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Traveling with Kids 102: Why, How, Where?

Updated: Feb 20

Your Guide to Traveling with Kids: Why, how to choose a location, how to book, what to do with baby gear.


*This post may contain affiliate links.


Tips for traveling with a baby or young kids is in the top 3 questions I get the most.


Which makes me happy because as an avid traveler who works hard to continue traveling with kids, I’m proud of all of us parents making it out of our homes with the kiddos, even if it's just for a weekend. And it is my genuine pleasure to help you achieve that in the smoothest way possible.


It takes courage but it’s worth it and a whole other kind of amazing experience. This might be an unpopular opinion, but you’ll never know what it can bring you and your family until you get out of your comfort zone and just do it.


My travel experience includes 26 countries and 145 cities solo, with friends, in groups, and as a parent with kids.


We’ve been on the following trips with kids:

  • 2 weeks in Israel with an 8 month old baby

  • 1 week Vancouver road trip with a 2 year old toddler and a 2 month old  baby

  • 1 month in Mexico with a 2.5 year old and 9 month old

  • 6 days in Israel alone with a 1 year old

  • 10 days in Israel alone with a 1.5 year old

  • 5 weeks in Mexico with a 3.5 year old and 1.5 year old

  • 2 weeks in Israel alone with a 4 year old and 2 year old

  • 3 weeks in Baja California Sur with a 4.5 year old and 2.5 year old


In this post, I will take you through all the tips and tricks for traveling with babies and toddlers. You’ll be going in ready for the unexpected - which you can always expect!


If you must, skip ahead:



 

The #1 Factor That Can Make or Break Your Travel


There’s a very significant must-have before embarking on a trip with kids. I’d say it’s the most important and THE determining factor when it comes to the outcome of your trip. Mindset.


The way you think about this trip and about your kids and your own ability to make it out alive and thriving, will determine everything about how it goes.


I find that most people think about traveling with kids as a mission. Some, mission impossible. Some don’t even think it’s worth it to travel with kids because it will be so hard that it’s just not enjoyable, and there’s no point to it because they won’t remember it anyway.


While we can all agree and rationally know that traveling with kids is not the same as traveling alone, I think that many people’s perspective and expectations of what travel means to them does not change once they have kids. When you still see travel as a time to relax, rest, tan, be wild and free - you will ultimately be disappointed by a trip with your kids because that’s just not the kind of trip it is in reality.


BUT, if your perspective and mindset changes about what travel means to you now that you have kids - as a chance to bond with them, as an adventure, as a family experience, and as an opportunity to show them beautiful and new places, people and cultures - you will have a completely different experience. This applies to all ages. Almost any trip can be adapted to going with kids.


To sum up this most important part, go into a trip with a positive mindset and excitement!


See this an as opportunity to spend uninterrupted time with your kids, without being bogged down by schedules, appointments, work and school. It's just you and them. And if you are not familiar with this closeness, it might be challenging at first. What is your relationship with your kids outside of telling them to eat, shower, do homework, go to bed - instruct and guide? If you don't know the answer to that, this can be your chance to find out and actively build the relationship you want to see.


You are so lucky to be able to go wherever you’re going, hopefully on vacation or for a happy occasion. Your kids are so excited for this. They want it to go well. They want to have a positive experience with you. They want to make everlasting memories. Get in the mindset and create an environment where all this is possible.


1. Where to Travel with Kids and How to Start Planning


You can go almost anywhere with your kids. The most important for me when traveling with the kids is safety. If the location is safe to walk through, I’m comfortable taking the kids. I always check the government travel advisories before choosing a location, and read up on multiple blogs, most importantly those written by parents traveling with children.


All-Inclusive Vacations


Many families opt for all-inclusive vacations with young kids. Those are fun, many resorts have kids activities and play areas, so if you’re going to a resort I’d filter the search by “Family Friendly” options and check for a water park and/or playground on the resort. It’s nice to have food at all times, no cooking or cleaning, and entertainment. If you're not planning on leaving the resort, it's the type of trip that you can book in any country and have a similar experience. Focus on a beautiful beach with calm waters for swimming, cleanliness, good food, and quiet at night so the kids can sleep.


