Our family loooooves to travel!
In fact, my kids have been on more flights in their short lives than many adults.
We carve out time for travel at least once every few months. These range from weekend camping trips to multiple-week-long international vacations.
I travel so much that MightyGoods asked me to participate in a travel post featuring “23 Traveling Families with Kids Share Their Best Packing List Tips“.
Having extra money for vacations is one of the reasons why I work (and why I love being a working mom so much).
Traveling is wonderful for children for so many reasons! Family bonding, learning about different cultures, exposing them to unique cuisines… I could go on and on… but I know you don’t want to listen to me ramble, so I won’t.
I’m here to help you achieve traveling success with your children.
This article is Part 2 (of 5!) of my “Step by Step: Traveling with Kids” series.
Part 1 | Train, Planes, and Automobiles – Booking Travel with Kids?
Part 3 | Essential Packing Tips for Family Vacations
Part 4 | Surviving a Road Trip with Toddlers
Part 5 | How to Make Your Vacation with Kids FUN and EASY
In Part 2 we’re going to be discussing the planning you should be doing in the weeks/months leading up to your trip (see my travel checklist for the printable cheat sheet on this).
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I’m a BIG planner and I’m convinced it’s what makes me such a successful traveler.
Here are some other things you should be doing as you get closer to your vacation:
1| Figure Out Sleeping Arrangements
If you’re lucky and have kids old enough to already sleep in their own bed, then you can skip this step. For all others with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers – read on.
A lot of figuring out sleeping arrangements depends on where you are staying. If you’ve booked hotels, see what options they have for children sleeping. If you are staying with family or in an Airbnb then you’ll have to contact them to see what’s available.
Many hotels will offer complimentary pack n’ plays and sometimes even a bassinet.
Be warned, these pack n’ plays are well-used and the “pad” on the bottom is often worn and extremely hard. For this reason I highly recommend bringing a mattress pad designed for a pack n’ play to make sleeping more comfortable, like this one:
These mattress pads are extremely compact and ideal for travel. They instantly transform a hard, cold pack n’ play into a warm and comfy bed.
I DO NOT recommend checking a pack n’ play on an airplane (for one, it would cost more than buying one outright at your destination and second, it would be handled extremely rough).
If you are flying and require a pack n’ play (or other baby equipment), consider renting one from a site like this.
Just be sure to check what you need to provide. It’s a good idea to still bring along a mattress pad like I mentioned above, but you may also need to provide your own pack n’ play sheets.
Another option is buying an inexpensive pack n’ play like this one and having it shipped directly to your destination/hotel/rental home. After you’re done with it you can donate it to a local women’s shelter or even to the hotel.
The Rock ‘n Play Sleeper folds up almost flat so it’s ideal for car travel. Admittedly trying to check it on a plane would be more difficult.
Finally, one last idea I have for very young infants (still swaddled, not yet rolling over) is to use a changing pad.
It worked WAY better than I could have expected!
It was familiar to her and she knew the smell. It’s firm so I felt confident about it as a sleeping surface. And it took up hardly any space in the car!
However I should add this is obviously not designed for overnight sleep and is not an approved sleeping surface by the AAP. If you have questions or concerns, please discuss it with your pediatrician.
For younger toddlers, a pack ‘n play is always a solid idea. Many hotels (and even some Airbnbs) offer them so they are easy to find.
Just be sure to mention you need one ahead of time, as they have a limited number available. And be sure to bring along a mattress pad.
For more about renting them or buying an inexpensive pack n’ play for travel, see the infant section above.
For older children who have outgrown the pack n’ play, I have some other excellent options.
My son loves this inflatable air mattress. It’s toddler sized so it doesn’t take up a huge amount of room (or take forever to inflate).
The removable center mattress fits a standard crib sheet. The rim around the center area prevents them from rolling out. I also find it the perfect height to prevent them from getting out unnecessarily as well.
This is another thing we use all the time for travel. It’s a bumper that you put under sheets in a bed to prevent the child from rolling out.
It’s great because it rolls up very tightly so it doesn’t take up much room when packed. You can easily convert any bed into a toddler-safe bed and not have to worry about them falling out in the middle of the night.
