The Biggest Impact Children Have on Travel

Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.

I am on the last night of a trip with my daughter. Simply due to the where trips fell on the calendar, the first quarter of 2013 was heavily loaded with family travel for my crew. I think this is already the fourth pretty big trip my daughter has been on with me since the year started. She’s seriously an old travel pro by now, but even still, travel is quite different with a young kid than without.


As a result of so many recent trips with Little C, I’ve been thinking about exactly how travel with a young kid (or kids) is different than travel with just adults. There are many top contenders including:

  • Lugging and installing the car seat (this is seriously my least favorite part)
  • Having to shell out extra cash or miles for their tickets
  • Traveling with many more bags and gear
  • Not being able to always stay in standard hotel rooms
  • Including kid friendly activities in the schedule instead of just doing adult things
  • Moving at a slower pace
  • Always having snacks and drinks on hand
  • Getting more hugs and wiping more tears
  • Timing activities around naps and potty breaks

However, the biggest game changer for me is lack of sleep. Adult vacations for me usually mean sleeping in and having some down time to just relax. However, when traveling with the little crew, I find that sleep is a precious commodity. My kiddo wakes up early no matter where she is, but on vacation we usually don’t get her down as early as normal due to the different environment, and all of the vacation related activities. That means that we are all up a bit late, but are still getting up early with the kiddo. By the end of the trip (ie now) that results in pretty nasty exhaustion…at least for the parents, she seems totally fine!Β  Proof of her never ending resilience is this 5:45AM United Club photo taken this morning.


So, I have to say beyond a reasonable doubt that seriously reduced rest is the biggest way in which traveling with a young kid impacts my trips. At least, that is the biggest impact from a negative (sleep deprived) point of view. If I were less sleep deprived I would say the biggest difference is the joy from sharing the world with her, but I’ll save those kittens and rainbows for after I catch-up on sleep….sometime next week. πŸ˜‰

What I really want to know is what changes the most for your family when the kiddos travel with you vs. when it is an adults-only trip?

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. MP, it is a blessing to be able to to our children with us, but it takes a toll physically and mentally. I regularly fly with my kids, and grateful that they are of age to “keep up”. I would say my worst memory was trying to unfasten a car seat, as we arrived in Orlando (MCO). I was the last non crew passenger on the plane, trying to wrestle loose a car seat !! It was like I was up against an alligator ! πŸ™‚ But, no more carseats now !! Yipppeeeeeeee πŸ™‚

  2. It is definitely the stuff for us, I sometimes feel like a packmule when I am at the airport! We don’t take car seats on planes, we use the CARES or just the seatbelt, it is just an extra step we don’t want to deal with as the CARES is just as safe. We just flew back from Europe with both of ours and I realized how lucky we are that both our kids are very easy travelers and go with the flow.

  3. Do you NEED to use one of those car seats when traveling with a child? Baby just turned 2 so now we need to buy her a ticket on delta, and we have a trip planned next week, first time in her own seat. Any helpful tips?

  4. In my experience, I think the car seat proved handy in flight and when we arrived at our destination (I.E. rental car)

  5. @Phill – you might as well haul the car seat since you will likely need it on the other side for the car. Renting a car seat is spendy.

    The other thing on the sleep is my kids were always NUTS the first 2-4 days after a trip.

    But as the dad (pack-mule), I hate hauling all the stuff. We actually didn’t always do too bad on the sleep if we were in a standard hotel room and went to bed with the kids. Put us in a suite, different story.

    So glad to reach the booster stage.

  6. This is a great topic! Sleep is one…we left our first Disney trip (18mo and 4 years) feeling run over by a truck. Stuff is one, like Andrea said…I got through two weeks in Europe last year on my own with a carry-on, but just had three bags for a family weekend in New York!

    But I would nominate another one…the inability to do any adult activity whatsoever, especially after 8PM. Jazz club? Irish sing-along? Gambling? Quiet romantic glass of wine? Not gonna happen. This one hit Deal Dad especially hard and even though Deal Kid is almost 10 he’s still not entirely over it.

