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From International Travel to Cross Country – YOUR Travel Tips With Kids

For unforgettable experiences and memories that last, add a sense of humor to your flight plan, buckle up, and find out how to travel right.

Family vacation used to mean packing the bags and the kids in the car with snacks and squashed sandwiches, and road-tripping to a chosen destination a few hours’ drive away. The shore, the mountains, the lake, the grandparents. And while those traveling hallmarks still remain true, in today’s world parents aren’t afraid to set their sights much higher (literally!) when it comes to family exploration.

It’s safe to say that travel of all kinds with the whole family in tow has become more popular and eminently more doable. But! With so much ground to cover and explore, and with international rules, regulations, laws, and culture to consider, there is more to navigate than a road map. Flying overseas and across borders with a two-year-old? Sightseeing with a family of five? Is it manageable? Is it madness?

It may be, but the voice of experience in the form of you, our Bucks County Parent, Main Line Parent and Philadelphia Family Communities, shares invaluable travel advice, tips, and tricks, showing it can be done, and done well. For unforgettable experiences and memories that last, add a sense of humor to your flight plan, buckle up, and find out how to travel right.

Here’s a tip from us – whether you’re traveling on the ground or in the sky, check out our list of 21 Totally Awesome Family Podcasts to Listen to On Your Next Road Trip!

Preparing Paperwork

“The passport process with littles can be involved, so start early to avoid rush fees. And to apply for a child’s passport, both parents must be present in the office.” ~ Lacey Long

“Passports expire every five years for minors, while adults only need to renew every ten years. Some places require you to have a passport that has 6 months of time left on it, so be careful!” ~ Steph Gunderson 

Get the travel insurance! Especially if you have littles in school or daycare! Sicknesses are constantly going around, accidents happen, whatever the case may be, travel insurance can reimburse your non-refundable payments due to trip cancellations.” ~ Mir Anda Nap

TSA precheck and Global Entry also covers kids flying with parents within the US. Very worth it! If you fly internationally each person, including kids, need Global Entry.” ~ Anastasia Shown 

“Get a ROAD ID bracelet for your kids just in case. Make sure text messaging on your mobile works. Most people outside the US use WhatsApp.” ~ Lara Wolfson

Securing Safety

“If you are traveling and only taking Ubers I 100 percent recommend this travel car seat device. It’s pricey but easier than a car seat and renting a car and I have lent it out to friends who also used it and trusted it. I use on my 2 year old for both test driving cars and in Ubers and no one has given us a problem.” ~ Jaesi Goldstein

“If traveling internationally with kids who have food allergies, there are extra precautions to take. Don’t let a child with allergies eat airline food. Pack safe snacks in your carryon. Bring Select Wisely translation cards if visiting a country where English isn’t the official language, they were invaluable when we visited Italy and Mexico! And contact restaurants ahead of time to verify they can assist.” ~ Jennifer G. Morgan

“If your child has food allergies, Ireland or other EU countries may be a great place to visit. All of the dishes on the restaurant menus in these countries must identify 14 different types of allergens. Most menus make it easy with little pictures or numbers next to each dish.” ~ Julie Lathia

“Know the laws and customs of the country you’re visiting, know the food and options, and always know where the closest medical center is in case of emergency. Also, depending on where you’re traveling to, research how women are treated and what their rights are in regards to children and decision making.” ~ Eileen McKeefery O’Connor

Involving the Littles 

“We have a book that describes flying on an airplane that I highly recommend, and we read it in the weeks leading up to travel. Preparation is key for us! Going on an Airplane: A Toddler Prep Book (Toddler Prep Books).” ~ Colleen Rieders

“We got our kid psyched for her first international trip by doing a month of language lessons on the Pimsleur App. Our 5-year-old really did a great job of following along!” ~ Lacey Long 

“If kids are old enough, assign each with the responsibility to research and help plan one realistic family activity and provide a budget.” ~ Jennifer G. Morgan 

“Put stickers on all your luggage that your kids can identify – we do iridescent owls and my kids love looking for it at baggage claim.” ~ Lara Wolfson 

“When visiting a foreign country, practice some basic conversational greetings in advance and teach your kids to say them if they are old enough. It goes a long way and locals appreciate the effort!” ~ Jennifer G. Morgan 

