Stress-Free Travel with Kids: Essential Items to Pack in Your Checked Bag

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It’s so important for me to have processes in place to help my life run a little smoother—especially when traveling now that I’m not just packing for myself but for two kids under 4 years old as well.

By the time my oldest was 15 months old, she had been on a couple of 6+ hour road trips, countless domestic flights to places like Orlando, San Francisco, and Maui, and had passport stamps for Mexico, Switzerland, and Colombia. All that to say, I’ve had time to learn some hard lessons and jot down reminders for things that would be handy to have for our next trip. I’m also constantly tweaking my repertoire, but these are my tried-and-true faves that are restocked in our dedicated checked suitcase at the end of every trip in anticipation of the next one—making it that much easier to just grab and go.

Some would argue that kids don’t need much and you could get away with traveling with less. I would agree, but just because I could doesn’t mean I want to. Traveling with the gear that I do guarantees I have what we need, when we need it, rather than trying to soothe one or multiple very upset tiny humans while simultaneously trying to problem-solve on the fly when we’re far from the comforts of home. Infants and toddlers are unpredictable enough as it is. 

A few things to note:

  • I prioritize safe sleeping methods.
  • These items are great for adding to your registry. Otherwise you will wish you already had them when it’s time to travel.
  • Cheaper alternatives exist, but I chose mostly brand names for their quality guarantee.
  • These are things that may not come with us on every trip, but are items that I have readily available to pack if it fits a need for our final destination.

You know your family needs the best. I hope this list serves as a launching pad to get you started, and I’m interested to hear what else works for you!

Here are the recommendations you’ll find in this post:

Organization & Travel Staples

These are my travel staples and here’s why:

AirTags: I place them in every suitcase, car seat bag, stroller bag, and carry-on. Clips make them easy to find and put back after the trip.

Packing Cubes: Each family member gets a different color. Makes unpacking easier for me. Compression ones are a great upgrade for more suitcase space.

Mesh Zipper Pouches: Perfect for keeping things organized. They’re used for the first aid kit, in the diaper bag, and around the house. Very versatile.

Travel Hamper: Folds tiny and contains the sea of clothes on trips. Dirty clothes go in a trash bag at the end (if I’m not able to do laundry before I leave).

Luggage Scale: Ensures bags are within weight limits before leaving the house and for the return flight. No shuffling weight at the airport. This comes with me on the trip.

Locks: Self-explanatory, but anecdotally it does seem like we get fewer luggage checks than before I regularly started locking our luggage.

Label Maker: Used to label items like Nanit monitors and travel stands to ensure they go in the right case. It doesn’t come on trips, but it’s essential for organization.

Car Seats, Strollers, + Accessories

We use the UppaBaby Vista travel system for daily use, but it’s heavy AF for travel. When flying, I baby wear the non-walker, put the toddler in a travel stroller, and have the older child ride the JetKids by Stokke ride-on suitcase. While the Infantino carrier clips can be unwieldy, it is breathable and works well for both parents and comfortable for baby in warm climates. I prefer not to gate check items so I found a stroller that fits in an overhead bin. There are a handful out there but I found our BabyZen on Facebook Marketplace with the board for half the price. Would absolutely recommend buying the Babyzen brand name travel backpack bag. The stroller comes with a shoulder strap but having the backpack has saved us more than a handful of times and I’ve heard the knock off alternative doesn’t hold up well. The JetStoke is pricey but is great for getting around the airport and settled on the airplane. Here’s the link of the airlines that allows the use of the BedBox

The Cosco car seats are safe, light, and great for travel. The Scenera is for children 5-40 pounds or 19” to 40” as well as a forward-facing from 22-40 pounds or 29” to 43”. The Finale is for children 30–65 pounds or 32″–49″, and at least 1 year old, and the belt-positioning booster for kids 40–100 pounds. or 43″–52″. Remember, kids grow out of the car seat when they meet or exceed the height OR weight limit, whichever comes first. They can be used on flights too. I check them in with the rest of our luggage and use the car seat bag to protect them and to stash extra items. The Scenera weighs 5-7 lbs, and most airlines allow 35 lbs for baby items. On the way to our destination, I pack extra diapers in the bag and use it for dirty clothes on the return flight.

Sleep: Infant

It’s true that some accommodations such as hotels, resorts, and homeshare rentals (Airbnb, VRBO, etc.) offer pack and plays. Call it my trust issues, but I have heard too many horror stories of the pack and plays being unsafe for use, incredibly dirty, uncomfortable and rigid, or even unavailable because they’re on a first-come, first-served basis. Sometimes, the hotel doesn’t have any left to spare by the time you check-in because most hotels don’t let you reserve them ahead of time due to travel delays. They want to ensure they can provide items for the guests that are already physically present. I’m all about pivoting and adapting, but let’s be honest, I’m not trying to start my vacation in a stressful panic. For me, it’s 1000% worth my sanity to check a suitcase that guarantees I have what I need when I need it.

