Since we live overseas, we travel a LOT together as a family. In fact, I’m sitting in a hotel room as I write this—my baby is next to me on the bed, playing with his toes; my three-year-old is also on the bed, coloring in her special travel notebook with crayons.
(My toddler has already been to seven countries! Blows my mind.)
Here’s a few hacks I’ve learned for traveling with very small children, from short road trips to long-haul international flights.
1. Bring lots of ziploc-type baggies. There are myriad reasons you need them, especially with kiddos. An example: since many little ones prefer baths to showers, and because many hotels don’t make it possible to take baths (at least outside the U.S.), a ziploc bag makes a great drain plug. Fill it with a little bit of water, and it becomes an instant weight that snuggles nicely in the drain.
2. You need fewer toys than you think. Because you’re going somewhere new, the most unexpected things become interesting. A baby can finagle for hours with a shoe horn. A toddler can pour water from one hotel glass into another.
3. Laundry soap—bring some in a baggie. Kids’ socks and underwear can easily get soiled, so it’s good fallback insurance to have some soap on hand when you run out of these essentials. Depending on your location, you might also want to bring a small ball of twine and some clothespins. Update: we now use a Scrubba washbag + laundry soap sheets.
4. Unless you’re going into the Congo, just bring enough diapers for a few days. You can easily buy more wherever you are.
5. Save a special toy just for this trip. For us, a clean, fresh drawing notebook and some crayons do the trick for our artistic preschooler. Keep it small and easy, with minimal adult help needed. Books and drawing materials work well.
6. Pack some small kid-friendly snacks. Raisins and granola bars can stave off hunger when your little ones’ eating schedule doesn’t match with the restaurant’s; they hardly take up any space. It will also save you money instead of buying overpriced snacks in tourist traps.
7. Call ahead to your hotel to see if they have pack-n-plays available for your baby. They usually do, and you won’t have to bring yours.
8. If you’re renting a car, find out if the rental company can provide a complimentary car seat. They often will.
9. Only pack an umbrella stroller. If you have more than one stroller, just bring your small umbrella stroller. That’s really all you need.
10. But if you’re wavering, do bring your stroller—especially if you’re flying. I’m amazed how often the stroller comes in handy at airports, even if your little one wants to walk. It’s an instant luggage transporter, and you can push it all the way to the end of the jet way, where the airlines will store it underneath.
11. Research where you’re going ahead of time, and create a basic scavenger hunt or bingo game based on what you’ll see. If you have preschoolers, keep the game simple, like “a purple flower,” “a statue,” or “a big dog.” And of course, draw the clues for them, instead of writing them. You can make the game more complex with older kids, based on the specific landmarks of your destination.
12. Pack basic, solid-colored clothing that mix and match, and avoid a potential wardrobe war when you get ready for the day. Keep it cotton and wrinkle-free, too.
13. Keep your expectations low. It’s inevitable that at this stage of life, we will be packing more than we’d prefer. It feels so ridiculous that the smallest people in our lives “need” some of the biggest things. But it’s short-lived. As our kids grow, we’ll need to bring less and less. Be okay with packing more than your ideal right now.
The key for me is to pack smart, not necessarily light. Almost every time, packing smart inevitably means packing light, but when your goal is to pack light at all costs, sometimes you’ll leave behind something that really could come in handy.
It might seem superfluous to pack laundry soap before you leave, but you very well may breathe a sigh of relief when your kiddo just dirtied up his last pair of socks.