Traveling with Young Children: 9 Essential Tips for a Stress-Free Family Vacation

Canada has a way of encouraging you to spend time outside no matter what. We are only based in Canada for one year, so we set out to explore as much of Canada as we could via car, and also by plane! We take a road trip almost every other week and have recently taken 4 flights, seen the aurora borealis in freezing temperatures and even gone dog sledding!

Traveling with young children can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it can also be a challenge. With a little preparation and planning, however, it can be an enjoyable experience for everyone. Here’s how we did it with a 5-month-old and a 2-year-old toddler in tow:

1.Pack light and pack smart. 
When it comes to packing for a family vacation with young children, organization is key. Consider investing in packing pods or organizers to keep everything in its place. This will make it easier to find what you need when you need it. No matter where we go, we always pack diapers in both todddler and infant sizes in our Changer Pod for easy diaper changes on the go.
We have also found that it is more space efficient to pack loose pieces of diapers in stacks of 3-5 pieces rather than one large pack.

Think through your travel itinerary and activities and check the weather to determine what to pack. Make a packing list for each family member and double-check to ensure nothing is left behind.

Bringing only the essentials can make your trip much more manageable. Consider what your children will actually need and use during your trip, and leave everything else at home. If possible, choose accommodations with laundry facilities so you can wash and change your clothes!

If you are like me, it’s almost impossible not to shop, so it would be great to have some empty space in your luggage or bring an extra foldable bag for shopping.

2. Large items to bring on the trip
We are always asked if we bring strollers, baby carriers or cribs when we travel. Depending on our destination, we usually bring our stroller for our toddler, baby carrier for our infant and MiniMeis shoulder carrier if we’re planning on hiking or going somewhere with rough terrain. We don’t want to damage our stroller wheels! We bring the stroller with us and leave it at the gate of the aircraft – be sure to tell the agent at the counter and ask for a tag if required!

Lookout point at Stanley Park, Vancouver

We don’t bring a crib – our toddler sleeps independently in her own bed and our infant either sleeps in the same bed as us (king-sized bed preferred) or in a separate crib. It’s just too much to take on flights. If we’re driving, we may bring along a sleep lounger or small mattress.
In Canada and the USA, car seats are a must, even in private Taxis. They can be rented, but we have 2 car seats that weigh less than 5kg each, so we bring them and check them in as oversized baggage (usually free!). The airline usually provides a giant plastic bag to put the car seats in and there have also been several occasions where I have stuffed in some dangling outer jackets (nothing valuable) onto the car seat as well – when you’re desperate, every little bit helps!

Car seat as oversized baggage - we put in outer jackets inside too!

3. Always be early
When traveling with small children, it's important to get to your flight early. You never know when there might be a last-minute emergency or delay. Security checkpoints in Canada and the USA are strict  – you have to take off your outerwear, boots, empty your stroller, take out all liquids and electronic devices. Giving yourself extra time can help reduce stress and make the trip more enjoyable for everyone.

4. Wear pants with pockets
Pants with pockets can be a lifesaver! Not only does it help you keep your hands free, but you can also easily access your essentials like your phone, passport and boarding pass quickly. 

5. Prepare for takeoff and landing
The changes in air pressure during takeoff and landing can be painful for young children, so it's important to be prepared. Encourage them to swallow or chew during takeoff and landing to help relieve the pressure. Pack snacks that are easy to eat and not too messy/crumbly, such as blackberries, blueberries, cheese sticks or crackers, to help encourage swallowing. Be sure to time it well though! You don’t want them to finish the snacks before the takeoff! I try to play a game of “guess which hand has the blueberry” to slow my toddler down and offer in 2 -3 small servings instead of offering everything at once. For infants, prepare to latch, give milk bottle or pacifier. 

Toddler eating ham; Infant ready to latch

6. Prepare entertainment for the journey
For long car rides and plane rides, pack their favourite entertainment! Since we don’t offer screen time, we let our toddler pack her favourite toys and books in her own backpack. She gets to carry her own backpack, too! We also like to sing her favourite songs together in the car. Singing the same song over and over again together is better than whining and crying! I get the toddler to sing and describe what she did at school, where we went. It's interesting to find out what's going on in her head. I also tell her how long the car or plane ride will be, where we are going and what we are going to do.
7. Eating and sleeping
Cut yourself some slack on vacation! Our toddler has been eating the same foods as us for a while now, so food on holiday is not an issue. We try to order healthier, non-spicy options and pack a quick dry, lightweight bib to go. When she says she’s “all done”, we let her be. We try to give her fresh milk twice a day even on vacation.

For sleeping, we are lucky that she seems to be fine with any bed so far. We try to find family friendly accommodations that offer amenities such as cribs, high chairs, and play areas for children.  We do the same drill – it’s dark, “it’s time to sleep, close your beautiful eyes, soon the dark night will turn into blue skies, tucked in tight, it’s my heart where you’ll stay, tomorrow I’ll love you even more than today” – our favourite line from Made for Me by Zack Bush. Then we tell our toddler we need her to rest so that we can go out tomorrow and tell her about the activities we will be doing tomorrow.

As for jet lag, we find that exposing her to lots of sunlight during the day helps. When we travelled from Singapore to New York, she was only 16 months old. Our first stop was an open park and she was running everywhere and passed out by the time it got dark! As for naps, we try to time her naps with driving times or put her in the stroller and cover it up with a jacket to make it dark and conducive for sleeping!

8. Pack some medications
It may be a good idea to bring some basic medications when traveling with young children. Pack some fever and flu medications, as well as any other prescription medications your child may need. You never know when someone might get sick, and it's better to be prepared.

9. Be flexible
Traveling with young children can be unpredictable, so it's important to be flexible. Plan 1- 2 activities per day and be open to changing your plans if necessary. Don't try to pack too many activities into one day, as this can lead to stress and exhaustion for both parents and kids.
In conclusion, traveling with young children can be challenging, but it doesn't have to be overwhelming. We hope that these tips help ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip for everyone. Remember to stay calm, flexible, and prepared, and you're sure to have a great time on every family vacation. I know many parents are intimidated by taking young children out, but it does get easier! The benefits of creating unforgettable experiences and memories that will last a lifetime and strengthen family bonds make it all worthwhile.

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