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5 Tips for Traveling with Small Kids

We traveled with our first child before he was 2 months old. He had colic and GERD, wasn't nursing well (later we found out he had a tongue tie), and it was flu season. We were terrified to travel with him, but my husband's grandma had passed away and we desperately wanted to be with family. To say we were a hot mess is an understatement. I'm pretty sure we packed the entire house for our very short trip to Ohio (I also forgot to mention we were going from 76 degree weather to 22 degrees and snowy). It was exhausting enough figuring out how to parent a baby who didn't want to sleep (ever) and traveling tired us out even more (if that's even possible). We didn't want to travel with him for a very long time after that.

As the years have passed and we added 2 more kids to our family, we have gained knowledge and confidence about traveling with our little tribe both within the USA and internationally. Traveling with kids can be overwhelming and scary, but I hope these 5 tips will help answer some questions you may have about adventuring around the world with your little ones.

1. To stroller or not to stroller-- that is the question. The answer heavily depends on where you are going and how much walking you plan on doing.

Questions to ask yourself:

Is your destination stroller friendly?
Sidewalks: You probably don't want to take a double wide stroller to New York City. I've found that people get super persnickety if you're not walking at a brisk pace in the city and I am a fast walker. Add a stroller to that equation (that's taking up the entire width of the sidewalk) and you might start to tick people off. When we're in NYC, we use our Baby Jogger City Select. It's long, but skinny and people can easily go around you if you're walking too slow for them. If you're going to the suburbs with big wide streets and sidewalks without a lot of pedestrians, bring that double or triple wide stroller if you feel you need it.
Streets: The first time we took all 3 kids to Italy, we brought our stroller. Again, we used the City Select mainly because the wheels are big enough to not get stuck in cobblestone and strong enough to go in the direction you want it to go. We no longer bring a stroller to Italy because our kids are old enough to walk farther and for longer periods of time (and my husband gives our 4 year old a piggyback ride if needed), but it was so helpful when the kids were younger because their little legs get so tired walking (and that was pretty much our only way of getting around).

Will there be lots of stairs involved? If so, is there easy access to elevators?
Again, using New York City as an example-- if you plan on walking everywhere and you have small kids, you probably want to bring some sort of stroller.  However, if you plan on taking the subway, remember that not all stations have elevators (and the last time I was in a subway elevator, there was a huge pile of poop in it and the elevator got stuck. I almost died). An umbrella stroller would be easier to carry up and down the stairs than something heavy like a City Select. 
If you're going to old towns in Europe, chances are that elevators are limited. Remember that you have to get kids and luggage up and down those stairs along with a stroller if you bring one. An umbrella stroller, however, doesn't help much when streets are not paved smoothly or there are cobblestones for those thin wheels to get stuck in. 

What is your airline's policy about strollers? 
For awhile, we relied on our stroller at airports. It was our saving grace. A stroller keeps all of the kids in one place and can also hold carry-on bags that kids (or moms) don't want to hold. It helps when kids don't want to walk because they've been walking and waiting in line for hours upon hours. Last summer, we took a flight with United. They wouldn't let us bring our stroller through security, but they didn't tell us that at the check-in desk. After waiting in an hour long security line, they asked us to go back to the desk and check the stroller (no, they did not let us come back to the front of the security line afterward). We missed our flight, which also made us miss our connecting flight. At our connection, we had to go through customs, exit the airport, check-in again, and go through security again, then walk about a mile to our gate. This was after a 10 hour flight and 3 cranky kids (and 1 cranky mom) who didn't sleep a wink. Nobody wanted to walk or carry their bags. A stroller would have been so very helpful, but I did not read their policy about stroller size and weight because we've actually never run into that problem before. Make sure you don't make the same mistake we did. Read the airline's policies and call to confirm.

2. Should you bring a car seat or rent one at your destination?

This is definitely a question I wrestle with every time we travel. Up until this past summer, all 3 of our kids required car seats. Make sure you read the car seat laws for your destination city/country. Yes, in some cities, you can legally travel in taxis without car seats. However, just because it's legal doesn't mean it's the safest option for your child. I will admit that I have taken quick rides in taxis or car services with my kids in Italy, but I felt horrible about it each time (and am SO thankful that nothing bad happened). I would not travel far without car seats, though (and I wouldn't do it in the USA, either).