  7. I never carry car seats inside the plane when kids are 2 years old or more. They can fit comfortably in the plane seat. If I will need to use a car seat on a rental car I check a booster seat as a piece of luggage and get in the destination airport.

  8. Taking a car seat is not mandatory; but if traveling by a car at the destination, then a car seat would make sense for safety and/or perhaps even be a legal requirement depending upon age/size of the child(ren) and the rules in the jurisdiction in which a car is being hired/used/driven.

  9. @ Dave- I agree, it is better to take the car seat that you and your child are familiar with, if possible. It saves time, also, not having to struggle adjusting straps on an unfamiliar seat. From personal experience, I recommend taking it out and reinstalling it a couple of times before you head to the airport, so you are less likely to struggle when time is critical.

    One other thing we did for our most recent trip was to purchase a large backpack type carrier for the car seat. It made life easy hauling it around the airport, and allowed us to take advantage of the airline’s policy of a carseat being one of munchkin’s “carryons”. It had to be gate-checked, but we didn’t have any worries about what to do if our checked baggage was lost. And it had plenty of extra room for stashing backup supplies of diapers, toys, and clothing that could be used to replenish the diaper bag if we were delayed.

  10. The law doesn’t require car seats for kids two and older on airplanes, but we still bring JrLincoln’s full seat (he’s four.) If we are going on a public-transit-at-destination trip, we’ll use a CARES harness. Reasoning: he relaxes better in a car seat, and it provides better restraint. Now, as he weight/heights out of a full shell seat, we’ll have to consider something else for in air (probably CARES + iPod.)

    The main thing that changes for me when traveling with a short person is speed through the airport. I normally arrive at the security line 45 minutes before departure, take minimum connect times, connect RJ-to-mainline. But with short stuff along… he’s just not big enough to go fast and make those things happen. There are too many AWESOME things to see along the way!

  11. My Kids almost made status last year they travel so much.

    Before my oldest was two he was all over the states and been to London and Paris. It’s not easy with kids but don’t take these experiences away from them.

    One thing I have learned is Kids adapt way better then us. And even if they have a routine at home they’ll drop if in a heartbeat for all the new and exciting stuff they will experience.

    If they need a nap and are in a stroller they’ll nap.. and you can easily have an adult meal at a nice outside cafe making for a very memorable experience.

    As for the car seat.. Skip the full car seat.. those ones with wheels might be ok since it serves as a stroller though the airport but otherwise it’s just too much. and besides you’ll probably have a stroller as well which will add to it all.

    I’ll do a little booster if my kids will carry it themselves. Otherwise I know it’s expensive to rent but worth it considering everything else you have to carry and pack. And if you are smart and finding deals on the rental it will be a wash anyway.
    Direct flights are worth the few extra bucks.. but it’s not a deal breaker. It can be nice to sit and have a real meal between the two flights. Also if you can take a late flight they’ll sleep..
    With two kids.. Sit 2×2. you are still together either in front or in back of each other but it will make for a much better flight sitting one adult with one child.

    The other tip is skip hotels and find rental properties.
    It’s easy to get food and have breakfast at home and a lot of these will also have a washer so you can pack less and do a load of laundry at night.

  12. Oh, and the thing I actually meant to recommend (yeesh).

    Friends of ours gave us a Giant Bag With Wheels And A Strap (GBWWAAS). You can get them from car seat manufacturers and from third parties. I put his full shell seat in this bag (it has a hard square bottom, wheels on the leading edge — kind of like a soft rollaboard), then trail it behind my rollaboard with the rest of our gear. It forms a bit of a train of luggage, but it’s a lot easier to maneuver through the airport.

    Once on board, I take the car seat out of the GBWWAAS, store the bag overhead or underseat, and rejoice in Woodford.