2| Get your Kids Psyched Up for the Trip
MONTHS before the vacation we always tell our kids what we’re planning to get them excited for the upcoming trip.
We try to pump them up about ALL aspects – from the method of transportation to the destination.
We talk in advance about how they can pack some of their toys (usually one big item and a few smaller ones). We discuss countless times which ones they’re going to bring (and it changes at least daily).
Then we also talk a lot about the exciting things to see, do, and try in the travel destination. For example, we’re planning a trip to Scotland this Spring so we’ve been talking a lot about … and reading this book about a cute little Loch Ness monster that grows up as a tadpole:
Good Night Nevada is part of the adorable Good Night Our World series that we LOVE because it goes over many cities in the world. We used to Good Night Nevada to talk about an upcoming trip to Las Vegas.
3| Figure Out What You’re Going to Do and Eat on Vacation
You don’t have to plan out every day to the minute (in fact, I recommend specifically NOT doing that), but you should do some research on things you want to do on your vacation.
Are you visiting New Orleans? Well the maybe on your to-do list is walking around the French Quarter, taking a class at the New Orleans School of Cooking, and catching a Jazz show. Other things you’re thinking about might include getting a drink on Bourbon street, eating beignets at Café Du Monde, and visiting the aquarium.
After you’ve written down a list of activities you’re interested in, start to prioritize them. What are the things you’ll be absolutely devastated if you miss? For those activities, look up the times/availability and book tickets in advance.
NEVER book more than two “essential” activities in the same day. You want to keep flexible in case your kids need some chill time.
For the other possible activities, keep that list handy for your trip and use it to fill in the schedule holes.
As I stated above, I certainly do not recommend planning each minute of the day. You have to be flexible when you’re traveling with kids. Stay busy and entertained, but be flexible.
If the street car bores them, then maybe you’ll need to move on to a different activity on your list. If your kids are loving the Children’s Museum, stay an extra hour and eat at a closer restaurant instead of traveling across town.
Speaking of food and dining… let’s talk about that a little more.
While I always believe in planning out restaurants, this is particularly important in international locations where you don’t have internet service and can’t always easily yelp “child-friendly lunch restaurant that serves mac n’ cheese”.
Nothing ruins a day like a hungry toddler… ugh. So I try to avoid those moments if at all possible.
4| Start Your Packing List
Months before I even open my suitcase I start a list of things I need to pack using the Google Keep App.
It may sound crazy, but it’s so much easier when you organically think of items you need to bring (rather than trying to sit down and figure out every item you need).
I’m actually writing this post from a vacation where I unfortunately didn’t follow my own advice.
The item forgotten?
And guess what, I’m on a cruise…. Where they don’t sell baby wipes on board so my best hope is when we stop at our first port in 3 days.
So don’t be like me!
Open the app right now, start a list called “Vacation Packing List”.
As you think of items, just add them to the list. You’ll be so much more likely to remember everything this way, I promise.
Psssstt…. MANY more great planning tips like these on my Printable Travel Checklist!
5| Things about Transportation / Rental Car
Figuring out how you’re going to get around is important for multiple reasons.
You want things to go smooooth when you’re traveling with kids – you don’t want to be trying to figure out if you want to take the bus, subway, or taxi when you are dealing with kids in a new environment.
Personally I like to minimize transportation by planning to stay at a hotel that is central to the area I’m visiting. This allows me to walk to most of the destinations I’m interested in.
Sure it’s a little more expensive, but you’ll also save money on taxi fees and a rental car. Also it’s a small price to pay for your sanity.
If you can’t stay central in the city, at the very least it’s a good idea to plan to stay close to public transportation (like a subway station or bus stop). Relying on taxis can be tiring and difficult with car seats.
If your trip is going to require a lot of driving (and therefore lots of car seat need), one thing to consider is investing in an inexpensive, light car seat for travel. The Cosco Scenera NEXT is often recommended for this exact purpose. It’s relatively cheap, compact, and is very lightweight. Bonus, since it’s convertible it can be used for both rear and forward facing children.
You’ll be so busy in the months leading up to your vacation that the time will fly by! Before you know it your trip will be right around the corner and you’ll have to start packing. Check out Part 3 where we discuss Essential Packing Tips for Family Vacations.