After the long winter months, who doesn’t love a good vacation? The first few weeks of the year can feel so dreary after the holidays, so it’s no surprise that we’re all ready to pack up and go somewhere by March. Many families schedule a getaway around this time, which is why we’ve come up with these spring break travel essentials for kids.
In 2019, TSA screened approximately 107 million travelers and crew between March 14 and April 28. The number of spring break vacationers has continued to grow over the past few years. Being prepared can help make your family trip a positive one.
We’re a family of eight. We’ve traveled with teens and a trio of infants (yes, we’ve got multiples in this house!). In this post, we’ll share some tips based on our experiences. Raising children can be so hard — we want everyone to have the spring break vacation they deserve.
Travel Essentials for Kids
This is a big category, and we will have to create some guides for each age group someday. For now, we’ll try to provide some basic travel essentials that you should pack for kids at various stages. Of course, you’ll have to come up with your own list based on your family’s needs, but we can help get you started!
Here’s a checklist of spring break travel essentials for kids. This list is relatively general and applies to pretty much everyone, including older children:
- Passports (if traveling internationally)
- Boarding passes and itinerary
- Clothing (one outfit per day, more for infants)
- Outerwear (hats, jackets, scarves, mittens, if needed)
- An extra outfit (babies/toddlers) or shirt for the flight
- Sun hats
- Sunscreen and insect repellent
- First Aid Kit
- Digital thermometer
- Hand sanitizer
- Nightlight for the hotel
- Pain reliever (get the right ones based on everyone’s age!)
- Entertainment (tablets, books, coloring books, crayons)
Related post: Kids Fly Free with These Airlines
Always pack with your destination in mind and check the weather where you’ll be before you leave. While you might want to bring a light sweater, you won’t need a snowsuit for Aruba. Meanwhile, bring more than flip flops if you’ll be seeing cold weather.
Baby Travel Essentials
Traveling with babies can be a nerve wracking experience. While there are a few reasons for this, our primary concern was always about keeping them healthy when their immune systems are so immature. Others worries include disturbing other travelers on flights or in hotel rooms and restaurants. Here is a list of baby travel essentials:
- Diapers (one for each hour in transit)
- Wipes (also use these to wipe your face after a flight!)
- Change Pad
- Blankets (bring a few)
- Plastic bags (for diapers and/or soiled clothing)
- Diaper rash cream
- Extra pacifiers (if you uses them)
- Baby food (and spoons!)
- Formula, water, and juice (if needed)
- Extra bottles, nipples, and/or sippy cups
- Breast pump (if you use one)
- Washable bibs
- Baby carrier (we had three of these!)
- A few of your baby’s favorite toys
- Portable crib or play yard
- Car seat (we use this bag to keep it clean in transit)
- Travel Stroller
We’ve found that the age of the baby really makes a difference. When they’re very young, babies might sleep right through a flight. I’d always be sure to feed them, or offer a pacifier, during takeoff and landing. Lemme tell you — that was tricky for a mom of twins!
Travel Essentials for Toddlers and Preschoolers
We’re going to be totally honest here. This is the age that we’ve found most difficult when traveling with kids. Toddlers and preschoolers have some basic understanding of the world around them, but they are very curious and very mobile. Oh, and they’re also extremely emotional.
Keeping them entertained, calm, and within your line of sight can be a challenge. During trips, we break a lot of the rules we’ve set at home, and that’s okay because they understand that things are different when we’re on vacation. Try not to stress too much about giving them more screen time or extra snacks if it helps them get from point A to point B.
The goal is to make things go as smoothly as possible, which means you’ll need to be flexible. Don’t forget to pack some of these spring break travel essentials:
- Diapers or Pull-Ups (if using)
- Change Pad
- Blanket for the flight/drive
- Plastic bags (for diapers and/or soiled clothing)
- Travel potty
- Water bottle/juice/fruit pouch
- Sippy cup
- Lollipops for takeoff and landing (the swallowing/chewing helps with pressure changes)
- Favorite toys and coloring sets
- Child-friendly tablet (we’ve used this Amazon Fire tablet)
- Portable crib or play yard (if age appropriate)
- Car seat (with carrying bag)
- Travel Stroller
If you’re traveling with a toddler or a preschooler and things get crazy, keep your cool. It happens to most parents and chances are that the majority of the people around you will understand how you’re feeling. When you stay calm, it helps everyone. Learn some deep breathing techniques for those moments — it works!
