“Best Of”: Awesome Hacks for Stress-Free Travel With Kids

Bear in suitcaseSummer is almost here, and that means if you’re planning a summer trip, it’s time to get organized.  I personally love the excitement and anticipation of researching and planning a trip!  But if you travel with kids, especially young kids, there are also many stressors involved.  From car seats to hotel arrangements, to keeping everyone semi-occupied and happy on the plane and in the car, the details can sometimes get overwhelming.  Googling “travel with kids” can bring you some great ideas, but going through all the lists and figuring out what will help and what’s more work than it’s worth is, well, more work.  We can help!  Below is our “best of” list, bringing you gear, ideas, and one awesome travel hack that will, hopefully, make this summer’s trip less stressful!

THE “TRAVEL WITH KIDS” SCOUTING REPORT

In April I did an informal poll asking almost 80 moms what aspect of travel with kids caused them the most stress.  The run-away answer, taking 49% of the votes cast, was logistics, such as flights, cars, and car seats.  Car seats were specifically identified by a number of moms as being a key stressor.

Overall poll results
Almost 50% of poll respondents cited logistics as the most stressful part of traveling with kids.

A strong second was keeping the kids happy in the car, on the plane and in the hotel.  Not surprisingly, this was more of an issue with younger children (ages 0-5 years) compared to school-age children and teenagers.  While 53% of moms with small children still listed logistics as their top choice, almost 40% of this group selected keeping the kids happy as their number one stressor.  The other two options — picking a destination and planning the itinerary, and packing — both received only about 10% of the overall votes.  With that in mind, in this post I will try to tackle some of these stressors!

BEST CAR SEAT SOLUTION: THE RIDE SAFER VEST

As the survey shows, car seats are one of the most cited pain-in-the-butt issues about travel with kids!  And that shouldn’t really come as a surprise.  They’re bulky and in some cases heavy, and often you’re carrying more than one of them.  But yet you have to have them.  You never know what you’re going to get renting, and the cost can add up.  And if you’re not renting a car, this issue gets even more complicated.  What do you do with them?

When we were prepping our trip to Mexico City (post coming soon!) with our two munchkins, the issue that concerned me most, after overall safety, was car seats.  For the baby, we brought her bucket seat.  But for the toddler (just shy of three), I was at a loss.  I don’t mind dragging his car seat, but we weren’t planning to rent a car.  It wasn’t practical to install it into every taxi we planned to take, and then drag it around parks and museums.  We partially solved this problem by using private drivers when practical, which meant we could leave things in the car while we visited sites.  But on at least two days, we were using local taxis.

RideSafer vest
The RideSafer vest is a game-changer for travel and car pools.

The Ride Safer Travel Vest to the rescue!  This vest fits children that are at least three years old, 30-60 pounds, and 34-52 inches.  The vest goes on the child, and then uses the regular seatbelt — either the lap and shoulder belt or if lap belt only, with the included top tether.  It works by moving the seatbelt into the correct position to protect the child, instead of the child to the seat belt the way boosters work.  For example, the lap belt is positioned over their thighs, not against their bellies.

When not in use, the vest folds up neatly and could easily fit into a small bag, backpack, or stroller storage bin.  In addition to travel, the Ride Safer is very handy for car pools or in a second car.  I agree with the company that for three-year-olds, a five-point harness (especially if still rear-facing) is still better, but as they explain, the vest has been crash-tested for children age three and up, 30 pounds and up.

A couple words of note:

First, for this system to work, your child needs to be old enough to understand that he/she can not un-click the seat belt while in the car — which may be tough for some of the younger kids in this age bracket!  Second, while there is an optional neck support included, it will also be much harder for them to nap on car rides compared to a full car seat.  That said, the Ride Safer has pretty much eliminated car seat travel stress for our three year old.  

Honorable Mention A: The mifold Grab-and-Go.
mifold Grab and Go
The mifold Grab and Go fits in a purse.

