Traveling with babies and toddlers is always a wonderful adventure—but it doesn’t come without bumps in the road. In addition to the travel pitfalls everyone faces—traffic, delays and more—there’s all kinds of essential travel gear to tote, plus unpredictable moods to tend with. Add a little winter weather to the mix, and all of the sudden, you might feel a little like you're trying to climb Mount Everest.
But you can—and should—feel empowered to take the kids on a family vacation. To help you get out there and discover new places, we’ve rounded up the best tips and tricks for navigating winter travel with babies and toddlers in tow.
Tips for a Winter Road Trip With Kids
If you’re hitting the open road with kids this winter, here are a few tips and tricks to make the ride a smoother one.
Don’t Bundle Up
Baby, it’s cold outside, but a child should never sit in their car seat with a bulky winter jacket on. According to the AAP, in a car crash, the fluffy padding in these jackets immediately flattens from the force, leaving extra space under the harness that a child can slip through and be thrown from the seat.
To keep babies and toddlers safe and warm, dress them in thin layers while in the car. Start with close-fitting layers on the bottom—tights, leggings or long-sleeved bodysuits—then add pants and a warmer top, like a sweater or a thin fleece. You can also add a blanket over the top of the harness straps or put your child's winter coat on backwards, over the buckled harness straps, once they’re buckled up.
Bring an Emergency Kit
The unexpected—a flat tire, an engine that won’t start or a fender bender—happens. If you find yourself on the side of the road in the cold, you’ll be thankful for an emergency kit stocked with things like extra blankets, dry clothing, hats and gloves and non-perishable snacks. It’s also worth checking the first-aid kit in your car—is there anything that needs to be restocked? Take a peek at your spare tire, too. Is it in working order?
Stock Up on Snacks
Make sure you have plenty of snacks before you hit the road. This not only gives you the chance to stock healthier items like apple slices or pouches, but it also saves you money—prices are at a premium at roadside service centers.
Don’t forget drinks, too. A refillable water bottle is particularly helpful to have on hand, since you can use water fountains for economical and earth-friendly refills.
Bring a Trash Can
Every parent knows how messy kids can be. Whether you have a handful of dirty wipes from mopping boogies off of your toddler’s face or your kids are tossing snack wrappers left and right, you’ll want to have a place to corral all of that garbage before it begins to take over.
A portable garbage can is a great option. These products attach to your seat or center console, typically by Velcro, so you have a place to put trash until you have access to a larger can to get rid of the garbage for good. It’s also a must-have for parents with kids prone to car sickness—simply pass them the garbage, so they can relieve themselves into the trash bag.
Tips for Winter Airplane Travel With Kids
More often than not, air travel is fraught with complications like long security lines at best and delays and lost baggage at worst. Add active toddlers to the mix, and you have a recipe for disaster. But with a few helpful tips, you can make the first time your child gets their wings an adventure to remember for the whole family.
Use a Baby Carrier
If your child is young enough to ride in a baby carrier, check the stroller and pop your little one in the carrier on your chest. Most airlines allow you to check one stroller or car seat per child at no additional cost. And, while it may seem more convenient to push a stroller through the airport, TSA requires you to take your baby out of the stroller at security—it’s a big struggle to handle a squirmy baby and pass your stroller off to the security agent for screening. What’s more, strollers are constantly getting held up at security—since they can’t go through the main conveyor, they require additional screening.
Even though you’ll get your stroller back shortly after, you’ll face similar problems when it’s time to board the plane. It’s undeniably stressful to hold a child, place your stroller in its carry bag and hand it to the gate check agent with a line of people waiting to board behind you—especially if you’re traveling solo with baby.
Don’t Forget Your Travel Bags
Whether you opt to check your stroller and car seat at the ticketing counter or take them to the gate with you, make sure you have travel bags. Baby gear like strollers and car seats are expensive, and these bags will help protect your investments. These bags fully enclose the items and often have built-in padding to not only keep gear cleaner en route, but also help ensure your stroller or car seat remain intact if mishandled in the cargo hold.
Bring a Carry-On Bag
While you don’t want to bring too much with you—you’ll need your hands largely free for baby—you don’t want to be caught without something you really need. And you can’t always rely on your checked bags being at your destination when you arrive—especially in the winter when delays are more prevalent.