Airport Security & TSA Precheck
We’ve written a whole post about TSA Precheck, which we encourage you to read, but it’s definitely worth mentioning here. First of all, we’re going to offer you a bit of advice. Always, always, always have a pep talk with your children before you go through airport security.
As adults, many of us are intimidated by the process. Imagine how scary and hectic it can be for a child. Spend some time explaining how it all works, what to expect, and even do some practice runs if your child seems particularly anxious.
- Know the age-related rules about the airport security checkpoint ahead of time.
- Ask your child if they need to use the bathroom before you get in line.
- Pack in a way that makes your life easier. Keep your liquids separate from everything else, for example.
- Understand the TSA rules about liquids, electronics, shoe/belt/jacket removal.
- Enroll in TSA Precheck, Global Entry, or other similar programs.
Can your TSA Precheck benefits extend to your children or travel companions? In our experience, when we’ve been traveling with our teen on the same reservation, we’ve often found TSA Precheck added to her boarding pass. Some airlines may choose to do that for you, but you can’t depend on it.
In fact, this is the official word from the TSA website: “Children ages 12 and younger may use the TSA Pre✓® lane when traveling with a parent or guardian who has the indicator on their boarding pass. Travelers 13 and older who do not have a TSA Pre✓® boarding pass must go through standard security lanes or apply.”
Avoiding Germs on the Plane
With seasonal outbreaks of colds and flus (and even coronaviruses), we’re hearing more and more from parents who want to prevent their children from picking up an illness while traveling, especially on long haul flights. While you can’t prevent everything, you can take precautionary measures.
Related post: The Ultimate Germaphobe’s Guide to Hotel Stays
Airplanes are not cleaned between flights. In fact, the seats, floors, lavatories, and tray tables are usually sanitized every 30 days — at best! Delta even admitted that their planes might only get a deep cleaning every 90-100 days!
We always travel with hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Who cares if people give you a sideways glance when you wipe things down? Here’s what we clean immediately upon boarding (read our full guide to staying healthy on flights here!):
- Seats (if leather)
- Armrests (make sure you get the buttons and undersides, too!)
- Tray table
- Wall around the window
- Touchscreen (if the plane has one)
Additionally, there are many other things to be mindful of during your flight. Here are some potentially germy situations and how we handle them:
- Skip the drinks from flight attendants, if you can. If you absolutely need something, ask for no ice and see if they will give you an unopened can. Use a wipe to clean the surface before you open it to prevent contamination.
- Clean your hands thoroughly with sanitizer before eating any snacks.
- Avoid the bathroom at all costs. If you must go, make sure you’re wearing shoes (or at least socks!) and use sanitizer when you return to your seat.
- In the aisle seat? Studies show this leaves you more prone to contracting norovirus. Turn your face away from passengers as they walk up and down the aisles and keep the overhead fan on to circulate the air around you.
If all else fails, we wear masks — especially if it’s during cold and flu season. It costs a lot of money to save up for a family vacation, so we consider face masks and sanitary products among our top spring break travel essentials for kids. It’s better to be uncomfortable for a few hours on a plane than to be miserable and in bed for the rest of your trip!
Avoiding Germs at Amusement Parks
While we love visiting theme parks, we’re extra careful when we’ve got kids with us. We have a whole post dedicated to how to avoid germs at amusement parks and stay healthy, so we won’t go into too much detail here. We will say that these are a few things to keep mind:
- Be careful with amusement park food. Sometimes, it can end up sitting out for a long time. Stick with places that look the busiest, and don’t be afraid to send back lukewarm food.
- Bring wipes with you and clean tables, ride harnesses, and stroller handles as needed.
- Use hand sanitizer after rides and before eating.
- Head to the least busy areas in the park when looking for a bathroom.
