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Welcome back for Lesson #5 where I’m sharing some of our best family travel product hacks!
It may come as a surprise, but my husband and I used to be crazy overpackers. I’m a planner by nature, so I wanted to be prepared for every scenario.
But it turns out that overpacking sucks away the fun! No one wants to deal with lugging massive suitcases around while touring a new place.
Fortunately, over nearly a decade of travel to 43 countries with kids, we’ve managed to find a few travel product hacks that are worth their weight (literally). They’re lightweight, durable, and versatile.
I hope these items are helpful to you for when you decide to take on some real-life travel!
In the meantime, thank you for joining CURIOUS KIDS: HOW TO CONNECT YOUR FAMILY TO THE WORLD. Keep exploring the world, both at home and abroad!
1. Sound Machine
Not travel specific, but it’s especially helpful for travel and is definitely one of our favorite kids travel accessories. All our kids sleep with some sort of white noise, and it’s really useful in helping kiddos (and adults!) adjust to new time zones, sleeping locations, etc. We usually just pull up a white noise app on our devices when we travel, but the one we use at home also runs on battery and is lightweight and convenient. Whichever way you go, this is one of the most critical travel accessories for families.
2. Kidco Peapod
I think this is the very best baby travel bed for the older baby/toddler age. It’s a little pop up baby tent that zips so baby can’t get out. We never take the mattress that comes with it and just set it on a carpet/rug/blanket at our destination. The baby cot part only weighs about a pound or so – way better than carrying around a 20+ pound pack n play.
The best part about this baby travel essential is that it’s lightweight and small enough to fit inside our checked luggage. We typically check one big suitcase for our family of 6, and we usually have enough room to stick this baby travel bed in there, as well. That means one fewer piece to remember to grab and carry around – a lifesaver when you have limited hands!
3. Car Seat Suitcase Strap
This luggage strap is kind of the silliest and simplest of all these travel accessories for kids. You could undoubtedly make it for cheaper than the $15 you have to pay, but that’s probably more annoyance than it’s worth. And you know what? This silly little strap totally works to strap a big, bulky convertible carseat onto a suitcase (either a carry on size or full size). Plus, your kid can even sit and ride in it. Genius.
4. Toddler carseat and Booster seat
Despite the bulk and weight, a carseat for travel is often essential. This is my favorite toddler car seat for travel. We don’t like traveling with our regular car seats as there’s a risk of them getting damaged either externally or internally. But this convertible car seat is dirt cheap and fairly lightweight, making it the perfect car seat for travel and a toddler travel essential. If we’re traveling with a baby, we typically take an infant carseat for travel as they are more lightweight and easier to hang from a stroller or suitcase if needed.
If, on the flip side, we’re traveling with slightly older kids, this super slim booster seat is a dream for travel. It folds up super small (and easily slips into a backpack) and is very lightweight. This travel booster seat is safety-tested to the same standards as any other booster and is way more convenient. It technically works from age 4, but since our kids are on the small side, we usually wait until age 5.
For the time when our kids are 3-4, we love the RideSafer Travel Vest booster seat for travel. It works similarly to other booster seats by holding the seat belt in the proper position for a child. It’s more secure than a backless booster and works better for younger children, and is tested down to 3 years and 30 pounds. As it’s definitely annoying carrying around a convertible carseat for travel, we love using this booster seat for our toddler travel essentials when possible.
Here’s a lot more info about taking along a carseat for travel.
5. Lightweight outerwear
Outerwear is some of the trickiest clothing to figure out as far as baby travel essentials go, in my opinion. We often want something warm but not too warm, and that can be layered if needed. Some amount of rain protection is a plus, and packing down small is a necessity. Bright colors for keeping track of kids are a bonus.
We’ve used these lightweight down coats for several years now and they’ve passed the test. They’re perfect for layering and are quite warm, but also not too roasty for when the weather is just cool. They smush down small and work well as a pillow. You can wash them easily and they’re water-resistant (though not waterproof). They’re also inexpensive and come in lots of fun colors. We each have one and I love that they come in a kids version for boys and girls, adult version for women and men, a baby version, and even a one-piece version for infants.
Our kids packing list has more info on our packing basics, such as clothing, medical supplies, and baby needs.
6. Lightweight luggage
We’re pretty darn good at packing light with kids in terms of space constraints, but weight is still sometimes an issue. So we like to use lightweight but durable luggage so we’re not giving up too much weight to the luggage itself. This is our very favorite lightweight checked luggage – we’ve dragged this suitcase all around the globe and it’s held up incredibly well. We can easily fit all the clothing, toiletries, and supplies for our family of 6 inside, and usually have extra room for our baby travel bed.
