Anyone who has traveled before – with or without children – knows that travel days can be extra hard. Missed meals, disrupted schedules, interrupted sleep, and missing the comforts of home can leave anyone feeling a little off. For kids, resilient though they are, travel days can sometimes make or break the start of a vacation. Wayfinding TravelingMom Jennifer Kaufman shares her travel tips on what she and her husband have learned after dozens of trips with kids of all ages, about how to keep kids happy when traveling!

three school-age kids smiling on a plane, happy despite long travel days

Plane rides (or road trips) aren’t so bad when the kids are smiling! Photo credit: Jennifer Kaufman, Wayfinding TravelingMom

Travel Tips: How to Keep Kids Happy When Traveling

I recently took a quick trip with just my three kids, who actually behaved really well despite largely interrupted sleep schedules. The first day wasn’t their best though. At one point my middle daughter even reminded me, “travel days are always hard, Mom.” I laughed a little at her astute observation, but of course, she’s right.

Thankfully, we’ve learned a number of things along the way to keep kids happy through disrupted schedules and long days of planes, trains, and automobiles. Read on for our travel tips on how to  keep kids happy when traveling.

tired toddlers crying in stroller, wearing minnie dresses traveling to walt Disney world

Now that we follow a few “rules” on travel days, we see a lot less of this! Photo credit: Jennifer Kaufman, Wayfinding TravelingMom

Give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going.

When my husband and I traveled before we had children, we’d pretty much time our airport arrival to park the car, get through security, and walk up to the plane about five minutes before it was time to board. When we took road trips, we knew we could knock a chunk of time off of what Google told us the trip would take.

Everything changes when you have kids, doesn’t it?

Proven travel tips to keep kids happy when traveling

Now it takes us a little bit longer to get through the airport, no matter how well we all know the routine. A 10-hour road trip takes at least 11, and that’s if we drive mostly at night. Potty breaks, car sickness, squabbles, and other “emergencies” seem to happen exponentially more frequently as you add children to your family.

How to Keep Kids Happy When Traveling: 7 Proven Tips!

There is always plenty for kids to look at if you arrive to your gate a little early! Photo credit: Jennifer Kaufman, Wayfinding TravelingMom

Keep toys set aside for travel only.

Whether you get new toys to open during a long drive or keep a special stash that only comes out on a plane, we’ve found that the simplest things can keep kids occupied for much longer on the road or in the air, when options are otherwise limited.

child playing with wikki stix on an airplane, 1 of many proven tips on how to keep kids happy when traveling.

Wikki Stix have been, hands down, our favorite travel toy for several years running. Photo credit: Jennifer Kaufman, Wayfinding TravelingMom

We have an entire tote of items that only come out when we’re traveling. Some of our favorites include triangular crayons and markers that don’t roll off of airplane trays, Wikki Sticks (wax coated yarn great for creative play), and activity books.

If your kids are big enough, it helps to have them carry their own small bag of travel activities. It’s much less disruptive to help them pull something out of their own bag versus passing items back and forth across an aisle, or from seat to seat in the car.

toddler plays with ribbons and stickers, an easy way to keep kids happy when taveling.

If you have a toddler, entertainment options are even easier. We always brought a zipper pouch of ribbons, stickers, and other items from around the house. It kept the kids entertained for hours! Photo credit: Jennifer Kaufman, Wayfinding TravelingMom

TravelingMom Tip: If giving each kid their own bag won’t work, consider taking pictures of activities and snacks that you have in your bag. They can flip through the photos and pick something out much easier than trying to describe – and hope they remember – their options.

happy preschool boy carrying his own backpack with toys and snacks, another way to keep kids happy when traveling.

My son was thrilled when he finally got to carry his own items for the plane! Photo credit: Jennifer Kaufman, Wayfinding TravelingMom

Pack snacks and light jackets in your carry-on.

Even if a flight provides food and beverage service, it almost never happens as soon as my kids would like. It’s hard enough sometimes to keep kids happy when they feel stuck on a plane or in a car – especially if they had to wake up early or aren’t eating on a regular schedule. Meeting basic needs quickly, including hunger, thirst, and warmth, will go a long way in keeping kids happy when traveling.

During take-off, give toddler drinks watert to keep kids happy when traveling.

Having access to a drink not only helps address issues of thirst, it also helps kids with ear discomfort during takeoff and landing. Photo credit: Jennifer Kaufman, Wayfinding TravelingMom

TravelingMom Tip: You may be aware that you can’t take most liquids through TSA checkpoints. If you don’t want to buy drinks for everyone closer to the gate, be sure to pack empty water bottles or sippy cups to fill at a fountain. 

Don’t hesitate to bring a stroller, car seat, or other baby gear.

This tip is going to be perhaps the most kid- and family-dependent item on the list. We traveled with my twins’ stroller until they were about four-years-old, but by the time my son was two, it was often easier to carry him in a backpack. Many families buy seats on planes for their infants even before the required age, in order to put them in a car seat. We held ours until they needed their own seat, then utilized harness restraints for a little while after.

toddler boy rides happily in backpack on fathers back, another travel tip to keep kids happy while traveling.

My son always loved riding in the backpack; we always loved having extra hands free! Photo credit: Jennifer Kaufman, Wayfinding TravelingMom

Don’t assume you’d prefer to hold your 18-month-old for a long flight versus pay for a seat, or that you’ll just rent a car seat when you land rather than lug your own along. First, look into your options and decide what will actually make your trip easier.

TravelingMom Tip: Even as airlines charge more and more for luggage allowances, almost all baby gear is excluded from said allowances. Check with your airline for details.

Travel as lightly as possible.

When I was in junior high and high school, I was the girl who brought nearly every item of clothing I owned, because I didn’t know what I may want to wear. It was a packing nightmare, yet I see so many people lug more and more around when they have children.

You should absolutely bring an extra pair of clothes for your kiddos if they are likely to spill or have potty accidents. You should not bring twice as many outfits as you need.  If push comes to shove, you’ll be able to wash their clothing if necessary. Diapers, baby food, and other groceries are almost always a better when purchased at your destination.

Consider how much you want to lug a mountain of luggage, another travel tip when making kids happy when traveling

I definitely enjoy pulling one bag behind me and settling in to eat or play a game in the airport, versus guarding this mountain of luggage while wrangling 3 kids! Photo credit: Jennifer Kaufman, Wayfinding TravelingMom

Download a movie or other entertainment while you have a good internet connection.

If you’re used to streaming all forms of entertainment every day like we are, it’s easy to forget that there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself in the air or on a back road somewhere with no access to the show or story you had counted on. Download what you need before you take off. And if you don’t, at least brush up on some fun family games for the road!

Stick with your home routines when possible.

If your kids will sleep in the car, drive at night so as to minimize interruptions. If they won’t, then plan to arrive somewhere where they can sleep at night. Red-eye flights can be tempting, but if you’re going to add a super late bedtime to jet lag, you might reconsider. Little does more to wreck travel day moods than being in the middle of travel when it’s time to eat or sleep.

As with all hacks, tips, and tricks, your mileage and results may vary. These tips may work wonderfully for your family, or you may have found that something different better suits your kids. The most important thing to remember is to actually remember travel logistics in your planning. It’s so easy to plan every detail of a trip, then throw transportation on either end. You’ll set the tone for a much more enjoyable trip though if you keep some of these things in mind!

What’s your favorite way to keep kids happy on long travel days?