number of days we were gone…for example, Disney for 5 days, then you got $16 per day, if something costs more than $16 you had to wait. They might see a $40 item the first day and then not shop for 3 days until they had enough to get it. Each year the kids came home with money, and things they valued because they were deliberate. For other vacations like Route 66 – we would allow borrowing on future earnings – like a pottery ornament from Acoma that is a unique item or a small silver ring in Santa Fe.

  19. Those Dollar Store toys are great. One long car trip across Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota visiting relatives, we picked up a collection of action figures or cars and planes (can’t remember which). Every couple of days we would pull out a new toy. This was before videos in the car. It kept our son occupied on those long drives, playing with something new and introducing it to the rest of his new collection.

  20. Wiki Sticks are great for preschoolers to use when traveling. They are compact, easy to use, and very versatile. Clean up is a breeze.

  21. Felt boards, like the old color forms. Bags of toys that only come out when we would travel. The equivalent of a favorite blanket and stuffed animal that only travels, too.

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7 Essential Family Travel Tips
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