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A father of two young children himself, TPG contributor Jason Steele looks at some essential gear for families traveling with infants. Although family travel becomes easier as children start to walk and become potty trained, traveling with toddlers imposes a new set of challenges that require some different gear. Here are the top 10 essential items that Jason and his family carry when traveling with their children, who are between the ages two and six.
1. Stroller: A stroller was necessary for traveling with our oldest daughter from the time when she grew out of her car seat until around age four, when she was able to keep up with us in the airports. In fact, the right stroller can be a great place for a nap, as well as providing a generous storage area that helps parents carry a purse or diaper bag. We love our Baby Trend Trendsport Lite 1510, which we have used around town and on trips all over the world, and is now being used by our second child. Unfortunately, this model appears to be discontinued. Their Passport Stroller seems to be the replacement, and it now comes in many different colors. The seat reclines nicely, and the whole package quickly folds flat for transport. Otherwise, it is small, lightweight, and inexpensive. One reason I like it so much is that it has a narrow width that allows us to squeeze through some tight spaces that are inaccessible with larger models. On sale for as little as $35, it’s a bargain.
2. Tablet: We thought a laptop was a great entertainment device, until we were blown away by the iPad. It is great for movies and interactive games, takes no time to boot up, and its battery will outlast most kids’ attention spans. Apple makes a great product, but there are now several less expensive competitors out there. There are also a number of tablets made specifically for children, such as those by Kurio, or the Arnova ChildPad, Fuhu Nabi Tablet, and Toys “R” Us Tabeo 7 Tablet.
3. Noise-cancelling headphones: If you are going to take a laptop or tablet, noise-cancelling headphones are a must. You could get a top-of-the line $300 Bose QuietComfort 15 (TPG’s favorite), or something as basic as this Kensington model which retails for $40 and frequently sells for under $30. They also work great with the in-flight entertainment systems on most aircraft. Though many models might be too big for a child, there are plenty of models out there sized for them, and they keep your kids relaxed and ready to enjoy some entertainment no matter what commotion is going on in the cabin of a plane or down the hallway of your hotel.
4. Child’s backpack: I can’t tell you how much our travel experience changed when our daughter asked to carry her own backpack. All of the sudden she was carrying her own toys, games, and snacks. We have one less thing to carry, and she feels like part of the team.
5. CARES harness: There is a time between age two and four where children are too old to sit on a lap, but too young to safely and comfortably use an adult’s seat belt. You could carry on an FAA approved car seat, but that is difficult and airline staff may wrongly prevent you from using it. So I highly recommend the CARES (standing for Child Aviation Restraint System) that is designed specifically for children age one and older who weigh between 22 and 44 pounds, as it protects them from jolts caused by turbulence and stops them from flailing or falling under the seat.
6. Large duffel bag: This is an essential piece of travel equipment that is far more versatile than a typical suitcase since it can be used to hold car seats, beach toys, and swim gear. Unlike other luggage, duffels weigh little and take up almost no space when not in use.
7. Lightweight car seat. Much of the hassles of traveling with children revolve around the bulky car seats that must be carried, or rented, wherever you go. Sadly, renting a car seat is absurdly expensive. For example, Budget charges $13 per day. For $17, you can just buy the Harmony Cruise Car seat, which is approved for children over 30 pounds. It is even small enough to carry on board, saving the time needed to check and retrieve bags.
8. Non-perishable snacks. Kids have their own dietary needs, to say the least. Come prepared for delays and other problems by carrying plenty of their favorite foods that don’t need to be kept cold or served hot. As a side benefit, these snacks will be healthier and less expensive than what you will typically find at the airport.
9. Crayons and paper. You think you’ve got it made with your fancy tablet, until flight attendants tell you to turn off all electronic devices for takeoff. At that time, $1 worth of crayons becomes more valuable than a $500 iPad. Also, bring your own pad so you won’t need the tray table.
10. Favorite book. Have you ever noticed that every child’s book ends with the main characters going to sleep? Crayons and paper keep young children occupied, but a good book will always help to put them to sleep. In contrast, the bright screen of a tablet is less compatible with sleep, and must be turned off during taxi, takeoff, and landing. Their favorite book will also comfort them and remind them of home.
For more information on traveling with children of all ages, check out this previous posts: