Traveling with Children


Yesterday I posted on ideas I for traveling with toddlers from On Becoming Toddlerwise. Today I will post how we do travel. I really love to travel. A whole lot. Traveling with children can be difficult. We definitely make our traveling sacrifices, but we also do travel with our children.


I think there are several key areas of focus to making traveling successful with small children. The first area is correct preparation. The second area is when you are actually traveling. The third is when you get home.


Prepping for the Trip

The first thing to focus on is to prepare for your trip. 


Where are you going to go? Sometimes your travel location is chosen for you. You might be visiting relatives over the holidays or going to a family reunion. In those cases, you don’t get to choose where to go. If you are traveling because you want to do a family vacation, consider your destination carefully. What is your goal for your vacation? How much are you able and willing to spend? What do you want to do while there? Where is the best place to go to meet your goal?


For us, most of our travel right now is done relatively close to our home. I think just about wherever you live, there will be lots of neat places for you to visit close by. Our goals for vacations right now are simply to have a fun time without it negatively impacting our children. We live in the West of the United States, so we have lots of neat National Parks and Forests close by. We also have several lakes.


In the future, we have many places that are more than a days drive (or a flight) from our home. We will be visiting those places when our children are all old enough to fully enjoy it (so, the youngest can get through the trip without having to take naps–probably around 4ish). Until then, we are enjoying the wonders of our local area. That doesn’t mean that is what you have to do–that is just what fits our desires right now. The point is for you and your spouse to figure out your goals and go from there. 


Something to take note of when traveling is if you will be changing time zones, and if so, what you will do about it. For me, when I travel just one hour hour out of my time zone, I don’t bother messing with the schedule at all. We will either be an hour ahead of or behind local time. No big deal. We are then either early rises or sleep in a bit. I find that makes much more sense than spending weeks before and after the trip preparing for and recovering from shifting time zones. I think with a two hour difference, you might be able to do the same, but it depends on what the sun rise and set is like and what your child is used to. 


If you are traveling more than two hours difference, you will likely need to change time zones. You will have to decide what to do. You can treat it like a time change and prepare weeks before and then spend weeks after moving back. I would consider that with a baby–babies are not as flexible and you might enjoy your trip more if it is a smooth transition for baby. For toddlers and older, though, I don’t think I would mess with it. I wouldn’t want to spend two months on this for one week of vacation. I would just make sure the child has consistent naps and bedtimes before the trip so the child is well rested when the trip starts. Then I would work with it all when we got home. 


Where will you stay? Once you know where you are going, you will figure out where you will stay. Will it be a hotel? A camper or tent? Rent a home? Know the conditions for where you will be staying. You can then start to think about what kind of bedding you need to bring for your children. Do you need to bring your pack and play or peapod? 


I like to bring their own pillow–even if the place has pillows. I also like to bring one favorite stuffed animal and one blanket. I know I sleep better with my own pillow and blanket, so I figure children might also. 


I don’t do any extra sleep preparation before we travel. I don’t have them sleep in different places. My children all sleep in other places without issue. As babies, Brayden slept in different places often enough that to go on vacation and sleep somewhere different was not a big deal. Kaitlyn as a baby took at least one nap a day in my room in the bassinet or pack and play, so she was used to sleeping in those beds. McKenna was just a sleeper. I kind of figure there will either be potential for a couple of adjustment sleep days on the vacation or at home–it doesn’t matter to me where those adjustment days happen. If you have a touchy or sensitive child, however, it might be a good idea to prepare by sleeping in other places. Your child might do better with one change (location or type of bed) rather than several (different state, house, bed, time zone, etc.). Go with your own judgement on your child.


Do you need to bring some sort of white noise? An ipod with white noise tracks? A machine? Think about what will make sleeping the most successful basked on where you are staying. Picture putting your child to bed in that location so you don’t forget anything.


Make a packing list. For at least a week before you leave, keep a list close by for packing. Anytime you think of something, write it down. I currently keep my lists on my iPhone. When the time for packing comes, check things off as you go. Also, pack as you get ready that day. So as you dress your child, pack the clothes, diapers, socks, underwear, etc. you will need for the trip. As you put shoes on, pack the shoes you will need. As you do hair, pack the hair stuff you will need. Do this throughout the day. Try to not stress about the list, though. My husband always says if we forget something, we will just buy it when we get there.


See also: Packing for a Vacation:


How will you get there? Will you be traveling by plane, car, bus, train…? Think about how you will get there and what you can bring along to make it easier. Make a list of your ideas so you don’t forget anything. See these posts for specific ideas:

While Traveling

The next step for success while traveling with children is to prepare for what you will do while traveling.


Travel Activities. I think one of the biggest worries about traveling is how will the child do while confined during travel time? No matter the age of the child, have a pack of activities for your child to do while traveling. I pack a bag for each of my children that is their special travel bag. What I put in that bag ranges based on the age. Older children are easier and need less because they have longer attention spans. We do things like books, coloring activities, puzzles, favorite toys, and learning activities. Often times, a new toy is a good idea for traveling. New toys are very novel and tend to hold attention longer than a familiar toy. 


Eat good food. I like to pack some of our food–even if it is just snacks. I like to have healthy snacks while traveling. I don’t like to eat out for every meal, so we try to have some meals made by us.


Get good sleep. Do what you can to protect sleep. Get naps in as often as you can if your child still needs them. Get bedtime as close to normal most nights. Your child will be happier if she gets the sleep she needs.


Be flexible where you can. Though you want to get the sleep your child needs, try to recognize where you can give. Your child might be able to skip a nap every other day or go to bed an hour or two late. Your ability for flexibility will depend on your child’s age (the older the child, the more flexible) and personality type. Remember your reason for the vacation and make your flexibility decisions based on that reason.


