Our tried and tested family travel tips, based on our own travels. Advice and tips for traveling with kids, by an anxious mum! – Updated 2020
I always talk about traveling with kids as the most amazing way to bond with them and create family memories.
However, there is no doubt that holidays often come with extra safety concerns that we may not have at home.
I am, despite my better efforts, a very anxious person and while I don’t allow my anxiety to stop our travels, I always have to take it into account and put in place extra precautions to minimize risks.
This is my list of practical tips for traveling with kids and my tricks to keep at bay problems big and small.
Our best tips for traveling with kids
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Check the documents required to enter and leave the country with a minor
Different countries have different rules with it comes to traveling with chidren and, occasionally, extra documents are required.
Passports, copies of birth certificates, vaccination booklets, letter of a guardian that authorizes you to travel with a child if alone with them are all good examples.
Check with the local embassy or consulate a few months before your planned trip to have the time to provide what requested.
Check the validity of all passports
Check the validity of all passports and travel documents (for instance the ESTA to enter the USA if you are an EU passport holder, or relevant visa).
Remember that children’s passports tend to have shorter validity than adult ones.
Many countries require your passport to be valid for a certain amount of months after returning home, so make sure you comply with that rule too.
Apply for visas well in advance and budget for them.
Also, many countries apply a departure fee that can only be paid cash on departure: make sure you have enough on you to cover that.
Buy travel insurance
Shop around for the best insurance and contact your won home and car insurance provider to see what they cover while you are abroad.
Make copies of all documents
Scan all your documents (passports, IDs, travel insurance etc) and send them by email to yourself and to a trustworthy friend or family member.
Should anything happen to the original, this will make it easier to reprint or get a replacement
Talk to your doctor
Talk to your doctor if you have any specific health concern about the country you are visiting and get relevant vaccinations, prescriptions and a stack of your usual medication should you not be sure they are available at your destination.
Be aware that what is over the counter at home may require a prescription abroad.
Double-check before departure so you can be sure you are not caught out short.
Also, double-check with your airline what you need to carry medications on board.
You want to make sure you don’t get stuck should they confiscated and you have enough on you in case of lost luggage.
Talk to your bank
Talk to your bank and credit card provider and let them know your travel plans.
A transaction from an unexpected location may trigger a warning and your card can get blocked as a result.
This happened to us the first time we went to California from Ireland: we spent a fortune on the phone with our bank as the free phone wasn’t free while roaming in a different continent!
Bring more than one bank card
Bring more than one credit/debit card should you incur into any problems with one specific provider.
Check in advance what charges there are to use your card abroad and to withdraw money from local ATMs to avoid surprises.
Bring sufficient cash for first night accommodation and transport, should you not have access to an ATM or bank on arrival.
Depending on your destination, you may also want to make sure you have some cash on you at all times (see our tips for Italy).
On the flip side, make sure you don’t carry large amounts of cash and you keep it safe and hidden.
Depending on your destination and type of travel, you may want to consider a travel wallet or hidden pocket (although often a good crossbody bag for travel is enough)
Make a packing list
Make a packing list and stick to it to make sure you have all the essentials.
Some I regularly use are:
- General packing list for families with kids
- Family road trip checklist
- Flying with toddler checklist
- Beach vacation packing list for families
You can also find all my packing tips for families here
Make a grab and go list
Make a ‘grab and go’ list with the bare essentials you need on you when leaving your house: passport, tickets, money.
The most obvious things get left behind in that final rush before closing the house!
Count your bags
Count how many bags you have so you can easily keep track of everything.
Especially if changing planes or means of transport, having a clear idea of how many items you need to keep an eye on helps minimize the risk of losing any.
Make sure you update your mental list if you buy something and end up with an extra bag/parcel: this is the typical time when you leave something behind!
Pack a sensible carry-on bag
If you are checking in luggage, make sure your carry on bag has enough to last you for 2 days, just in case the big bag gest lost.
If you are traveling with young kids in diapers, make sure you have enough to last the journey.
On the road, we carry one per hour of travel and then we buy the rest at our destination.
With small kids, I find changing bags to be excellent for packing up extra stuff. You can find my list of favorite diaper bags for travel here.
Bring an extra change of clothes for the kids and yourself for the journey, especially if traveling by plane, when spills are common and access to the bags can be tricky.
Book accommodation in a sensible location
You cannot plan all your days thinking of a worse case scenario but flight delays do happen and they can play havoc with your plans.
