Taking your kids on adventures away from home can be eye-opening for both parents and children. These trips help make memories for your kids and broaden their horizons.
But to get there, especially with younger kids, you need to take along a lot of gear. For example, your children need to be in car seats or boosters all the way through to their pre-teens. And unless you want to pay to rent those items at your destination, you’ll have to haul them along.
Can your kid sleep on a regular bed or do they need a travel bed? How about strollers and carriers that aren’t cumbersome?
And then there are the items that make traveling itself more pleasant.
Below is a selection of kid travel gear recommended by various experts (and a few items I’ve tried and liked using with my kids).
WAYB’s Pico Travel Car Seat
At $320, the WAYB Pico travel car seat is not cheap. But it’s 100% worth it for travel with little ones. The Pico is only 8 pounds, fits kids ages 2-5 between 22 and 50 pounds and folds in half for easier transport. It’s also made of more environmentally-friendly materials than most car seats. And it’s just as safe as any other car seat.
Perhaps the best thing about the WAYB is that if you have more than one kid and are dreading the prospect of carrying multiple car seats to and from an airport and/or gate checking them, the WAYB car seat can fit on top of another full-size car seat and still fit in a car seat travel bag.
The seat can be installed on airplanes (as seen below) and in vehicles (like taxis), which is especially great when you’re on the go. When we’re not using it for travel, we give it to my mom to keep in her car as an extra car seat for picking up our kids when needed.
Parent Perspective: We used the seat on a recent trip and it set up relatively quickly and also took up less space in the back seat than our normal car seats. That last part was great for when grandma needed to cram herself into the middle seat between our two kids.
Pro Tip: I live in Hawaii, and when I went to order the seat directly from the WAYB site, it was going to charge me a large amount for shipping out of the contiguous United States. I found the seat on Nordstrom (though in more limited color choices) and they shipped it to me free.
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"The Pico came just in time for our cross country flight/rental car trip. With a toddler and infant in tow, I needed to travel as light as possible. Not only was the Pico incredibly easy and light to carry around, my son loved it. I was impressed with how sturdy it was when I got it set up in the rental car. Honestly, it was so impressive that I almost want to take another trip just to show it off some more." – @speedyb09 #WAYB #travelpico #carseat #familytravel #travelingtoddler
More Travel Car Seats
Wirecutter, besides being a fan of the WAYB Pico, recommends the Cosco Scenera Next as a travel car seat because of its low weight.
It also recommends the inflatable Bubble Bum as a travel booster seat for older kids. It folds down to a compact size when deflated and is inflated by blowing into it. Cool Mom Picks is a fan and points out that since the booster is inflatable and soft, it can double as a travel pillow for your kids, too.
JetKids by Stokke BedBox
The JetKids BedBox is another splurge travel item that will make your life a lot easier, especially if you need to take your kids on long-haul or red-eye flights.
Some airlines don’t allow you to use the JetKids suitcase, but that seems to also be dependent on the flight attendants you encounter. The box also can only be set up when at cruising altitude and has to be stored during takeoff and landing.
Parent Perspective: We purchased a BedBox for a recent trans-Pacific and transcontinental trip with our two young children, and it was used by our 4-year-old. It definitely helped him sleep better on our two evening flights because he could stretch his legs out and get more horizontal. He also loved being pulled through the airport on it.
The biggest downsides were that the longer pull strap kept getting stuck in the front wheels when our son dropped it, and my two kids fought over who would get to use the suitcase. My almost-2-year-old loved pulling the suitcase but she was a little too unsteady to sit on it.
Pro Tip: Someone recommended we use travel vacuum bags to suck out the air on the BedBox mattress and padded rails, and that did give us more room to add blankets and stuffed animals (also vacuum condensed).
Another Kids Suitcase Option
Trunki is a cheaper ride-on suitcase option without the foldout bed part. Your kids will also have to be old enough to propel themselves along on this one since there’s no long handle or strap. On the plus side, it has more storage inside compared to the JetKids suitcase.
Laundry On The Go
Kids make messes. A lot. And if you’re traveling for more than a few days and don’t want to pack multiple sets of clothes for each day you’re gone, you’ll need to do laundry.
Wirecutter has a travel recommendation list that’s mostly for adults, but their recommendations for a travel clothesline and travel detergent are definitely relevant to traveling families staying in places without a washer/dryer.
The Flexo-Line is the site’s top recommendation for a clothing line that doesn’t require clothespins. The site also recommends Minisoak Travel Pack laundry soap, which doesn’t require rinsing.
Portable High Chair
For smaller children, being able to contain them in a high chair at mealtime is a big stress reliever. But it’s unlikely that the hotel room or vacation rental you’re traveling to will have a high chair on hand. Enter the portable high chair.
The Inglesina Fast Table clamps onto tables and countertops and can accommodate kids up to 37 pounds. This chair is recommended by BabyGearLab and BabyList.
Parent Perspective: We’ve used this chair as a first high chair for both our kids when we wanted to save on space in our kitchen/dining room. We’ve also packed it on trips when we’ve had the baggage space. It does take up a decent amount of room in a suitcase and won’t fit onto tables with a wide lip. Being cloth, it also gets gunky pretty quickly, though it can be washed. That said, being able to secure a young child in it for mealtime is a huge help when traveling.
Other Feeding Options
The Phil&Teds Lobster portable high chair is lightweight and also well-reviewed.
I’m a fan of the ezpz mats that naturally suction down onto various surfaces and act as an all-in-one table cover/eating surface. The ezpz Mini Mat, in particular, is great to take along on trips. It sticks to airplane tray tables, works at restaurants when you’re sharing an entree with your kiddo and makes for a quick breakfast setup on that hotel desk or coffee table.
In our own review of strollers, the Britax B-Lively Light came out on top as the best overall stroller. It also makes a great stroller for travel because, at 20 pounds, it weighs a lot less than others.
Lucie’s List also has other stroller recommendations. The Zoe stroller it reviews seems to come out on top as the best value for a trifold travel stroller.
If you’ve got really small kids, you might want to baby proof the hotel or vacation rental at which you’re staying. That requires bringing along some outlet covers (easy enough to pack) and some table corner guards.
Parent Perspective: My biggest baby proofing tool? Painter’s tape to shut all those doors and drawers you don’t want open. It won’t leave a residue when you take it off and it’s easy to pack. I’ve also wished for a roll of painter’s tape when traveling on certain economy airlines where the tray tables don’t have a lock feature and my kid would not stop opening and closing the tray.
Babies need the safety of a crib or bassinet even when traveling. And sometimes, your kid isn’t ready for the freedom of the big hotel bed (or you’re not ready for him crawling out of it). Enter the travel crib/playard. Hotels and vacation rentals don’t always supply them or, conversely, they charge per night for their use.
If you’re staying with family and friends, you might consider buying and shipping a portable crib to their place ahead of time, as no matter how travel-friendly some of these beds are, they’re still yet another item to take along.
Topping the “best of” list for Road Affair, BabyList and several other expert lists is the Guava Family Lotus Travel Crib, which is lightweight and has a cool side zipper feature that allows your kids to crawl in and out, and allows mom and dad to have easier access to baby. It also folds down into a backpack carrier.
The BabyBjorn Travel Crib Light is also great for travel because it’s only 13 pounds and folds up into a relatively small carrying case.
Parent Perspective: We have the Joovy Room2 and the 4Moms Breeze.
The Breeze playard is incredibly easy to set up and close. It requires just one push down to open and one pull up to close. However, the super awesome mechanism that makes it work also make it a bit heavy. (Note: We have an earlier version of the Breeze, which had a larger bassinet topper. The new version has reduced the bassinet size to accommodate a changing table.)
The Room2 is especially good for bigger toddlers to sleep in, and is also a good option for if you want your baby to have more space in which to play. It’s definitely spacious. However, it doesn’t tuck into smaller spaces as easily. And it’s heavy.
Lotus Travel Crib
Toddler And Kid Travel Beds
Eventually, your kids are going to size out of the playards, but you may be staying somewhere where you need some extra sleeping spots, especially if you’re not sure your kid is ready for the full-fledged bed.
The Regalo Travel Cot is a cheap, lightweight and compact travel cot option that would be good for camping or as an extra sleeping spot in a hotel or vacation rental. Apparently, dogs love it too.
For inflatable beds, the Hiccapop toddler travel bed is often recommended. It has toddler rails and lots of space, plus a removable inner mattress so you can easily add sheets.
The Leacho BumpZZZ travel bed is bulky but makes for a good lounge space for your kids since it’s sturdier than an inflatable mattress.
Pool noodles make for great “bed rails” in a pinch, and there are many inflatable brands that are great for travel.
Travel gear isn’t just for planes, cars, hotels and vacation rentals. If you’re an outdoorsy family, Wirecutter also has a list of kids camping and hiking backpacks you’ll want to take a look at.
Lucie’s List has its own recommendations when it comes to hiking carriers.
The Deuter Kid Comfort hiking carrier topped their list and has a side entry feature, which makes it easier to get kids in and out.
What kid travel items are essential to you?
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