When we don’t want to check a suitcase, we typically take two lightweight carry on suitcases for our family. We can’t fit the baby bed inside in this case so that adds a couple of pieces in terms of sheer numbers, but it’s sometimes worthwhile to not have one big suitcases and to have everything with us instead of in the hold of the airplane.
These pieces of luggage obviously aren’t just baby travel essentials but work for anyone!
7. Inflatable foot rest
This is one of the best air travel accessories for toddlers and young children. This inflatable travel foot rest is amazing for helping our kids sleep on long flights. We just started using them a couple years ago, but they’re some of the best kid travel accessories around. I definitely prefer it to an inflatable pillow, since our kids tend to sleep best lying down instead of leaning to the side. The foot rest allows them to prop their feet and snooze away. They’re a great solution for how to get kids to sleep on an airplane.
It’s also one of our toddler travel essentials for road trips so they can prop up their feet so their legs don’t fall asleep!
8. Kids’ Melatonin
This is one kids travel essential where you should for sure check with your doctor in advance, but it’s been very helpful for us. We much prefer using melatonin to an actual drug like Benadryl as our bodies do produce it naturally. We typically use it on a long plane ride and the first night or two in a very different time zone as a way to help our kids get over jet lag.
There are lots of different kinds, but we think this is the best kids melatonin. It’s not a child-specific one, but is the exact same dosage as the kids’ melatonin, and we prefer it to the kids’ melatonin gummies. The gummies usually have a bit of added sugar, while this kind does not. It’s also fast-acting and the tablets are smaller than carrying the gummy kind.
Speaking of sleep, here are 10 Tips for Getting Over Jet Lag with Kids!
9. Portable Door Lock
We once had a kiddo manage to get out of our hotel room very early one morning. He thought he was opening the door to the bathroom, but it turns out it was the door to the hall, which, of course, closed and locked behind him.
We are SO GRATEFUL he was okay and all was well, but one of these portable locks immediately became a kid travel essential for us. It’s great if there’s no deadbolt or if you have a little escape artist. This portable door lock is lightweight, strong, and easy to install.
10. Packing cubes
I can’t overstate how much I love this kids travel accessory. They’re magic for keeping everyone organized and each kid has his or her own color. Especially when traveling with multiple people (and not wanting to have 6 different pieces of luggage), this travel essential for kids is perfect for containing and keeping track of all the stuff. We also love this great luggage organizer.
11. Folding backpacks
One Christmas, we got everyone their own travel backpack for kids. We took them on a trip a week later and they were perfect. It was so nice to have everyone’s stuff contained in a lightweight, easy-for-them-to-carry package. These are big enough that they comfortably fit a week’s worth of stuff, but not so big that our kids couldn’t carry them (even our smallish then-3-year-old managed). Everyone has their own color, and they fold up nicely when not in use.
Also, while it’s been one of the best travel essentials for kids, it’s also amazing for adults! They are perfect if you need a little extra space or need to redistribute weight while traveling. I love that they weigh next to nothing and easily slip into other luggage when not in use. We always take at least a couple along on any trip and just carabiner them onto another backpack when not in use. We love using this kids travel backpack for storing food/snacks that will be consumed (and thus won’t need a bag) or to shuffle around weight.
Speaking of carabiners, it sounds so random, but they are totally a kids travel essential for our family. You can get a set of about a million of these for dirt cheap. Get the kind that screw for extra security, and get them in a bunch of colors. We always pack several – they’re great for strapping on water bottles, keys, or even stuffed animals. This is such a useful and unexpected travel accessory for children.
13. Soft-sided baby carrier
I can’t imagine traveling with a child under the age of 2 without a baby carrier. They are just so darn convenient, especially if you’re traveling to a place that’s not very stroller-friendly. We have both the regular Boba and the Boba Air (which folds up into a small pouch and fits easily in a bag). Both are amazing baby carriers for travel.
The regular Boba is significantly more supportive if you’ll be wearing a child for a longer period of time, so it’s usually our go-to for longer trips. But if we won’t be wearing the baby a ton, Boba Air is great because it folds up so small and wipes down easily.
I personally prefer the Boba to the Ergo as it fits better on narrower shoulders. Whichever you choose, a good, ergonomic carrier is one of my most vital baby travel essentials, especially when on an airplane.
