Packing Tips for Travel with Toddlers

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After more than 20 international and domestic trips with my toddler, I have almost perfected our list of what to take with us, no matter where we are going, San Francisco, Ireland or India.

Much of our travel to this point has been to developing countries, therefore many of my recommendations are based on that.  However, in reality, the list doesn’t change much for more western destinations, besides the car seat which is required by law.

Travel/Flight Bag

You will need a “travel” or flight bag that will hold all of your child’s necessary items for flights and/or travel along the way. I find that it’s best to keep this bag packed with these essentials all the time, so it is easy to hop on a bus, flight or car ride without having to think too much about what you might be missing on that leg of the journey. See our post on what we put in our travel bag.

Car seat

This is a question everyone always asks. My recommendation depends on how old your child is, where you are going and what you will be doing. If you have a child under 1 in the infant car seat still AND you use a stroller that fits the car seat, then you could take it for ease of traveling and peace of mind while in vehicles. It is useful to have on flights in case you happen to get an extra seat to put it, otherwise it fits easily in the overhead compartment.

Tip: Make sure to ask at check-in how full the flight is and ask if you can get any available empty seats. Flight staff are usually very helpful if you are nice!

For larger, bulkier car seats (i.e convertible car seats), if you are going to a country that requires a car seat by law and you will be renting a car, then take it. It is easier to deal with a car seat that you know than struggle with a different one in a foreign country.  However, we have always had great luck with car seats rented in Europe. If you are not planning to drive or be in anything but public transportation, do not take it. If you are required to have a car seat in a taxi, taxi’s will provide them. (Germany is the best for this!)

If you are going to a country that does not require a car seat by law and you will not be driving yourself, then I usually recommend not taking it. They are bulky and heavy and often in developing countries taxi’s will not even have seat belts to secure them with.  Check the local laws, but for developing countries it’s almost never required. Yes it would be safer for your child, but it is usually not easy traveling around these destinations to begin with and to add a bulky large child seat, it can make the journey quite cumbersome. If you really feel you must have something to protect your child in the car, check out this awesome car seat alternative Rider Safer. This is also useful on flights if you want that extra protection during turbulence. Alternatively, if your child is allowed to use a booster seat, we LOVE the Bubble Bum Inflatable Booster Seat.

TIP: If you often travel with your convertible car seat, consider purchasing a car seat backpack bag. It keeps your carseat straps from getting tangled up and keeps the seat clean. As an extra bonus, you can stuff blankets, winter jackets and whatever doesn’t fit in your suitcase on the way home inside the car seat bag!

Stroller &/or Carrier

Again, this depends on the age of your child and your destination. Overall I say to take your stroller if it is small and travels easily. But expect frustrations and don’t plan on nice walking paths, slanted curbs to roll off, wheel chair access or even room for the stroller in many shops, temples or tourist sites (outside of the US).

From our experiences in Europe, Turkey and Asia it was easier to not have a stroller. Although we have bumped along cobblestones streets and dirt roads more than once with our stroller.  If your child sleeps in a stroller easily, then take it! Strollers are particularly useful at the airport, in places where you plan to walk the majority of the time and for kids who are known to be runners.

If you plan on gate checking your stroller,  I do not recommend a stroller bag. It does protect the stroller, but it also is an added stress at the end of the runway trying to get it packaged up quickly with a long line of people waiting behind you and same thing at your destination trying to get it out of the bag!  Also note that a few airlines/airports in the world do not allow gate checked strollers – all strollers that are not small umbrella strollers will be checked with baggage and must be picked up in baggage claim. This particularly stinks when you have long layovers. Call in advance if you are concerned about this for your journey.

It doesn’t matter what type, but yes, take it!  We love the Ergo and have used it all over the world. We have also had great experiences with the Phil n Ted’s Metro carrier. It is heavier; but gives much more support and provides a great “chair” for your child to view everything from up high. This is what we took if we did not take the stroller and knew we had a lot of walking ahead of us. For infants, any small wrap that fits easily into your bag will be useful. There are lots of stairs at tourist sites all over the world and outside of the US many countries do not have requirements for wheelchair accessibility.

Food

Loads of snacks are essential. If you are traveling to a location where you cannot refill your supply of snacks with favorites from home, take as much as you can squeeze in your luggage, but also try to save some along the journey for your return trip. We always try to take at least one zip lock bag of cheerios or other favorite cereal to provide breakfast in the hotel room. Our son tends to wake up earlier than many of the hotel breakfast start times, so this allows us the ability to feed him early and then get our breakfast later. If you have plenty of space in your bag you can also take along a few boxes of Horizon’s pre-packaged milk that does not need to be refrigerated. This is a godsend when you do not have access to milk and your child is requesting it.

Dry snacks and individual snack bags are life savers, as are the squeeze pouches. We still carry a few of these even now to make sure our preschooler is getting his fix of vegetables while traveling.  Other snacks we take include packets of gold fish, pretzels, crackers, animal crackers, etc. We also always carry dried fruit like apricots, raisins, cranberrys, craisins, etc. And trail mix is a good one for the little older kids – the ones with yogurt drops add a little sweet touch that kids seem to enjoy. We also love luna bars and granola bars.  These dry foods are great to have on hand, but we try to supplement snacks with fresh fruit and vegetables when we are out and about.

