Traveling with Children isn’t easy. We definitely learned our lessons and got better. Find out what we learned.
The Reality of Traveling with Children
When I look back at our family travels, I think how much fun they were. We completely forget about all the challenges. Whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or a trip around the world parenting has its challenges. They are pretty much the same while traveling only adds in overtired or hangry at random times. As with anything with parenting it gets easier with time and being prepared help.
How to travel with kids is not as simple as following a step by step guide. It’s more something you get better at over time but also faces new challenges. I think those who are more flexible and easy-going likely find it easier. My trips were always planned things when great. Then kids came along and there’ were suddenly all these hurdles we had to overcome while traveling with children. We got better but we also learned to let it go and be more flexible.
Dealing with Time Change
It was our first time traveling with children to Europe for a DCL Mediterranean Cruise. The kids were 3 and 4.5 years old. Traveling with children from NYC to Barcelona direct. One of us slept very long on the flight. When we arrived at our destination the Rui Bravo in Playa de Palma, Mallorca, Spain, an island off of the coast of Barcelona, we were wide awake. We all stayed up till about 11 pm and finally got some sleep. Until 1 am when my daughter woke up unable to sleep.
I was up with her for a couple of hours before we finally fell back asleep. We woke up very late espeically my daughter sleeping till 11 am! Thankfully we were at a beach resort with nothing planned but beach and pool time. At Rui all-inclusive where there was food available at almost any time of day.
We thought about why my son had slept so well. Realizing he had been taking melatonin prescribed by his pediatrician for headaches, we knew that was the reason. . The next night our daughter and I both took melatonin and we all slept well. This realization has helped us on every trip to Europe we have taken. We give the kids melatonin on the overnight flight and then 2 nights after arriving and they adjust very well. Please speak to your Pediatricians regarding the use of melatonin as a sleep aid when traveling with children. I am not a doctor and cannot provide medical advice. This is my own personal experience.
Tips when Traveling with Children:
- Ask your pediatrician about melatonin. It works great for our family when traveling with children to adjust to the time change. We give it to them on the airplane and 2 nights after landing.
- Try to avoid short overnight flights of 5-6 hours. I say a minimum of 8 hours if possible and book it later in the evening after the kids’ usual bedtime (9 pm or later is good) this will help ensure they are ready for bed and will sleep the full length of the flight.
Got to Go Potty?
The other challenge we had while visiting Spain is that our 3-year-old who had been potty trained and out of diapers for about a full year at this point, However, she waited last minute to have to go. As a result, we had 2 experiences where she had to go in not so private places. It was very stressful. The worst experience was at one point when my daughter said she had to go to the bathroom, but we were already in descent like you can see the cars on the streets decent. We told her to hold it best she can, but we couldn’t let her out and she had an accident. It was embarrassing for all of us, but safety was the most important thing. I am sure we can’t be the first person to have it happen because the airline came back with a replacement seat cushion.
Needless to say, this led to one of the most embarrassing moments for us as a traveling family. It was an hour before landing and I asked our daughter if she would come potty with me. She was deep into a tv show showing on the screen on the back of the chairs. She said no she didn’t have to go. I gave her 5 minutes and then explained we can pause it and go but I need you to go because it’s going to be time to land. She refused. It was then 45minutes before landing and I asked my husband to do something she had to go.
My husband came over didn’t give her a choice and said you must go to the bathroom. She was very upset and was crying about her show as he walked her up to the isle. At that moment the bathroom became in use and he had to wait. The entire time he waited for the bathroom our daughter was screaming “You’re hurting me” “Stop, Stop” “You’re hurting me”. After the bathroom, she had calmed down. It had been an exhausting trip, but we had also allowed a lot of things slide so much so that I think she felt she was in control.
Tip for Traveling with Children:
Always have the kids go to the bathroom 45minutes before landing. Not only to assure no last-minute urges but also because if you have to go through customs or immigration there isn’t always a bathroom accessible.
Are you Hungry? Traveling with Children Food Challenges
As a parent, we get in a routine of feeding our kids. We know when they usually have breakfast a snack lunch etc. Some of us (or maybe I am alone here) have learned the behaviors of a HANGRY child. The moment when you are thinking about what is wrong with you.. oh here have a snack. When traveling with children, our schedules can change and when there’s a time difference our bodies are used to eating at a different time than what is on the clocks. I have learned to try to keep meals 4-6 hours apart. Breakfast when we wake lunch 4 hours later dinner 4-6 hours later. Also, have snacks. Try to be mindful of if they actually ate breakfast or lunch especially when sampling new food.
