From packing cubes to unlimited screen time: 15 genius hacks for travelling with kids

In Mamamia's Parenting Hacks series, real women share their tips and tricks on everything from meal prep to organisation to nailing the morning routine.

This week, we look at the best travel hacks for families.

As many parents excitedly book their first post-COVID family holidays after two years of uncertainty and lockdowns, it's never been a better time to round up some of the best hacks for travelling with kids

On last week's episode of This Glorious Mess, hosts Leigh Campbell and Tegan Natoli shared their top tips for holidaying with kids. 

Plus, we sourced even more hacks from our Mamamia Family community.

Watch: Holidays with kids? What's Up Mums has some fun tips to keep you happy. Post continues below.

Video via What's Up Mums.

Whether you want to fly overseas or take a road trip, here are the 15 best hacks for safe and happy travelling with the family in tow.

1. Start with an itinerary.

"Have a loose and flexible itinerary so that you know you have time to do the things you really want to do. Post-COVID, it has become so much more important to book as well and if you don't book, then you might miss out. Have some activities planned, but don't get upset if you don't stick to the itinerary perfectly." - Tegan.

2. Source an inflatable footrest.

"I've just purchased a Plane Pal so my son can lay flat and not down across me." - Leigh

"We used a Plane Pal when we flew to the UK when my son was about ages four to six and it worked brilliantly to raise his legs up from the floor and make him more comfy. However, some airlines don't allow them, so check with your carrier before you fly." - Laura 

"Buy a Plane Pal! It's 100 per cent worth it. The cheaper ones available on eBay are fine too. I found them to be a lifesaver, especially for long haul travel." - Cliona.

3. Research kid friendly restaurants and cafes.

"We're off to Noosa soon and there are a million blogs online that recommend great places to eat as a family. They take out the work of finding them yourselves and will tell you where has good food for kids, play areas, etc. It's worth taking a bit of time to do some research and make a list of places you want to eat." - Tegan.

4. Order groceries to arrive on your first day.

"This only applies if you're staying in a house, self-catering apartment or Airbnb, but I cannot recommend enough that you pre-book a grocery delivery to arrive just after you do. That means you don't have to pack all the nappies or the snacks, or rush to the shops as soon as you arrive and the kids are hungry. It's so much easier and less stress!" - Tegan.


5. Pack zip-lock bags and spare clothes.

"Pack lots of zip-lock bags! They're useful for any messy disasters during the flight and also great for buffet breakfasts to take some items away for snacks later in the morning." - Sharonne.

"I have a selection of different sized zip-lock bags in my handbag or hand luggage because they are so useful. If your kid does a poo explosion or they decide to jump in a puddle, you can use the zip-lock bag to seal up the dirty clothes. My son always wants banana bread at a cafe but then has a nibble and leaves the rest for later, so I pop the leftovers in a zip-lock bag which saves crumbs in the handbag. It's useful to have for many reasons and I can re-use the bags if they're not too dirty." - Leigh.

"For plane trips with newborns, put a few zip-lock bags in your carry-on that you can just grab and take to the bathroom with two nappies (because one’s never enough), wipes, plastic bags and a spare outfit for baby. And remember to take spare clothes for yourself!" - Cara.

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6. Check out local babysitters and nannies.

"This is not everyone's cup of tea, but we have used local babysitters and nannies to allow us a night out when on holiday. Do your research as a lot of places and tourist destinations have extremely reputable companies that offer babysitting services. The first time we used one was when the kids were about three and two and we went out for dinner in Port Douglas. We booked a babysitter through the hotel and she was someone's grandma! She brought activities for the kids and sent photos throughout the night. She was so lovely, and we got a date night. Get them to come for a few hours if you are worried, so you can check them out before you leave them together." - Tegan. 

7. Get some activity packs or toys for the journey.

"I make lots of activities - wrapped little toys (sorry environment), new stickers, audio books, colouring books, lots of new little snacks (always pack extra), and reusable sticker/felt books, etc. A map showing the towns to circle/tick off as you go through them for older kids is great too." - Bonnie.

"I always make up a special travel pack filled with new things to entertain. I buy an inexpensive drawstring bag, and I fill it with age-appropriate toys and activities. You can also buy ready-made packs if you don’t want to put one together. Tiger Tribe have some good ones. For older kids, if they are into reading, get them to buy a new book to save for the plane or pick one out at the airport." - Kate.

