Taking a trip with the family? Good for you. Get out there and see some new patch of world — you deserve it. Just remember: No matter their age, packing up the kids for a flight or a long drive can make you second-guess taking any trip. There’s nothing quite like taking all that madness on the road along with a massive checklist of to-do items that never seem to all get checked.
Fact: You’re going to forget something. Fact: Not everything will go according to plan. It pays to plan ahead, though. That’s why we reached out to travel experts, parenting experts, and traveling-parent experts — i.e. those who travel frequently with kids in tow — for some expert guidance. Will this road-tested advice make your next trip run without any big hiccups, traffic jams, or airport freakouts? Of course not. But it can help make travel a bit easier — and help you prepare for the problems that might occur. Here, then, are 17 tips for traveling with babies, toddlers, and small children.
Ship the Essentials Ahead
If you’re traveling in the lower 48, “Use Amazon Prime to have diapers, wipes, and other essentials shipped directly to your destination,” says Amanda Norcross, senior editor at FamilyVacationCritic. Make sure to give the hotel a heads-up that you’re expecting a package. You’ll save some cash by avoiding additional checked bag fees at the airport, and now you’ve got less to pack.
Spring for TSA Precheck
If you plan on flying a lot, even just small distances, consider getting TSA Precheck. It’s $85 (although many credit cards will cover the membership fee) and good for five years. Plus one member will cover the whole family’s access to the TSA Precheck lane as long as you are all on the same ticket reservation. “Not having to remove your shoes or your laptop while also breaking down a stroller, pulling out the milk to be scanned, and wrangling squirmy children is an actual lifesaver,” says Juliana Shallcross of the Trips and Giggles travel blog. And of course, you’ll get to move through a quicker security lane.
Cut Down on Long Car Rides
“Kids generally can’t stay in a car for eight hours, so break down your longer car rides into smaller trips,” says Suzanne Brown, author of Mompowerment. Don’t worry about making record time in getting to your destination. Instead, research the towns you’ll be passing through and look for activities or places to stop that are kid-friendly. Even stopping for ice cream or at a playground to stretch the legs could work.
Prepare for Passport Processing
If you’re traveling internationally, your child is going to need a passport. That’s going involve a trip to the post office (ugh) or another processing center. Call ahead to find out the quietest times of operation, so you’re not waiting too long with the kid(s). If you’ve got an infant, “Go after a feeding when they are relaxed,” says Anthony Bianco, of the Travel Tart blog. “But make sure they’re not asleep because their eyes need to be open for the photo.” Most importantly, pre-prepare as much as possible, go through the passport application checklist and make sure to stack all the documents in the order that they need to be processed.
Schedule Flight/Drive-Time With Nap Time
This one is all about simple time management. “If it’s a long haul, try to leave or schedule a flight at night or super early in the morning, while it’s still dark out, says Adrian Kulp founder of Dad or Alive and author of the upcoming book We’re Parents! The New Dad’s Guide to Baby’s First Year. Ideally, you’ll get a few hours of the trip under your belt as the children snooze. Courtney Zentz, a pediatric sleep expert, and owner of Tiny Transitions, also recommends traveling with blackout blinds or blackout liner that can be cut to the shape any windows. “That helps to ease children into falling asleep, even when the sun is still bright and shining.”