“Sure, having kids might make things more complicated, but I’ll still find a way to travel.”

It’s an optimistic refrain likely uttered by countless soon-to-be parents, but unfortunately, it’s easier said than done. Children change every aspect of your life, and that includes travel. Adding children to the equation doesn’t necessarily mean you have to forego vacations for the next 18 years, but you do have to change the way you travel – especially when it comes to packing.

Samantha Brown, a travel host known for her shows like Great Hotels, Passport to Europe, and her newest venture, Places to Love, knows first-hand how children change the travel equation. Prior to having twins Nine years ago, she traveled 230 days out of the year. That number is significantly lower now, but she still manages to make a living exploring the world – both solo and with kids in tow. To do so, she had to totally revamp her approach to packing. We talked to Brown to learn more about her inside packing tips for traveling with children.

Packing with kids requires thinking ahead

packing tips for traveling with children - packing with mom

Photo: Halfpoint/Shutterstock

Adults can usually get away with putting little-to-no thought into their packing. Just haphazardly toss some shirts, pants, and underwear into a backpack, and you’re probably all set for a long weekend. Traveling with kids, however, is a whole different ball game.

“Where adults can wear the same pair of pants and tops a few times, kids can’t,” Brown says. “You have to pack outfits for every day and then have extra clothes with you in case of accidents.”

Traveling with young children in particular carries an additional set of challenges. As a parent of young kids, Brown says, you’ll probably “spend a lot of time on dirty floors and public restrooms. I took to wearing hiking pants with articulated knees and a high waist so that my underwear wasn’t exposed every time I bent over to pick the kids up. These pants could also be soaked and cleaned in a sink and hung overnight to dry.”

Space prioritization as a parent is also vastly different than the solo traveler. You’ll probably need to sacrifice some of your own comfort items, or favorite shirts, to make room for kid essentials. This also means you’ll need to bring more luggage than you might otherwise.

“Kids stuff always wins out,” she says. “We always bring two 31’ rolling cases when we travel with the kids and two carry-ons so it’s a lot more stuff – mainly clothes, since I won’t be able to get to a laundromat.” 

Essential items to pack when traveling with children

So, what should parents add to their shopping list before traveling with children? According to Brown, it’s all about the luggage and the toys.

“I’m all for getting them their own little carry-on so they start to get used to carrying their own things,” she says. “For carry-ons I prefer soft-sided luggage. Hard case luggage is a real pain to get anything out of while in transit, there are no external pockets to quickly stash or store small items, and opening up a hard case requires twice the space because of its clam shell design.”

As for the essentials, like an on the go crib that can be set up at a hotel or other temporary residence, the good news is you probably won’t have to worry about packing those yourself.

“Most of the time,” Brown says, “hotels and cruise ships have cribs they can deliver to your room. We also have travel blow up beds that we still use and my kids are nine! They’re made by a company called The Shrunks.”

And because kids aren’t quite as entertained by museums, historic architecture, and airport people watching as we are, toys are a necessary diversion. Brown’s toy of choice for her kids? Balloons.

“I used to keep a handful of them to be inflated when my young ones needed to work off steam,” she says. “What’s great about balloons is it does not matter how hard you hit them, they won’t travel far or break anything, so they are a godsend when waiting in baggage claim or even in your hotel room. Bubbles are also great for babies. I’ve stopped many tantrums in public spaces by blowing bubbles.”

How travel changes with children

packing tips for traveling with children - airport

Photo: Tomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock

Packing, of course, isn’t the only thing that changes when you travel with kids. Everything from the airport experience to the way you structure your travel days must be approached with more deliberate consideration.

While previously it might have been easier to simply bring a carry-on, traveling with kids means a trip to the baggage carousel is almost certainly a necessity.

“When my kids were young,” Brown says, “it was hard for us to carry luggage through a busy airport, push a stroller, and lug car seats, so I would check our bags just to be done with it.”

Her time in the destination itself looks different, too. Gone are the days of waking up at 7am, staying up until 2am, and cramming the day with hikes, bike rides, museums, and bars. Now, Brown and many parents need to be more selective about which activities they choose.

“I definitely do less, and enjoy more,” she says. “We only do one big thing a day, then have a break at a public park and playground or pool. We’re not out to win any awards for how much we did and saw, and just want to enjoy being together.”

While it might sound like traveling with children can deprive a once enthusiastic adventurer of many of the joys of travel, like in the independence and energy to check off every item on your bucket list, it can also help make your travel habits more efficient, and look at a destination through new eyes. As Brown says – it’s not about how much you do anymore, it’s about “being together.”

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