"Buy new activity items or stuff they haven't seen before and don't give it to them until you get on the plane. Go to the local cheap shop and get some pens, crayons, and stickers and make an activity pack. If you don't want to do it yourself, there is a company called Very Busy Bags who do it for you or another one called Give Me A Moment. Only give out one toy or activity at a time, so it makes the fun last longer."  - Tegan and Leigh.


8. Travel is the time for unlimited screen time.

"Even parenting experts say that iPads on holiday are okay! Whatever it takes to get there - all the usual rules about screen time go out the window when you are travelling. Make sure you download all the content you need before you leave as you might have no wi-fi in the car or on the plane and don't forget headphones!" - Tegan and Leigh.

"The iPad was a Godsend. I honestly don’t know how our parents were able to travel without them!" - Tara.

9. Utilise packing cubes.

"I have packing cells from Kathmandu for the whole fam and they all slip in to a suitcase. They're great if you don’t need an entire suitcase per person (which makes it impossible to get in a car with a family of six). When it’s a road trip, we use clear crates for everything which we can stack in a trailer." - Roni. 

"I'm obsessed with packing cubes. I put my swimwear in one and my undies in another. They are so good and you can use them to keep your dirty and clean clothes separate." - Leigh.

"Packing cubes! Being able to categorise, separate and compress clothes is so valuable. They’re especially great if you’re packing more than one person’s stuff in a bag." - Elizabeth.

10. Pack all the snacks.

"I find familiar snacks from home are useful, especially when the plane is taking off and the kitchen is closed. This is coincidentally always when my kids decide they are hungry!" - Laura 

" Pack all the snacks - double what you think you will need." - Kate

11. Utilise travel prams, scooters, and gadgets.

"Take a collapsible stroller that is available for you at every stop and you can take to the aeroplane gate. A YOYO stroller, for example, is great." - Alex.


"For five to nine-year-olds, invest in a scooter suitcase. We use one by Flyte, which is great for flight transfers in airports." - Kirsty.

"A compact travel pram like a YOYO or similar makes life easier. Ensure you have a pram bag to pack it in, as most airlines won’t allow you to take it onboard without one. Yes, it can be annoying as it's extra weight but so worthwhile if you have a baby or young toddler to sleep while walking long distances through airport terminals." - Kate.

12. Keep wipes, nappies and essentials in your hand luggage.

"I have never been so grateful for my large packet of wipes and a change of outfit when 40 minutes after take-off, my then four-year-old Toby said, 'I’m going to be sick'. He was immediately sick on himself, the floor, and the arm of another passenger. Thankfully, the other passenger was an understanding mum, and I was deeply apologetic, passing wipes across the aisle to her. I hope she packed a change of clothes too." - Laura.

"I pack nappies/wipes and some kids' snacks even when flying with packed luggage because let’s be honest, who wants to be fluffing abut at the shops or risk struggling to find nappies when on holidays." - Rach.

13. Chat to the airline before you fly.

"If there are four or more of you in your family, don’t 'wing it' with seating arrangements. Book in advance and aim to have access to an aisle seat for frequent bathroom visits or walks with toddlers. If you have a baby under one and weighing less than 11kg, the bassinet is a lifesaver - just make sure to pre-book it. We have also had success booking separate seats so that one parent travels with the kids and the other sits far, far away. This means one of you is 100 per cent ON parenting and the other can relax and watch a film in peace. The further away from your family, the better." - Laura.

"Most importantly, ring the airline ahead and always, ALWAYS, get the bulkhead row of seats, especially if your baby is under 11kg and can fit in the bassinet." - Alex. 

14. Prepare your travel cot.

"I always take my travel cot and have the sheet/mattress protector pre-made on the cot so when I get to my destination, I just open the cot and can put the baby to bed. If I’m travelling by road, I put the baby monitor, sleep suit, extra dummies and white noise machine in the cot case too so that it’s ready to quickly set up at our destination." - Rach. 

15. Take lots of photos.

"You might not always be having a 'magical' time in the moment, and it’ll most likely be fights/tantrums/chaos... but a few months after you’re home and back into your normal life, you’ll look back at the photos and only see the magic. You won’t remember any of the tough parts (or if you do, you’ll be able to laugh about them). Capture the memories - they are what makes all the extra effort to travel worth it!" - Kate. 

You can catch up on our previous Parenting Hacks articles here:

Do you have any great travel hacks to share? Tell us in the comments below. 

Feature Image: Getty.

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