The one we went to was Windham Altra in Cancun. We had a great experience, and the service was amazing. They were well prepared for families and very helpful with the kids, particularly when it came to special food requests for a baby. It had a splash pad with small play structures for little ones, and a bigger water park for older kids.


KEEP IN MIND: While we enjoyed the all-inclusive experience (and searched very thoroughly for one we would be happy with), the hardest part was being in a single room with 2 babies. Two bedroom options are not as common, and very expensive. We're having a much easier time in a one-bedroom this time around with 2 toddlers, but I would not love to do it again with a young baby.


Adventure Travel


If you want to explore a new place, the world is your oyster. The first thing I do when traveling to a new place is search what there is to do there, and what there is to do with kids. I make a list of everything that looks interesting or beautiful to see, and then place it all on Google Maps to create an itinerary. I do this by grouping together all the places/attractions that are near each other and listing them in a document. I read countless blogs on everything they did and where they stayed. Anything that attracts me makes it on my lists.



My travel itinerary includes these categories for every city:


  • City

    • places to stay or place I reserved with reservation info and address

    • places to eat

    • sights to see

    • activities to do

    • beaches in the area


Here is an example.




One thing I am adding to this from here on out is information on the closest hospital/clinic/emergency services and pharmacy. We had a little scare on this trip and I regretted not having that info on hand in case we needed it.


Once I have a clear idea of how long we need in each place, I build an itinerary with our dates, and add dates to each city. From there, I go back to the lists of "places to stay" and book the one that works with our dates.


“Things to do” doesn’t necessarily mean activities. It can be sightseeing places that you know your kids will enjoy. For example, at a young age I would take my kids to see natural wonders, but not the architecture in Barcelona. It doesn’t have to be exciting, but it can be captivating, beautiful, different landscapes than they have ever seen. Let them experience nature. This is part of the life changing aspect of travel with kids. They don't need to be constantly entertained, they just need to be given the opportunity and space to live. We've seen our kids play with sand without beach toys and rocks for longer than they can be captivated by their favourite tv show.


2. Booking Flights


Where to book?


I typically use Skyscanner to search for flights unless I plan on using points such as Aeroplan on Air Canada. Stay tuned for some tips on using rewards programs and credit cards to save on travel.


Timing


When searching for flights, I try to make sure that we are not departing at a time that would require us to wake the kids up earlier than 5-6am. If they start the day tired, it can make the flight a little tougher. If it’s a long flight, I’ve found that an overnight flight which leaves around bedtime is ideal so there is the potential for everyone to get some sleep, and less potential for daytime energy chaos.


Stops


I have never traveled anywhere with more than one stop and don’t recommend it unless you really have no choice. I’m a risk taker so I have made it from one flight to the next with 30 minute stops, but I don’t recommend it. If you don’t want to rush, stress, run, or sweat - you will need minimum 1.5-2h between flights.


Seat Availability


When possible, and especially if I’m hoping to get a free seat for a baby under 2 instead of putting them on my lap, I aim to book a flight that isn’t popular in the hopes that it won’t be full and there will be more room and empty seats. If a travel website has an alert that there are only a few tickets remaining for the flight I’m looking at, I try to avoid that one if I can.


Meals


You can reserve your meal while booking. Short flights usually don’t have meals, but do have snacks and drinks for sale ($$$). There are all kinds of meals including kosher, vegetarian etc. You can call and ask for a baby meal as well. I would not rely on short flight for babies needs such as milk or food.


Seat Selection When Traveling With A Baby


Babies under the age of 2 fly for free, sitting on your lap. They do not get a seat unless you buy one. Kids over the age of 2 must have a seat, however they do not need to be in a car seat, it's your choice.


For babies sitting on your lap, the flight attendant will give you a seat belt extender to strap your baby on your lap. You are not allowed to have the baby in the baby carrier on your lap. You can use it at the airport, or if you’re going to walk around the plane when the seatbelt sign is off.


There are (tiny) bassinets for babies under 8 months to sleep in that you have to reserve in advance. These bassinets come with 1 adult seat next to it. If you are 2 parents and need another seat, you will most likely have to pay to reserve a second seat next to you because these are preferred seats with more legroom.