Bringing a car seat: We have done this once with 3 Diono Radian car seats (because those are the car seats we own and we didn't want to buy lighter, more travel friendly car seats just for vacations). We didn't check our car seats at the desk or at the gate because I've been told they throw them around and you have no idea if something inside of the seat breaks (which is the same reason you are supposed to replace car seats that have been in any kind of car accident). We actually carried three of these 30 lb chairs through the airport, through security, and onto the airplane. We looked crazy. We felt crazy. My husband did get a hefty workout, but we have never done it again. Now, only 2 of our kids need car seats and we bring a mifold travel seat for the 3rd. It works great and is particularly helpful for quick taxi rides.

Renting a car seat: We once requested 3 car seats with our rental car company. One looked like it had vomit all over it, another smelled like it had a dirty diaper in it, and the other was fine as far as we could see/smell. After that incident, we now prefer to rent car seats from local companies that specialize in baby gear rentals. They might cost a bit more and take more time, but it's totally worth the extra effort. In Italy, we use Mamma Mamma. Their gear is cleaned and sanitized. They're always on time for drop-off/pick-up and they even help you install the seats if needed. You can do a quick Google search to see if there are baby gear rental companies at your destination.

3. Where should you stay? Hotel vs Airbnb

I am partial to staying in an Airbnb over a hotel. We are a family of 5. In some places we've traveled to, they are super strict about having more than 4 people in a hotel room. I find this to be ridiculous because my kids all fit in one twin sized bed (they have a triple bunk at home, but all sleep in the middle bunk together holding hands). Alas, we abide by the rules, so if we have no other option than staying in a hotel that only allows 4 people per room, we pay for 2 rooms and end up only using one. 

Airbnb's give you the freedom to cook and do laundry if you're away for a long time. Sometimes we travel for months at at time. We don't want to eat out for every single meal and we certainly don't pack a month's worth of clothes, so a washing machine is also necessary. I find Airbnb's to be more spacious and more comfortable than hotels. 

Hotels do have conveniences that Airbnb's don't have and when I travel alone or with just one kid, I normally stay in hotels and pretend I'm the Queen of England and order room service. For family trips, I vote Airbnb all the way.

4. What time of day is best to fly?

When my kids were babies, I wrestled with this point a lot. I was always tempted to take a red-eye because I'd sleep and they'd sleep... in a perfect world, yes. My fear, however, was always that everyone on the airplane would be asleep if it wasn't for my baby who just won't stop crying. I am actually not phased when other people's babies are crying (on an airplane, at a restaurant, at church, wherever). It truly doesn't bother me, but I know not everyone feels that way. Needless to say, we never took a red eye when the kids were babies because we wanted to be considerate of the other passengers. Now that the kids are older, we do it often. To help combat jet lag, we attempt to adjust to our destination's time as soon as we land. If one of our kids is having a really hard time adjusting and can't sleep at the proper time, we use a natural melatonin supplement (just for one night...definitely talk to your doctor before doing that).

5. What should you pack in your carry-on for the kids? 

Obviously, pack whatever is necessary for your baby (milk, diapers, pacifier). Additionally, we always bring:

  • a change of clothes in case someone has an accident or your bag gets lost
  • a sweater because airplanes are usually freezing cold
  • wipes because how did we ever live without wipes
  • headphones
  • iPods loaded with audio books and a movie
  • your kid's favorite distraction (art supplies, hot wheels, etc)
  • snacks (we pack fruit, protein bars, nuts, and an avocado)
  • empty water bottles or sippy cups (because they would just spill whatever drink the flight attendant gives them in those tiny cups they use).
  • sleeping masks

Traveling with small kids can seem super intimidating at first, but practice makes perfect. I used to get anxiety as we approached airport security, but now I just tell myself not to stress and that the people behind us are just going to have to wait because we take longer than those traveling without kids. If you have questions for me, feel free to comment below. I wish you happy and safe travels.  There is absolutely nothing like seeing the world through your kid's eyes. 









"Of all the books in the world, the best stories are found between the pages of a passport."  ~Unknown

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