Plane-planning and Packing

“Pack a change of clothes for both adults and kids in carry on. My poor husband had to stand in line with a wet shirt for two hours until we cleared customs at our destination after my son fell asleep on his chest during the flight and his diaper leaked all over his shirt. Of course we had clothes for the kids in carry on, but forgot to bring any for ourselves!” ~ Erica Smith-Klocek

“Even though our guy was under two, we bought him a seat. He slept in his car seat and we slept as well as you can as an adult in economy. Worth every penny. Plus, earphones your kid likes so they can watch the Muppets on repeat!” ~ Julia Judson-Rea

“Take lots of little toys and snacks. Try to fly late in the evening so they sleep on the flight. Make sure to take a couple of blankets to make them extra comfy. Definitely layer clothes so you’re not too cold or warm. Carry two sets of spare clothes in your carry-on in ziplock plastic bags.” ~ Gauri Shiroor

“Bring a bag of new, never-before seen toys!” ~ Catherine Wargo Roberts 

“We use lollipops for take off and landing.” ~ Trish O’Donnell 

“Always buy them their own seat! It’s safer and makes life easier for you too.” ~ Sarah Ridgley Kowalaski

At the Airport

“Utilize curbside-check for your bags and a car valet service at the airport. Makes drop-off and pick-up with bags much easier.” ~ Susan Lorenz-Fisher 

“Even if your toddler isn’t normally a runner consider a “leash” backpack. This brought to you by the woman who was seven months pregnant when her non-runner decided to give it a try in the transit line in Qatar. He got bored waiting, pulled his hand out of mine and took off past and through security-who didn’t see him because he was short-and into the airport. Nearly caused an international incident when his dad attempted pursuit! There was a lot of yelling in Arabic, English, French and in my panic, Swahili. The little runner was apprehended by a flight attendant in Hermès who saw him run by. After that, we utilized the tail feature on his monkey back pack.” ~ Ashley Best-Raiten

“For the toddler phase we found it very helpful to know ahead of time which airports had indoor playgrounds, especially for longer flights. Since we usually had a decent commute to the airport, we would leave extra time for playing on the playground before boarding. This would burn some energy before twelve hours on the plane!” ~ Alicia Kroat-Aronovich

Travel With Babies

“The week you bring them home from the hospital use a white sheet background in their car seat and take your own photos. Newborns are only awake on their own time. Make your life easier. Travel as soon as the passport arrives. Babies don’t understand time zones anyway.” ~ Kelly Finn Stormer

“For children who are breastfeeding, wait until takeoff to feed! It will allow their ears to pop naturally and likely put them to sleep. Bring a boppy pillow for your lap so you can comfortably hold the baby the whole flight as well as a ring sling to free your hands if you have to use the bathroom during the flight.” ~ Danielle Rostick 

“Skip the stroller and baby-wear! Especially when it comes to older cities with cobblestone sidewalks and tiny restaurants. Many museums don’t allow strollers, but my kids have napped for hours on my back through the Musee d’Orsay, the British Museum, etcetera. It’s a great way for us to do “boring adult things” with littles who still need a nap, without getting stuck going back to a hotel every afternoon.” ~ Julie Barber-Rotenberg 

On the Ground

“One tip is always plan for things to take at least an hour longer than you expect. That way you don’t have the added stress of beating a clock” ~ Maria Catherine

“For my kids we keep them up later and they sleep in and it’s a bit easier to adjust to time zones.” ~ Susan Roberts

“We try to book lodging near a local playground to get energy out before dinner. It gets harder with more children, but we successfully traveled internationally with three under five!” ~ Anna Swynford 

“We learned early on that room setup is key. When possible, we liked rooms with a separate or semi-separate living area or a balcony so we could still talk/stay up once little went to sleep. Once we just had a long hall from room door past closet and bathroom that had enough space for the pack and play, which worked great. And can’t say enough about how much easier Airbnbs have been for traveling as a family. Elbow room, laundry, kitchen, whatever is important…and fewer worries about nighttime crying waking folks in the next room.” ~ Kelly Kolb

“We look for Airbnbs with a washer and dryer so we can run a load of laundry, and pack less, too.” ~ Clare Herlihy Dych 

“Be flexible in your plans. We scheduled several museums in Florence, but the kids were breaking down just fifteen minutes into our first stop at the Accademia Gallery. We switched up our plans and went to a toy store, had pizza, strolled the streets, and then headed to Pisa for the afternoon instead. When all else fails – you can bribe kids with gelato!” ~ Erica Smith-Klocek 

