Hit The Road: 5 Travel Tips for Families

Travel with kids can be intimidating at best and downright terrifying at worst. But it doesn't have to be either. Unless you hit the road with a little one in tow early on in his or her life, your child will likely read your emotions to gauge how to feel about the experience, and will mirror your sentiments about leaving home. They will only be as comfortable as you are, so let's get you prepped for family travel without turbulence.

We travel a lot. I mean, a lot, lot.

Because of our careers in the advertising and design industry, both the Love of My Life and I were on the road constantly pre-baby. His schedule continued at a pretty manic rate after she was born, while mine naturally screeched to a halt. Now, we've both found a balance that satiates our need to move (we're both very nomadic by nature) with a need to rest and recharge at home.

The World's Cutest Human got her first passport at three weeks old and was on her first plane ride to Europe at five weeks. As such, she's incredibly comfortable in planes, trains and automobiles, and has few problems abroad that she wouldn't have right at home (i.e. normal things related to age). We find that during periods of travel, she explodes in developmental advances. For her, the extra stimulation is extremely positive and helps her learn and grow.

But she, like all kids, reads how we are feeling. And how we are feeling usually depends on how prepared we are. Fresh off of five straight weeks of holiday travel with a toddler (both domestic and abroad in Costa Rica), I have a few pieces of advice. These are things I have learned the hard way not to forget: five tips that will get your family road-ready in no time.

Have a packing list... and use it! Here's mine if you need guidance to create your own. It includes options based on weather, and of course I customize it for each trip. But I always start here. Don't wing it -- it's a near-guarantee that you will forget something important and find yourself wasting money and time shopping for a bottle scrubber when you could be on the beach.

Keep a baby/toddler bag packed and ready. Even if you know what you need when you leave the house, you'll inevitably forget something. My signature forgotten item is diapers, which is a lot harder to fix than forgetting her water bottle. So I've learned to refill her bag when I get home so it's ready for the next spur-of-the-moment adventure. Our toddler bag basics include:

  • Diapers
  • Wipes
  • Travel changing pad (we use this one, and it's a savior when I have to put her down on UFO surfaces like airport or rest area changing tables)
  • A change of clothes (at least one and/or the parts and pieces for that which you're most likely to need to back up for)
  • Water (bottle/sippy cup)
  • Milk, if the outing is going to overlap with nap time
  • Snacks or a meal
  • Books and toys (different every time, depending on the outing)
  • The special animal/blankie/doll/car (for us, it's Elmo and we don't leave home without him)
  • A charged up iPad/iPhone (it's our last resort on a long car or plane ride, and it's near-fatal when it's dead and unavailable)

Check out where you're going before you leave. Whether it's a day trip or a long trip, do a little research on the climate and the environment. By environment, I mean try to get a sense of how child-friendly it's going to be and the options for your littles, what kind of food options are available, if there are bathrooms, and that sort of thing. If nothing else, it will cut down on the number of surprises waiting for you. Your kid will provide enough of those.

Do one last mental check before walking out the door. Every time. Even with a bulletproof bag a la #2, some things are still needed at the last minute (milk, water and food, for instance). Take one second before you run out the door to make sure you have everything. Also use this mental check minute to think about yourself. Do the four-point check (Wallet? Phone? Keys? Sunglasses?), plus anything else key to your planned journey. It's important that you have what you need, too!

Let go, and go with the flow! This might be the most important tip. No matter how prepared you are, how well you researched, how bulletproof your luggage and baby bag, something will go wrong. If not wrong, at least not according to plan. And that's part of the adventure. It will make for a memory -- funny, eventually, no matter what -- so remember to stop, take a deep breath and let go. You are doing a wonderful thing for your family by creating this experience, and everything will work out.

Bon voyage! Buen viaje! Happy trails to you!

If this list was helpful to you, please share it with the travelers or travelers-to-be in your life. If you have another tip, or a question about traveling with tots, please leave a comment below or get in touch.