Always have snacks with you. We usually bring a ziplock bag filled with fruit snacks slim Jims granola bars even some candy if we can tell their blood sugar is low. My husband’s favorite travel snack is combos and the kids enjoy them too they are very filling and travel well
Medical Care While Traveling with Children
Urgent Care The first big challenge we had when starting to travel with children was needing health service during our travel. Our current health plan covered emergency medical hospitalizations only at the time so we often purchased travel insurance to cover ourselves. We were in Hawaii and one child was on antibiotics already. I thought this is good because she can’t get sick again. She was 7m old and had chronic infections. We were about halfway through our trip when my son spiked a temperature and we knew what that meant. We didn’t have a car, so we searched for urgent care nearby.
Our daughter had been putting her finger in her ear that morning so off we went with both kids. $600 for 2 checkups both diagnosed with ear infections. On another trip it was my turn. We were in San Antonio and it seemed every night the clouds came in and it rained and by morning it cleared out. Every night I felt the pressure come into my ear and then out in the morning with the storm. 2 days before our return I decided I needed to go to the Dr to avoid my eardrum rupturing on the plane. I was given a steroid shot to quickly reduce the pressure of fluid buildup and it worked great for about $175.
- Contact your current health insurance and familiarize yourself with your current coverage and gaps
- Consider purchasing Travel Insurance to cover medical among other things. Or look into a credit card that may have travel insurance included. We now use Chase Sapphire Reserve, however some purchase additional to cover more medical.
- It doesn’t hurt to look for the closest urgent care or doctor’s office (hospital too of course but we try to avoid those). Have a plan if you don’t have a car how will you get there.
- Always pack a thermometer that you are comfortable using.
- Always pack children’s ibuprofen or a pediatrician approved fever-reducing medicine.
- If your kids have an allergy or sinus/ear issues, as your pediatrician about Claritin or Zyrtec or something that may help clear out sinuses and protect the ears when flying. * This is not medical advice always consult your pediatrician regarding any medication including OTC
Stroller or Carrier or Scooter?Getting around while Traveling with Children
I think choosing to use a stroller or babywear is a personal choice as is how long you use a stroller. We have what’s called New York feet. We walk fast, and we loved our stroller because we could keep our own pace. There are some places that are not stroller friendly and places that are much more stroller friendly. My babies were big especially my daughter and I would say that after a year it would have been very difficult for me to carry her for long periods of hours. We always brought strollers until our trip to the Amalfi Coast and Greece cruise. Our kids were 4.5 and 6 for this trip and it was a big deal to finally be traveling without a stroller.
Our first travel experience with out strollers.
The plan was we had short port excursions for 4-6 hours and Amalfi. We could take the ferry so if the kids got tired we could slow down or take the ferry back to our hotel. We had so much fun exploring one day that we didn’t even notice we had walked 8 miles. I was bragging to the family how well our 4.5-year-old was doing but by the end of the trip she was exhausted and it showed (and ended with the “You’re hurting me” situation on the plane).
It was nice not having the stroller, but I was thankful we had used one up until that point. We always brought an ergo to carry our babies before they turned 1 year old. It was easiest for us to wear the baby while boarding and I found babywearing while nursing was so convenient especially with the little hood that came on the ergo.
A little while after our first stroller trip someone had posted about scooter suitcases. We looked at them and decided this is what we needed because our kids couldn’t keep up with our New York feet in the airports. We love our Scooter suitcases and here’s my review of them. This is a perfect way to transition out of a stroller but still be able to move quickly through airports.
- Check out Zinc Scooter suitcases. I recommend the 18” unless your child is really petite so you can have it long before they grow too tall.
- Bring something to wear the baby even if you have a stroller there’s a time where it’s just easier especially when boarding or if they just want to be held.
- We love having a stroller with a tray
Car Seats or Public Transport while Traveling with Children?
Transportation is another one of those personal choices. Above and beyond laws and regulations you must decide what level of risk you are willing to take. Heck getting on a plane, a car, or a train all have some risk regardless of how marginal. We have done a lot of things on vacation we would normally not do at home. I also think the circumstances are different.