“This might just be my extreme nerdiness, but I think research and planning is where it’s at. Of course adaptability is important in the moment, but it helps to know if you can buy tickets ahead (like at the Vatican to avoid the 3 hour line) or what the hours are for each site you’re planning to visit, etc. you can always change it up in the moment, but knowing how to avoid crowds or other inconveniences can make all the difference when you have impatient kiddos in tow.” ~ Julia Cuccaro-Green

“No matter what you show them, toy stores will always be tops. Took our kids to London twice and Hamley’s is their favorite attraction. Also, it won’t be the same vacation as an adults only. Just go with it and enjoy it, because your kids will remember the experience!” ~ Alexis Marchio Stumm

“It’s way better than you anticipate it to go! We took my son on his first trip to Curacao at 7 months, then at 15 months to England and Ireland. Even with the time difference his naps and all went smoothly just sticking to his ‘normal’ routine. The only thing that stunk was he did not eat really any of the food in England or Ireland, so I was thankful I overpacked for his snacks/pouches/shelf stable food!” ~ Erin Schneider

“Try to include cultural experiences in your travels. My kids remember climbing the pyramids at Uxmal and visiting a Mayan village more than they remember sitting on the beach or playing in the pool.” ~ Erica Smith-Klocek 

On The Road

“Plan drive around naps and meals.” ~ Elise English

“For long road trips, keep a separate suitcase with necessities. Pack things like an outfit for every member of the family, tooth brushes, Tylenol, etc. It’s much easier to grab a single bag to take into a hotel room than finding items for each member of your family in separate suitcases.

“Don’t make any solid plans on travel days! And go with the flow when it comes to eating, making stops, etc.” ~ Sarah Vonderheid

‘Bring a potty training toilet for those emergencies that just can’t wait for the rest stop! Speaking of rest stops, you never know what the restrooms will look like. Amazon sells disposable seat covers and toilet wipes! My child is 9 and we still use these! ~ Mir Anda Kap

“We drove to Myrtle Beach this summer and building in stops along the way was key. We made sure to find a playground where our three year old could run around and get out of his seat for a little about halfway there. We also stopped for food, potty and brought flash cards to go over.” ~ Christine Wolkin 

“PBS games. Tablet from library. We listened to Circle Round for a podcast story to.get him asleep. Magic revel books, wow water books, let them pick toys to hold, happy meal toys.” ~ Keren Peymani

“Went on two 14 plus hours road trips this year to Iowa and again to Florida. “Don’t bring any toys that make noise that will drive YOU crazy! We also got lap trays to make eating easier and they can also be used to prop tablets, color, etc. Depending on how long your drive is, nap time isn’t going to matter at all. They’ll either be sleeping tons or not at all.” ~ Jessica Berkovitz

On Expectations

“Number 1 piece of advice is LOWER EXPECTATIONS. Drive normally takes 5 hours? We’re going to be happy if it’s anything less than 8. We also chose all our hotels/airbnbs based on location and the assumption that if we needed to we could spend like 80 percent of the trips in them. Nice view from deck? Can walk to A Place for breakfast? Then those are our top 2 priorities and anything else is icing.” Laura Anderson Zhu

“Nap or bedtime schedules might get wacky, flights get delayed and you’re not going to get to go everywhere you want or do everything you planned on. And that’s okay. It gets easier with each trip and you’ll get to a point where you can involve them in the planning and everyone is on the same page.” ~ Veen Huffnagle

“Reasonable expectations and being willing to adapt in the moment as mentioned by others are definitely huge! I think my biggest tips are to remember to have empathy for your kiddos and regulate yourself – they are in a new place, eating new food, with a new routine, unfamiliar everything, and probably different expectations of their behavior. Remembering this helps with your own regulation so that you can adjust your expectations of them more gracefully. When all else fails, they probably need a snack, a rest, and some co-regulation with you. Grounding yourself when you feel overstimulated, stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated, or like you’re being judged helps you recalibrate to focus on their needs rather than what others might be thinking or what schedule you’re trying to stick to.” ~ Julia Cuccaro-Green

The best tip on family travel? Experience all you can through their eyes, and bring it all home. Family memories make the best and longest-lasting souvenirs.

Editor for Bucks County Parent. Email tips to christine@familyfocus.org.