Traveling with kids: the good, the bad, and the realistic

We’ve done lots of traveling in our 11 years of parenting, and the number of children in our family just keeps growing! (although we are halted at 5, for now at least!) I know that many people are intimidated to travel with their children, and believe me, I get that. It definitely is LOTS of work but with plenty of preparation and a good frame of mind, you can make it work and enjoy time as a family away from home! Here are some of my tips for traveling with a large family:

1.) Start making lists at least 2 weeks ahead of time. 

I don’t start packing too early since we usually need the clothes I need to pack in the days leading up to the trip, but do go ahead and start a list well ahead of time.

I also keep a notepad and pencil by my bed during this time, including the night before the trip. That way, I can add anything since my brain seems to go into overdrive the night before we travel. Once it’s on the list, I’m able to go back to sleep instead of saying, “Don’t forget to pack sunscreen” in my head all night long.


Our 2011 trip- we drove to South Carolina for my cousin’s wedding, then spent time in North Carolina as well. This is in a cave, trying to escape a rainstorm during a hike. :)

2.) Build in extra time for traveling. And then build in some more.

We have flown with a couple of times with our kids  (once from Texas to Australia! Hi, Aussies!), plus tons of road trips at each stage of our family. If you have the idea that you can show up at the airport 45 minutes before your flight as you may have done as a no-child family, you will start off  your trip harried and stressed.  Plan on arriving with at least 2 hours to spare so you can take your time checking in and checking baggage, going through security, taking potty breaks, and having a snack. Remember that e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. takes longer with little ones around! For driving trips, plan on stopping every 2-3 hours, depending on how old your kids are and how long they can go without using the restroom.

It’s hard getting prepared to leave so early, but trust me, it’s worth it to not be rushed.

3.) Pack complete kids’ outfits in Ziploc bags
Holding a Koala in Brisbane- One of my favorite experiences ever!
I did this on our trip to Australia when we had an almost-five-year-old and a three year old. (Did I mention I was also pregnant with #3? Call me crazy!) I put everything into gallon size bags- a shirt, pants or shorts, underwear, socks, and even a bow for my daughter.

This makes it SO much easier in the mornings when you’re trying to dress your little ones and are running on little-to-no-sleep (hello, jet lag!).
4.) For driving trips, consider driving at night.

My parents live 3 hours away from us, and we make the trip at least once a month. We have found that if we leave out around 7 p.m. and the kids haven’t napped, it makes the trip much easier. They usually have a snack (are you seeing a recurring theme? Snacks are important!) and then will fall asleep by 8 and sleep until we get there. Many times, we are able to drive straight through with no stops!(Just make sure you are plenty rested for late-night excursions!)

5.) Adjust your expectations

This probably goes without saying, but a trip with littles around isn’t going to be the same as a getaway with your hubby! My husband and I went to Colorado on our honeymoon 11 years ago, and we returned as a family this year to the same town. Hubby and I reminded each other for several weeks leading up to the trip that it would be a completely different trip, but still very fun.

When it’s just two of you, you can plan several activities per day and eat in nice restaurants. With the family, it’s better to plan one main activity per day. When we do a long trip (7+ days) we usually have one day where we don’t plan anything- just have a day of rest at the cabin/hotel so no one (including me!) gets worn out.

I’d love to know, what are your best tips for traveling with small children?
What is your favorite place to visit?

 Originally posted 6-19-13
About Kelli Hays

Kelli Hays is a wife, mother, writer, and friend. She has been blogging since 2008 and loves sharing inspiration for the everyday woman!


  1. I like to stuff kid’s underwear and socks into knee hose to keep them organized. This works well when the outfits get too big for the zip lock bag method.

  2. ooh that’s a great idea!

  3. This is all excellent advice!! Great post.

  4. Thanks Nicole!

  5. I am now a grandmother and my two children are grown. When we first started traveling with my daughter I noticed my then husband would not dress her because he always said he did not know what outfits went together or if he did dress her he would put stripes with checks (something he would never do with his own wardrobe). SOOOOO…. I decided by darn this is my vacation also so I fixed that. When I packed her bag and later my son’s bag I bought the gallon size ziploc bags and I put everything that went together (socks, shirts, under pants, shirts and for my daughter hair clips) in each bag. That way he just had to pull out a bag and dress the child and later on they could dress themselves easily. I did this until they were old enough to pack their own bags. Worked great and I had a relaxing vacation.

  6. Just reread this in preparation for our trip to SC in about a month! I love the idea of putting outfits in ziploc bags! That is so smart! It makes it so much easier than rummaging through an overstuffed bag!!