parenting travel hacks

10 Parenting Travel Hacks for Toddlers and Tweens

Last Updated on May 13, 2021.

Traveling with young kids is hard. But the memories you make are priceless, so you should do it anyway! Here are my 10 best hacks to survive your trip with young kids from toddlers to tweens.

1. Set the Expectation for Internet Access before you leave the house. Often times internet access is limited or non-existent in transit, and even at some of the most popular destinations. I’ve struggled with in-room WiFi at places like Walt Disney World. You need to tell your toddler that there will probably be no Ryan’s Toy Review on this trip, and your tween needs to understand that she probably won’t have many opportunities to check in with her girlfriends on FaceTime. Do this upfront to prevent tantrums and meltdowns, and it will prompt kids to think about other activities they can bring along (even your little ones!).

2. Each Person Carries Their Own Snacks and Entertainment. If they can walk, there’s a backpack that will fit them. If possible, get them engaged in choosing their entertainment and snacks. Here are some of my favorite ideas:

  • Snack Pack in a small bead case.
  • Crayola Window Markers (for the car, or the plane!)
  • Crayola Mess Free Coloring Kits
  • iPad with headphones loaded with movies and educational games
  • Small box of Legos
  • Felt or magnetic game sets (check Target’s Dollar Spot or here)
  • Puzzle books
  • Where’s Waldo books
  • Mad-libs
  • A collection of out loud games (I Spy, Two Truths & a Lie, Alphabet Hunt, etc).

PRO TIP: Pack these items in a personal backpack for your kids to carry. For young tots, you can even get backpacks with handles for mom (I don’t like to call them leashes… but they are leashes, and sometimes you just have to prioritize safety over the judgy stare of other parents.)

3. Mom Kits are a must. These are the items you may need at a moments notice, because you’re mom. Like a tissue for a runny nose. Hand sanitizer or wipes for sticky situations. Extra sunscreen. I used a clear makeup/toiletry bag so I can easily find items I need. Throw this small bag into your purse, diaper bag, stroller, cinch bag, wherever is convenient. Here’s what’s in mine:

  • Wet Ones & Tide Pen
  • Benadryl Itch Stick
  • Sunscreen
  • Nail clippers & Nail file
  • Cuticle Pusher
  • Tweezers
  • Migraine Meds
  • Tylenol
  • Allergy Meds
  • Band-aids
  • Neosporin Spray
  • Tissues
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Lotion 
  • Tampons
  • Chapstick

4. Consider a Stroller, even if your kids are a little older. Often, you walk a lot on vacation. There’s also a lot of unusual activities and a plethora of excitement. You should expect your kids to get tired. Maybe they will even nap! A stroller is a nice option if you don’t want to make your way back to your lodging for a rest. Bonus: Even if the stroller goes unused by your kids, you’ll have space to hold souvenirs, snacks, and other items you may be carrying along. If you’ve ditched your stroller because your kids don’t use it regularly, don’t worry. Umbrella strollers are inexpensive and extremely portable (they are PERFECT for cruise ship hallways, by the way). If you have young kids, you don’t have to haul your expensive jogging stroller across the country (or world for that matter). Many popular destinations have stroller rental companies that provide high quality strollers for a reasonable price.

5. Make Laundry Availability a Priority. Hear me out. I know you’re on vacation, and the last thing you want to do is laundry. But if you commit to doing one load of laundry, you may be able to cut your baggage in half. If you make plans for this ahead of time, it wont impact your trip at all. For example, on our last family vacation I did a little research ahead of time and found out that the resort laundry was right next to the swimming pool. So in our vacation plan, I just made the middle day a pool day. Right before hopping in the pool we loaded a washer with our dirties. After about an hour, my husband hopped out of the pool for a few minutes to move the clothes to a dryer. By the end of our swim all our clothes were clean! With a little forethought and planning you can significantly reduce your luggage burden, which can be a lifesaver when you’re hauling kids, strollers, and car seats through the airport.

