Traveling with Kids: A Practical Guide

children in front of a lake

Travel is a wonderful teacher. Kids learn about the history and culture of a place. They discover new cuisines and remarkable sites. New experiences also help kids become adaptable, flexible and open to new ideas. Unfortunately, traveling with kids is not always easy.

Even family travel on the road can become overwhelming with restless, bored or grumpy children. At the least, such a trip will be stressful and defeat the purpose of a vacation. At the most, a family vacation with kids could be the cause of conflict and fights.

So a good vacation idea is to first make sure that traveling with kids will be pleasant, easy and manageable.

What Age Should You Start Traveling with Kids?

Unless you absolutely have to, never travel with a newborn.

A baby that’s 0 to 3 months old is likely to be unpredictable. A newborn may be fussy; whether you’re traveling by plane, car or train, a fussy baby will be unwieldy. Yes, a newborn is “portable,” but when they cry, other passengers may not take it well. And you may find yourself on the receiving end of some nasty looks or worse, a fight.

So what’s the best age to travel with a kid?

About 9 months old may be a good age because they’ll be napping a lot. Feeding may also not be as frequent as when they’re 3 months.

Once your child starts walking, it may become more challenging. But if you’ve started introducing basic discipline, managing a toddler may be easier. A lot of parents turn to digital devices, like tablets and smartphones, to keep a child occupied. This strategy may work for a short time, but create a whole other problem when you can’t get your kid to give up the digital device.

If you can skip traveling with your baby, ages 4 to 5 years may be the best age because they’ll listen to you more. Tantrums could still occur, but they may be more reasonable. Older kids are better for family trips.

How Do I Prepare My Kids for Their First Trip?

A stress-free vacation with small children starts with an itinerary. You’ll want to talk to your kids about the trip. Tell them about your destination, about what you’re going to be doing when you get there. What you tell them about the trip will help to get them excited about going to an unfamiliar place.

You must also talk about the process of traveling to kids. For toddlers or young kids who are going on a vacation with you for the first time.

Talk to them about:

  • Security at the airport

  • Walking through a metal detector

When traveling with kids, always have a plan for emergencies. Your child must practice how to prepare for the unexpected and what they must do. When your itinerary covers theme parks, large crowds and wandering kids could mean losing them.

As a key safety issue, it’s crucial to have a plan:

  • Identify a spot where you could meet
  • Tell your kids who they should talk to: uniformed police, park security, etc.
  • For little kids, let them wear colorful clothes; easier to spot in a crowd
  • For older kids, make sure your number is programmed in their phone

Alternatively, your kids could have wearable tracking device through the entire trip.

What is the Best Way to Travel with Kids?

The best way will depend on how you travel. For example, international trips could mean more luggage that includes a portable high chair (some restaurants in foreign countries may not have high chairs). If you’re driving to your destination, you may want to pack healthy snacks to prevent those frequent stops.

But no matter where you’re going or how you’re going to get there, the main travel tips for parents is this: leave more time for everything. Any trip that involves kids, of any age, will always take time.

Tips for Traveling with Kids
child playing with father's glasses

  1. Book flights in advance
  2. If doable, never book the first flight or last flight out because airlines usually change them when the unexpected happens
  3. Morning flights may be OK, but not when you’ve to drag the kids out of bed to get ready
  4. Make sure all digital devices are charged
  5. Bring headphones, so your kids don’t disturb other passengers when they’re watching or playing on their devices
  6. Ask the airline to seat you with other families for a less stressful flight
  7. Put together a cleanup kit; some kids may throw up or make a mess while traveling, and a kit with moist towels, cleansing wipes, paper towel and the like will keep you sane
  8. Try and get your kids to pack their bags, letting them choose what they want to bring for the trip. It’s a good way to get them excited about the upcoming trip.
  9. Pack a non-digital toy option for your toddlers; keep them occupied without relying on devices and let them fall asleep without tiring their eyes
  10. Try not to carry more than two bags per person
  11. Buying tickets to attractions before you get to your destination especially ones that are popular, will keep you away from long lines
  12. Involve your kids in creating the itinerary; older kids may come up with one or two days’ itinerary

Ideally, you’ll want to match your kids schedules at home to the travel time. If your little one naps at a certain time, still get them to do it on the plane, train or car.

What is the Cheapest Way to Go on a Family Trip?

When you’re on a budget, you may think your only options are the cheaper accommodations, attractions and activities. But limited funds doesn’t have to limit your travel experiences.

One of the cheapest ways to travel with kids is to book well in advance, like six months if you can manage it. Alternatively, schedule you traveling internationally or locally off season. Off season travel means more affordable accommodations, fewer people in attractions and maybe discounts for tourist activities.

Airfare may also be discounted when it’s off season.

What Documents Does a Child Need to Fly Within the US?

Every passenger traveling by plane needs a passport. That includes babies. But your child doesn’t need an ID to travel, as long as they’re under 18 years old. Instead of your kid’s ID, airport security will refer to your identification.

Some airlines may also require proof of age when you fly with an infant. United Airlines doesn’t allow babies under seven days old to fly. A copy of their birth certificate would do, along with a copy of a medical form to certify your baby is healthy enough to travel.

Make Local and International Trips with Kids Easier

Local or international trips have a beneficial effect on children. Although it’s not an easy thing to do, traveling with the kids in tow is manageable.

  • Make sure your kid is at an appropriate age to travel

  • Organize the vacation well ahead of time, with a packing list

  • Talk to your kids about the trip

  • Involve older children in the process

  • Work as a team to enjoy time away from home

When you plan the trip well, those long haul flights or long-distance drives will be as pleasant as can be. And the memories you take away with each trip when your kids were young will be priceless.

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