If you think the flight can be delayed enough to make travel to your destination unsafe (for instance, you arrive just before dark), consider booking accommodation close to the airport to minimize driving with jet lag and in darkness in an unfamiliar place.
You can find my favorite and trusted accommodation booking providers here
Prebook your plane seats
Tips for flying with kids are some of the most important when tackling a first overseas trip with kids and maybe the biggest one of all is: prebook your seats, even if it means incurring in extra expenses.
While it may seem obvious that the airline will seat you with your child, many many family travel stories prove that it is not a sure thing at all and a very stressful situation to find yourself in
Check for family fares on trains
If traveling by train, check if there are family tickets available.
Plan local transport
Plan carefully for local transport and, if needed, invest into pre-booking a taxi, private car or shuttle service to get to your accommodation easily on arrival.
Check in advance the local rules for car seats and, if necessary, bring your own.
These are our buying guide to our favorites:
- Best car seats for flying
- Best portable car seats for travel
- Our review of the excellent BubbleBum portable car seat
- Our recommended car seat bags for travel
Having too many bags while minding kids gets very stressful very quickly: pack only the essentials and embrace laundry on the road.
You can learn some of our tips for traveling light with kids here
Consider a travel backpack
Each family is different when it comes to preferred luggage but we found trave backpacks to be a game changer when it comes to family travel.
They open like a regular bag but they allow you to be hands free, which means you can hold your child’s hand or push the stroller with ease.
Invest in good quality kids luggage
Kids luggage can also make or break your family travel experience.
During our travels, we found these to be the best options:
- Best luggage for kids
- Best backpacks for toddlers
- Best travel backpacks for kids
- Trunki review (spoiler: we adore trunki for small kids!)
Pack appropriately for the country you are visiting both in terms of respect of religious practices and the weather.
Choose breathable clothing for hot destinations and good thermal underwear for colder months.
Check the country rules about breastfeeding in public
If breastfeeding, check the rules of the country about doing it in public and bring a scarf or muslin cloth to cover yourself should you believe feeding times can be a problem.
Bring a stroller
Not all destinations are pram/stroller friendly but wheels are usually handy as carrying a child all day quickly becomes tiring for you and them.
You can find our guides to the best strollers for travel here:
Bring a carrier
A baby carrier is a baby travel essential, even if you have a stroller.
It is invaluable any time the stroller is not an option (museum visits, hikes) and is an extra aid to help calm baby should the unfamiliar environment prove stressful for them
Get to the airport early
Get to the aiport early and head straight to security so you can relax between the shops, the cafe and the gate.
Do consider that check-in machines may not work for baby tickets: give yourself extra time should you find yourself in the need to queing.
Check for family security lanes
Check for family lines or consider paying for the priority access.
Many airports offer packages that let you pass security without standing in line and often even include lounge access.
Dress sensibly for the airport and the plane
Dress appropriately so you don’t have to fiddle with clothing when passing security.
Avoid belts, laces and anything elaborate that can take your attention away from your child (you usually need to close the stroller, so you are likely to have to hold their hand.
Learn to fold your stroller
Security checks usually require strollers to be folded and scanned.
Make sure you know how to manouvre yours to avoid stress and awkwardness and do not stuff things in the basket: they will have to come out at the security check!
This is even more important if you are flying alone with two kids.
Check with your airlines what baby food you can bring on board
Check with the airline what you can bring on board in terms of child food and liquids.
Rules change often and security personnel may ask that you taste the food so be prepared with handy containers that will allow you to do so if required.
Use airline lounges
Parents often worry business travelers may resent the presence of kids in the lounges but a quiet environment can be invaluable to keep kids calm and remember: you don’t lose your rights to a pleasurable surroundings just because you are a parent!
Don’t line up too early at the gate
Don’t line up too early at the gate or on the train/boat if you have a seat reserved.
Unless you have reasons for wanting to sit on the aircraft straight away, let the kids free to move for as long as possible.
Consider a travel pillow
Travel pillows for kids can go a long way to make their trip by car, plane or train more comfortable.
You can find our favorite travel pillows for toddlers and kids here.
Assign jobs: decide who is in charge of each bag/child so you can be sure nobody gets lost!
Bring snacks for the plane and get fresh water before boarding.
Bring snacks that are fresh and hydrating such as fruit and chopped vegetables.
Make sure fruit is chopped as whole fruit may not be allowed on the plane.
Expect jet lag
Jet lag can affect adults and children quite badly and keep them out of sorts for days.
