How We Travel with Kids and Stay Sane

February 11, 2022

The long awaited moment is HERE. We FINALLY have a second between travels to talk about HOW WE TRAVEL WITH FOUR KIDS and don’t go crazy!

It’s not perfect.

Now, we’re not going to paint a rosy picture here. I’m not sure there’s a way to make traveling with kids a *relaxing* experience. BUT we do think it is a totally worthwhile and fun endeavor. Once you have the right expectations and tools in place, you will want travel with your kids.

I remember when Amelia was about 4 weeks old. Mark came to me at Christmas and said, “For Christmas I got us a trip to Florida!”. He was SO excited and I was TERRIFIED. I could hardly handle this colicky baby at home. How was I EVER going to manage a crying baby on a beach, in a hotel, or on a plane? How do people ever travel with kids? But, I trusted him and we did it. I’m pretty sure we packed our whole house and we all cried at some point. But we got out there and figured out how to make it work.

OUR VERY FIRST TRIP

photo showing us traveling with kids for the first time

Flash forward, almost 8 years later, and we take anywhere from 3-5 vacations with our kids EVERY YEAR! We’ve taken multiple week trips, we’ve traveled across time zones, we’ve taken long car trips, we’ve taken long plane trips, we’ve done Disney, it feels like we’ve done it all. We travel with our kids all the time. And we’re here to share all the things we’ve learned along the way. Some of the mistakes and some of our BEST tips are packed in this tiny blog.

 

Without further adieu, here our our TOP 4 pieces of advice for traveling with kids. This is by NO means an exhaustive list. We will probably write another 10 blogs about this. But these are the top 4 strategies that really frame our experiences traveling with kids.

1. PLAN AHEAD

Ok, I mean, it’s a trip, of course you’re going to plan ahead. You’ll have your flights and accommodations booked. You also need to start thinking about what you’re going to pack, what you need to buy before the trip, what activities you’ll have for the car or plane ride. When you start planning these things little by little the month leading up to your trip, it makes everything easier! Sometimes life happens and you won’t be able to do everything ahead of time. But the more you can do in advanced, the more relaxed you’ll be.

We start really packing roughly two weeks before a trip. When we do the laundry we start pulling out things we know we want to bring with us. That way, we don’t have wash them last minute. We have the privilege of a guest bedroom at our house. So we start slowly piling stuff in there as we’re going about our days. That way when we really start packing, it doesn’t take us nearly as long.

2. PACK LIGHTER THAN YOU THINK

When you’re traveling with kids it is SO EASY to pack SO MUCH STUFF. The pack n plays, the car seats, the play mat, there’s just so much. But the more we travel with kids the more we realize, the less we pack, really the better it is. Our most recent trip was 3.5 weeks in California with all 4 kids and we were able to pack everything for our family of 6 in 4 suitcases, 1 carseat bag, 1 double stroller, and 1 pack n play. It’s so stressful when you’re trying to manage kids and your stuff is falling out everywhere.

 

PACKING CUBES, PEOPLE

Our biggest game changer on our recent trips has been packing the kids clothes by day in packing cubes. So, we’ll put everyone’s “Monday” outfits in one packing cube with underwear, diapers, and socks. So, we can just pop one cube open and get everyone ready for the day. This has saved us so much space and so much stress. Packing this way helps us limit that urge to overpack and then not use half the clothes you brought! We almost always stay in air bnb‘s with washers and dyers… KEY, in our opinion, for traveling with kids… so we know we can always wash and re-wear things. And truly worst case senario if you really don’t have something you need, always a Target near by.

KEEP THE CARRY ON LIGHT

We keep things light in our carryon bags too! Once again, it is the WORST when you have crying kids and you’re desperately digging through your diaper bag to find the ONE thing you need. So, we pack a few, favorite activities, diapers, wipes… so many wipes, a few extra clothes, and snacks. We also always bring the kids fire tablets. We hold them off screen time as long as possible so that when we do pull out the tablets it’s a big break for everyone. But, traveling with kids is NOT the time to be stingy with screen time. You’re tired, they’re tired. Just do what you need to do to get everyone to the destination in one piece!

