Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Traveling With Kids

Planning a summer vacation? If you are traveling with kids, there is an overwhelming amount of things to bring with you - Bottles, sippy cups, diapers, toys, snacks, portable cribs, etc, etc. Here are a few tips to help make planning and packing a little easier.

1. Document your day. At least a week before your trip, write down everything you use over the course of two days. This will be the basis of your packing list.

2. Prepare an "overnight kit" for yourself and for your children. You can do this today - even if you aren't vacationing for several weeks or months. Just be sure to check expiration dates. Include duplicates or travel sizes of your toiletries - shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toothbrush, toothpaste, haircare products, shower products, disposable razor, shaving cream, over-the-counter medications (especially things like Children's Tylenol/Motrin). If your travel usually involves flying, make sure the liquid products comply with FAA standards for carry-on luggage (3 oz containers in one quart sized bag per person). Keep this kit packed and ready to go. If you travel for work frequently, your probably already have this.

3. Borrow or buy it there. If you will be staying with friends or family, consider which items you can skip bringing (like a hair dryer). Or if you visit the same people frequently (like your parents or children), make a list of things you usually use on your visits and plan to make a run to the store upon your arrival to pick up those items. Buy a small clear tub to store your items in an out of the way place at your host's house. Things you might want to keep there include - toiletries, dental care items, blowdryer, brush, baby bottle dishwasher rack, sippy cups, baby bottles, diapers, wipes, booster seat, toilet seat topper (for potty-training toddlers) and over the counter medicines.

4. Pack a family overnight bag. If you will have an overnight stop-over before reaching your final destination pack a separate bag with a change of clothes and toiletries for the whole family. This will keep you from having to dig out all the suitcases just for a one night stop.

5. Plan for the journey, not just the destination. Don't forget to pack a car/plane-ride bag for the trip there - things like snacks, toys, CDs or MP3 players, DVDs, books, a change of underwear (just in case of an unexpected layover when flying), bottles & sippys.

6. Don't reinvent the wheel. After you make your packing list and have all your items packed DON'T THROW AWAY THE LIST. Keep it in a safe place. When you get back from your trip review the list and see if there were things you really could have done without or things you forgot. Add or subtract those from the list. Then keep the list to use as a first draft for your next trip.

Here's a sample packing list for a driving trip to visit grandma (3 states away) with a baby, toddler and grade-schooler in tow.

CAR QUICK-GRAB BOX (I like to use a small box - like the kind that holds CD jewel cases). This box will sit up front with the driver & passenger.
- favorite CDs or your MP3 player
- book
- small snacks (I love the Snack-Traps for things like cheerios, grapes, and goldfish crackers for the toddler)
- water bottle and No-Spill Bottle Caps (great for the toddler)
- baby bottle
- extra pacifier (if your baby takes one)
- 1 diaper in each size necessary
- small pack of wipes (can also be used to clean of messy hands)
- wet dishtowel stored in a zip-top storage bag (for inevitable spills)
- 1-3 empty zip-top bags - these are great for all manner of things - wet clothes, dirty smelly diapers, trash, an unavoidable car sickness incident, etc.
- handheld manual pump for breastfeeding moms

These are the extras you need for pit stops but not necessarily at the ready while driving
- extra diapers & wipes
- extra sippy cup
- small can of formula or a few bags of breastmilk (of course you'll need the BM to go in a cooler)
- extra water bottles
- small bag with a few ponytail holders and hair clips (for mom or girls)
- sunscreen (for that "quick stop" to see the world's largest ball of twine)
- camera

KIDS BOX (you'll probably want one for each kid. In this example, the baby & toddler could share)
- 2-4 small books
- 1-2 small favorite toys
- 2-4 small new toys. These don't need to be expensive, just something fun that they haven't seen before. Preferably things that don't make a mess. Etch-a-sketch type pads are great, as are water coloring books, puzzle books (for the older child), a Rubik's cube).
- 1-3 self contained snacks. Include as many as you would allow the child to eat for the duration of the trip (one way). This works well for older kids as they can decide when to eat and what they prefer without you having to dig through everything. It also sets a clear limit on how much snacking they can do. When the snacks are gone, they are gone. Pre-packaged snacks work well but don't forget about fruit (bananas, grapes in a storage baggie, apples, etc) and veggies (carrot sticks, edemame) too.

OVERNIGHT BAG - this is just a single bag for the whole family.
- One change of clothes for each family member
- A few extra diapers
- Toiletry kits
- swimsuits & flip flops (in case the hotel has a pool)
- a few $1 bills for the vending machines (you know that grade-schooler is going to beg for a snack on the way back from the pool!)
- favorite stuffed animals or blankies that are a must for bedtime
- extra pacifier - no one wants to dig through the backseat for a lost one when you arrive at the hotel at 9pm.
- jar(s) of baby food & spoon
- prescription medications
- mom's makeup bag

This is your usual stuff
- clothes
- shoes
- haircare stuff (brushes, blowdryer)
- extra undies
- extra socks
- a few more diapers (can you tell I think you should have a diaper handy in any bag you open.)

This can go in suitcases if you have room or you can make it a separate bag.
- bottles and/or bottle liners
- a few sippy cups
- toddler utensils (if your kid needs them)
- dishwasher rack for bottles & sippy parts
- toilet seat topper (for potty training toddlers)
- stroller
- baby-wearing device (if you use one)

I know this seems like a lot. It is. Traveling with kids is not easy but it is so worth it to see your little ones meet their cousins for the first time or taste Grandma's apple pie or experience the Grand Canyon. If you follow the tips at the beginning of this entry you may be able to cut down on the gear you need to bring.

May this summer be full of fun and laughter for you and your family. Happy Travels!


  1. These are great tips Suzanne. I don't think we will be traveling this summer but maybe next year. These will come in handy then.

  2. I really agree with the tip about keeping your list. I have a packing list for each member of our family that I keep in Excel, but it works like a charm! I do not think that we have ever forgotten anything.. even with three kids :-)


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