15 Tips for Stress-free Traveling with Little Children

If you’ve been following along on our blog, you’ll know that we just went on vacation in January and that it wasn’t our first time traveling with kids. In our two and a half years as parents, we have been on plenty of family excursions (Traverse City, Mackinac Island, Hocking Hills, Seattle, Vancouver, Kansas City, Washington D.C, and Florida/Bahamas) and while we are no travel experts, we have learned so much along the way (some of it the hard way). This post initially began as an overview of our Disney cruise trip but as we began hashing things out and as some of our new parent friends began asking us for travel advice, we realized it would be a good idea to write a separate post on general traveling advice.  Don’t worry, we are still working on our Disney Cruise post but until then, here are some general tips for traveling with little ones.

IMG_9274.jpg

 1. Plan, Plan, Plan. No advice we give will replace good old research and common sense. Basic things like weather, flight time, length of stay, etc… should be accounted for when packing and preparing. Whether it’s how much weight you can check in or whether you have to purchase a seat for your child, make sure you’re up to date on all the rules and regulations. We also recommend you write a general itinerary so you’re not guessing where to eat or go when you arrive. Once upon a time it was exciting to travel without any plans but as a parent there is nothing worse than listening to your child cry as you scroll through Yelp trying to decide whether to brave sitting in a restaurant or get takeout and scarf down your food in the car. Nothing.

2. Be mindful of your little one’s routine. Whether your travel destination involves flying, road tripping, theme parks or swimming at the beach, make sure your itinerary accommodates nap times and offers plenty of opportunities to be active. “Fussy, restless kids are real charmers,” said no one ever. Here are just some examples of how we choose to work around our children’s routines: 1) We plan departures early in the morning when they are well rested and happy 2) We don’t plan major activities during their nap time, 3) If we are driving, we make sure to stop and let them run around, 4) We are aware of their bathroom routines and make sure they have a comfortable place to go.

IMG_1369.jpg

3. Be completely packed early the day before and get a good night’s rest. Unfortunately coffee cannot fix everything. A good night’s sleep is gold for you and your little one(s) and can mean the difference between you losing your cool or not. We like to have all of our outfits picked out and laying on the dresser the night before so that getting ready in the morning is a breeze. We also find that having our carry-ons packed with our passports, cards, chargers, snacks, etc… the night before means no scrambling and guesswork in the morning. The morning of your trip should run as smoothly as possible because let’s be real: leaving is the easiest part.

4. Take your car seat and rear view mirror with you. There’s really no need to buy any fancy gear for traveling. Simply grab your car seat and base after you’ve arrived at the airport and check it in with your luggage. Not only does it save you money but you also get the peace of mind knowing that your child is sitting in something clean and safe, considering that you don’t know where car seats from rentals have been or how outdated they are.

5. Take your stroller and don’t check it in until you get to the gate. The last kind of stress you need while you’re traveling is having to chase after your little one(s) while checking in or going through security. Keep your kid(s) and any small items contained in a stroller all the way until you get to the gate. I repeat: Do not check your stroller in with your luggage (unless you don’t mind your arms falling off). One major bonus to hanging onto the stroller is that parents with small children and strollers are among the first priority when the plane gets boarded so take advantage while you can.

IMG_7836

6. Take backpacks for carry-ons. One backpack for each parent. This is pretty self-explanatory but you want to be as hands-free as possible and as unrestricted as possible. You need to be as swift as a ninja should the need arise and you certainly won’t be able to do that if you’re wheeling your stuff along or if you have a bag hanging off your shoulder.

7. Dress comfortably. Yeah we know every parent wants to be that cool mom and dad. But you know what’s not cool? Chasing after toddlers when you’re not dressed for the part. We like to keep it casual on the road with sneakers, jogger pants, and a light hoodie/cardigan. Don’t be a hero. If you nurse, wear something comfortable for nursing. If you want your experience with security to be as smooth as possible just skip the pants and belt and anything metallic for that matter.

8. Pack spare clothes for your little ones AND YOU. Out of the four flights we’ve been on, we’ve had 2 episodes of diaper blowout and one puke fest. The puke fest happened on us and guess who didn’t have a change of clothes? Us. Even if it’s just an extra top, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Trust us on this one.

9. Milk them during takeoff. If you’re flying and your little one(s) still nurses or takes formula then let them feast as the plane is taking off. Not only is it the perfect comfort and distraction but you may get an hour or more sleep time out of them. I’m speaking here as someone who successfully nursed my children to sleep during takeoff and found how much more bearable the flight was when they were asleep for half of it.

10. Prepare many forms of entertainment. Think like a bag of tricks or a busy box with age-appropriate distractions. In the past we’ve taken play dough, coloring and sticker books, stories, and new and favorite toys (nothing too noisy). More recently, and now that our son is over 2 years of age, we have made screen-time exceptions for him because, quite frankly, a miserable flight is not worth ruining our trip over. If you have a Netflix account, the majority of content available can be downloaded on a device for offline viewing (it expires after 48 hours but you can renew as long as you have wifi access).  We made sure to get our son the perfect sized headphones and we downloaded plenty of Curious George to get us through the 2.5 hour flight to Florida.