If your child is big and old enough for a booster, try the mifold Grab-and-Go.  For kids aged 4 and up, 40 to 100 lbs, and 40 to 57 inches tall, this booster is tiny and would easily fit into a purse.  Like the RideSafer, it works by bringing the seatbelt to the child, instead of bringing the child to the seatbelt.  According to the company, “mifold has been regularly crash tested successfully in certified facilities around the world and meets or exceeds the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard: FMVSS 213 as defined by NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).”

Honorable Mention B:  Purchasing an inexpensive, lightweight car seat for travel.  

When Big Munchkin was younger, we made travel easier by purchasing an inexpensive “extra” car seat such as this.  Unlike our daily-use Diono Rainier, which weighs almost 30 pounds, the Cosco seat weighs about 8 pounds.  It’s still big and bulky, but MUCH easier to drag around.  As my husband said when he first lifted the bag — “my morale just went WAY up!”.

Honorable mention C:  Uber Family.

In certain locations, Uber offers a car option called alternatively uberFAMILY, Uber Car Seat, or UberX + Car Seat.  As far as I can tell, it’s only available in a handful of East Coast cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.  This article suggests it’s also available in certain cities in Mexico, but I can’t confirm that.  According to the website, uberFAMILY is an UberX vehicle which provides, for a $10 surcharge, one forward-facing car seat for children over 12 months old.  This page has the details.

BEST GEAR FOR BETTER SLEEP:  THE GUAVA TRAVEL CRIB

If your munchkins are anything like mine, sleep is a key consideration any time we travel with kids.  Making sure they nap and at least have a chance of decent night time sleep ends up being a daily concern, because of how tired everyone is when they don’t!  The two products below are expensive, and not necessary for many families.  But in the right circumstances, they can make a world of difference.  Since we travel a lot, we decided investing in the Guava crib was worth it, and after three years I would easily say that decision was a good one. We haven’t purchased the Jet Kids Bed Box, but if the price comes down a bit, or if we plan a longer transcontinental or red-eye flight, we’ll seriously consider it!

Guava travel crib.
The Guava travel crib.

The Guava Lotus Travel Crib is excellent for travel with kids because it folds up into a compact size that can fit into another (large) bag or be carried as a backpack by itself.  It’s also extremely easy to set up and take down.  This is key if you’re road tripping and the kids are asleep in the car when you arrive at your accommodations, for example.  It will literally take less than 30 seconds to set up.  The easy set up and take down means you can also drag it to a friend’s house for nap time, for example.  If flame retardants are a consideration, you’ll be happy to know that per the company website, the materials do not contain them or lead, phthalates, or PVC.  Guava also makes a travel bassinet, which uses the same frame as the travel crib.

We purchased the travel crib when Big Munchkin was born, and used it for travel and occasionally as a play pen if needed.  When Baby Munchkin was born, we bought the bassinet conversion kit and used it as a bassinet while she was sleeping in our room at night.  We still use the travel crib all the time!

Honorable Mention:  The Jet Kids Bed Box.

This three-in-one gadget is “hand luggage, ride-on suitcase and inflight bed/leg-rest” in one package, and it looks awesome.  I can’t personally speak to its functionality, but one can easily see how the ride-on suitcase aspect would be handy in the airport.  And, the inflight bed could transform your overnight flight from a disaster into a semi-peaceful experience.  As I mentioned the price tag is steep ($169), so I wouldn’t recommend it unless your child sleeping on the plane is a key part of your travel plans.

BEST APP:  THE PLAYGROUND BUDDY APP

Screen shot of results for San Diego
The Playground Finder app can help you track down the closest playground near you.

Moving on to issue two — keeping the kids occupied.  As a mom of a three-year-old and baby, this is definitely my biggest travel-with-kids concern.  I can’t say I’ve cracked the code.  But one resource I’m happy I found is the free Playground Buddy app.  Especially helpful for road trips, it allows you to pull up a map and see where nearby playgrounds are.  Not all locations are completely tagged — you’ll do better in big cities than small towns — but it’s definitely worth checking.  There is nothing like a good run around a playground to de-stress the whole family, all while getting some much needed outside time.