One example of how we are flexible with our children at their current ages is time allowed for videos in one day. I typically try to stay at 30 minutes or less. When traveling, however, I allow for a lot more while locked in a carseat for a long period of time. Oh, that reminds me of a random tip. If you use videos or other electronics when traveling, I suggest you wait at least an hour before getting started on those electronic devices. Let your children explore their travel bags and figure out how to self-entertain. It is easier for children to think of ways to have fun if they aren’t influenced by the easy way out in the form of shows and video games.


Post Travel

Once you get home, there are some things you can do to make your adjustment back to normal life more smooth.


Expect tantrums. When you get home, you will have some tantrums/fits/crying. Expect some discipline issues to come up. 


Work toward consistency. Try to be consistent for at least a few days in your routine to help your child readjust easily.


Be patient. You know the fits are likely to come, so when they do, be very patient with them. It can be hard because you will likely be tired and want to throw your own version of a tantrum. Take a deep breath and be the grown up. Show patience and love to your overly tired and stimulated child. 



We don’t do a lot of things differently when we go on vacation. We basically:

  • Decide where to go
  • Think through where we will be staying and what we need to do for preparations and packing
  • Prepare based on method of travel
  • Make packing lists
  • Try to eat and sleep well
  • Allow for variations to normal life while traveling (flexibility)
  • Be patient when you get home
  • Spend a few days being very consistent in routine

Please share your own tips for traveling with children!


Related Posts/Blog Labels:







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12 thoughts on “Traveling with Children”

  1. Take a lot of pictures! Traveling with children will be full of stresses, especially if you, and they, are used to a consistent schedule, good sleep, and home-cooked food. But you will remember it through the pictures you take and the stories you tell. Remember the happy moments – that's why you took the trip!

  2. { For example – when my son was 17 months, we went camping in a tent. He had a massive meltdown at bedtime, but since we were all going to bed at 7:30 in the tent, we just ignored it and let him cry. He fell asleep within 20 minutes, and there weren't many other campers nearby. However, we mostly have pictures and memories of all the fun that trip was – and how grubby he got camping! That's why we took the trip. I'm glad we didn't avoid it because he might have a bedtime meltdown – he did, but we all (and the other campers) survived. Also, when he was 2.5, we stayed with friends at their house. Their guest room had huge east-facing windows with NO CURTAINS and no where dark in their whole house to put down a small child. It was SO bright. We got up at 4:30 every day with our son and the sun, and we were so exhausted we could hardly move by the end of the trip. But when we look back at our pictures, we have some truly great ones, and we are all happy and smiling. Again, I'm glad we didn't skip the trip just because we all might be tired at the end! }

  3. I've found it helps a lot to have at least 1 nap/night in the pack-n-play before leaving on a trip. When my son was 6 months old we suddenly had to attend a funeral out of state. We had 3 days notice, and I wanted my baby to be as well-rested as possible for traveling so I really stuck to our schedule and had him nap in his crib like normal. The first couple nights in the pack-n-play were really rough and involved lots of crying. I wish for that trip I would have let him have a less-good nap before leaving so that he would have slept better while we were gone. Since then, even one nap in the pack-n-play in his room before leaving has made a big difference.

  4. valerie we are SO much alike! I believe that travel is one of the most important things i can do with my child (children come dec!) we too try not to go too far though. I think the furthest driving trip we've taken our son on is 6 hours and we've flown once. we've also only changed time zones that are about an hour difference. We just got back from Hawaii (mommy and daddy only vaca) and several of the people we were with brought their kids. I cannot IMAGINE dealing with a toddler with a 6 hour time change and a 12+ hour flight!!! YIKES!!! I use all your same tips. My son doesn't use a pack and play but we have a peapod and a toddler sized air mattress and we alternate between them depending on where we are staying. We use tacks and sheets to cover up windows so it's nice and dark and a fan to keep that white noise going! I am a BIG believer in sticking to our schedule as much as possible but am glad I'm not alone in dealing with a couple days of tantrums/fits when we get home…no matter what the prep it always seems to happen! thanks for the great post!

  5. Two random tips to share that I read in a travel article of a parenting magazine… If you are flying… carry-on an extra outfit for yourself… just in case your child has any sort of accident while on your lap!!! (I have two friends with horror stories of their child getting air sickness!) Also, if staying in a hotel… maybe splurge for two rooms or a suite with a separate sleeping and living area so that you and your spouse don't have to go to bed when the kids do. You might even have a little alone time together after the kids go to bed… its your vacation too!!! : )

  6. On a recent roadtrip, we modified your idea of a piece of string across the top of the car to mark the distance. We tied a wide ribbon across the car and taped on the first letter of the major towns that we were passing in, roughly to scale. Then we had a peg with a picture of our car on it that we moved along as we went. My 2 year old loved it! And had great fun trying to pronounce all the funny town names too 🙂

  7. I know that traveling can be stressful. My family takes a lot of road trips and this article pretty much sums it up on what to do. The one activity that has always helped me out is my iPad. With all the options on there the kids stay busy for hours. I always bring plenty of snacks and I live by technology for the kids. I bring my iPad with me when we travel. They have so many options with the iPad that they don’t need anything else to keep them busy. They can play games, read, watch movies, and watch TV through my provider/employer DISH Network. I have the sling adapter hooked up to my receiver and that gives me access to all our subscription channels from anywhere we are at. The kids love that they can watch all their favorite shows live from anywhere we are at.

  8. Thanks for the ideas Katie! We always take pictures, and are sure to take them if we have had a rough night camping. We like to take pictures of each other (DH and me) and our "happy" faces first thing in the morning. lol


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