  13. organise organise organise… that’s the trick. my kiddos will hit 140 flights when we head to bangkok for summer and 90% of those have been long haul and with just me [as my husband heads in a different direction]. if its just me and that has only happened twice in the last 6yrs, its way less organisation. when my husband and i travelled each week 30 weeks a year before the kids, we were organised and you had a system and it didnt change much. with kids you have to roll with the punches. dont take the carseat – take a cares when they are young, you need to pack food and take stuff to do for when they change the equipment or it breaks. and always take a change of clothes for you and them [at least one depending on how long the travel is. otherthan that, its the same. and when they hit 5 it became just about the same as adults flying [less food].

  14. It certainly gets easier as they get older, but we still haven’t gotten to the sleeping in on vacation stage (at 10).
    We used a ride safer travel vest at about that age and it was nice to be able to stick the car seat in a backpack, or pack it in a carry on. It isn’t the greatest when you are getting in and out of the car a lot, although my son would usually be happy leaving it on, dad didn’t want it in all of the pictures, but it seems to be well respected with the car seat safety people.

  15. My husband and I are very frequent flyers! We travel all the time and our 2 year old has been to 4 countries so far! She has logged 20 flights! For us as a family the luggage has been crazy, but if its something we can buy there ,it stays home!

    The iPad is a lifesaver for keeping her entertained! Also there is a water bottle cap from green sprouts that doubles as a sippy cup that attaches to most water bottles. Leave the sippy cups at home! Reuses a water bottle later for juice or water from the water fountain!

    Note: We always check the carseat, but one time it didn’t make it! We had to borrow one from the airline! Try stuffing an 18mo old into an infant carrier! This is the first year for her to have her own seat, so we will try the CARES.

    We struggle with the staying up later when we travel! If your hotel has a swimming pool or hot tub, this will make any kid tired! Go for a swim and forgo bath time! Chlorine typically makes the eyes tired, and the body tired. I’m sure the fellow patrons love it, but we let her RUN down the hallways! This tires her out!

    I agree with the “no adult” activities and it even cuts into romantic times, but right now in her life I love watching her experience new things.

    My last bit of advice for traveling with kiddos! Airport lounges!!!! American is the best because they have family rooms with cartoons! We load up on snacks too for the flight!

  16. Whoever coined the phrase “I need a vacation from my vacation” was spot on when it comes to kids. There are a lot of great thrills in traveling with kids, but NOBODY arrives back at home MORE rested than when they left (save the rich who travel with nannys and who have my permanent scowl [directed towards the parents] who CHEAT like that).

  17. My kids are 13 and 10 and I’ve found that now rooms are beginning to be a problem. We’re traveling to Japan this summer and while I could get them into the Conrad (although rooms are supoosed to be only for 3 max) I had to book 2 sets of adjoining rooms at the St. Regis Osaka – which burned all my points/cash. Heading for the UK next summer, and it’s the same situation with max occupancy. As they get older, they get easier to travel with but harder at the same time.

  18. Yes it’s harder with kids to enjoy a vacation fully.

    But I will argue, yes you can come back MORE rested.

    Travel is different with kids. You just need to find out how to do it.

    Say you are doing a disney or theme park type trip. If you go day after day at the parks you’ll be exhausted and not so happy. After one day at the park plan the next day at the pool and do some lower key stuff. Then you can go back to another theme park the next day. this will totally make for a better experience.

    Or if it’s a European type trip don’t pack too much in and make sure you find stuff that everyone will enjoy. Old world Museums aren’t the hands on fun ones we have here. Find a park and let your kids be kids for a little while.. you can sit on a bench in Paris and let them play and have a great time just sitting there.

    Have a rough plan of things you want to do and do what you can. But if things change or everyone is having fun don’t ruin the experience by rushing around or trying to do too much.

