If the thought of traveling with young ones in tow is intimidating, you’re not alone. Between your little’s constant need to eat, go to the potty, and get those extra wiggles out, traveling any distance in excess of your daily mileage can be daunting.
But fear not! As they say, it takes a village, and thanks a bevvy of advice I’ve gathered from seasoned travelers, experts, and trial and error, I’m a bit more confident when it comes to buckling up with the kids in tow. Here are some of the top travel hacks I have in my back pocket (or trunk).
“If there’s a chance you’ll be gone longer than you think, always bring an extra drink” is our on-the-road motto. Whether we’re traveling across state lines or to a restaurant or theme park, we’re always sure to throw a couple kid drinks in our tote. Not only will this keep the kids hydrated, but it will save you a buck or two at the rest stop or restaurant. If you’ve got babies on the bottle, pre-measure formula in its own Ziploc baggy. When your little gets hungry, mix fresh bottled water and the powder in a bottle, and shake away.
Have Potty, Will Travel
Whether your child is just beginning toilet training or has it nearly mastered, it’s always a good idea to have a small, portable potty in the trunk for use during road trips. Sometimes kids just can’t wait, and public rest stops are either gross or miles away from your current location, so a potty on board offers a welcome solution. We have a Baby Bjorn with a removable “bowl,” which makes for relatively easy clean up. Better yet, popping in a disposable potty bag makes things even easier. We’ve also used an OXO foldable potty, which is always used with a disposable bag. Whichever potty you choose, it can be used at your final destination, especially if tiny bottoms won’t comfortably fit on the toilets at the hotel or grandma’s house.
While not quite as ubiquitous and impossible to fully clean up as glitter, stickers do have a bad rap for ending up places they shouldn’t (on furniture or in the laundry). However, they are fantastic to have on the go. A girlfriend once recommended them and although they’re simplistic, they are an attention grabber. Give your kiddo stickers and a small notepad and ask him or her to create a cool design. Get the reusable stickers and an accompanying activity book for lots of time-consuming fun.
Surprise Grab Bag
I can’t remember if this was the recommendation of a friend, a mom I’ve never met on a Facebook page, or a parenting site (or perhaps all three!) but it’s ingenious: fill a Ziplock or similarly sized bag with stuff your kid has never seen before. A small game, a book, a mini Lego set . . . the list goes on. The point is to engage your small travel companion with novel stuff so it’s not predictable and boring. An enthralled kid is a win for everyone.
Wipes and Hand Sanitizer
This is almost a no-brainer, but wipes can get you out of a sticky situation in more ways that one. In addition to cleaning up diaper-related messes, wipes and hand spray are key for those times when hygiene may fall to the wayside. Did the traveler before you leave a mess in a seat or on a handle? Wipe it down. Flying during flu season? Bust out that hand sanitizer before digging into the snacks. We like the Honest brand—good cleaning power, fewer icky chemicals.
A Change of Everything
Throw a full change of clothes (even socks!) in a large Ziploc bag for all lengthy trips. Potty accidents and juice spills can happen anywhere, so be prepared. An extra towel is also good to have on hand if you need to make an impromptu diaper change on a questionable surface.
Do Your Car Seat Homework
You can probably install your child’s car seat with your eyes closed (don’t do that) and know the safety manual by heart. Flying, though, can present a bit of confusion when it comes the safest seating option for your kid. Prior to your trip, familiarize yourself with FAA guidelines and requirements as well as the air travel section in your manual to determine what’s best for your kiddo in the air and once you’ve arrived at your destination.
I’ve relied on advice from the safety technicians on the Car Seats for the Littles Facebook page (you can also visit csftl.org). CSFTL describes itself as “community driven, education oriented organization, staffed by Child Passenger Safety Technicians from the United States and Canada, and EU Advocates.” Its guidance has answered many of my car seat-related questions, and I’m often surprised to learn what’s actually okay and what’s not. For example, we recently purchased a RideSafer Travel Vest for my older daughter to use in the rental car after a cross-country flight (she’s not old enough for a travel booster, and the vest is an approved option for our trip and her height and weight). I would never have found this option without CSFTL.
Whatever your mode of transportation for this summer’s travels, remember to take deep breaths, stay safe, and (try to) enjoy the ride!