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Having the right gear can make all the difference while traveling internationally, or even domestically. You can find thousands of opinions on travel gear, but TPG Contributor Jessica Lawler suggests that families with young children shouldn’t travel without these seven items.
1. The Ergobaby Carrier. Being hands-free while traveling is essential for parents. While we bring this carrier for our youngest, our four year-old daughter still rides on our backs occasionally and falls asleep in it. This lightweight carrier saves my back if I have to hold a sleeping baby who has outgrown the airplane bassinet (especially on a packed flight with no extra space to lie down). We’ve hiked everywhere from Indonesian rice terraces to the Arabian Desert with our children strapped to us, and we find this carrier to be the most comfortable for parent and child .
2. Baby Jogger City Mini. This compact, durable stroller can double as a nap space for a child and a luggage rack for the bags and gear you’ll inevitably schlep through airports. Ours has traveled the world with us because it’s easy to fold with one hand, but sturdy enough to get through sand, gravel and other terrain. An infant carseat can snap into the frame for a small baby, but the seat is high enough for older kids to sit comfortably. We love this stroller’s extra-large sun canopy and easy maneuvering capabilities too. It’s not the lightest or least expensive stroller on the market, but we value its durability — our City Mini even survived being run over in a cramped French parking garage last month!
3. Phil & Teds Traveller Crib. Yes, most hotels supply a crib for babies or young children, but carrying this eight-pound travel crib that fits inside a large suitcase has proved to be worth it. There have been instances where a hotel did not offer cribs, or did not have any available. By bringing our own bed, we ensure that our baby will have a clean and consistent place to sleep. Plus, we can request a large hotel crib for our older daughter and still have a place for the baby to sleep. The Kidco PeaPod is another lightweight, packable crib option, but we prefer the structure offered by the Phil & Teds crib.
4. Lowepro Passport Sling III Camera Bag. As a parent and a photography enthusiast, I have to find a balance between carrying essentials for my children and carrying my camera gear. I love this Lowepro bag because I can fit a camera plus an extra lens, a few books, snacks, a water bottle, an extra outfit for the baby and my personal essentials all in one place. It’s easy to whip out my camera while we’re traveling and it doesn’t scream “tourist.”
5. Activities and electronics. When we lived in Singapore, returning to the US could often take more than 24 hours so we definitely understand that electronics are key in helping children survive those long flights; however, we still try our best to bring other activities aside from an iPad. I make a trip to the dollar store and wrap inexpensive items like plastic animals, bracelets, slinkies and silly putty in wrapping paper to make them more exciting (and buy more time while my children slowly unwrap them one by one). Other favorite activities include good old crayons and paper, sticker books, Wikki Stix, compact games like Spot It for older children and a small magnetic whiteboard with a dry erase pen and magnets. I choose to pack items that we won’t miss if they get lost or broken in transit, plus one special toy or doll that we do care about for each child. When we break out the electronics or have our girls tune in to the in-flight entertainment, we like Kidzgear headphones ($19.99).
6. Indestructibles. I always bring along books for my children, but if you’re traveling with a young child or a baby, these waterproof, tear-resistant, durable books are essential. The books are wordless with interesting pictures, so even my four-year-old can make up a story for the baby as she flips through them. We have put our books through the wringer, as they’ve been crumpled up in bags and dropped all over filthy airport floors, but we’ve been amazed at how easily they can be cleaned with a sanitizing wipe and flattened back out again. These books can quickly distract an upset child, but weigh almost nothing in your bag.
7. Ziploc Bags. A handful of large Ziploc bags can truly be a lifesaver. I found myself in too many tight situations — a soiled diaper with no garbage can in sight, a wet swimsuit, a leaky tube of diaper rash cream — before finally realizing I should have Ziploc bags on hand at all times. Not only are they lightweight, but the bags lock out moisture and smell for the most part. Air sickness bags are a great backup, too.
A Few Notes on Packing
When you’re a family with young kids, packing can be tricky — you have to strike a balance between packing too much and wishing you’d packed more. Since more stuff seems to materialize along the way no matter what, I’ve learned to carry a RuMe tote bag with me; it folds up to the size of my palm and it can easily carry any extra gear or food. I also keep a few surprises up my sleeve (e.g., a small stash of lollipops) for those moments when a treat just might save the day.
I feel that it’s extremely beneficial for children to help pack and carry their own airplane backpacks or child-size rolling bags. My older daughter likes this Skiphop version — and since she helps pack it, she always knows exactly where her headphones, books and “surprise” wrapped toys are stashed; this fosters her sense of independence and avoids the hassle of digging through multiple bags to find specific items. As an added bonus, helping with the packing gets her excited about traveling.
After all, the main point of vacationing as a family is to have fun together! With the right gear, traveling with young kids is more efficient and less stressful. Our family doesn’t travel without the seven items above, but thankfully, more and more options are constantly appearing to make family travel more seamless for everyone.
To maximize spending as you’re preparing for a trip, I think it’s worth clicking through airline shopping portals to earn a few extra points and miles on the gear you buy. To that end, be sure to see Nick Ewen’s Guide to Maximizing Points and Miles for Baby Purchases.
What do you pack when traveling with young kids? Please share in the comments below.