Packing Tips for Air Travel with Little Ones
Packing for travel is sort of like kissing—you always can improve. This statement rings especially true for family travelers; as our kids get older (and as we add more kids), the challenges of squeezing all of their stuff into a manageable number of bags and boxes require increasing doses of innovation and skill.
Fittingly, a reader recently emailed with a multi-part question about packing, and I thought it best to address her query here. The question:
“The hubs and I will be traveling with the 15 month old and the new baby soon. I wondered if you had packing advice – do you and your wife wear backpacks or bring traditional carry-ons, do you use one of those wheelers for your car seats, do you usually do a suitcase for the kids or just squeeze everything in one?”
Backpacks vs. carry-ons
On the subject of backpacks vs. carry-ons, the answer is yes—that is, both of us bring both, on almost every trip.
One of us takes a backpack filled with practical stuff—toys for the plane, two sets of back-up clothes (in case of accidents), a first-aid kit, and a Ziploc bag with child-strength Motrin, child-strength Benadryl and a thermometer (in case the kids get sick). The other takes a backpack that we’ve turned into a diaper bag; we’ve found this essential is easier to carry when you can just wear it on your back.
Powerwoman and I also each take one carry-on; usually we each pick a daughter for whom to pack. This keeps their clothes separate (and makes it easier to unpack).
Three other items we make sure to pack in one of the suitcases: A nightlight, a bag of outlet covers, and a camping kitchen so we can wash the kids’ cups daily (for more on the contents of that kitchen, click here).
On the subject of “wheelers,” the answer is N/A.
We’re not big fans of car seats on the plane (largely because our kids aren’t big fans of sitting in them), so whenever we bring them with us, we check them (it’s free!). Before our kids were old enough to sit on their own, we took them as lap-children. We started purchasing each girl her own seat around the 20-month mark.
Still, I know dozens of parents who use “wheelers” and love them. It really depends on personal preference—and whether you want to spend a flight crammed next to a convertible car seat.
(As an aside, we do own a set of wheelers—the GoGo Kitz Travelmate, to be exact—but it has sat in the same spot of our garage since L was three months old. In fact, if you’re reading this post and you want the wheelers, let me know; if you pay the postage, they’re yours.)
Finally, on the subject of kid suitcases, the answer here is “sort of.”
Yes, we do bring one kid-sized (and kid-themed) suitcase for each girl. No, we do not pack it as we pack normal grown-up suitcases. Instead, we usually let the girls “pack” their bags with stuff they know they’re going to want to bring along—for L on a recent trip it was three or four different stuffed cats; for R, it was a bunch of fake flowers.
I recognize this strategy is completely and utterly impractical. I also can tell you it is the part of the packing ordeal our girls anticipate most. The way we see it, this is a small price to pay to fuel some excitement for a day of traveling.
Also, on a more practical level, it’s good for them to experience what it’s like to pull a suitcase through a crowded airport.
What packing tips would you share with other moms and dads?