Travel Light with Kids: Top Tips

Travel Light with Kids: Top Tips


The munchkin and I are traveling this week, during his Spring Break. I have a few hotel inspections to do for work, and we’ll also be visiting some friends and relatives. While I normally travel pretty lightly on my own and never check a bag, it’s a bit of negotiation to get the munchkin to also pack lightly. That said, it really pays off in several ways:

  • No checked bags means we can leave the airport immediately (and eliminates the risk of lost or delayed luggage)
  • We can take cheaper public transportation options to and from airports, since we can walk with our luggage
  • Fewer items means it’s easier to find things
Here's what's worked for us:

1. They Pack It, They Carry It

Initially the munchkin wanted to bring all kinds of things, including building blocks and some of his heavier toys. But once I helped him understand that he would be responsible for carrying all of it and he was able to feel the weight of his backpack, he soon started focusing on smaller, lighter items to bring with him.

Since he’s only 5, I’m still in charge of packing his clothes and snacks, which go in my carry-ons. But all of his toys, books and entertainment, with one notable exception that I’ll describe below, are his responsibility.


2. Lightweight “Creative” Toys Over Bulky “Specific” Toys

While it’s unfortunately not possible to bring some of his best creative toys, such as his magna tiles and heavy wooden blocks, we’re lucky that he also really loves his many paperback stories and can spend significant time looking at them, even though he’s not yet reading most of them. He also loves drawing, and paper and markers or crayons don’t take up much space. I value these types of creative toys more highly than a particular model train or vehicle that basically just does one thing, or DVDs (even though we bring a few of those as well) that just supply passive entertainment without stimulating much imagination or creativity. A side benefit of the drawings is that, if they're of something specific to the trip, they're candidates for his travel scrapbook to help him enjoy memories of the trip when he's older.


3. Bring Some New Books or Other Lightweight Surprises

I’ve heard the suggestion to bring little presents to unwrap on long flights, but I’ve never had the time to do this, plus the munchkin unwraps things so quickly anyway. What I do make a point of doing is ordering a few new paperback books off of Amazon (don't forget to get 5X points for all Amazon spend) in whichever series he’s enjoying—right now, it’s the Bernstein Bears, and fortunately there are a lot of stories in the series. My plan is to unveil a new story on each flight we’re on. And as with many kids, my son loves to be read a new story 2-3 times right away and at least a couple times every day for several days after that, so we'll get some good mileage out of each new book.


4. No Stroller

While we have a stroller, we’ve never used it much—mostly just when my son is really exhausted or a bit ill. I hate bringing it anywhere, since even though it’s one of the more lightweight models, it’s still awkward when juggling that with other bags or having to find an elevator instead of taking the stairs.

That’s why when the munchkin was 1-2 we used the Ergo baby carrier, and since that time he’s been on his own two feet. Plus, when he’s getting plenty of exercise walking and running around, he also is better at amusing himself for awhile if I need to work, and also sleeps better. If you can't do without the stroller obviously ignore my advice, but for us it's really helpful not to lug it around.


5. Bring 2-3 Clean Changes of Clothes

While some parents might gasp at this, so far it’s worked. I do bring a few more pairs of clean underwear and socks, but there’s nothing wrong with wearing shirts and pants again if they’re not dirty. And worst comes to worst, you can do a little laundry or even buy a fresh shirt or pair of pants.


6. One Pair of Shoes

This is easier with kids than with adults, especially women. I do generally bring 2 pairs of shoes for me because I can’t go to a nice restaurant in the same shoes I hike in. But with the munchkin, I buy black sneakers that, when cleaned up, are perfectly fine for even fancy restaurants, given that he’s five years old.


7. Remember Sleep Essentials

What is really important to pack is anything that your child uses to help get to sleep, or as a comfort item, whether it’s a favorite stuffed animal or blanket. I also always pack a comfortable sleep mask (fortunately we now have quite a few to choose from) and just last night on our red eye flight it came in handy, as it was more comfortable for him than the one the airline provided.


8. Organic Cereal and Dried Fruit as Snacks

As any parent knows, bringing food with you is an absolute must. Kids have to eat often (the “munchkin” is a apt nickname, since he pretty much always has 2 dinners, as part of eating 6 times a day). I usually bring a container of organic Nature's Path cereal mixed with some organic raisins and almonds, and some 18 Rabbits cherry chocolate granola bars. I also either bring an orange and apple or grab an apple from the hotel lobby if available. It's great to not to have to rush out to grab something for breakfast, or have on hand when out and about when hunger strikes. I don't go for juice boxes or squeeze packets, though-not only are many of them over 3 oz., potentially causing issues at security, they aren't as good as whole fruit or dried fruit in terms of fiber and filling a kid up.


9. Encourage Them to Leave at Home Anything They’d Hate to Lose 

Ever since a traumatic loss of a particular Thomas the Train car, I've gently reminded the munchkin not to bring with him anything he couldn't bear to lose. The rule is that he's responsible for all the toys he brings, so he now makes sure to choose a few small toys that he enjoys but aren't his oldest or most beloved items.

What are your top tips for traveling light with kids?

Plus, stay tuned for our Spring Break Travel Adventures!

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