Traveling can be cumbersome and exhausting, and doing so with kids only amplifies the challenges. Whether it is a road trip, an airline trip, a camping trip, or even a vacation to a resort, kids undoubtedly complicate things and the thought of the obstacles surrounding a trip can sometimes be stifling or even create such a road block to cancel or postpone the notion all together!
Over the past year and a half, we’ve tried our best to stay active with our daughter. Our trips haven’t always been easy, but we have learned a few things that have made our adventures more fun and most important, doable! Below we’ve listed six tips for traveling with a young family.
Understanding our daughter’s “prime time” has been an important planning tool for any trip, long or short. This time is when she is at her best to ride in a car seat, go for a hike, play in the snow, or swim in the ocean. Although every activity and mile logged in the car seat cannot always fall into her prime time, understanding when this time is for your kids is an important starting point to planning your daily activity on your journey. If you already have a kid, you have probably already figured this out because it’s when you plan your trips to the grocery, play dates, and playground time.
Long road trips are certainly daunting. We always anticipate needing a 1-hour stop, what we call a “wiggle break” to get the wiggles out, every 2-3 hours of drive time. We also never plan more than an 11-hour travel day including stops. The shorter the day, the more enjoyable for everyone, of course.
Wiggle breaks sometimes cannot be anticipated, so we remain flexible and avoid getting bent out of shape if our stops don’t line up to when we need to refuel the van, or if we aim for 2 hours on the road but she demands a stop 45 minutes into the trip.
Having an arsenal of vehicle-friendly food has enabled us to drive during her meal times and thus log extra miles on a trip. These foods are not always crumb-free, but foods like cereal, bite sized fruits, PB&J, snack bars, vegetable squeeze packs, smoothies, or even mac and cheese allow us to eat a meal or two in the car without compromising too much nutrition.
Our daughter can only entertain herself for 30-45 minutes before she demands a friend. We quickly learned in our trips that we should expect to travel back and forth from the passenger seat to the back seat to keep her company.
As our daughter grew closer and closer to 18 months old, she became less inclined to nap off-schedule and less inclined to accept staring at the same ole books and toys in the car seat for an entire day of driving. We finally caved and bought a portable DVD player for the head rest. We still try to limit the screen time on the drives, but even after a few long road trips of her watching the screen in the car, we’ve learned her desire to watch the screen in the car hasn’t translated into day-to-day life. In other words, we can get to our destination and she doesn’t mind turning off the DVD player and enjoying the outdoors!
We respect the value of a rested child and we DO know that healthy sleep and eating schedules are important for her, but we also know that if our daughter always napped in her crib at home at the same time each day, we would never go anywhere! We try to remember this balance as we plan trips and during trips. Everything is a give-and-take, of course. She can only take too much pushing, so for example if we go-go-go for a day, we anticipate needing to let her drive the next day’s schedule. One thing we try to NEVER budge on is dinner time. Eating dinner the same time each day will get her to bed on time and will reduce the perpetuation of travel fatigue.
Whether in the van, in a hotel, or at a friend’s house, we try our best to mimic her nursery so she feels comfortable to nap and sleep. We bring the same blanket from her crib so it has that scent of “home” on it, her favorite White Noise Machine, and try to keep the travel sleep spot dark. In a pinch and to inspire sleep in the car we use soothing soundtracks on Amazon Music that she has grown to like. Her crib on the go is our Pop ‘n Play. We used to use it in the campsite and now we use it for her travel crib.
A standard phase we have experienced is her adjustment phase. The first night or two in any new place is hard for her. We anticipate it so we minimize frustration and plan our busiest days toward the end of the trip after she has adjusted to the new “home.”
Our inflatable duck tub is one of our daughter’s favorite pieces of gear. It is a great, safe bath tub for the camp site or the hotel. It even has a temperature-sensitive heart that changes colors if the water is too warm.
Good hiking gear including a comfortable pack is key to any on-foot adventure. Go check out our blog on backpacking with a baby for some of our favorite kid-friendly gear.
A dependable, collapsible stroller can come in handy and when you need it, you’ll be glad you packed it.
Eating on-the-go requires flatware, re-usable unicorn straws, and some sanitizing wipes for high chairs and restaurant tables (because our daughter will inevitably eat off the table!)
Speaking of high chairs, are we the only parents who have noticed most restaurant high chairs are filthy and sticky, and the wrong height? We bring our own portable high chair! It’s great in camp, in restaurant, or even in the house.
To combat the times when our daughter wants to eat before we can even have a chance to look at the menu in a restaurant, we bring our own food for her. It’s a reliable way to get food she’ll eat in her belly fast while waiting for the server to bring dinner.
A small medical kit can go a long way. We carry one everywhere, filled with infant Tylenol, Motrin, a Nosefrida, thermometer, saline wash, and Band-aids.
Our final tip is to JUST DO IT! Even after 80,000+ miles of traveling with our daughter, no trip is perfect and nor is it without obstacle or hiccup. If you’re new to traveling with your family, young or old, just get out there and travel. Start short, learn some lessons, and get better with time. As our daughter grows, we continue to refine how we travel as she grows and her tastes, preferences and demands grow as well. All we can do is keep going and enjoy the adventure.
Some of the products in this post contain affiliate links. We may get compensated if you follow those links and buy something. Don’t worry – we only recommend item we’ve tested and love!