We have used a CARES harness on airplanes which we were happy to have for safety. However, it made the kids so uncomfortable being pulled upright for so long that we ended up mostly using it for takeoff and landing. We have flown with car seats when our son was an infant and when we flew to California and then Hawaii with both kids and it really helped with them sleeping. We have also flown with the babies as lap infants and we have had them in their own seats with just a seat belt which is where we are currently with a 5.5 and 7-year-old.
What have we done at our destination?
We don’t usually take public transportation with our kids and all our luggage. If we didn’t bring car seats with us, we usually booked shuttles that include a car seat. If we didn’t bring car seats, it’s because we planned to use public transportation for most of our stay. We had to rent a car one trip to drive from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale.
We rented a car seat for the first and only time and it was brand new I could tell because of the manufactured date being only a year old and they were all in boxes. On the same return trip, we booked a shuttle with a car seat and when we arrived the seatbelt wasn’t properly threaded, and the driver tried to get us to just tie it in a knot. We refused, took our time, while a woman impatiently waited for us (we were supposed to have a private shuttle anyway) and made sure it was secure.
It all changed when the kids became 40lbs and 4 years old. That is when we got the Bubble Bum inflatable boosters. There is a strap that attaches to the shoulder belt and adjusts to keep the shoulder belt in place. We have used it coming back from Disney at midnight with both kids asleep and they sat up straight. They roll up and both fit in a back pack along with some other items. Because they are so light and easy we can keep them with us always so if we ever need to uber or take a taxi we can.
Please make sure to read car seat requirements for any country or state that you travel to.
- For infants, I believe a car seat is the easiest. As well most comfortable way to travel whether in a car or plane.
- Bubble Bum is ideal for travel once a child hits 40lbs and 40yrs old
- Cares harness is a nice alternative to a car seat on a plane. If your child is within the size requirements, as it is just straps that will fit in your bag.
Sleep arrangements again are a person decision. I will discuss my experience and what we chose to do. Early on we made the decision no co sleeping. Our first trip with our son at 5m old we arrived in a hotel and instead of a crib it was a pack and play (this is common).
It felt a bit to bubbled up and I was paranoid about suffocation. We had packed his bounce chair in our suitcase and ended up putting him in there. This is NOT recommended as a safe sleeping environment but at the time I had to make a choice of what I felt was the safest.
Thankfully the bounce seat reclined far back and had a strap, so he couldn’t roll out. I of course woke up throughout the night to find him peacefully sleeping. So, after that it was decided we needed a travel pack n play something we knew was safe so no matter where we went we had it and didn’t rely on the hotels. We decided on the Phil and Ted travel pack n play ,though there are many more options now. It fit in our large suitcase with about 2/3 of the suitcase remaining to pack other kid related items. Fast forward to when the kids out grew this, and we needed an alternative. My son was a roller and we weren’t ready for him in a bed while traveling.
Child Bedding Options
We decided to go with an inflatable toddler mattress from Walmart that included sides though after a couple of trips. We left the side ring at home and just used the mattress.. Then one day someone mentioned moving the bed. Ever since this is pretty much what we do. If possible, we push the bed up against one wall. Then we take the chair or chairs that are in the room to put as a bed rail on the other side or one parent sleeps on the other side.
We have also put a firm pillow between the bed and nightstand to work as a bed rail. Especially for my daughter who usually doesn’t have issues roller.
Ways to Make Traveling with Kids Easier
“I don’t love Travel. If I could blink my eyes and be at my destination I would” one of my favorite quotes from an unknown British woman we met long before kids while we were in Australia. Back then the travel its self was an adventure. Now with kids, we look for ways to make travel easier, getting to, and while at our destination.
We love the airport lounge access we get from priority pass and it has made traveling a lot easier when lounges are available. You can get lounge access through many different credit cards. While you can learn from other experiences and prepare as much as you can you can’t avoid everything. That’s part of traveling and adventure working together to solve problems as they arise. As the kids get older bring them in on the process, help them to be more resilient resolving issues; Finding which subway stop we were supposed to get off at or where are we going to eat because the restaurant we wanted is now closed.
Traveling with kids is challenging but it’s well worth it. These experiences shape our children and help us to view things through their eyes.
Check out my favorite travel products.
Join the AffordableFamilyTravel.com Crew on Facebook to share tips and tricks for affordable family travel.
Follow Affordable_Family_Travel on Instagram