14. Portable high chair and bib
I love that this portable high chair for travel folds into a small pouch, is super lightweight, and works with any chair. Simple, but one of the most useful travel essentials for kids if you have a wiggly child. Even when we don’t take the portable high chair, though, we ALWAYS have one of these bibs on hand. Honestly, they’re the only ones we use at home, as well.
I love that they have sleeves so they actually keep clothes clean (especially useful when rewearing clothing while traveling with kids). They roll up super small and lightweight, and are easy to wipe down or wash and dry quickly. Not just a kids travel essential, these are an everyday baby essential for us.
15. Lightweight umbrella stroller
We purchased a double stroller for travel before we visited the Middle East several years ago when we had an almost 2 year old and almost 4 year old. While it was nice for the few days when they neeeded to nap at the same time, and when we were in a stroller-friendly city, it was great. But we basically never used it again.
Instead, I much prefer just taking a single lightweight umbrella stroller for travel. While there are many that fold up into the overhead bin, that’s never seemed necessary to me and those are usually very travel-specific (and not as useful on an everyday basis).
Our very favorite stroller (having tried upwards of a dozen over nearly a decade) is this compact and lightweight umbrella stroller. I love that it weighs hardly anything and has a very slim profile, but still handles bumps and curbs well. It has a good-sized basket underneath, has a rain cover and sun shade, and reclines. We’ve hung all sorts of stuff from it and it’s never let us down. Plus, it’s perfect as an everyday stroller when you’re not traveling, as well (unlike some of the strollers that fold to fit in overhead bins, which tend to not be great outside of travel).
16. Kids’ Tablet for Travel
Other than family movie night on Friday nights, we do almost no screen time at home. So it’s especially exciting for our kids when we travel and they can read or do an activity on our tablet for travel. And since it’s one of the rare occasions they have screen time, I don’t feel a huge pull to restrict it. It saves us a ton of hassle with bringing and carrying a bunch of different activities, and it’s very motivating for good behavior. 😉
We usually download a couple movies or shows, but most useful is downloading books for free through our library’s Overdrive system. Typically, we have a number of chapter books and picture books to engage everyone. We also always download a few kids’ audiobooks from the library so they can listen as they color or we can all listen together if we’re driving. I love this kids tablet because it’s sturdy and durable for travel.
17. Hanging toiletry bag, toothbrush covers, and travel pillbox
Perhaps your children are perfect angels and always neatly line up their toothbrushes so you’re never frantically searching for them while packing up. And maybe they always put the comb back in the right spot. If this is the case, you probably don’t need this.
But if your children, like ours, are…children, then this travel toiletry case will be a lifesaver. It keeps everything organized and in its home. It has room for our medical bag and personal hygiene items and even my makeup. And my toothbrush isn’t at risk of being knocked in the toilet in a tiny European bathroom.
We also use these toothbrush covers for each of our toothbrushes. It helps when everyone has a color and keeps them clean while traveling and in the toiletry case. Additionally, we stick this baby travel essential inside the toiletry bag to hold a few different pills like kids melatonin, children’s pain reliever, adult pain reliever, etc. It’s so nice to keep it all organized and to not need to carry full bottles of each.
We leave a few travel essentials for kids always ready to go in a drawer in one of our closets, and this is one of them. It’s so convenient to know it has what we need (we just make sure nothing needs refilling) and to not need to rethink it every time!
18. Kids travel water bottle
We’ve tried about 8 gazillion different kid water bottles. And this is our very favorite, especially for toddlers. It doesn’t leak, stays cold, and is durable. I love the loop at the top so we can carabiner it onto a backpack. These are a close second for older kiddos.
We fill these travel essentials for kids in the airport before boarding so we don’t have to worry about asking for (and spilling!) a million cups of water when traveling with kids on an airplane. They’re great for long car rides, or for hotel rooms to have a drink by the bedside.
19. Simple building toy
We take very little in terms of kids’ entertainment while traveling. It’s usually just more to schlep, and they’re typically most entertained by random items along the way. But we always have a small baggie of some sort of lightweight building toy. Sometimes it’s a ziplock of LEGOs, while other times we take these along. The latter are some of our very favorites because they take a little more thinking and keep our kids occupied for ages. We’ve used this kids travel toy on both airplanes and road trips with great success. This small set comes with its own travel bag.
20. External charger
I can’t count the number of times I’ve thanked the stars above for our external charger. It’s a lifesaver when you desperately need an audiobook to calm shrieking kids in the car, or when you need a book to read to the baby from the kids tablet, or when you need your phone to figure out the quickest way back to your hotel. We absolutely never travel without one. In fact, I use it almost every single day even at home. A true travel essential for kids AND adults.