Make sure you get a lot of fresh air and exposure to sunlight both before departure and on arrival, eat light and drink a lot of water.
Give yourself time to rest and don’t overdo it on the first few days to give everyone time to adjust to the new timezone.
Know rules and rights about the use of car seats on planes
if you are carrying your car seat in cabin, make sure you know the rules of the airline but also your rights.
Make sure you have the right seat and a print our of the airline policy about it should it be contested.
It shouldn’t happen but it does and a printed policy is the fastest way to solve the issue.
Have an itinerary
Kids are less flexible than adults so an itinerary goes a long way to make sure what you are planning on doing is feasible for them.
Before a road trip, study well the actual driving time and plan for stops.
At your destination, make a plan for each day so you don’t pack in too much but see all you have travelled for.
Tuntrums, tiredness and sickness happen.
After you have prepared your itinerary, make sure you also keep the flexibility to change it around needs that may suddenly arise.
Plan down time
Give the kids the time to play and rest in your accommodation, the pool, the playground or the park so they can relax and get on with some of their favourite pastimes at home.
I am the worst for wanting to always go places but, with kids, being always on the go can backfire.
When we were in Toronto, the kids were exhausted. All it took was one afternoon at the pool and they were as good as new, ready for more sightseeing!
Slowing down that day ended up allowing us to see more the day after.
Choose accommodation that suits your needs
Just make sure the place you pick works for you and the kids.
Do you need a pool? Air conditioning? A restaurant onsite? Consider your specific needs and write a list of ‘must have’ so you can pick the best accommodation for you.
Check family policies
Always check for hotel’s children policies.
Do they go free? Are extra beds allowed? What is the cost of breakfast, is it full price for kids?
Always check the rules of each hotel you are considering.
Check what baby club / kids club mean
Baby clubs com in all shapes and sizes.
Some have activities and supervised play time, others offer very little more than a corner with toys and a screen with kids movies on a loop.
If you are counting on entertainment, make sure you know what is actually on offer and the age requirements: not all ‘baby’ clubs accept babies of all ages
Check hotel room baby safety
Check the safety of your hotel room and take extra precautions should you have accommodation with balconies, access to the pool etc.
Consider bringing your own baby proofing gear.
Bring your own cot
Depending on the destination and age of children, a portable travel cot can be used as a playpen and a travel stairgate can be invaluable.
Bring a sheet for crawling
if you have a crawler, bring a washable sheet you can put on the floor so they don’t get excessively dirty.
Consider carrying a high chair
Meals out are a great part of our holidays and we found that having our won high chair meant we had much more freedom to pick a restaurant we liked.
You can find our top pick for travel high chairs here.
Give older kids a meeting point
With older kids, always take an extra minute to set a meeting point should they get separated from you: do not rely on mobile phones as, especially abroad, they can easily let you down,
Give kids a tag with all the info
Make sure your kids know the name of your accommodation and your phone number and know what to do should they find themselves on their own.
Put a luggage tag or a label on little kids in crowded spaces such as Disneyland or theme parks so you can be contacted should they get separated from you
Bring gear to sterilize on the go
If traveling with a baby who uses bottles or a soother, make sure you have portable sterilizing equipment that is suitable for your destination.
Will you have a microwaver? Access to hobs? Consider all variables when deciding what solution to carry.
Practice water safety (drinking water)
Always check the satefy of drinking water at your destination and do not let your kids drink from the tap until absolutely sure it is safe.
Practice water safety (pools and sea)
Check for hazards whenever close to a pool or the sea. Is the pool gates? Not all countries require pool gates in tourist accommodation so being extra careful is paramount.
Make sure you and the kids learn t flags at the beach so you know when too dangerous to swim.
Have a good first aid kit
Make sure you always have a first aid kit on you with essential medications. At a minimum, make sure you have anti-fever, rehydrating salts, anti-hystamine cream and syrup and wound dressing supplies.
You can find what we have in our own family travel first aid kit here
Bring a toy
Bring some toys from home but try not to carry something invaluable that might get lost.
We usually pick one teddy for the trip and then pick one up at the destination: this also works as a lovely memory once back!
Practice eating local in advance
Get your kids used to the flavor of the local food before you go and make sure they have some staples they like.
Even if it just rice or pizza, being familiar with the local food before you go is a great way to get fussy eaters less stressed when the real thing comes along.
I hope you found our family travel tips useful and they helped you plan your travel with kids. Happy travel planning!