When traveling in Asia where spicy food is predominate, we often take a jar of peanut butter with us, in case of a picky eater or are in places where there just is nothing suitable. This way our son can at least have a peanut butter sandwich or peanut butter on crackers.

Airlines sometimes offer child or toddler meals, but they never come at the time that your child is hungry and it often does not have things they want to eat. We found baby meals were always a jar of baby food which our son wouldn’t eat. When he was smaller we liked the squeeze packets of baby food.  Also pack things that will last without being refrigerated (pasta, peanut butter sandwiches, dry snacks, fruit, grapes, etc) And of course a water and/or milk for your child. Be aware that many countries prohibit you from bringing in fresh fruits, vegetables and/or meats. Customs will make you dump all of this food if you declare it.

We take a lot of reusable snack bags and snack containers. We also used to take a large baby’s bottle or thermos bottle to store milk. We have found that often we can fill it up at a restaurant or a buffet and put it in our mini fridge or have it on hand for late night or early morning travel.  This is particularly useful on longer trips where you cannot pack enough milk packets for your journey. Other supplies we take include 2 take n toss straw cups, a bowl with a lid to be used for cereal or snacks, a small plastic plate and a spoon and fork, as well as our son’s water thermos that he loves. Most of these items are small, light and cheap enough to replace if you loose them along the way.

Toys

We try to minimize the amount of toys that we bring these days. We used to load up bags with toys, but found that our son was usually more interested in all of the new things he was finding and rarely played with toys. You will find cheap toys along the way and surprisingly people and hotels often gift your child small trinkets and toys. We do always take a few of his favorites such as books, small cars, plastic animals, a small can of playdoh, sticker book/coloring books and of course the iPad. Check out our post on great travel activities for kids that doesn’t involve the use of electronics.

Tip: Spread the toys out on the ground and take a photo of them before you leave, so you will be able to keep up with everything you are taking. Especially helpful if you or your child are particular about losing toys!

Tip: For small children and toddlers, a useful tactic for long flights is to wrap some small toys, either new or older ones and dole them our slowly over the flight/journey. It gives them something to look forward to and something to do. Dollar store toys are great for this – cheap, easy and ok if you loose them.

Clothes & Bath

We tend to take a little more for our son than we do for ourselves. Depending on the length of the trip, but assuming a week or longer, I would normally take for him 7-10 pairs of under ware, 2 pairs of shoes (tennis shoes and sandals), 5-7 bottoms, 10 shirts and one or two sweaters/hoodies depending on the weather. Socks, mittens, hats, swim wear, etc as necessary depending on the weather and destination.

For the bath, we take only a small bottle of kid’s soap, a sponge and a small set of stacking cups that can be used for the bath or sand play, or even stacking out of the bath. We do not take his towels unless we are budget traveling and think he will need it.  Don’t forget the toothbrush and tooth paste! The most important part of our bath supply kit is a drain cover. We use this Oxo silicone drain cover. It has come in very handy all over the world where often the only option is a shower stall. With this you can at least cover the drain and get a little water in the bottom to let your child splash around a bit. This is one of our travel essentials!

Medicines

Our adult medicine kit pretty much covers most things even for a child, however I tend to pack a small bag of just my son’s supplies. I always take a small bottle of children’s ibuprofen, cough/cold medicine, kids bandaids, kids clippers, kids q-tips, and child thermometer (we love the 8 second thermometers that are easy to put under the arms or in the mouth of even our toddler), and a measure cup and/or syringe to administer medicine.  I also have a small tube of Neosporin. Everything else you may need you can buy when you are away. Trust me, you can buy good quality medicines even in small indian Villages!

Potty Supplies

We are out of the diaper phase (thank goodness!), but when we traveled with a diapered child, we would either take enough for the journey if it was relatively short or enough for the first 3-5 days. This would give us enough time to get there and source out a local shop for diapers. We always tended to stick to purchasing the imported Western brands as the local western brands tended to leak and fall apart quickly.  Be certain to ask specifically for the imported versions if you are in Asia. The advantage of filling all your empty space with your own diapers is that you don’t have to seek out diapers along the way and on the way home that space is empty and can be filled with souvenirs! We also have found that it is best to take our wipes from home, as many as we could fit. We usually fill our reusable box and take that along. And don’t forget the bum bum cream. This comes in handy even for cold cheeks, chapped lips and scraped up knees. We love aquaphor.

Our son is potty trained, so we take a portable potty with us – the potette plus. It is great bc it can be used as it’s own little stand alone potty with a bag or flat on regular toilet seats.

And that is all! Whew. It seems like a lot when it’s all written out, but it actually doesn’t take up much space at all. For my son, we use his skip hop rolling bag for short trips for all of his supplies or a small carry on suitcase for longer trips. When you get your own rhythm down of what you need while away and write it down and plan it out, it makes traveling and packing so much easier with a toddler.

Good luck and Enjoy your trip!

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