My wife and I are pretty seasoned travelers. We could probably pack for a trip in our sleep. But when player three entered the game, packing for us plus a ten-month old has become an adventure in itself!
So in this installment of Jet with Jay, I’m looking to parents who have survived (and thrived) while on vacation. These high-flying families have helped us put together the stuff that’ll help save your sanity when traveling with kids.
I reached out to travel pro Nedra McDaniel, aka Adventure Mom, who has been traveling with her family for nearly two decades.
Jay: As a pretty seasoned traveler, I thought I knew everything I needed for a trip and could pack in my sleep. But as a new dad, it feels a bit stressful to make sure I have everything for a trip with our son. Any advice to make packing easier?
Nedra: I would make a list of the essentials that you use everyday. What’s “essential” will change and evolve as your child grows.
Use a backpack to keep your hands free. Try to group similar items in smaller bags within the backpack to find them quicker. Baby wipes and hand sanitizer are a must for any age. Snacks and special treats, including lollipops, can help as a reward or to help keep them quiet.
Don’t forget your child’s favorite soothing/comfort items. Have backups just in case—multiple pacifiers, stuffed animals, etc.
Noise-canceling headphones and a device that already has movies, shows, and games downloaded are also helpful. If your toddler is a wanderer, an anti-lost wrist link is essential.
What is the one item every parent should take with them on a trip?
Flexibility and realistic expectations.
Be prepared to have to adapt when traveling with kids. Some situations with travel are out of your control. (Delayed flight, weather disruptions, someone gets sick, etc.) Also be mentally prepared for meltdowns, sibling bickering, and drama if you are traveling with kids. Sometimes parents need a time out more than their kids.
Just remember a vacation is with a spouse; a trip is with your kids. You might not get to do or see everything you originally wanted to during your trip if your itinerary is packed without any wiggle room.
Each kid is very different in personality and temperament, which can throw a curveball when one kid wants to do one thing and the other one wants to do something else.
Ultimately you are in charge of your attitude and your effort. Your kids will pick up how you respond to disappointments so be flexible and have realistic expectations.
That’s great advice! When you’re planning a trip, how do you find the best family-friendly things to do on a vacation?
I search on social media and read articles about destinations, then I make notes on my phone to keep it all together.
I also look to travel writers and local CVB’s (Convention and Visitors Bureau) as a wealth of information.
What’s your favorite destination for families?
Our favorite place to visit is one we haven’t been to yet because we like to experience new destinations. We enjoy the outdoors but also love to experience different cities.
For example, on one of our trips, we flew to Las Vegas during spring break and enjoyed the city for a few days at the beginning and end of the trip. During the week, we visited three National Parks along with several other outdoor attractions.
If you don’t want to rent a car, choose cities with a good public transit system from the airport or a hotel with shuttle service.
Your favorite place to vacation may change over the years depending on your vacation style and age of your kids.
How do you make plane rides hassle-free when flying with kids?
Preparation is key. The more prepared you are with a variety of distractions, the easier it is to pivot when something comes up.
The more you travel with your child(ren), the more you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. Self-awareness is also important. People understand that babies cry and that toddlers wiggle, but be mindful of how they can impact the travelers around you.
Don’t let your kid continue to kick the seat in front of them if you see it happening. A smile and apology goes a long way, and most people are empathetic and want to help when they see a parent struggling.
Regardless of whether or not everything goes as planned or lives up to your expectations, spending time with the people you love and making memories together at any age is priceless.
Inspired by Nedra’s pro packing tips and thanks to Jet with Jay readers, we’ve compiled a list of 14 items you might want to consider when packing for your next trip.
- Snacks and Gum
Much like adults, there’s no greater way to help ensure a smooth (and silent) flight for your kids like a tasty treat. While it’s always fun to try new things, be sure to pick some familiar snacks that are guaranteed hits with your family. Jenny S. and Carrie M. both suggest lollipops as a way to keep everyone smiling. Multiple moms have stressed the importance of having gum to help little ears adjust during takeoff and landing. When offering your child gum, chew a piece as well, and explain to your child why their ears might have a funny feeling and that it’ll go away pretty quickly. Don’t forget to have a napkin or wrapper on hand when the gum-chewing has finished!
- First Aid Kit
Mom-of-two, Deana S., suggested this, and the experts agree. Having a small kit that includes basics like band-aids, alcohol pads, tweezers, ibuprofen, and Tylenol can help soothe unexpected boo-boos and keep a trip on-track.
- Layered Clothes (And a change of clothes!)
Kimberly T. says a sweatshirt is a must for any plane ride to make sure your little one is comfortable when the air conditioning kicks in. It’s also great to dress them in layers in case they become too warm during the flight. Mom-of-two, Angie H., suggests a change of clothes for your child and you as well to combat any spills that might happen along the way.
A number of parents, including Andrea F., say you can never have too many wipes. Sanitizing wipes will help disinfect tray tables and arm rests but shouldn’t be used on skin. Baby wipes will likely be in your carry-on if you have a small child but can be great to have on hand for older kids and even adults to help with in-flight messes.
