An Expert's Tips for Traveling with Kids

An Expert's Tips for Traveling with Kids

If you’ve been dreaming of heading to a sun-soaked family getaway, but dreading the prospect of traveling to get there, we’re here to help. Formulating a strategy in advance can set you up for success when you’re headed for airports or long car rides with young children.

We asked Michelle Baran, the managing editor at AFAR magazine (who is also a seasoned traveler and mom of two, ages 5 and 7), for her sage advice on stress-free solutions to family travel. These are her suggestions.

Consider transportaion modes

Not all trips automatically require a flight. If the distance is feasible and you have the time, roadtripping can be a lot easier, says Michelle. “If it’s a drivable distance, some kids fare better in the car because you can build in distractions and multiple stops to make the trip,” she says. Plus, car seats, diaper bags, and other baby necessities are easier to store in the trunk than travel with on a plane.

Book early

If your budget allows, Michelle suggests resisting the urge to book Basic Economy, where you often can’t pick your seats. “I also encourage families to book as far advanced and as possible so that they can book the flight that best suits their needs in terms of timing and also so they're making sure they're getting all their seats together,” she says. “Don’t start your vacation on the wrong foot, but try to make it as comfortable and easy for the flight because it's still going to be challenging when you're traveling with young kids.”

Think about the timing

Of course, babies and toddlers tend to be more demanding than older, more independent ones, but Michelle advises to consider the unique personality of the kids. “I think the level of strategizing definitely depends on your child and what they can tolerate,” she says. “For our family, I avoid red-eye flights because there’s not enough time for everyone to get comfortable. A baby or toddler is going to be so cranky, and no one's going to sleep.”

For that reason, the travel expert prefers to travel in the middle of the day. “I don't like to go too early or my kids are harder to travel with,” she says. “I understand why some people prefer to maximize every minute of a trip, but to me, I focus more on comfort and sanity.”

Try a layover

For long trips, the Afar editor suggests splitting them up with a connection. “If it's going to be a long flight, I don't mind a layover with my kids because I feel like it gives us a little bit of a break,” she says. “It's already a long travel day, and for me, the longest part of that period is the period when you're in the plane because you’re trapped. And so if you can break that up a little bit with a layover to give everyone a chance to spread their legs, move around, have a snack, and get a change of scenery.”

Michelle notes, however, that especially during the holidays, connecting flights can increase the chances of delays and cancellations.

Check your bags

Between toys, diapers, bottles, and a stroller, traveling with baby gear can get overwhelming, so Michelle suggests checking your bags to free your hands. “There's just so much schlepping going on,” she says, noting that this evolves as the kids get older and they can carry their own bags. “I think then you can kind of transition to carry on only you’re able to move more quickly through the airport.

Strategize a carry-on

Make sure you pack an extra set of clothes for everybody—not just the kids. “Parents of young children forget kids can spill on them,” the travel expert says, suggesting a travel cube or a Ziploc bag to stow clothes. “I cannot tell you the number of times I have reached for a spare shirt after a spill in the airport or plane.” Or in case you get separated from checked luggage, you’ll have an extra outfit.

Need a no-fail travel look? Our Compass Pants have stretch and quick-dry fabric if you encounter spills.

Plot some distractions

Want to keep them busy when the flight is delayed or the security line feels infinite? “I love to bring along something new, like a brand new coloring book or toy, something to add to the novelty of traveling,” says Michelle. And don't forget a snack bag of special treats, she adds. “That the crinkly bag of pretzels is exciting for a baby.”

And save time for souvenirs. “We always will buy something small at the airport, and that's the new thing and it's like a little treat. I'm not afraid to say it. It's a little bribery tool with toddlers goes a long the way.”

Try a layover

Flexibility is the key to happiness in general, and on vacation with children, that is especially true. So if you’re dealing with new time zones or lost sleep, take it somewhat easy when you land. “Build in grace for the first few days,” advises Michelle. Translation: no non-refundable amusement park tickets or inflexible museum reservations with young children.

Instead, build a loose itinerary and account for nap or free time and play it by ear. As they get older, traveling can become more regimented. “Letting go of a strict schedule can create some of the best days because everyone is more relaxed,” she says.