Traveling With Our Kids – What do we ACTUALLY need?

I have always been an over packer. An over-night or weekend trip can very quickly turn into looking like I’m leaving for a several month long expedition. I’m the one at the airport who’s emptying the contents of one bag into the other, trying to even out the weight distribution, as an attempt to avoid having to pay for heavy baggage. Then I had a child and it got way worse….

Since the birth of my daughter our family has been lucky enough to do our fair share of traveling, and with each trip I’m left wracking my  brain trying to figure out the absolute essentials. Do I bring a high chair? Pack a car seat or rent one? How many outfit changes could she possibly need every day? Pack diapers or buy them when I get there? I usually just succumb to the fact that at any given time, a massive blizzard could hit in the dead of Spring, in the tropical destination we’ve traveled to, and bring her ALL the options.

What we had for 2 weeks in Florida (plus my diaper bag)

This March, my little one and I eagerly set off on a two week holiday to Florida. Impressed with the fact that I only had one, 50 pound bag for the two of us, I arrived to the airport with only an hour to spare, to find out the worst had happened!!!! The latch on our pickup trucks trunk had opened, and somewhere between Orléans and the Ottawa airport, my bag had rolled out. I was left having to decide whether to cancel the trip altogether, or move on to Florida, with nothing but the clothes on our backs and winter boots on our feet. One hour later we boarded the plane and although the experience of traipsing through two airports in heavy, winter, fur-lined boots was uncomfortable, the amount that I learned about what we and our little ones ACTUALLY need  and don’t need on a holiday, was invaluable.

DON’TS

  1. Don’t pack a highchair – if you are staying at a hotel or resort, check ahead with the staff because almost every establishment will have one that you can keep in your room for the duration of your stay. Furthermore, if you dine on the resort grounds or in any restaurant, there will be one you can use. I had the Summer Infant travel highchair that I LOVED, but it added a lot of extra weight to the luggage, and took up tons of room.
  2. Don’t worry about too many pairs of pyjamas –  At home, I like my daughter to wear a different pair of pj’s every night, but if you’re looking to travel light, you do not need a nightly wardrobe change. Many places will have laundry on site, but if you’re only gone for one week, they won’t get dirty enough to warrant bringing too many pairs. When we arrived in Florida, I bought Finley one really cute and special set of jammies (that she picked out) and I washed it intermittently throughout our stay.
  3. If you’re bringing your iPhones and/tablets, you may want to skip the baby monitors – I am certain you won’t leave home without your phone, so if space it what you’re hoping to save, you can download many different Baby Monitor Apps that serve as a monitor. We set my phone up in her room as the base and used the iPad as the camera. It worked perfectly and I now know that I don’t have to risk our expensive monitor getting broken in our luggage.
  4. Shoes – one for travel, one for leisure. Unless you’re going on an adventure-packed trip by day, glamorous gala-filled trip by night, you don’t need too many different pairs of shoes. I bought Finley a comfortable pair that she could wear on the beach, in the water, or when walking around shops and restaurants, and of course she had her boots with us to come home in. In the past I packed her flip flops, dressy sandals, water shoes, and runners. One pair of shoes that double as water/leisure shoes is all that’s necessary. For me, one pair of flip flops was fine for two weeks in the sun.

These Natives are a great choice for the “everything” shoe

5. You don’t need to pack all the toys – If your child has a lovey or special toy that they don’t like to be without, pack it in your carry-on so no matter what luggage situation you get into, they’ll have it with them. Another local mama I know says she allows each child to pack their own tiny backpack full of toys from home. “It makes them feel special and included in the process of getting ready for the trip”. You can also pick up a couple of cheap toys at a local dollar store once you arrive at your destination (sand toys etc), but most little ones will be so occupied by their new surroundings, that they won’t be overly interested in the toys that came from home. We were also recently gifted a Moonlight, that attaches to your phone to illuminate your child’s favourite books on the ceiling. It weighs nothing and is a super fun alternative to actual books.

Dollar store sand toys were a big hit! And we just left them behind for another little one to enjoy when we were leaving.

Moonlight attaches to your phone and plays books on the ceiling

6. Share one toiletry bag for everyone – I am usually a notorious toiletry-over-packer. I bring big bottles of shampoo, conditioner and soap and giant bottles of my favourite body wash. Not to mention all the lotions and washes that my little one uses. Losing my luggage made me realize that this was unnecessary and a massive waste of space. Upon arrival in Florida, I purchased a travel sized bottle of body wash that was safe for both me and my two year old and doubled as shampoo for her. I picked us up toothbrushes and a travel sized toothpaste and a small bottle of shampoo for myself and that was all I needed.  It was refreshing not to worry about styling my hair or wearing makeup for the two weeks. That being said, leave the blowdryer at home. If your natural air-dried hair is a bit out of control like mine, there will be one you can use in almost any rental unit or hotel room.

7. Blackout curtains are great, but tinfoil and garbage bags work just as well – I know I know. It sounds funny and may not be the Pinterest worthy look that you were aiming for, but the Gro Blinds are huge, take up tons of space and aren’t cheap. You can just as easily cover any window with tin foil and black garbage bags. Those two items can be purchased anywhere you go and can ensure your little will have successful sleeps!

8. Don’t bring your most expensive stroller – If you are going on a holiday where you’ll be cruising rugged terrain with your littles in tow, it might make sense to pack it. Otherwise, an easy folding umbrella stroller does the trick. I packed my UppaBaby Vista on one of our first overseas trips, and it was severely damaged while stowed with the baggage. I now have a cheap and light Maclaren Umbrella stroller that is more than sufficient. If you’re a baby-wearer, you might even think about renting a stroller once you arrive at your destination. This is a surefire way to not cause any damage to the ones you like to use at home.

9. Cribs are available to rent/borrow at so many hotels – It may be worthwhile leaving the pack & play at home, especially if you’re traveling by yourself. We have had great luck with hotels having clean and nice cribs available for rent. Pack & plays are great if you’re driving somewhere, but to fly with them can be difficult and unnecessary. Call ahead where you’re going and ask what their crib situation is.

DO’s

  1. Car seats ARE needed, and you should bring one that you’re used to installing –  One mistake that I didn’t make was strapping my little one into her travel carseat before leaving our house. Because I was traveling alone, I made sure that I was comfortable with installing it and knew how to use it. It is recommended that when your child turns two and has their own airplane seat, you strap them into a carseat. I cannot express how vital I feel this is. Not only is if safer in the event of turbulence or that the plane stops fast. Not only is it also a comfortable and familiar setting to that your toddler is used to. But, it also comes in extremely handy when your little one can’t get out of their seat and run around on the airplane! Yes, you can rent them upon your arrival, but you will never be sure that they have not been previously damaged, nor will they come with a manual on installation. It may be bulky to lug through the airport, but you can buy inexpensive, lightweight ones such as the Cosco Scenera Next, recommended by Ottawa’s very own carseat and safety experts). 

    This lightweight car seat works great for travel

  2. Pack any/all medicine in your carry on –< This includes any pain/fever relief medicine that you and your children might need, prescription drugs, Epi pens, Benadryl, Pepto Bismol; anything really, that you might need in the event that something happens and you or your little one isn't feeling well. If you lose your luggage, at least you'll have peace of mind knowing that stuff is near.
  3. Pack a change of clothes in your carry on – Even when your kids are over the diaper blow out phase, I can’t stress enough how happy I was that I had a pair of backup clothes when we were five minutes into the flight and my child spilled freezing water all down her front. You never know what the kids can get in to so it’s best to have clean, dry clothes they can easily change into.
  4. Stock up on snacks – This probably should have been point #1 as I feel it is the most crucial way to ensure you have a bit of sanity on your flight. This is the time where I stop being the health conscious mom, and worry about what will make her happy in the event that a full blown in-flight meltdown occurs. Snacks. They are the way to go. Even if it means an extra 10 pounds in your diaper bag, pack them all! Also, you never know what kind of delays you’ll encounter while traveling, or when the next full meal will be. So let me reiterate one last time, PACK ALL THE SNACKS!!!

The bottom line is, if you’re happy, your kids will be happy. I had the choice to panic, cancel our vacation and cry over it, or suck it up and remember that it’s only “stuff” and she and I are capable of having fun no matter what.

I am so happy to report that thanks to the wonderful powers of Facebook, my bag was located and returned to us safely. Although I was beyond grateful to have the contents back in my possession, I’m even more grateful for having had the experience of winging it with my little one. I now feel I have a much stronger grasp on what the ACTUAL essentials are, and know this will save me time, money and sanity moving forward.

So grateful to the man who found it and for the amazing powers of social media!

About eringirouard

Erin is the Director of Mommy Connections Ottawa and mom to a beautiful daughter, Finley. After joining a Mommy Connections class in 2017, it became clear that offering that same support to other moms in the city she calls home, is what she's meant to be doing.

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