IMG_1494

11. Take lots of snacks. There’s no such thing as too many snacks. It’s worth mentioning that young children under 3 are the exceptions to the TSA liquid restrictions so pouches, pumped breast milk, formula, baby food…all those things you can take with you and you should. For us, food is one of those things that gets our kids to quiet down especially when they know they’re about to try something new so we suggest you pack a variety of snacks and pack something they haven’t tried. We guarantee that it will get you some good fuss-free mileage. Here are some of the non-perishable snacks we’ve been taking on our latest trips: Mango pouches, dried fruit or fruit leather, crackers, lara bars, apple sauce, and rice cakes. Be sure that if you’re traveling with perishable food that you pack it appropriately.

12. Pack an empty sippy cup and/or baby bottles. Staying hydrated is important and we find that it’s much easier to do that on the go when we travel with the right supplies. When we fly, we pack an empty sippy cup (we also take a canteen for ourselves) in our carry on and once we pass through security we fill it up at a water fountain. It’s an easy way for us to make sure we are drinking water while being environmentally friendly. The same goes for milk or formula. Pack an empty bottle in your carry-on and you can fill it up when the need arises.

13. Pack some baby-proofing essentials. Apparently baby-proofed hotel rooms are like unicorns. They don’t exist. From sharp-cornered furniture to unsecured TV stands to heavy lamps and messy cords ( I can go on), every hotel we’ve been in has been the stuff of parent nightmares. If you want some extra peace of mind, we suggest taking just a few baby proofing essentials: outlet covers, cabinet locks, and some cut up pool noodles for edge guards.IMG_9060

14. Rent an SUV or Mini-Van. There are plenty of ways to cut costs while traveling but this is one area we don’t recommend cutting. You want a vehicle that’s comfortable for your carseat(s), has plenty of room for all your luggage and stroller(s), and gives you the ability to hop in the back and soothe your baby during a meltdown should the need arise. A sedan or smaller vehicle will not give your family that comfort. Plus, you can get a taste for how things will be a few years down the line when you’re the uncool minivan parents (kidding).

15. Be kind to yourself. Repeat after me: “I am not the first to travel with kids and I  won’t be the last. And I am certainly not the first or last to travel with noisy or crying kids. I will not feel guilty over things that are beyond my control. I will be kind to myself. Enemies of fairness and equality, hear my parent-ly roar (optional).” Look, no matter how much you plan and prepare, you will inevitably find yourself  in uncharted territory (we got stuck in the airport for 10 hours on our way back from Florida with two toddlers and it sucked big time). None of us have this all figured out and that’s okay; we learn as we go. If you’re traveling with your spouse and you sense him or her stressing out, try sharing words of encouragement or give them a compliment on something they’re doing well. At the end of the day, all this preparation you’re doing is so that YOU can also enjoy the trip so don’t let it get to you if things don’t go your way.

IMG_7703

That’s all folks. We initially had in mind to share 10 tips but as we started recalling what we wish we knew before our first trip, we couldn’t stop. We could have probably written much more too but we decided to keep it general and share more specific travel tips in separate posts. We also realize these are much more applicable if you’re flying rather than driving to a destination but we hope you’ll find it helpful either way. One day, we will get to publishing the Disney post and maybe one day we’ll write about Seattle and Vancouver and Washington D.C and Kansas City. One day. In the meantime, if you liked this post and found it helpful we would love if it you would like it and share it. For more related content, you can find us on Instagram where we share more of our day-to-day and Pinterest where we share our ideas and inspiration. If you have any thoughts or suggestions about this DIY project, feel free to leave a comment below. And as always…

signature3


Adventures in Hocking Hills

If you live in the Midwest and you’re looking for a picturesque place to vacation, hike, or unwind then we have the perfect place for you. There is a hidden gem located in Ohio, called Hocking Hills State Park, and it is only a 4-5 hour drive from many bordering states. We know what you’re thinking. Ohio?! What can possibly be in Ohio besides cornfields and farmhouses?! Well, this.

img_4643

Yes, this exists in Ohio. And with a little bit of planning ahead you can refresh your soul and enjoy a relaxing getaway with a gorgeous view. There are plenty of activities for children and adults alike including hiking, fishing, canoeing, swimming, horseback riding and just all around enjoying nature. We have been visiting Hocking Hills since 2012 and have experienced its beauty both in the summer and winter. After our latest trip this past August, we decided to share a little bit about one of our favorite vacation spots for no other reason than we find it awesome and think you should visit. Our first adventure post…here goes!

