Chicago mom tips: Packing for travel with small children

The first time my husband and I traveled out of the country with our daughter, she was six months old. At the time, a 13 hour road trip to visit family in Ottawa, Canada was a stellar idea. We clearly hadn’t taken into consideration the fact that we were now parents and that being on the road with a semi-newborn baby would require a little more planning than jumping in a car and driving to the border.

Thankfully, the trip itself wasn’t bad. We stopped more than we would had it been just the two of us, which lengthened travel time by a few more hours, but that is expected when traveling with a child, let alone a baby.

What wasn’t expected were the amount of items I packed for a trip that would be less than five days! If it were an option, I most likely would have packed her entire nursery. This, of course, happened because 1) I was (and still am) a rookie mom 2) I overplayed one too many “what if she needs…” scenarios in my head and 3) I absolutely needed to pack five pairs of shoes for a child who wasn’t even walking . . . you know . . . just in case.

Of course I packed the essentials, but the non-essentials took up way too much space in the car. I couldn’t leave the beloved Bumbo seat, so there it was, keeping our daughter company in the back seat.

We’ve yet to travel back to Canada by car. We’ve taken to the friendly skies instead and doing so has shortened our travel times by a whole 11 hours. Thank goodness for airplanes.

But with flying comes the cost of checked bags which can get pricey, so I’ve learned to pack lightly but smartly and no longer have that “no item left behind” mentality.

With spring break approaching, you may have plans of a family getaway with your small children. To avoid the same mistakes I’ve made, I wanted to share some things that I’ve learned along the way.

Happy packing!

Packing toys – I suggest packing one or two of your child’s favorite toy. If your child is old enough he/she can make the decision as to which to bring. This will encourage her/his participation and also give them a reminder of home which will provide a sense of comfort and minimize the “away from home” anxiety that certain kids deal with.

Strollers – I love my jogging stroller. I don’t jog as much as I should, but I still love the stroller, yet its size makes it hard to travel with. For travelling purposes, I recommend an umbrella stroller, you can find one for under $20. If you consider purchasing one, choose a sturdy one. If you travel often, you most likely will be using it often and you want to avoid purchasing one that is flimsy. My child may be a little older and a lot more mobile than she was when we first traveled, but I find them extremely useful when navigating large (neverending) airport aisles with a toddler. The best part: keeping them while you wait to board your flight! Most airlines will check them for you right before you get on the aircraft and they will be there waiting for you right as you get off the plane.

Sleeping arrangements – “Travel cribs” or pack and plays are great investments and very useful for those of us who travel often. The Lotus Everywhere Crib, made of breathable clear view mesh is one of my favorites and it’s great for babies as well as toddlers. I love that the LEC can be collapsed into a backpack which can count as a carry-on, thus eliminating checked bag fees when flying.

If you’re planning a hotel stay, calling your destination ahead of time to see if they offer cribs/toddler beds is never a bad idea. Most do so at no additional cost which eliminates the need to bring your own.

The essentials – What are considered essentials? Diapers, toiletries, clothes and snacks. If your child is still in diapers I recommend buying a small pack and restocking when you get to your destination if you run out, most brands can be found at local drugstores depending on your destination

As for clothes, it can be tricky for newborns. They are spit up masters which usually requires them to be changed several times. To limit bulky carry-ons or diaper bags, packing several bibs/washcloths as opposed to several outfits is best. They’re smaller and require less space.

I find that packing all of my family’s items in one suitcase makes things easier. Mind you, that as of now, my family consists of my husband, myself and our daughter. I’m aware that this may not work for everyone. But if possible I propose trying to pack as much as you can in one suitcase. For instance, one suitcase for the parents, one suitcase for brother and sister. You’re all heading to the same destination and most likely staying in the same space so why not share a suitcase?

Pack clothes that can easily be mixed and matched because doing so will lighten your load and leave space for souvenirs or any other items you may be interested in purchasing while away.

I do keep a few “essentials” in my carry-on if flying just in case our luggage does not meet us where we’re going.

Snack time is the best time! At least it is in our household. I keep snacks in my purse ALL THE TIME. (Most of them for me).

Granola bars, goldfish, animal crackers and veggies sticks are some of our favorites.

If your child is old enough, zip lock bags are a wonderful mess free way to carry them. Pack a few of their healthy favorites, throw them in your bag and call it a day.

I hope these tips were helpful!

There are so many great solutions for fuss-free travel with kids! Have any suggestions that haven’t been mentioned? Leave them below. I’d love to know!

Safe travels.

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