MY CARSEAT HACK: If I’m traveling with a baby under 2, I always always travel with a carseat in case there is an empty seat on the flight that I can take for my baby. I use this one because it is the lightest and smallest one to carry easily or attach to your stroller with no extra weight.


When you check-in 24 hours before the flight, pick a window seat that has an empty seat next to it. Some airlines will not let you put a carseat in a middle or aisle seat, so the safest bet is to secure a window seat and if the seat next to it is empty you can sit there and have your baby in the window seat. Leading up to the departure time, check the seat map every few hours to make sure that the seat next to you is still empty. If someone took it, change seats to another spot that has an empty seat next to it. If you are two adults and a baby, select the aisle and the window seats with an empty seat in between because people usually won’t willingly choose a middle seat. In this case, continue checking on your empty seat, because the system can also automatically assign someone there.


If you see that there only single empty seats sprinkled around, but none that are next to each other, don’t panic. You can always ask someone to switch with you. In this scenario you want to select a desirable seat such as an aisle or window, closest to the front of the plane. This way, if you need to ask someone to swap seats with you, they are more likely to agree if you have a good seat to offer them. People are generally kind and accommodating.


I usually don’t say anything to the agents at check-in. Some people are really nice while others will give you a hard time for no reason. If they don’t ask you anything about your carseat, don’t say anything about wanting to use an empty seat. When you get to the gate, that’s where you can ask. Tell them you were told that there were a couple empty seats on the flight and that you’d love to have your baby in a seat for safety. If there is no seat next to your assigned seat, ask them to change your seat if they can. It’s unlikely they will say no at this point. Be confident, be kind and respectful. Worst case scenario, if there are no empty seats, they will put a tag on the carseat and put it with the strollers and you can retrieve it after the flight when you step off the plane.


Read more in the Carseats section below for more details on traveling with a carseat.


3. Baby Gear


Most airlines will allow you to check-in 2 baby items for free such as a stroller, carseat, playpen, or high chair. Small airlines usually charge for everything so be mindful of that.


Strollers


If you want to use your stroller at the airport, you can keep it right up until you enter the plane. This is called tagging. When you are checking in you can let them know you want to tag the stroller. When you get to your gate, they will put a tag on your stroller and show you where to leave it before entering the plane. This is free. They take strollers and wheelchairs to another compartment, and return it to you when you step off the flight at landing. Some flights will ask you to walk a little further to recuperate your stroller so it’s always good to ask in advance.


You can also check in your stroller free of charge if you don't want it with you throughout the airport. Whatever you decide to do with it, you can either buy a stroller bag to protect it, otherwise the airline may give you a plastic bag if it is big enough. We never got one and our strollers survived. If anything happens to your stroller and the airline is responsible, you can make a claim with them or with your insurance for a replacement.


Baby Carrier


This is also why a baby carrier is a good idea. To get from the stroller drop-off to your seat, and off the plane to retrieve the stroller it’s helpful to have baby strapped to you so you can have your hands free for other things like a backpack, the carseat, the sippy cup that fell… Keep in mind, you will not be able to keep the baby in the carrier when you’re seated on the flight.


Carseats


The Seat Selection section above has more information on my Carseat Hack.


  • Babies under 2 fly for free, on your lap. They do not get a seat.

  • You cannot bring an infant carseat on the flight to leave on the floor next to you.

  • You can bring a carseat with you and try your luck. Check out my Carseat Hack above.

  • Carseats have to be approved for flying. Most of them are, forward and rear facing that can be strapped in with a seatbelt. You can check the labels on the seat; some have an airplane icon, others have it in text.

  • You can also check in your carseat free of charge if you don't want it with you on the flight. Whatever you decide to do with it, you can either buy a carseat bag to protect it, otherwise the airline may give you a plastic bag if it is big enough. We never got one and our carseats survived. If anything happens to your carseat and the airline is responsible, you can make a claim with them for a replacement.


Stay tuned, subscribe on the home page, and follow me on Instagram @beingmaman for more content coming out on tips for flying with kids, what to pack for a flight, and how to pack for a family trip!

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