6. Pack Extra Empty Bags. I cannot tell you how many times having an extra bag has been a lifesaver. And the one time I didn’t pack an extra collapsible duffle bag, we totally over-bought souvenirs and I had by an extra suitcase to send home… at Disney World, of all places. My must have list:

  • A cinch/drawstring backpackThese bags are nice because they are light, but can easily store items you need to carry with you. They also make a nice wet bag if you go to the pool or beach and need to carry wet suits or towels for any length of time.
  • A couple reusable grocery bagsThese can come in handy when you have unpacked your professional grade pack job, but now you can’t fit it all back in the bag. I’ve also had to use my eco-friendly bags in places that no longer allow plastic shopping bags!
  • A travel duffle bag If you over-purchase, and simply have too much stuff to take home, its nice to have a travel duffle bag you can use. If flying, it could be a personal item, or you could check it. It also could serve as your dirty laundry bag for the ride home.
  • A few quart sized baggiesI love having a few of these to store snacks, small items, or even valuables. It’s a safe place to store your phone or electronics at the beach or pool. And Bonus: you have a bag for your liquids for the plane ride home.

7. Plan for Some Meals In-Room. Eating out with young kids is difficult. They don’t like to wait, they can be unruly, and a lot of times they wont even eat the meal you buy for them. Take some stress off yourself and set the expectation that some meals will be had in your room. You don’t have to spend an absorbent amount on room service. There are other ways. Breakfast is especially easy because you just make it part of your morning routine. Bonus: You’ll probably reduce your meal budget! Here are some tips:

  • Order groceriesMany grocery stores now offer delivery, or even just drive up service. Amazon also has a same day service in some locations. Order ahead of time and have them delivered as soon as you arrive.
  • Order or bring non-perishablesYou can make a meal out of cereal bars, summer sausages, dried fruits, peanut butter, bread, nuts, pudding packs, etc
  • Coffee pots can make oatmeal, ramen, mac & cheese, or rice
  • Use an ironing board as a makeshift dinner table
  • Some hotels loan out small appliances like crock pots or blenders

8. Have A Great Plan for Bedtime. Getting enough sleep can be really difficult away from home, especially for little ones who are excited! It’s important to give this some thought before you leave home so you can pack everything you need to make sure bedtime is a success. Here are my best tips:

  • Ask for extra pillows to divide bed so siblings have their own space [hint: have kids sleep sideways! They’ll have more room left to right instead of unused room at their feet.]
  • If space allows, ask for a cot so your older kids don’t have to sleep together. [hint: kindly ask for the largest room possible at check-in! Sometimes you may get a free upgrade.]
  • Bring along toddler blowup mattresses.
  • If you have access to a pack ‘n’ play, consider setting it up in the bathroom if there’s space. [Of course this means you’ll have to get completely ready for bed before baby goes down, and you’ll have to use the hotel lobby bathroom if necessary. However, giving baby his own ‘room’ could make nighttime a little easier for everyone else.]
  • Take a travel white noise machine or download an app [hint: use a coffee cup to amplify the noise from your phone]
  • Use the provided hangers with clips to keep the curtains closed (and light out!)
  • Have a plan for what the parents will do while the kid are getting to sleep
  • If you have multiple rooms, or need a video monitor, get an inexpensive Wyze Cam [hint: They use Wifi, and set it up before anyone is asleep because its loud when pairing!]

9. Bring a Roll of Duct Tape – it has infinite uses. Here’s a few of the times I needed the duct tape:

  • Mend broken glasses
  • Tape up a cracked suitcase (No Joke: a bottle of wine, toiletries, and dirty laundry were all over the luggage carousel)
  • Covered outlets (babies will put anything in there)
  • Seal a leaky shampoo bottle
  • Block annoying light from the keyhole
  • Secure items during high seas on a cruise ship
  • Repair a broken button on jeans
  • Makeshift bandage for a cut
  • Identify your bag at the luggage carousal
  • Make roads on the hotel carpet for bored toddlers

You don’t have to get a giant, heavy roll of duct tape. They sell travel rolls. Or, if you have some laying around the house, you can make your own travel pack of duct tape by wrapping some around an old key card, or other plastic item (as seen in this blog). Bonus points if you bring colorful, festive tape!

10. Use a Travel Agent that specializes in your destination or trip type. Unless you LOVE stressing over every detail, spending hours researching, and risking the success of your trip on Pinterest pins, you should find a great travel agent. Once you find a great, specialized travel agent for your first trip, I guarantee she has friends who specialize in all the other kinds of trips on your bucket list. She knows how to help you fit a load of laundry into your busy schedule. She has access to great rates on rental strollers. She has advice for getting groceries. She can take your vacation from great to magical. And the best part? Many travel agents are FREE. Its common industry practice for travel companies to build in commissions right into their vacation pricing, so you’re probably paying for travel agent services whether you use them or not.

Bonus tip: If you’re thinking about taking a toddler on an airplane, pack a few of these sanity-saving toys.

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