If your luggage is lost or delayed a lot of major cities have baby gear rentals available. One popular company is called BabyQuip. AirTags are also convenient for this reason. I religiously use them in every suitcase for every trip. They’ve come in clutch, allowing me to notify the airline before they even contacted me about a stroller left behind in our departure city. I recommend writing down the items (suitcases, strollers, car seats) that correlate with the bag tag to be able to quickly reference if one of them is lost. I like using the Notes app on my phone. You can always do the process of elimination by checking the tags you do have against the luggage that’s arrived to find the one that’s missing too.

I’ve seen travel cribs checked separately as baby gear, but I prefer to pack it inside a suitcase. Folded down in the carry bag measurements are 19 x 23.5 x 5.5 in or 49 x 60 x 14 cm. The largest checked bag size, usually 29-in, will fit the BABYBJORN travel crib plus clothes or other gear just fine. This is the suitcase we use.

Sleep: Toddler

For a blanket, I use one of the dozens of baby blankets we received when they were born. Our current fave is Lou Lou & Company swaddle blankets because they’re lightweight and have full toddler bed coverage.

You could get away with just one baby monitor depending on the trip. When we’re visiting family, the kids sleep in different rooms so we bring both. We are sure to pack the monitors in differently colored cases to quickly identify whose is whose. We only use one travel tripod and leave that for the infant so that we can clearly see into the travel crib to monitor them more closely. With our toddler, there is usually a dresser or nightstand we can prop the Nanit Travel Stand on. Worth noting that you do need WiFi to use the Nanit. When hotel wifi makes it difficult to connect the camera, we’ve had great results with using one of our phones as a Hotspot.

We do a mix of Airbnbs, resorts, and local B&Bs. Especially when traveling throughout Colombia, some of the local pueblos don’t offer the same amenities you might be used to elsewhere. Things like the toddler pillow and fitted sheet might seem extra, but I’ve run into problems not getting an extra pillow for my daughter to sleep on. The fitted sheet is definitely a bonus, but it works for us because she’s into unicorns and is that much more excited about bedtime because of it. IYKYK.

Our oldest is potty trained but has a habit of wetting the bed only on vacations. I think she’s just too amped from the fun and excitement each day to hold it in overnight. Something to consider depending on how potty training is going for you.

Sleep: Child

I bought this for a solo-trip with two kids in tow. My second slept in the travel crib while my first slept in the bed with me. My mother-in-law has a bed that’s quite high off the floor and with a kid who can sleep like a Tasmanian devil, the pillow barrier has failed us a few different times. These bumpers are great, super quick & easy to inflate, and have a traction pad to help ensure they stay in place. Zero spilling off the bed on our trips.

Eat: Infant

I wish babies came with manuals saying, “I like breastfeeding!” or “I’ll only eat from a bottle.” However, that’s not the case. Feeding methods vary, but we used both breastmilk and formula. Breastmilk often leaves a milky film on bottles, and while soaking them is challenging when traveling, a collapsible bucket, Dapple bottle soap, and a travel bottle cleaner kit with a soap dispenser did the trick for us. The bottle cleaner kit is great for washing our toddler’s cups too.

Dishwashers are not common in Colombia, but the dishwasher basket is a must-bring when we’re visiting family back in the States.

Eat: Toddler

This is especially useful for family visits where you’ll have more meals at home since restaurants usually provide high chairs. Note that the feeding tray is sold separately, but it’s great for easy cleanup. The high chair also comes with a built-in travel bag that fits both the chair and tray. I have friends who’ve used this both for their primary and travel high chair too.

Toiletries: All

Thankfully, all the kids’ toiletries fit in one bag. LiquiSnug bottles are slightly more expensive, but they’re worth it. I’ve spent three to four times more on various silicone bottles from Target, Ross, TJMaxx, or Amazon in total over the years that have all leaked at some point. These bottles are guaranteed no-spill. I only bring a travel sized amount of body wash but a full bottle of lotion since my kids need daily moisturizing. Sometimes extra washcloths aren’t provided at Airbnbs or B&B’s so we come ready with our own.

Toiletries: Hair

My oldest was born with a full head of hair and never lost any of it, so we’ve been keeping it out of her face both at home and on trips. The detangler brush is perfect for gently taming bedhead and brushing before showers. The hair ties stay organized in their original easy-to-open bags. Everything fits in the same toiletry bag.

First Aid Kit

Infant Meds

Age 2+ Meds

First Aid

Sun + Bug

I’m all for letting a fever help immune systems fight infections, but it’s tough when your child isn’t feeling well away from home and you don’t have what you need to alleviate their pain. Plus now living in Colombia and traveling to small towns, there often isn’t a 24-hour pharmacy available. So, I’ve created my own first aid kit complete with infant meds and those for children 2 years and up, along with first aid essentials and sun and bug protection.

Coming Up Next: Travel Essentials for Your Carry-On

We covered what would be helpful to have once we make it to our final destination. Coming soon will be a post covering things I like to have on hand to help keep the kids fed, entertained, and happy while we’re en route to our final destination!

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Welcome! I’m Sarah. I started this blog to be a resource for others around a few of my favorite things: living in Colombia, DIY projects, places traveled, and day-to-day life. My hope is that it can a place of inspiration and encouragement to help you plan the next project or adventure of your own!

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