Travel with Toddlers Isn’t Easy—But These Can Help
At 21 months old, my toddler had logged over 60 flight hours and she continues to sleep in her travel crib an average of two weekends a month. As a result, I have a lot of experience surviving airports, airplanes, hotels, cabs and long car rides in foreign countries with a baby.
I also have an admitted addiction to buying and testing products that claim to make your life (and travel) easier.
As a Consumer-Investigative Reporter, product research is my natural inclination. To my husband’s dismay however, these are purchases made “off the clock.”
His loss is my loved one’s gain as I’ve become a sort of one-woman “Consumer Reports” for my friends and family. So, here are my musings.
I hope a few of my successes and missteps will come in handy next time you travel with your little one.
10 Must-Haves For Travel With Toddlers
- Convertible Car Seat / Stroller
- Baby Flight Vest
- Travel Crib
- Guided Access
- On-The-Go Changing Station
- Water Bottle Sippy Cup Top
- Roll-up Bib & Placemat with Lip
- Kid’s Mini Backpack (w/ harness)
- Baby Carrier Backpack
- The Mommy Hook
NOTE: I’m not providing product links because I am not endorsing any specific brands or retailers. You can find most of these products by Googling the titles below.
#1 Convertible Car Seat, Stroller, Booster…
I’ve only found 4 uses, but ‘they’ call it a “5-in-1 stroller.”
It’s super simple. No more lugging your car seat through airports or renting a who-knows-how-old car seat at your destination. Push down the lever, wheels pop out of your car seat. Pull up the handle and it turns into a stroller.
Want lunch? Simply pop the wheels back in and use it as a booster in the booth. When your kid isn’t in it, throw in your carryons. It can double as a luggage cart (the fourth use).
Thanks to veteran KPIX #NewsMom Kate Kelly for this recommendation! She used one of these for her (now college-age) boys. Based on her recommendation, we purchased the convertible car seat stroller for a recent trip to South America, and I can’t imagine how we would have survived without it!
Before you buy, click here to read the full review. There are a lot of pros, cons and warnings that come with this travel must-have!
#2 Baby Flight Vest
Keeps lap children ‘in’ mom’s lap during turbulence.
As a reporter, I’ve heard far too many horror stories about lap children getting seriously injured during unexpected turbulence. Most people think takeoff and landing are the most dangerous parts of the flight, but 90 percent of injuries actually happen in-flight.
It’s basically an ugly red vest with a belt loop on the back that you run your seat belt through. Instead of flying through the air during sudden turbulence, your baby (theoretically) stays in your lap. This is especially helpful during overnight flights when baby and mom are sleeping… but I use it on every flight.
Before you buy, click here to read the full review. You’ll want to understand the vest disclaimers and FAA regulations. For toddlers who have their own seat, check out the FAA-Approved CARES Harness.
#3 Light Weight Travel Crib
Light and compact is a must!
It really doesn’t matter which brand you use, as long as your travel crib folds up small and weighs less than about 12 lbs. If it weighs more than that, I’ve found that you can’t attach it to your rolling suitcase without the suitcase tipping over (see image above).
We use the Baby Bjorn travel crib primarily because it’s one of four baby brands—BabyLuxe Organic, Baby Bjorn, Orbit Baby and Boppy—that have long claimed to meet strict flammability standards without toxic chemical flame retardants (but that’s a topic for another post).
Our crib weighs 11 lbs. and has plenty of space inside the carrying case to shove a blankie, sleep sack and sound machine.
Another option is a Peapod-type travel bed. It’s more like a tent. We use ours at the beach but it’s marketed as a travel bed. At 3.5 lbs., it folds up so small that you can pack it in your suitcase.
#4 Guided Access
Guided access has changed my life and saved my sanity.
I know, I know… screen time will ruin my kid and rot her brain!
(But sometimes on a 15 hour flight—or at dinner—I break down and make an exception).
Not even Calliou or Mickey can keep my curious kid from immediately pressing the home button and subsequently wreaking havoc on my phone, contacts, apps, photos, etc.
Guided access essentially disables all buttons and the touch screen until Mom enters her code.
Now your toddler can stay entertained for more than 30 seconds, and you can stay worry-free! (kinda**)
- Apple: Instructions for how to enable Guided Access on an iPhone or iPad.