- In-Flight Entertainment
On some flights, you may have seat-back entertainment, which will likely include shows tailored for children. Don’t forget to bring along headphones with a ⅛” mini adapter. On flights that do not offer in-flight choices, Sari Z. uses age-appropriate activities to keep her daughter occupied. Coloring books, games, mess-free markers, and small toys are great choices. Dad-of-two, Michael A., suggests downloading plenty of cartoons and games onto a tablet.
- Noise-Canceling Headphones
Multiple parents shout about the benefits of noise-canceling headphones for kids. These special headphones use tiny microphones to listen to the actual noises around you and pump in frequencies to drown out unwanted sound. They can be a great way to calm down fussy flyers and reduce anxiety in both children and adults. Be sure to look for active noise canceling, or “ANC,” when purchasing headphones.
- Power Strip
Want to make friends in the terminal? Stacy L. suggests bringing along a small power strip that will allow you to share a plug while waiting for your flight at the gate. This can be useful in airports with limited outlets, as well as ensuring that your own battery-powered devices have enough juice for the entire flight. For international travel, be sure to use a voltage converter that allows you to swap different plug types at the wall.
- Sound Machine
Sleeping in an unfamiliar surrounding like a hotel or Airbnb can sometimes be a challenge for little travelers. Aubree D. suggests packing the sound machine. We use a small, inexpensive, rechargeable one for our baby, and it really helps keep him relaxed when it’s nap time. If you forget to pack yours, use your phone to play soothing sounds or noise from a free app or music streaming service. (Just watch out if you have a free version; nothing interrupts a peaceful rest like a loud advertisement!)
- Consider NOT Packing the Pack and Play!
Pack-and-plays, strollers, and wagons are great for vacations. But they’re bulky and yet another thing to haul along. Check with your hotel to see if they provide cribs and pack-and-plays. Some places, including Disney resorts, offer multi-day stroller rentals. There are also rental services like Babies Getaway and BabyQuip that will deliver items to your rental property.
- Anti-Lost Wrist Link
Adventure Mom Nedra says, “if your toddler is a wanderer, an anti-lost wrist link is essential.” This simple device is under $15 and consists of two bracelets—one for you and one for your child—that are connected via a coiled tether. For a more high-tech version, GPS-enabled clothing tags are another way to keep tabs while on vacation in unfamiliar or crowded environments.
- Digital Camera
Offer your child a digital treasure hunt and provide a list of items they have to snap a photo of on the trip. Looking through the photos together can be a great activity for the plane ride home. Try using a quality, inexpensive waterproof camera with a strap instead of worrying about your kid using a $1,000 phone. Consider using an online photo printing service when you return to turn some of their photos into a blanket or wall art for their room.
- Baby Monitor
How accustomed have we become to knowing our baby’s every move? We discovered it quickly on one of our first trips with our newborn when we forgot to pack a baby monitor. Whether a simple audio monitor or a compact video monitor, the peace of mind from being able to watch your child while enjoying some quiet time on the patio outside is priceless. Some video monitors also utilize apps that will alert you when your child wakes up.
- Ear Plugs and Goodie Bags for Neighbors
No matter how much you plan and how well-behaved your child normally is, there’s always the possibility that the experience of flying might become a bit overwhelming for them. Crying happens. So to help make friends with the people around you, consider bringing along some small goodie bags for your seat mates with a note explaining this is their first flight. Include earplugs and some candy as a peace offering.
Dad-of-one, Kevin G., says that patience is the most important thing you can pack, especially for first-time little flyers. Make sure to arrive at the airport earlier than normal to allow plenty of time for bathroom breaks, unexpected meltdowns, and time to get to the gate. To help alleviate the fears of nervous new travelers, explain what’s happening around them. Talk about where the luggage goes after you drop it off at check-in. Ask them questions about what a pilot does, or, for older kids, use it as an opportunity to teach them about how planes work.
So you’ve arrived at the airport early, you’ve checked your bags, and you’ve got plenty of time to relax before boarding. Nice work! Here are a few places to explore with your family at CVG while you wait:
Check out the kid’s play area in concourse B. It’s conveniently located right next to the food court, so you can grab a bite while the kids work out some of that excess energy before your flight.
Have food and drinks delivered by a robot! Really! Order and pay online using the website orderatcvg.com. Then your four-wheeled robot friend will show up in just a bit right to your gate! It’s a great way to get food without having to round up the whole family to head to the food court.
Sometimes mom and dad need a moment to relax before a flight. If someone in your party is able to keep an eye on the kids, slide on over to Cork and Bottle for a bourbon tasting. https://www.cvgairport.com/detail/cork-n-bottle/concourse-b-14
Older kids and adults will appreciate the colorful work of Cincinnati artist Charley Harper in a print gallery near the food court in concourse B. https://www.cvgairport.com/terminal/exhibits/Harper
I’ll see you (while balancing a car seat and a carry-on) at the gate!