Now that we have returned and recovered (mostly) I am ready to share with you our must-haves for international travel with kids! Check out our top toddler airplane activities and then read through this list of the things that made life so much easier while traveling with young kids. This post contains affiliate links, as well as free review samples.
Traveling with kids seems like it’s more work than fun, but the truth is, we’re ready for the next trip already!
With in-laws living abroad, long-haul flights are not all play, but we turn them into the most epic vacations. The trick to making it doable for Mom & Dad? I have some below to share with you.
This is not an involved packing list. It’s loaded with tips and helpful items, but the packing list is a whole separate story. This is focused on the things you may not have thought to bring, cool gear that made life easier, and loads of good-to-haves to keep the little ones happy.
Flying with young kids is tough.
And having the right equipment can make or break your flight and your visit – no exaggeration! Some of the must haves for international travel below are focused on the toddler set, some are for preschoolers, and some are for anyone.
Long-Haul Travel Must-haves for anyone with kids (and some without too!):
These must-haves for international travel will help anyone, but are extra convenient for those with kids.
1. A Roomy personal bag:
We all know the struggle of limited hand luggage, but especially when you’re traveling with kids, you’ll want to have lots of things handy. And when your airline doesn’t specify exact sizes (or even if they do!) you’ll want a personal bag that fits a few diapers and wipes, snacks, your passports, and more.
The Urban Originals Flower Field crossbody bag, a soft, stylish vegan leather bag, not only fit everything I needed. It was also very easy to wear, leaving two hands free for a kid and a suitcase. During our trip it actually fit my DSLR with a nice big lens!
It’s got just the right pockets without being too pocket-y (that’s totally a thing). The inside has a zip pocket and open pockets for jewelry that I wanted to keep on me, and my devices. The outside has a pocket large enough for passports and other vitals that need to be accessible, as well as another smaller zip pocket (perfect for some ibuprofen and my car keys). It also has two side pockets, where I often stowed my Drink in the Box water bottle (see below).
And it did not feel big. It fit so much more than your typical crossbody bag without feeling like a bulky handbag. Plus, it left me free to wear the kids backpacks while flying (one in front and one in back).
2. Backpacks full of activities for each kid:
Speaking of personal bags…
I also stuffed a personal backpack for each kid. Most airlines will allow a normal sized backpack as a personal bag (check with yours). I not only put activities inside (see my best toddler airplane activities for inspiration – older kids coming soon!) but also loads of snacks, their security blankets (or similar “familiar” items), and more personal items for them.
M had this fun camouflage from Fenrici, a company that gives back and helps fund research for rare childhood diseases. Y had the galaxy pattern of their preschool backpack. Of course, expect to hold it for them most of them time! Take that into account when counting how much you can handle.
It was really helpful for them to have that independence and for them to know where to find what they need. Of courses, Y (age 3) unloaded everything but it kept him busy, and we just dumped everything back in when it was time to move on!
3. Comfy no-tie shoes that work with socks and without:
So, which shoes should you wear when you travel? It seems like you need an impossible mix. You want something that can stay on well, is comfortable, and can be worn with socks (for comfort, on the plane). But at the same time, you don’t want to spend extra time with laces at security. You want it to come on and off easily. You also want it to look great, and bonus points if you can wear it without socks at your destination, for days with lots of walking.
I wore the Lamo Piper shoe with a snakeskin print and it was such a perfect solution! It wears like a sneaker, doesn’t have laces, and looks good without socks too! And the price is just as pretty as the shoe!
4. Empty water bottles that don’t take space:
Bring water bottles. Just do it.
You can’t bring full water bottles but you can bring empty ones and fill them. Traveling can dehydrate you, and you can’t always get water exactly when you need it. You want a water bottle that’s small and compact, and has just the right amount of sips for the in-between times.
Precidio Design Drink in the Box is not only fun for kids who are obsessed with juice boxes, but it’s also fun for grown-ups. It’s really compact and the unique square shape is just so much more packable than a round bottle – whether it’s full or empty!
I officially adopted it as my handbag water bottle even after our trip. The truly leak-proof design makes it ideal for tossing in the handbag as well as for travel.
5. All the snacks – and a neat snack container:
Precidio Design also makes Snack in the Box – the answer to all those ‘snack cups’ with lids that the kids pull right off! The design is brilliantly simple – kids can access their munchies easily, and the shape is easy for them to hold and not drop and spill all over….
And yeah, my kids actually closed it when they were done because there’s something about this type of lid that kids just love opening and closing.
We filled it with cereal most of the time – our go-to travel snack. We kept a Ziploc bag full of smaller Ziploc bags with individual portions of snacks and filled Snack in the Box with two snacks at a time. They tend to spill the bags all over and this helped them stay neater throughout our trip.
6. An endless – I mean ENDLESS –supply of Ziploc bags:
You’re going to need them. Bring loads of sandwich and quart size bags, a nice supply of gallon sized bags, and a fewtwo or 2.5 gallon bags.
And once you’re at it, toss in a few shopping bags (reusable or repurposed from your groceries).
You’ll want all this for garbage, soiled clothing, corralling outfits, activities that you forgot to re-bag before traveling, open food items – you name it!
7. And just as many baby wipes:
You don’t need a baby to need this, you just need to be human. They are a lifesaver when it comes to washing up and refreshing yourself, cleaning up messes, etc.
8. A neck pillow for each traveler:
Even when the airline gives out pillows, a good neck pillow makes a huge difference! M wore his the whole time and was really on top of it. Y not so much.
I’d recommend getting pillows with little hang tabs or elastics that you can attach to luggage. We didn’t and it was just a little harder to track. The grown-ups had blow-up pillows which aren’t as comfortable. If you can, get the memory foam kind.
If your feet have a tendency to swell while flying, put those compression socks on! I got really cute elephant ones by Dr. Motion in a swag bag from an event I went to. This is another reason to wear shoes that work with socks.
10. Zip-up hoodies:
Even if it’s 100 degrees out, bring hoodies for your international flight!
You might be cold, you might want an extra cover-up or a blanket if you’re trying to get some zzzz’s. Whatever it is, a hoodie can be a versatile and really convenient comfort item that you probably already have in your house.
Next in “what to wear” is a comfortable maxi skirt or dress. I’ve been wearing long skirts any time I fly (I used to do it a good few times a year) and it almost works as a wearable blanket when I’m trying to get comfortable.
If you’re using a DSLR camera on your trip, or any exchangeable lens camera, before your trip is the time to upgrade your lens to something versatile! And it doesn’t have to break the bank. I normally use my “nifty fifty” lens, but in honor of our trip, I got this one.
Having a lens with broader capabilities when you’re an amateur/hobby photographer (or just like taking cute kid pics) means you need to schlep less. This lens covered all the bases I needed on the trip and stayed on my camera (and I’m still using it back at home, of course)
I picked up these foot rests before our trip because they looked like a great way to get the kids to sleep. On the way there, when getting them to sleep was a real challenge, we forgot about it.
On the way back, the kids crashed so hard, they didn’t need it to sleep.
I’d recommend picking some up if you can swing the space and the budget. It’s not so expensive so it can’t hurt to have along, but I can’t fully recommend it because I didn’t actually use it. I don’t regret having it along.
Must haves for international travel with toddlers:
Toddlers are their own guessing game – each one is so different and those differences can cause lots of drama if you’re ill-equipped. These must haves for international travel did it for us, and I hope they’ll help you too.
We got this when we traveled with M as a toddler and it was a lifesaver back then. It was a lifesaver for Y now. It meant not having to bring a car seat (we borrowed one locally at our destination for rental car use). It’s so tiny, it’s literally just a drawstring bag that fit into his personal bag.
I don’t care what people normally think about harnesses for toddlers. There is a time and place for almost everything, and when you’re flying that is the time, and the airport is the place.
Having a harness or “leash” for your runaway toddler is a safety thing. Especially with long transfers, and late-night flights, don’t expect your tot to agree to sit in the stroller or to stand next to you. Don’t expect yourself to be alert enough to keep up with your fast mover.
Of all the things that I seriously couldn’t imagine traveling without when doing a long haul trip with a toddler, this is it. A harness is everything. No, he didn’t like it. No, he did not have a choice. Yes, he tried taking it off. I didn’t let him.
Y needed to move around, to be active. And I felt like I was collapsing, had another kid to keep track of, carry on luggage, security to go through, devices and medication to unload and reload at security, you name it. I needed to have my toddler literally chained to me to make sure he wouldn’t run away. A harness is the answer.
15. Security blankets:
When it comes to bringing “security” items from home, I’m torn. On the one hand, you don’t want to have valuables along when you are traveling, because you don’t want to lose them. On the other, when sleeping in all sorts of odd places (we jumped around a lot), the kids need something familiar to ground them.
So you might want to choose something they can part with more easily, but we brought the blankies, and thank G-d we did not lose them. If you’re concerned, you can always sew on a strap or wristband and keep it tethered to the kid or the personal bag.
Things to bring when flying with preschoolers and older:
Older kids are more involved in the travel experience, so make the most of it. The must haves for international travel in this list tackle that.
Preschoolers already begin to understand the sights they’re seeing and the excitement of it all. The Educational Insights GeoSafari Jr. Kidnoculars are exciting kid-size binoculars that just make the trip that much more fun!
And of course, they help kids see better. My boys really enjoyed using it, especially at the zoo! I figured, if we’re already traveling all the way out there, why not allow them to see more of it, right?
Besides for the practical angle, Kidnoculars entertained the kids on lines, while waiting for buses, etc without us having to bring toys on our day trips while we were away. It gave them more learning opportunities along the way and is still a favorite toy at home.
Years ago, when we traveled with M as a toddler, we got the Peapod Plus by Kidco to review. We’ve been using it since every time we visit my parents in a different state, and on many, many other occasions.
Since Y has just outgrown sleeping in a crib/playyard, we knew we wanted a second tent-style pop-up bed. I was going to go all in and get the Peapod Plus that we already love, but I decided to take a gamble and buy a cheaper version that’s modeled after this, but marketed as a baby beach tent.
I hope to one day do a full comparison, but for now I’ll tell you that if you want this as a portable sleeping situation, the Peapod Plus is worth it. The alternative was hardly usable – it wasn’t strong enough, didn’t have built-in padding, and any time Y moved while sleeping in it, the whole thing moved with him.
The Peapod Plus was still the perfect solution we needed to be able to sleep wherever we wanted without worrying about having a bed for each kid. We stayed at a few friends and family members that didn’t have beds for our kids. The Peapod Plus is extremely portable – you can fit two in a suitcase with room to spare. Tip: Check Zulily for deals– they sometimes have them and that’s where I almost bought from!
18. A kid-sized carry on (that goes on the adult one):
We bought this carry-on as an extra, wondering if it would actually work out, because the handle is short. It did!
Even though each kid is entitled to a carry-on, normally the adults need to deal with them, and there are just so many hands you’ve got.
Having an M-sized carry-on meant that he helped us with hand-luggage. On the flight there, he was in charge of it the entire time. On the home flight, he was willing but for various reasons, the grown-ups adopted all the carry-ons.
The cool thing is, you can actually slide it right onto a regular grown-up sized carry-on so that an adult can easily take it along! How cool? And while it’s a bit smaller than an adult one, it’s bigger than a backpack or personal bag that’s typically designed to go on top of carry-on luggage. And we maxed out our weight before our space, so it was all good.
Alright, there’s more but I’m done for now. I hope these must-haves for international travel help make your trip go smoother and that you have a safe and happy journey!
What are your must-haves for international travel with kids? What would you recommend readers bring along? Comment below!