So you’re prepared for anything, stock a carry-on with enough for one night for every person in your party. It’s helpful to have a change of clothing, a toothbrush and a jacket. If you have babies or toddlers who aren’t yet toilet-trained, make sure you have enough diapers to get you through any unforeseen delays, too.
Don’t Forget Water
Like any road trip, it’s a good idea to come prepared with some healthy snacks. But liquids present a unique problem with air travel, since you can’t bring full beverages through security. To avoid paying premium prices for water en route, always travel with a refillable water bottle. Simply pack an empty one in your carry-on and fill it at a water fountain once you get through security. This practice is both cheaper and better for the environment.
Resist the Urge to Board First
Parents with young children are typically granted priority boarding, but it’s not a good idea to take advantage of this gesture. Here’s why: While it does afford you the chance to get situated without lots of other people around you, the boarding process can take almost a full hour, depending on the size of your plane. That’s a lot of extra time for your active child to sit still. Instead, stay active by strolling around your gate and wait until the line begins to dissipate to board the aircraft.
How to Travel Lightly
No matter the season, babies require a lot of gear. But if you bring everything you need with you to the airport, you may need to rent your own plane to get to your destination. Consider these space-saving alternatives:
- Borrow:If you’re traveling to see friends or family, ask them if they have extras of any gear you might need, such as car seats, high chairs and play pens. If they don’t, have them ask friends and family in the area—local Facebook groups can be a great resource for this.
- Rent: There are also services like BabyQuip that allow you to rent baby gear. This is a great way to get your hands on bigger items that are hard to travel with, like pack-n-plays, strollers ideal for snow, activity saucers and more.
- Buy on arrival: If there are things you’ll only use for a short time anyway—snowsuits or boots, for example—snag them at a local thrift store at a steep discount and then drop them back in a donation bin before you head home. You can also save space in your suitcase by buying diapers when you arrive. Simply pack enough to get you through your travel day—and don’t forget a few spares, just in case.
- Ship ahead: Worried you’ll be short on time? Consider ordering what you’ll need ahead of time and having it shipped directly to your destination. This may not be an option with a vacation rental, but is generally possible with hotels and friends’ or relatives’ homes.
- Wash and reuse: This doesn’t work as well in hotels where you’ll have to pay to launder your clothes, but is a fantastic option for house rentals or staying with friends and family. Having the option to wash your clothes during your stay really cuts down on the number of items you need to pack.
How to Prep Your Kids for the Snow
Snowy weather can be sensory overload for little kids who aren’t used to those kinds of elements. It’s hard enough for adults to navigate cold, wet and slippery conditions, let alone a child wearing a bulky snowsuit for the first time. Here’s how to make the process a little more approachable:
- Turn down the thermostat: Make a move that’s better for the environment, plus will help your little one get used to cooler temps. We’re not suggesting anything drastic—just lowering the temperature a few degrees can make a difference, so the transition from indoors to out isn’t so stark.
- Practice: A lot of kids are ultra-sensitive to the way their clothing feels—especially when it comes to bulky and restrictive winter gear. Don’t let your vacation be the first time your child wears items like mittens or scarves. You can practice and make the whole experience more fun by having a few games of dress-up before it's go-time.
- Make it fun: When kids are focused on how cold they are, they’re sure to whine and cry. But if they’re distracted by how much fun they’re having, they’re more likely to be all smiles. You don’t need anything fancy—a small truck to push the snow around or building a snowman together should do the trick.
- Lower your expectations: No matter how prepared the whole family is, kids are simply more prone to catching a chill, because their bodies are smaller and lose heat faster, according to the AAP. A long, cross-country ski adventure may have been your idea of fun a few years ago, but chances are your little one isn’t quite ready for that kind of winter activity. Instead, plan for small bursts of outdoor fun, so you won’t be disappointed if your child wants to head indoors.
Although traveling with kids in colder weather requires a lot of gear, it’s doable to travel with your little ones in the winter months—in fact, it can even be fun and yield memories you’ll cherish for the rest of your life. To ensure all goes without a hitch, just follow these tips. And, don’t forget: Lower your expectations. Even small adventures seem big to our precious little ones.