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My husband and I have two kids under 3 years old — 14 months apart to be exact That’s traditionally viewed as a pretty tough time for travel, but we have successfully logged a lot of miles as a young family exploring from Finland, to Cuba, Italy, Mexico and all over Florida. With both littles under 3 years old and only 14 months apart, getting the packing process streamlined to a science has been essential.

As with many things in life, deciding which gear is best to bring along when traveling with kids comes down to quality over quantity. Think about it like downsizing your closest to those key pieces that go with everything and always look good. That is to say, not everything has to be expensive when it comes to the best gear for traveling with kids, but having the right mix things for your family helps immensely. 

Here are some items to consider bringing along before heading off on your next family adventure:

travel stroller, travel car seat
The author’s kids in Helsinki airport in the UPPAbaby Minu and Cosco Scenera car seat.

Getting Around On the Go

With babies and young kids, having the right travel stroller (single or double) that can navigate the airport as easily as the cobbled streets of Europe or Old San Juan is key. With quite a few strollers in my, er, collection, there’s one I always turn to when flying with my youngest.

The UPPAbaby Minu pushes like a dream, is super compact (weighing less than 15 pounds) and pops open with a single hand — even when I have the baby on my hip. The stroller is so intuitive and lightweight that my husband and I often gaze admiringly at it and wax on to each other about how fab it is when we travel. (I wish I were joking, our standards have changed with kids when it comes to what captures our interest.) There’s a new compact fold stroller on the market that looks similar to the Minu and has a lower price point, so might be worth considering. The born free liva weighs 16 pounds, folds down with one hand into a tiny footprint that stands on its own and is compatible with several Chicco and Graco car seats with no adapter needed.

The author and her daughter with an UPPAbaby Minu (and customized sled add on) in Rovaniemi, Finland.

A Car Seat That Won’t Cramp Your Style

It’s easy to waffle about whether to bring a car seat along or try to rent it at your destination since they can be so awkward and heavy to bring along for the ride. But once I discovered the inexpensive and super lightweight Cosco Scenera NEXT convertible car seat, I pack it without second thought. Kids up to 40 pounds can ride comfortably and safely in both rear and forward-facing positions, plus the seat has a sticker on the side that shows airline staff it’s certified to use in flight, too. (I had a check-in agent with SAS check for this sticker before letting me bring it on board.)

On a recent flight to Copenhagen, my wildly active 15 month old slept most of the way from Miami cradled in the car seat; that alone made bringing it worth it. For older kids who just need a booster seat, the MiFold Grab and Go Booster Seat is a cinch to install and can be folded down and tucked into your handbag — how’s that for travel gear magic?

travel car seat, Cosco Scenera NEXT
The author’s daughter road tripping in Finland in her Cosco Scenera NEXT.

Keeping Kids Comfy In Flight

When your kids are comfortable on a plane, everyone is more likely to have a good experience. While my baby was snug in her Cosco Scenera NEXT car seat all the way to Copenhagen, I found a great way to keep my toddler flying in style, too, even though we were in good old economy. This blow-up leg rest by Kuki turns a coach seat into an instant lie-flat bed for a toddler. My little guy was much more comfortable stretching out to watch Paw Patrol (and, later, to sleep) than he’d ever have been with his little feet and calves dangling for hours.

Inflatable Leg Rest on Airplanes
This inflatable leg rest lets kids sleep more comfortably on airplanes and in the car. (Image courtesy of Amazon)

Note that you may sometimes encounter airlines or flight attendants that will not permit the use of these sort of devices, but on many international airlines, they are fine to use during flight.

Comforts of Home on the Road 

We’re all for traveling with the kids, but there’s no denying it can interfere with age-appropriate instruction that is simply easier to tackle on the ground back at home. Case in point: toilet training. Just because you hit the road, it doesn’t mean you have to have a lapse in potty progress. Just bring along the Auoplus training seat, which folds up to fit into the front pocket of most carry-on roller bags and fits most standard-sized toilets, too. (Just be sure and use pull-ups in transit to avoid any messy incidents.)

AUOPLUS Portable Travel Toilet Training Potty Seat for Kids
This toddler toilet seat folds up to fit inside a carrying pouch that’s easily stored in your handbag. (Image courtesy of Amazon)

I also absolutely refuse to embark on trips where I’ll be staying with friends or family or at a vacation rental without my clip-on portable highchair (weighing less than 4 pounds). It easily attaches to most bar counters and tabletops and folds down flat, which makes it easy to just throw in my roller carry-on bag. Having a place to keep my baby contained and safe while she eats or plays has been crucial, many times over, to catching my breath for a few minutes on vacation.

The author’s son (and her nieces) using the portable clip-on high chair at an Airbnb in Finland.

Settle Into Your Hotel/Vacation Rental/Cruise Ship Cabin

In addition to always bringing my kids’ favorite stuffed animals (shout-out to Trudi, the stuffed pup we picked up while traveling in Italy), we also try to travel with a portable white noise machine since we use one at home. Just the whooooosh of it signals to them that it’s time to settle down. The continuous setting means you can leave it on all night; it’s also rechargeable and doubles as a Bluetooth speaker for impromptu dance parties. If you don’t want to travel with one, you can simply download a free app to your device and access white noise that way, too.

While most hotels and many vacation rentals can (usually) provide Pack ‘n Plays or cribs, for people who prefer to bring their own along, I recommend the BabyBjorn Travel Crib Light (perfect for newborns through 3 year olds). You can pull it out of the bag and set it up in a single movement and it packs down nearly flat. Beware that you may have to check it as an additional piece of luggage on a plane if you don’t get an agent who agrees to let it fly for free with the car seats and strollers. (Here’s how to score some checked bags for free.)

travel crib

Screen Time When You Need It Most

I’m all for screen time in measured doses, whether that’s on a long-haul flight or at a restaurant when things are about to go completely off the rails. While there are lots of tablets out there, the iPad Mini is my constant go-to since it boots up in a flash and the battery lasts forever. Don’t forget to download the kids’ favorite shows for offline viewing to avoid shelling out for inflight Wi-Fi. My boy doesn’t love having earphones in his ears, but he was completely at ease with these ultra-comfy headphones by CozyPhones, with thin, removable speakers tucked discretely inside a fuzzy fleece headband.

CozyPhones Kids Headphones

Bottom Line

While traveling with little ones can be a challenge, there are plenty of products that help make the process just a bit easier. What’s your go-to piece of travel gear that your kids can’t live without on the road?

Need some more travel gear tips? Here are a few resources:

Featured image by Cavan Images / Getty Images

Know before you go.

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