3. SET YOUR EXPECTATIONS LOW

Guys, let’s have a chat. Traveling with kids is NOT easy. I repeat, traveling with kids is NOT easy. They are off schedule, you’re tired and trying to make sure you make it to the plane on time. EXPECT that your travel days are going to be long, crazy days. EXPECT that your flight will be cancelled and you’ll have to keep kids entertained on an airport floor for hours. EXPECT that your luggage will get lost and you will have to buy a new wardrobe. EXPECT that there’s going to be construction and you’ll be stuck in stand still traffic for 2 hours. EXPECT that all 4 kids will have a total meltdown on your last flight.

 

example of being prepared when traveling with kids

WHEN YOU EXPECT THINGS TO GO WRONG YOU’LL BE PREPARED

Obviously, the goal and the hope is that NONE of these things actually happen, but that’s not the point. When you go into your travel day EXPECTING things to go wrong you will be PREPARED when they do go wrong. And you will be pleasantly surprised when everything goes better than you expected. When you expect things to go wrong then you’re ready to handle them mentally. You won’t be caught like a deer in the headlights, you’ll whipping that surprise snack out of your bag like a hero!

So when we’re packing we pack a few extra *just in case* activities that we don’t give the kids until we need them. We alsoshove a treat at the bottom of our bag that we *know* will change everyone’s mood. We have an extra change of clothes for when our 5 year old pours the coke they just got down their shirt . This helps keep the kids happy. And WE stay calmer because we feel like we have control of the situation. Even when we have no idea what to do next! And when we stay calmer, so do the kids!

4. BEND THE RULES

We actually pride ourselves on having a pretty good family rhythm and routine. We do a lot of the same things, at the same time, every day. This helps our kids know what’s coming and gives us a good base to work around. But, when we travel with our kids a lot of that goes out the window. Having a good routine at home really helps us when we go off schedule. Our kids know that they can trust us and follow our lead because we do it EVERYDAY at home. They also know the expectations, when we say that they’re all done with screen time while we’re traveling, they know we’re serious and don’t fight back because we have a good routine around screen time at home. This base gives us the flexibility to throw it all out the window when we travel.

LET YOURSELF BE THE HERO FOR THE DAY

Having solid rules and foundations at home also makes us look like the heroes of the day when we say “yes”! When we say “Sure! Have a coke on the plane!”, they feel like they won the lottery. It makes us look like the best parents ever when we say, “Why not eat your 10th sucker of the day, while watching endless Daniel Tiger!” They know that home they do not get endless lollipops and shows. It makes the kids FEEL like they’re winning all day. This keeps them happier, curbs whining, and helps US focus on all the logistics. When you allow yourself to say YES to, really, the unimportant things, then your kids take you seriously when you say NO to crawling over the airplane seats or throwing a major tantrum. Your yes’s make your no’s more important.

A travel day is NOT the time to limit your kid’s screen time, or watch their sugar intake, or make sure they’re eating all their vegetables. It’s an opportunity to allow you to say YES to all the fun things they WANT to do because they’re kids. When you allow yourself to bend the rules, you release the pressure of being a perfect parent and just lean into surviving your travel day with a smile on your face.

 

AND REMEMBER, KIDS ARE KIDS

When you’re traveling and tired and hungry as an adult, you’ve learned to self-regulate. You know that it’s not appropriate to melt down when you realize it’s Sunday and the airport Chik-fil-A is closed. But your kids are just learning to regulate their emotions. So remember to give your kids and yourself grace. Remind yourself that when you are traveling with kids, they are kids and they are tired and hungry. It’s normal for them to meltdown or feel frustrated. Validate that for them… “of course you’re sad Chik-fil-A is closed, that’s really hard for me too”.  When you’re traveling, give your kids room to feel. If they feel heart, that will calm them down a way faster than telling them they’re not allowed to cry!!

We hope this helps you have the confidence to have life changing travel experiences with your kids! It’s really worth it and they will remember this for the rest of their lives.

STAY TUNED because there will be a LOT more travel with kids content coming your way.  We will definitely be posting more in this travel series! We want to give you the tools you need to dream and travel with your kids! So head over to our social media, or drop a comment below, and let us know what travel topics you want to hear about!

xo – the pasternacks

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  1. Madeline says:

    Love this! So thorough and helpful