Summer is swiftly approaching and that means that vacations are on the horizon for many traveling families! Many of us haven’t traveled the last couple of years as much as usual. As a result, you may find yourselves a little rusty on what you really need for a successful trip. Or you may know you are in need of new gear for a child who is in a very different age and stage than when you last packed up for a road trip to boarded a plane.
I know from my now 13+ years of experience traveling with kids just how much gear family travel can require. I’ve made it my mission to try as many travel-friendly products as possible, both to make my own travel life easier and also to give you solid advice on what you really will need and use.
If you are planning summer travel with kids in tow, here are 12 useful travel gear recommendations for every age and stage.
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Best Travel Gear with Babies
Many travel destinations aren’t very stroller-friendly so putting your baby or toddler in a carrier keeps the rest of the family from being slowed down and inconvenienced. The problem? Many of the best baby carriers aren’t as compact as travelers really need. They can especially be a pain to pack on a trip, especially when you might only need a carrier for a short period of time.
I love the Bitybean because it is the size of a water bottle. I throw it in my diaper bag or day pack to have just in case. It has saved me more than once in situations where I didn’t expect a carrier would be helpful or necessary. I have a full review of the Bitybean with video if you need more details.
Changing diapers in tiny airplane bathrooms and in airports can be tricky, but I’ve found having a compact changing pad to be a big help. You can take it to the bathroom with the essentials in it instead of a giant diaper bag when space is tight. It’s easy to wipe it down if it gets messy (no laundering needed). Best of all — the price of this model is about half of what the name brand portable changing pads cost.
Best Travel Gear with Toddlers & Preschoolers
1) WAYB Pico
One of the hardest things about air travel with young kids is managing car seats. When you have a baby in a bucket car seat, there is some flexibility to use the seat as part of a travel system or on a stroller frame. And when you have an older child, boosters are pretty compact to bring on a plane. But that in-between stage where you have a toddler or preschooler who needs a convertible car seat with a 5 point harness can be the pits.
It just got a whole lot better, however, with the introduction of the first 5 point harness seat that folds down and is small enough to put in an airplane overhead pin. The WAYB Pico came out when my son was in his last year of 5 point harness use and it’s truly game changing. It’s ideal for use in ridesharing vehicles and in those situations like when you need a car seat for ground transportation between the airport and your hotel. See my full WAYB Pico review for all the details.
We all know car seats are the safest place for babies and toddlers on planes, but they are so bulky and frustrating to carry through airports. And sometimes you don’t need one at your destination at all, so bringing one on board is overkill indeed.
How do you keep your child safely restrained? The CARES harness is a more compact safety device that turns an airplane seatbelt into a 5 point harness. It’s FAA approved too. We have used one with my son during his toddler years, and it works well for restraining squirmy little ones during takeoff and landing (see my full CARES harness review). Kids have to be able to sit upright and be a minimum of 22 pounds to use the CARES harness.
One word of warning: there are a number of non-FAA approved cheap knockoffs for sale on Amazon that look like this product. Be sure to only purchase the real deal – linked here – to keep your child safe!
Traveling by plane and don’t have a crib at your destination? While a Pack N Play works well for road trips, it is usually too big for air travel – the bag fees alone often don’t make bringing it worthwhile.
The KidCo Peapod is the most compact travel bed on the market for little ones. It can be an excellent alternative to a bulky travel crib and can save you in a pinch when a hotel you hoped would have a crib for your toddler doesn’t (it happens). It folds small enough to fit in a checked suitcase.
My family has also used our Peapod for a beach sun tent or to contain an active little one at an outdoor music festival. The Peapod is recommended for ages 1-3, but we were able to use it even a bit longer with our son before he switched to a larger air mattress. See my full PeaPod review and my full recommendations for where babies and toddlers should sleep during travel.
Best Travel Gear for Elementary Age Kids
Made for children who are at least 4 years old and 40 pounds, this inflatable travel booster is a major-space saver as your kids enter the school age stage.
Flying to a destination and then renting a car there? The BubbleBum works well and packs light. Taking an Uber with kids in a big city and don’t have a car seat? The BubbleBum is the perfect solution so you don’t need to lug around a car seat or bigger booster for the day. Instead, just deflate and throw the BubbleBum in a backpack or purse.
See my full BubbleBum review, where I explain why this is probably the kid travel product we’ve used most in our family.
Once they are big enough to carry a small bag, kids love having their own luggage. For years, we recommended and used the SkipHop zoo collection roller bags for younger elementary age kids (we started our kids with theme as preschoolers even). Sadly those have been discontinued!
The closest replacement at a similar price that I’ve been able to find are these brightly colored options themed roller bags from Stephen Joseph. Multiple compartments on the front and side make accessing smaller items easy when the bag is under an airplane seat.
A little screen time is often very necessary during travel with kids. Earphones are a must-have to shield fellow airplane passengers (or just mom and dad in the front seat of the car) from the noise of kid movies and apps.
The Kidz Gear brand earphones are durable and cute with a reasonable price to match. Our family’s first pair was still going strong after over 8 years of use (before we finally lost them!) and the second pair we bought for our son many years back is still working well. This model uses a traditional headphone jack so consider opting for the Bluetooth wireless version for even more device compatibility or be sure to carry a headphone-Lightning adapter to connect to newer iPhones and iPads.
Summer Travel Gear for the Whole Family
There is nothing worse than a dead battery when you need your phone for travel directions or your tablet to entertain a cranky kid. A portable charger or three is a necessity these days with as many electronics as we depend on. But finding one that isn’t poor quality can be hard.
Our whole family has used Anker portable chargers with great success and found them to be one of the best brands on the market. This particularly charger model holds enough juice for about three charges of an iPhone, so it is great for families with multiple devices to share.
Whether it be keeping your coffee hot or your toddler’s milk cold, there are lots of travel uses for a spill-proof thermos during travel. Zojirushi makes an excellent quality product at a reasonable price. The mug is available in both 12 and 16 ounce models (16 ounce size is a few dollars more). Just remember to wait to fill it with liquids until after you pass through airport security checkpoints! (Related: Tips for Speeding Through Airport Security with Kids)
Hotels, airports, and cruise ships don’t quite keep up with our power needs by providing ample outlets, so a power strip can come in handy for families with lots of devices to charge. This Anker power strip is perfect for travel because it has a space-saving design. The devices has 2 electrical outlets, 2 USB ports, and one USB-C port to accommodate a variety of devices.
If you only need USB ports for your devices, we also really like this Anker PowerPort 6 Charging Station. We combine it with shorter charging cables (like these USB to Lightning connectors for families who are all-Apple like we). This keeps things from getting too tangled, and it can serve as the charging station our whole family can use.
As a parent, I know all too well the battle that happens between siblings fighting over a single tablet or phone to watch movies on the plane. Instead of parents having to give up their devices to preserve family harmony, a headphone splitter is an easy solution to this common travel conflict. Family members can share a single device while each listening on their own set of headphones.
Last but certainly not least, I’ve found a waterproof case for my smartphone to be an essential travel item over the years. We’ve used it in beach destinations, water parks, theme parks, and even national parks – anywhere a rogue splash might fry an electronic device. It also can be smart to keep sand out of tiny smartphone crevices.
This model is very basic, but has always stayed as dry as a bone even when I have used to get a few underwater shots when snorkeling.
What other travel products have been lifesavers for your traveling family? Share your recommendations in the comments.