- Android: These apps may mimic Guided Access on Android devices.
- **NOTE: Radiation experts suggest putting your phone on airplane mode before handing it to your kid!
#5 On-The-Go Changing Station
So you can leave the diaper bag in the hotel room.
For day trips or dinner, it’s often unnecessary to lug along the diaper bag. An on-the-go changing station with a couple of zipper pockets allows you to conveniently carry just the necessities.
I keep wipes, scented poop bags and three diapers inside the mesh pocket.
In the outside zipper pocket (for easy access), I keep a pack of boogie wipes for the face and alcohol free (non-antibacterial**) hand wipes.
In the inside zipper pocket (where my toddler doesn’t have easy access) I keep travel-sized Clorox wipes, sunscreen, all-natural bug spray, antiseptic spray and a couple of Band-Aids.
** (Read more here about FDA safety concerns over antibacterial ingredients)
#6 Water Bottle Sippy Cup Tops
Turn most water bottles into a sippy cup.
This is a “must” when on the road. There are several different types of screw-on tops that can help your toddler to drink out of any water bottle (without spilling or backwash).
This is a great alternative to carrying around a sippy cup and can come in handy as a backup. I keep one in every bag and car.
Sprout offers both the nipple and sippy cup silicone bottle tops for baby and toddler. Unfortunately, only the nipple comes with a cap. Each has two thread size options (though neither works well on airplane mini water bottles).
I’ve never used the Sippin’ Spouts (pictured above), but I’m told they’re good for kids who don’t tip their water upside down. There’s nothing to prevent the water from pouring out of the Sippin’ Spout when turned upside down.
#7 Roll-up Bib & Placemat with Lip
Keeps food off the ground… and us from becoming ‘persona non grata’ at our favorite restaurants.
The roll-up bib and placemat are must-haves when traveling or at home. We eat out a lot and these are a game changer.
When rolled up, they both fit in our toddler’s mini backpack (See Below).
While the placemat suction cups only work on about 50 percent of tables, it serves its purpose even if it is not secured.
We’ve gone through several bibs because the Velcro eventually wears out, but they’re still a great buy for little foodies!
#8 Kid’s Mini Backpack (w/ Safety Harness)
OK, the safety harness is really just a clip-on leash (don’t judge!).
Now let’s establish the fact that I don’t generally walk my kid around on a leash. However, at the risk of ending up on BuzzFeed, I have occasionally used the tether that came with my kid’s mini backpack.
All of you parents with perfect kids who politely agree to hold your hand and quietly stand right next to you when they’re hot and tired and in a big crowd in a foreign country… go ahead and judge.
I’ve actually found several creative uses for the leash. It comes in handy in foreign countries where restaurant high chairs don’t have straps. It also saved a couple of skinned knees when “we” were learning to walk (and refused to hold Mom’s hand).
Leash aside, the mini backpack is a must! It’s small enough for my toddler to wear comfortably and light enough for me to hang on the mommy hook (See Below). We fill it with a couple of toys, a small book, bib, placemat, snack… and sometimes Mom’s wallet and phone.
#9 Baby Carrier or Backpack
Lightweight and compact is key!
Particularly in foreign countries that may not be stroller-friendly, a comfortable baby carrier is a MUST! I clip on my Mommy Hook with just the essentials (kid’s mini-backpack, water bottle, Snack Stack and diaper roll) and we’re ready to roll.
I highly recommend a lightweight carrier that folds/rolls up and fits nicely into a carry-on.
#10 The Mommy Hook
Basically a giant rock-climbing hook.
When you travel with a toddler (especially in foreign countries), carrying around your diaper bag is not always convenient (or safe).
Enter the mommy hook.
It goes from the airplane seat-back pocket to the car head rest to the back of the stroller. Mine includes:
- A Stackable Snack Cylinder filled with different treats ranging from blueberries to cheddar bunnies.
- Snack Cup with soft flexible flaps to let little fingers in but keep food from spilling out.
- On-The-Go Changing Station
- Mini Backpack
- A Bottle Bag filled with other miscellaneous goodies including:
For more articles to help you shop smart and safe check out:
NewsMom Buying Guides under Research Resources.
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