Honorable Mention:  GateGuru.

This app has a ton of information about what’s at your airport, including shops and restaurants.  You can filter by terminal.  That could be really useful for finding food that your crew will like without walking the entire concourse!  Even better for young kids — search for children’s play areas!  Under “services,” type “play” into the search field — this should usually get you any play areas in the airport.

BEST PIECE OF TRAVEL WITH KIDS PLANNING ADVICE

Coffee cup and books
Good planning can be the key to easier logistics.

While most of the moms surveyed didn’t cite planning as a major stressor, having a good plan can be vital for making logistics easier and having happy kids!  One idea that I love is breaking your itinerary up into “primary” and “secondary” items.  Primary items are activities you’d be upset if you missed out on, or that must be planned around.  Secondary items are activities that are shorter or not as important to you.  Then pick a primary activity for each day, and fill in extra time with secondary activities from your list.  This allows you to flex to how your day is going (no naps? extra long naps? stayed longer at the beach? got lost on the way home?) and still see what you hoped to.

Bonus

When you’re researching your activities, keep one running list of items you need to buy for the trip.  Make a second list of items to bring that aren’t on your packing checklist (you have a packing checklist, right?).   I know that when mommy brain strikes, anything not written down gets missed!

BEST TOTALLY RANDOM TRAVEL HACK

Need a potty on the go?  Use a Solo cup!  When I read about this idea in Jamie Glowacki’s Oh Crap! Potty Training, I immediately knew it was genius.  My potty-trained munchkin has gone in a Solo cup more times than I can count.  But it wasn’t until we traveled without diapers that I saw exactly how brilliant this idea is.

Backpack with Solo cups in pocket
We always travel with a couple Solo cups, just in case!

Why is it that kids always need to go at the absolute worst times?  When you CAN’T leave whatever you’re doing?  Or when you absolutely know you won’t make it to the bathroom in time? Especially when they’re first learning and you have about 15 seconds from when they tell you until they go, you need a back-up plan.

Enter the Solo cup.  Have him go in the cup, and then pour it in the toilet as soon as you can get there.  Done and done.  It also works great when public bathrooms are gross or the line is too long, or when she has to go while you’re driving on I-10. (Pull over first!) Or whenever.  Seriously.  The cup is awesome.  I’ve only tried it with my son, but I’ve been told with a little practice it works for girls too.

Practical considerations:  

Pee and poop go in the toilet!  If it’s a poop I’ll then dispose of the empty cup in the first appropriate trash can I can find.  If it’s a pee, I’ll pour it out in a toilet, rinse it out (pouring this water into the toilet), and put a stuffed up piece of paper towel in there to keep other things from falling in.  I keep a couple in the water bottle compartment of my backpack, in the car, and in our bathrooms for emergencies.  Note to self — don’t ever drink out of a Solo cup at our house!

Find this list helpful? Please share it with friends and on social media!

 

PS — This article is part 1 of our “Travel with Kids” series:
Part 2 — All the More Epic:  On Adventure and Kids
Part 3 — Choosing the Best Stroller for Your Trip

SOURCES

“Flying With Kids? Check Out These Airport Play Areas,” Play Across America Blog — http://blog.playacrossamerica.com/flying-with-kids/

“Uber Car Seat NYC FAQs,” Uber Newsroom — https://newsroom.uber.com/uberfamily-faqs/

“Lyft and Uber with Kids:  Ridesharing Tips For Families,”  Trips with Tykes — http://tripswithtykes.com/2016/06/30/lyft-uber-with-kids/

“Uber X+Car Seat:  The Safest Option for Traveling with Children” (Spanish), Uber Newsroom — https://newsroom.uber.com/mexico/uberx-carseat/

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