Lodging
Where you lodge makes all the difference when you stay in Hocking Hills country. While there are hotels and motels you can stay in, we feel that the experience simply isn’t the same if you don’t stay in a log cabin. Rustic and cozy, these secluded cabins truly feel like a home away from home. There are so many different ones to choose from based on family size and amenities (like if you want a jacuzzi on your porch) but our personal favorite that we always come back to is Cabins by the Caves. Some cabins that you may come across online look dingy, tacky, and outdated but these ones are from it. The interiors have always been clean and inviting and the woods surrounding them are just serene. They are also very reasonably priced considering you’re getting a whole home to yourself. And if you go with a group and choose to share a cabin with friends or family, you’ll save even more. Just know that these cabins get booked far in advance (especially weekends and holidays) so if you’re thinking about a trip in the summer then consider booking soon.

img_4832

Food
If you do choose to rent a cabin then there’s likely a full kitchen inside and this is where that extra bit of planning comes into play. It’s amazing how a simple meal plan, grocery shopping, and a cooler can really enhance your experience. Who wants to stress about what to eat when you’re on vacation? Most of these kitchens come equipped with everything you’ll need to cook (some even have outdoor grills like ours) so just do a bit of prep work before you leave and make life easier for yourself. I made a meal plan a few days before we left and did the shopping and chopping the day before. My advice is to pick easy meals that are healthy and not too involved. You don’t want to be cooking a five-course dinner on vacation either. If your cabin comes with a grill then plan your meals around that. Burgers, steaks, portobello mushrooms, peppers, etc… You name it, you can throw it on the grill.

img_1534

To give you an idea, I made pizza dough the day before we left so that when it came time for dinner one of the nights, all I had to do was roll out the dough and top the pizzas before popping them in the oven. I also packed a gallon-sized ziplock bag with diced carrots, celery, and onions and added tuna, mustard, and mayo for a quick lunch of tuna salad sandwiches after one of our hikes. In the evenings when we had a sweet tooth, I would spoon homemade cookie dough that I made before we left and we’d have fresh, homemade chocolate chip cookies with cold milk. Having the meals decided and mostly prepped ahead of time really made the trip much less stressful.

Activities
We aren’t going to list every single activity there is to do because you can find all of them here but we will share some of the things we did and enjoyed along with some tips and tricks we learned for next time. One of the highlights of our trip was renting a pontoon from the Lake Logan Marina to ride around the lake for a few hours. While we thoroughly enjoyed the warm summer breeze and the scenery, it was a bit unnerving having babies on board. Our suggestion is that if you have young children to pack some toys to preoccupy them as they get restless pretty quickly. Also we hadn’t planned on boating until we drove by the small marina and so by the time we were out on the lake we realized it was lunchtime and we were starving. Next time we would plan for a picnic on the water because it would make for a memorable and fun experience. And why not?

img_4761

Our little hobbit soaking in some sun and mist.

Out of all the activities we definitely hiked the most (you can’t really zip-line or ride horses with babies). We don’t know how we would have done it without a baby carrier for our 14-month old because only one of the caves had a semi-paved trail for handicap access. Also some of the hiking trails (The Rock House & Cantwell Cliffs) are more treacherous than others so we did not include them in our plans for safety reasons. We recommend you skip them too if you have babies with you. You can also plan on your daily schedule looking a bit different (surprise surprise) if you’re traveling with little ones. When we used to go before we had children, we would just hike carefree for hours. This trip we had to divide the trails over a couple of days to accommodate nap time and baby attention spans. Because of that our days ended up looking something like this:

Afternoon Day 1: Ash Cave
Morning Day 2: Old Man’s Cave
Afternoon Day 2: Swimming at Lake Logan
Morning Day 3: Cedar Falls
Afternoon Day 3: Boat ride on Lake Logan
Morning Day 4: Conkle’s Hollow

It wasn’t such a bad thing though. By breaking it down, we got to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of each trail and waterfall and we also drastically reduced the occurrence of fussiness and meltdowns. In between activities we would return to our cabin to rest up and eat so that we would have the energy to go back out again. Our cabin was fairly close to all of the hiking trails/parks and the scenic drive through hilly farm country was something we didn’t mind especially because our son was super excited to see all the horses and cattle.

img_4887

Stopping by the side of the road to say hello to this beautiful horse.

Well that pretty much covers all of the finer details of our trip. You surely must be wondering what is so special about this place that we keep coming back year after year. For that explanation we will just let our pictures do all the talking…

Ash Caveimg_4543

img_4549

Old Man’s Cave
img_4555

img_4559

img_4617

img_4591

Taking time for a splash at Old Man’s Cave Lower Falls.

Cedar Fallsimg_4643

img_4671

img_4688

Lake Loganimg_4772

img_1501

img_1512

Conkle’s HollowIMG_1594.jpg

IMG_1602.jpg

Do you have any family favorite vacation spots? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments below 🙂

And as always! If you liked this post please follow us and share!

Instagram