Spending time at a water park? Be courteous and have your kids rinse off before they jump in. Also, keep them out of the water if they are sick or have skin infections. Chlorination does not kill all bacteria, so teach your kids to not swallow the water. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to be exposed to skin viruses, cryptosporidium, giardia, or even conjunctivitis (pink eye) at pools.
With OCD, water parks are especially challenging, but we had a great time at Volcano Bay. Take the right precautions, pack the best spring break travel essentials for kids, and then just try to enjoy yourself (or skip these types of parks all together).
It can be really hard to eat well while you’re in transit. On those travel days, you’ll need to think ahead to keep kids satisfied. It’s so hard to be in a good mood or have enough energy when you’re tummy’s empty, so think about some easy-to-eat snacks you can bring in your carry-on.
Not sure what to bring? While PB&J sandwiches might be a staple at home, you might want to avoid bringing peanut products on a flight. Some airlines, including Southwest, have been working towards creating a peanut-free environment for the safety of travelers with allergies.
Here are some ideas for kid-friendly travel snacks (be sure to clean their little hands first!):
- Veggie Straws
- Fruit Snacks
- Mini Slim Jims
- Rice Krispie Treats
- Graham Crackers
- Granola Bars
- Animal Crackers
There are some things you really should avoid bringing as a snack on a plane. Please consider leaving the following at home:
- Oranges – The smell is really strong and some people, like myself, are allergic to them.
- Popcorn – We see a lot of people recommended this as a snack, but we think it’s a choking hazard, especially for smaller kids.
- Dairy products – You’ll struggle to keep these at a safe temperature. Avoid the bout of food poisoning and leave yogurts and cheese in your fridge.
- Lunchables/deli sandwiches – Again, meat requires refrigeration so this is probably not a good idea.
- Chocolate – It melts, it’s messy, and it’s unnecessary sugar.
- Doritos – Unless you love cheese dust on everything, don’t pack these for your kids!
A final word on food — we love indulging in local cuisine. We’re sure you do, too. Keep in mind that your child’s body may not be used to certain foods, so proceed with some caution. Everyone’s stomach can be more sensitive while traveling, so don’t push them too hard to try everything. Also, be sure that what you’re eating is fully cooked and prepared in a sanitary way. It’s one thing to take risks as an adult, but it’s probably best to take it easy with children.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), humidity levels in aircraft cabins are typically less than 20%. The conditions inside your home, for example, are normally over 30%, which means that your child is at risk of becoming dehydrated on a flight. You definitely want to pack a kid-friendly water bottle among you spring break travel essentials for kids!
Our bodies need the fluid to flush out toxins, boost immunity, keep our vital organs working, and all that jazz. Water is the best thing your child can drink, so avoid too many caffeinated or sugary beverages if you can. Your options may be limited (or expensive!) in airports, though, so we try to bring our own collapsible water bottles that can be refilled.
Don’t Overdo It
Vacations can be so exciting and you might feel like there’s so much to do with so little time. While you have the right to push yourself to the limit as an adult, you should try to avoid overdoing it with kids. We all need rest to feel our best, so make sure your child is getting enough sleep and has downtime throughout the day.
Everyone is different, so watch for signs that younger travelers need a break. Then, even if you really want to do just one more thing, respect their limit. The last thing you need is for your child to get sick, injured, or even collapse from going too hard (it’s happened!).
Keep an eye on how everyone’s doing emotionally too. Yes, if you’re on a family spring break vacation, you’re probably just trying to keep it all together, but check in and make sure your kids are okay. If they start to seem emotional, find out what’s going on. You could even pack a book like The Little Book of Big Feelings to help them find the words. Be patient, listen, and then do whatever they need to provide reassurance.
Family vacations can be stressful, which is why having the right spring break travel essentials for kids is so important. In fact, traveling in general can really trigger anxiety. When it starts to feel like too much, or if you’re struggling with insomnia, fall back on some deep breathing for relief. Slow down and focus on being grateful for the opportunity to spend time together, and stay as flexible as you can. When you roll with the punches, the trip will be much better for everyone. Happy travels!