Traveling with Kids: the 13 things you should never leave home without

After a little international travel over the long weekend with my 7 year-old, I was reminded that traveling with kids is fun, rewarding, and, with a little preparation, can be easy. But being unprepared can make everyone miserable, especially when it comes to airports, delays, and border crossings.

With summer vacations on the horizon, many of us will do at least a little traveling – even if it’s just to get out of the city for a weekend, so I thought I’d share my list of 13 things I try to never leave home without, and, below, WHY I carry all this stuff (which, incidentally, fits into either my not-so-big purse or my little guy’s kid-sized back pack).

1.MEDICATION Pack all essential medications inside a see through zip lock bag, in their original containers and put into your bag or carry on (the see-through zip lock is mandatory if you are going through customs or security, where there are regulations around liquids).

At a minimum, I carry children’s acetaminophen, Gravol, and a decongestant, and often ear drops and ibuprofen, cotton swabs and a little container of non-petroleum jelly.
Also included in the zip lock are 1 or more easy-to-use and accurate dispensers (graduated syringe-style dispensers are ideal) and a medication log sheet with a pen.

In addition to the meds bag, we bring :
2. WIPES/Tissues to clean up sticky fingers, faces and spills
3. BAGS. At least 2 extra medium or large sized zip lock bags
4. AN ORANGE. Fresh orange(s) (bought in the airport, post security, if necessary) in a re-useable snack bag
5. EARPHONES. A kid sized headset  & an ipad/LEAPPAD/Nintendo DS/tablet or similar (optional)
6. CLEAN UNDERWEAR / Fresh change of clothes
7. Per child: A BUSY BAG and/or colouring/activity book and a package of cheap (ideally miniature) markers in their own bag with:
8. A few SMALL TOYS (little pet shop, hot wheels, action figures, or similar)
9. 1-2 small BOOKS (I usually have one favorite in addition to one he’s never seen before that I know he’ll love)
11. SNACK, Kids energy bars and emergency munchies
12. GUM or chewable candy (age dependent)
13. SCARF, or small travel blanket

So why do do I think all these items are essential? Because, at some point, on some trip, I’ve wished I’d had any one of them, if not all of them.

The medications are pretty obvious – nobody likes traveling with an unhappy kid. A sick little one on a plane or stuck in a car is sad and unpleasant. It’s always nice to have a painkiller on hand and a decongestant just in case your little one develops a cold and has to fly. Gravol is essential for us as my kids get motion sick (this is also why I carry at least one extra zip lock bag, nothing like discovering there’s no air sick bag when its nearly too late).

Oranges can mask the acrid smell of vomit in the air of a small confined space as well as cleanse one’s mouth of a bad taste. I usually bring the orange with me from home in one of our snack bags. Similarly, the gum can help with ‘travel breath’ and helps adjust the pressure in your ears when changing altitudes. If your little one is too small for gum try a chewable candy.

A medication log may seem silly, but if you’re traveling across timezones, or over a few days it can be easy to forget when and how much medication was given, and to whom, especially if more than one person has been administering medications. We made our own medication sheet and use it for any kid in our house who’s taking medication. You can download a copy here. Don’t forget to pack a pen too.

If you’ve ever been separated from your luggage, or had some sort of wardrobe misadventure, you probably already travel with some clothes in your carry-on. With kids, the chances you or they get spilled on goes up significantly, so you might as well be prepared.

Having a few options for activities should extend your ability to ward of boredom. I put all the markers plus the toys in a pencil case or pouch (find a tutorial for making your own set of fabric snack/activity bags here). I find every so often I need to facilitate or direct how to use the supplies, but my kids ability to entertain themselves increases constantly with practice and age.

Having headphones at the ready can come in super handy. And sometimes a tablet is what you need to survive a 4 hour flight delay after you’ve gone through security. No ipad? With headphones & wifi almost any mobile device can be made kid friendly, and now most buses, trains, and airplanes have kids movies on demand for free even if they charge you for the headset. Ideally, you’ll have an over-the-ear style headset in a kid-friendly size, but remember, if you are stuck taxi-ing down a run way, caught in an airport traffic jam, flight crews will only let you use “ear bud” style headphones. We now travel with both.

There is nothing worse than being stuck in a “delay” of some kind with a hungry kid. In my experience most adults will let a desperate kid jump the toilet queue, but sometimes food just isn’t available. Not having food makes me and my little ones “hangry,” so now I always travel with some sort of high protein, kid formulated, and yummy energy or granola bar and a stash of emergency munchies (raisins or other dried fruit, jerky, & seeds).

Use a spare snack bag to save purchased food for later.

Water on hand is always helpful, so we keep our water bottles topped up as much as possible.

I always travel with a pashmina style scarf. This fashion accessory can be a pillow, blanket, sun protection, or even a swaddle.

On a final note, two pieces of advice: Stay calm and be prepared. Kids pick up on our emotions and traveling can be stressful. If you run into problems or delays, try to stay calm and explain (within reason) what’s happening to your kids. Once you’ve adjusted your own expectations, try to adjust theirs.

For me, part of being prepared is dressing comfortably and in layers. My kids are dressed to travel in light comfortable pants, a t-shirt under a long-sleeve zip or button-up shirt and a hoodie or wind breaker. Thats what I wear too…plus my scarf, of course. While traveling we often move in and out of several (micro) climates. Cars, trains, planes, ferries, terminals, public spaces, AC,  heat, inside and then out. The environment can range from stuffy to cold. Having clothing that can adapt will make a big difference in how you and your kids feel during and at the end of your journey.

With our 14 essential travel items my kiddo and I embarked on 4 days of travel, packed with activities we both enjoyed, including, dinners out (at nice restaurants) that weren’t rushed; travel by car, boat, plane, train, subway, and bus, despite “random” extra security screenings; and, a flight delay followed by a long wait to get home. Shockingly, there was little complaining, unpleasantness, anxiety, or stress.
Perhaps a few hiccups, but all-in-all, a total success.

Happy Travels!

PS. Headed to a nice restaurant with kids in tow? Give the restaurant a heads up before you arrive and ask if there are any “off-menu” kids specials. You may find you get special seating and food. We always ask that our kids’ orders go in early and come out as soon as ready.

Useful Links:

Our Medication Log,
A great tutorial on making your own snack bags:
Some busy bag activity ideas:

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1 Response

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