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Parenting
June 12, 2024

6 Strategies for Travel with Kids & Must Have Products to Make the Experience Easier

Post By:
Kelly Tolliday
In-House Contributor
CoFounder
Rising Nature Retreats
Guest Contributor:

Are you a parent dreaming of jet-setting across the globe with your little ones in tow? Or maybe you're just gearing up for that nerve-wracking road trip with your toddler or baby? Fear not, fellow adventurers, because today I'm here to share some of my top travel tips, hacks and must-have products to make your family travels a breeze.

Let's face it, the mere thought of traveling with kids can send even the most seasoned parents into a panic. From meltdowns at the airport to sleepless nights in unfamiliar hotel rooms, the challenges seem endless.

After traveling to over 45 countries on my own (and 10+ countries with my own toddler and baby!), I've got your back with some tried-and-true strategies to navigate the wild adventure of family travel. You can even listen to the  full episode on my podcast, Transform with Travel, where we dive deep into all the strategies and must-haves!

Here are my 6 strategies for travel with kids and a list of all my must-have products to make the experience easier.

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1. It all starts with you.

First things first, it all starts with you, dear parent. Yes, you, the fearless leader of your family. Your vibe sets the tone for the entire journey, so prepare for the chaos with a sense of calm. As much as we'd love to avoid tantrums and meltdowns, they're inevitable companions on the road (and developmentally appropriate for young children.)

Instead of meeting their chaos with more chaos, take a deep breath and channel your inner zen. Airports can be extremely overstimulating for adults, let alone for children, so know what helps you stay emotionally regulated so your kids can sense your calm. If you are getting overwhelmed, find a quiet space, a bathroom stall or your trusty airpods to do some breathing, recite a mantra, or just get some quiet time to yourself. Once you feel regulated, you can then help your kids stay calm.

2. Your Emotional Packing List

Next up, know thy triggers. In Emily Calvo, LMHC’s episode of the Transform with Travel Podcast, she recommended this strategy: Just like packing your toothbrush and socks, make a list of your triggers – those pesky little stressors that can turn a peaceful outing into a scene from a sitcom. Whether it's picky eating or sleepless nights, having a game plan in place will save you from a world of frustration. And hey, there's no shame in seeking help from a therapist to unpack those triggers and devise strategies to tackle them head-on. 

For example, my husband gets extremely anxious around running late to the airport. Even though it kills me to be at the airport earlier than we need to, it helps him stay calm knowing he has time to spare if we run into a long security line. And since the vibe of the family starts with the parents, having him be calm and relaxed is important for the entire family’s mood. 

3. Energy Management

Now, let's talk about energy management. Kids are like little balls of boundless energy, and they need an outlet to release it, especially when confined to tight spaces like planes or cars. Embrace the power of sensory play and find an empty gate at the airport or a dedicated playspace to let them run wild. Carly Jean Wright, MSW discussed this strategy with me on the podcast, and she says if your kids need a little more sensory input (and they are small enough), flip them upside down in their seats for a fun way to regulate their senses. Whip out some Play-Doh for molding or engage them with a Montessori busy board. Trust me, a little creativity goes a long way in keeping those little adventurers entertained. Find what works for your little one to release their energy and feel regulated. You might even find as you help your little one regulate with fun games and Playdoh, you get the same benefits in return. 

4. Take turns.

For all the co-pilot parents out there, remember the importance of taking turns. Whether it's going to that museum you wanted to go to or enjoying a massage while your partner holds down the fort, finding a balance is key to keeping your sanity intact. While we were traveling for five weeks in Southeast Asia, my husband and I would often take turns getting some free time during the kids’ naps. One day, he would stay back in the hotel room while I got a massage. The next day, he would go to the gym and relax by the pool while I stayed with the kids. Some days, we would hire a nanny to stay with the kids while we both got to enjoy some time together on the beach. And if you're flying solo, don't hesitate to enlist the help of trusted babysitters or nanny services recommended by your accommodations. A little solo adult time goes a long way in recharging those parental batteries. 

5. Sleep Schedules

Ah, sleep – the holy grail of parenting. At home, I am pretty strict with sleep schedules. But I’ve learned over the last few years that I have to be a little more relaxed while I’m on the road. As much as I’d love to stick to our rigid sleep schedules while traveling, sometimes it's best to go with the flow. This flexibility muscle takes time & practice to flex, especially if you’re as strict with sleep as I am. Michelle Hansley, CPSC, was on the podcast discussing her best sleep strategies for travel. Give yourself permission to loosen the reins a bit and embrace the unpredictability of travel. Whether it's adjusting nap times or letting go of bedtime rituals, flexibility is your greatest ally in the quest for family harmony. If you’re out and about during nap time, offer opportunities for sleep like a stroller or carrier, but remember, you can never force a baby to sleep. Trying to do so will only result in frustration from both sides. When it comes to jet lag, allow everyone the first day to adjust and let sleep happen when it needs to. However, the next morning, wake everyone up at their normal wake time and get back to your sleep routine. Time outside is the best way to combat jet lag with babies, toddlers, and even you!

6. Less is More.

Resist the temptation to pack your entire toy cabinet and opt for a few versatile items that offer maximum entertainment with minimal clutter. (Some of my favorites are listed below.) The last thing you want or need is to be rummaging around the airplane floor trying to find that one hot wheels car or green crayon. And when it comes to diapers and wipes, pack enough for a few days in your carry on and replenish as needed at your destination. Trust me, it's one less thing to lug around, and your back will thank you for it. The less you can bring, the more mental space you will free up. As noted in Point #1, chaos breeds chaos. And that goes for your luggage as well.

Now, onto the fun part – must-have travel products.

These are a few of my travel saviors. I’m not a brand ambassador nor an affiliate of any of these products. I just believe in them so much, and want to shout my love from the rooftop! 

For a peaceful sleep, say hello to your new best friend, the slumber pod. This ingenious blackout tent turns any pack and play or cot into a cozy cocoon of darkness, perfect for ensuring a good night's sleep for your little one. Pair it with a lightweight, portable Yogasleep Rohm sound machine for some soothing white noise and a portable fan, and you've got yourself a recipe for sweet dreams on the go.

And let's not forget about entertainment essentials for those long flights or road trips. From magnetic drawing boards to Montessori busy boards, keep your little ones engaged and entertained with minimal fuss. And for those moments when all else fails, a trusty iPad or Kindle loaded with educational games and shows can be a lifesaver. We save the iPads as a special treat for the kids when they go on planes, and now they are so excited to watch their “special shows” on travel days. 

Last but not least, choose your wheels wisely. Opt for a lightweight, compact stroller like the GB Pockit+ that folds up small enough to fit in the overhead compartment of an airplane. Say goodbye to gate-checking woes and hello to hassle-free travel with your little ones in tow.

So there you have it, fellow adventurers – your survival guide to conquering the wild and wonderful world of family travel. Prepare the best you can, embrace for the chaos, and remember that the best memories are often made when things don't go as planned. May your travels be filled with laughter, love, and unforgettable adventures!

Podcast Episodes Mentioned: