Travel with kids often means lugging some travel gear. Since my family includes a toddler and a 7 year old, we are not yet in the packing light stage. We have to travel with some gear whether we like it or not – car seats, strollers, and travel cribs aren’t exactly optional.
My family took a trip this summer with our 2 year old and 7 year old that involved a lot of different kinds of travel – airplanes, road tripping, theme parks, and national parks. Our trip started with a cross-country plane flight where we rented a car at our destination. We then road tripped to three more destinations before returning the car at a different airport and flying home. With so many destinations and travel types, we needed gear that was versatile and served a lot of functions in different scenarios. I thought it would be helpful to share what gear we used to help other traveling families deciding what to pack.
(Trips With Tykes uses affiliate links. See our full disclosure policy here.)
Here’s what gear worked for this trip and will hopefully work for you if you have babies, toddlers, and young kids too.
1. Cosco Scenera NEXT Car Seat ($44)
The Cosco Scenera NEXT car seat is the absolute best car seat for air travelers because of its super-light weight and exceedingly reasonable price (see my full Cosco Scenera NEXT review here). We decided to check the car seat this trip and put it in a thick bag with wheels for some protection. We then used it in our rental car for the entire duration of our trip.
2. gb Pockit Stroller ($199-$249)
Yeah, it’s pricey. But for frequent travelers or city-dwellers, this stroller is as good as it gets. I reviewed the gb Pockit stroller last fall and liked it a lot then, but I simply adored this stroller after 8 days of putting it to the extreme travel tests of this particular vacation. I brought it primarily because we had a tight airport connection. The Pockit is small enough to fold in an overhead bin on a plane, and I knew we didn’t have the extra time to wait for a gate checked stroller to be returned to us. No more risks of delay, lost or damaged strollers by the airline, and it was freeing not to have to wait in line at the gate counter to get a gate check tag either!
We then had to actually use the stroller in a variety of destinations, including full days at two theme parks (Dollywood and Tweetsie Railroad). People literally stopped us several times to admire it, pulling out their smartphones and writing down the name of it to buy for themselves after seeing it in action. It’s that good. It’s my go-to travel stroller going forward from now on.
3. Bubble Bum Booster Seat ($25-29.99)
Even for older kids who have graduated from car seats, boosters are still a must-have, often until your child is as old as 10-12. The BubbleBum inflatable booster seat is what we use for my 7 year old to keep things super-compact while keeping her safe. It smashes flat and fits in the front pocket of our luggage for easy removal. We set it up for use in our rental car in just a minute.
4. Cozy Cover On-the-Go Changing Pad ($9-12.50)
This was our last trip with a toddler in diapers (we’re in the travel with a potty training kiddo now!), so I still needed a changing pad. The Cozy Cover is very compact and sanitary for the messiness of airplane diaper changes – see my full review here.
5. Juno ChildSafe Locking Childproof Bag ($28-44, various sizes)
Juno ChildSafe childproof bags are pretty nifty products for traveling families to keep medicines out of the hands of little ones. These bags are stylish and high-quality and are fitted with a special locking zipper that effectively childproofs the bag. Thanks to a root canal right before our trip, I was still on antibiotics this vacation and needed to take medications with me in my purse. I loved that this product kept them away from my curious toddler.
6. Kidz Gear Headphones ($17-19.99)
There’s nothing more annoying than listening to someone else’s video game or movie in the tight quarters of an airplane. Get your kiddos earphones and teach them to get used to them at a young age. We love the Kidz Gear brand for their cute colors and durability (the first pair we bought for my daughter over 5 years ago still works).
7. Ergo Carrier ($92-119)
My toddler son is still not able to hike for super-long distances when we are on outdoor adventures, so having a way to carry him in a pinch is crucial. While we took a framed hiking baby backpack on our trip to Joshua Tree National Park earlier this year, we couldn’t take something so bulky and rigid on a trip that required a plane flight. The Ergo was a lifesaver and was compact enough to fit in the front pocket of one suitcase. We used it as a backpack carrier several times, both on a hike in the Smoky Mountains (my son slept through most of that hike!) and in the North Carolina High Country at Grandfather Mountain where it wouldn’t have been safe for him to walk alone out on a cliff there.
For smaller babies, I’d go even smaller – we loved the Bitybean carrier for our son when he was 18 months old while we were in the Grand Canyon. It’s just not as ergonomically friendly for older and heavier toddlers.
8. Contigo Autoseal Kids Trekker Cup ($12.99 / 2pack)
My 7 year old is still a bit of a danger when it comes to spilling those little drink cups on airplanes. We have her drink exclusively from her travel water bottle, which we fill up after passing through security. The Contigo autoseal bottles truly don’t leak no matter what position they are stored in. They also do well with airplane pressure changes (which sometimes cause straw cups to turn into geysers).
What travel gear do you consider to be must-haves on your family trips? Share your recommendations in the comments.