Traveling with kids, by land or by air, means being prepared for anything and expecting the unexpected. A well-stocked backseat or carry-on bag can mean the difference between hours of “Are we there yet?” and a happy family who actually believes that “getting there is half the fun.”
Necessities for travel with kids falls into roughly three categories:
- Travel necessities and organization tools
- Food and Drinks
For our list, we’ve tried to select some eclectic products recommended by parents along with travel staples like a good tablet with a sturdy case. We also included a few items you’ll want on-hand once you reach your destination, like a white-noise machine to block out those noisy hotel neighbors.
It almost goes without saying to remember to bring charging cubes and cords for any electronic devices your family uses. Yet, inevitably, someone in my family leaves their charger, cord, or both, at home as we pack for a trip. Fortunately, you can pick up these items at any gas station, convenience store, or big box store on the way – or at the airport if you’re flying.
I find it helpful to create a packing checklist on a whiteboard so it’s visible as we get ready to leave for our trip. I separate items into what’s being packed in suitcases, overnight bags, or in the backseat of the car. I run down the checklist immediately before we leave to ensure we have everything my family needs. And you can bet that most of these items are always on the list.
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Bento Box of Snacks ($29.99, originally $39.99; amazon.com)
Make snacking on the road more fun – and minimize stops at roadside convenience stores – with a Bento-style box for kids’ snacks. The Bentgo Kids Prints 5-compartment lunch box holds portion sizes from 2 TBSP – for treats like nuts or raisins – up to 1 cup for a sandwich or even popcorn. The latches are sturdy and easy for tiny hands to open and close.
You may have noticed a trend of people using plastic tackle boxes to store a tray full of snacks, almost like a portable charcuterie. But these trays are typically not BPA-free or food safe. The BASSDASH line of tackle boxes, however, are BPA-free. With 18 to 20 compartments per box, this tackle tray is perfect for snackers with larger appetites or for a longer car ride.
Tackle Box of Toys ($8.08; amazon.com)
If you have a tackle box that you realized is not BPA-free or food safe, you can still put it to use on your trip as a holder for toys. Depending on your child’s age and interests, you can tock it with army figures, small plastic animals, arts and crafts materials, toy cars, LEGO bricks, and anything else that can keep your child occupied on the plane or long car ride.
Cooler for the Car (starting at $109.99; amazon.com)
If you’re driving to your destination, a well-stocked cooler saves time and money on the road. Consider packing a variety of water and flavored water or juice for the kids, plus caffeinated beverages for Mom and Dad.
Don’t make the rookie mistake of storing the cooler in the trunk where the kids can’t reach it. That just results in unnecessary stops or worse, the cooler tipping and spilling ice all over your luggage. An electric car cooler that fits right in the backseat and holds up to 34 cans will keep healthy snacks plus beverages fresh for your entire trip.
Art Kit ($25.97, save 10% with coupon; amazon.com)
An easy-to-pack drawing kit can keep artistically inclined kids busy for hours in a car or on a plane. The LUCYCAZ Drawing Kit includes a drawing pad, sketch pencils plus colored pencils, and origami paper, ensuring no mess art projects wherever you might be.
Brain Quest Flip Cards (starting at $7.91; amazon.com)
Teacher-approved, Brain Quest flip cards turn your family vacation into a learning experience. These decks of flip cards, with different decks for different ages, offer hundreds – or even thousands - of questions and answers that are fun for parents and kids, alike.
Lap Tray ($24.95, originally $28.95; amazon.com)
If you have younger children still in a car seat, you’ll want a car seat travel tray to keep all their toys at their fingertips. The Lusso Gear Kids Travel Tray includes an erasable whiteboard with a box to keep markers, a tablet holder, cup holder, and plenty of pockets for toys, notepads, crayons and more.
Snooz Go White Noise Machine ($49.99; getsnooz.com)
Parents of young children swear by a white noise machine to block out sounds and help their littles sleep better. Weighing less than half a pound, the SNOOZ Go combines functionality with portability. It uses a USB-C device to charge and offers up to 20 hours of white noise. The device doubles as a Bluetooth speaker so you can also play lullabies before bed.
Fire HD 10 Kids Tablet ($199.99; amazon.com)
Parents have many options when it comes to the best tablet for kids. But reviewers agree that few come close to the Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids. With an average 4.5-star rating across 5,435 reviews, the tablet comes with a full year of Amazon Kids+, which offers more than 20,000 apps, games, books, videos, and more – including 9,000 titles for kids ages 6 and up. The tablet includes a sturdy, streamlined protective case plus a two-year worry-free guarantee, delivering peace and quiet on long trips as well as peace-of-mind.
Planet Buddies Pippin the Panda Kids Headphones ($24.99; officedepot.com)
Tablets playing movies keep kids occupied on long rides. But if you’re wishing the characters from Encanto would really stop talking about Bruno like they say, a good set of child-safe headphones could save your sanity. Planet Buddies headphones for ages 3 and up set the sound limit at 85 decibels for hearing safety. They charge via USB-C, and can deliver music for up to 38 hours on a single charge. Best of all, each design features an endangered animal and a story about that species to raise awareness and empathy. Each package also includes tips on how children can take steps to protect the planet, and a portion of revenue from sales goes toward the World Land Trust or Marine Conservation Society.
Multi-Sized Pack Pod Set ($30; amazon.com)
Busy parents swear by packing pods to keep clothing separated in suitcases. If you’re packing for the whole family and carrying it all in your bag, Six Moon Designs Pack Pods help make it easy for you to find your kids’ clothes when you reach your destination.
For older children starting to pack for themselves, the multi-sized Pack Pods make it easy for them to separate their clothing by type – such as swimsuits and coverups in one bag, shorts and tops in another. Leave one pod empty for dirty clothes and you’ll find packing (and unpacking) for travel with kids just got a whole lot easier.
Pillow Pets ($19.99, originally $31.99; amazon.com)
There’s nothing like having a favorite stuffy to snuggle up with on a plane or car ride. Pillow Pets do double-duty by transforming into a cuddly blanket for the chilly plane or a backseat nap. With so many different varieties, it’s easy to find your child’s favorite animal as a traveling companion.
AirPop Face Masks (starting at $7.99; airpophealth.com)
Many U.S. cities still have mask mandates in place due to the pandemic. Masks are also required for travelers over two years old in all transportation hubs, including airports, train stations, and on planes. A comfortable, safe, and effective mask offers peace-of-mind while ensuring you and your family meet local requirements.
AirPop masks are advertised as “KN95 equivalent,” filtering out 99.3% of all airborne particles and 99.9% of bacteria. They are listed on the CDC website for meeting ASTM F3502 standards for Personal Protective Equipment. The kid’s masks come in a choice of colors and are comfortable enough to wear all day and good for up to 40 hours before washing under most circumstances.
Prices are accurate and items in stock at time of publishing.