  19. Additional challenges:
    – No exit row. Bulkheads are also an issue due to no accessible storage on take-off/landing
    – No voluntarily denied boarding vouchers
    – Extra time through security (mainly due to stuff and tracking little people
    – Preboarding!
    – Tracking little ones as they run up & down concourse to burn energy while watching luggage (cloning technology not withstanding :p)
    – Potty time!
    – Airline musical chairs: tracking seat changes and keeping group together
    As a Disney vet, anyone that goes to Disney to relax needs to have their expectations recalibrated πŸ™‚

  20. To answer the car seat question…they are not required for air travel at any age. We have used the CARES harness several times as it is so much more convenient to travel with, but sadly I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t the best answer for us. She is so much more comfortable and happy on-board the plane in her car seat than she is in the CARES harness. Bringing the seat also means we have one we trust and that is clean when we arrive at our destination (assuming we are renting a car).

    I’m hoping it won’t be too long until she really is comfy in a seat without the car seat, but we are not there yet.

    Love all the tips and stories – keep them coming!

  21. Yeah, I think people think they have to have a car seat on the plane if they are under 2, which is not true. You never have to have a car seat at all on a plane. For us my kids hated being confined in their car seat on a plane, but the CARES never bothered my son. My daughter isn’t a huge fan, so we just do the seatbelt (she isn’t 2 until next month). We have a padded car seat bag and always check our car seats, and have never had an issue – in fact the only time we have had a car seat broken was when we gate checked it!

    I agree with whoever said kids are more adaptable than people think, so so true!

  22. I always checked the car seat. I found traveling with one child easy, 1 while pregnant a challenge, 2 not not so bad, 2 while pregnant :rolleyes: by the time I was doing 3 major flights a year with 3 I learned how to pretend was not the mommy if one was acting up. In retrospect the only really tough vacation was trying to drag along a 16 y.o. that did not want to go. Now I travel solo and enjoy every minute!

  23. Before your kids are 2 travel as much as you can while they are considered a “Lap Child” This saves you from the cost of the extra ticket as well as get’s them used to travel at an early age..

    The best thing ever for flights these days are the tablets.. between games and movies they are content on any flight!

  24. We checked the car-seat after a while because our daughter could not stand it. She is now 14 and a veteran traveler since 14 months. I could not possibly count the number of trips she has been on, but I can tell you that on one long trip, I suddenly realized when she was age 7 or 8 that both my hubby and I had fallen asleep while she stayed awake and read her book; she even asked the FA for a sode and tried to stay quiet so we would not wake up. A game-changer…and a little sad because I could see her growing up. In those days (not long ago), there were no tablets so I relied on the old tricks of packing several sticker books, coloring books, markers, puzzles, clay, pipe cleaners, Polly Pocket dolls, etc. and I wrapped each one so she had the fun of guessing the contents and enjoying the unveiling. If you use these toys, don’t forget to bring a light shallow box or ziplock bag to keep em in. One other thought. My parents brought me up traveling, but died when I was in my 20ies so these early memories are precious to me. Your daughter will be changed forever by her traveling with you–in a lovely way.

  25. We used our Britax carsests long after most people. Loved that our girls were strapped in and confined but mostly they felt comfortable and always could snooze in their seat just like they were riding in the car.

    Flying with kids definitely gets easier as they get older and they can carry their own gear and keep themselves more entertained. The thing I want now is to only fly carriers with 2-X-2 configurations so that our family of four can split up 2:2 and not have to sit next to strangers!

  26. As soon as I could leave the carseat behind, I did! It is just too much to lug on parking and rental car shuttles with an active toddler. If we used it on the plane, it positioned my daughter just perfectly to kick the seat in front of her the whole flight, so it was a big liability. And she hated being confined in it anyway. We rent at our car rental location (or go to visit family who have a carseat on the other end). So definitely figure out what works best for your family!

  27. Im typing this from my ski house in VT where Im having our annual college guys weekend which started Thursday night. Its 5 am and im up earlier than my wife and kids who are back at home in BOS. Im up because whenever i drink too much i get up early with shakes lol. The ski house is lonely and dark and while the mountain got snow and it opens at 7:30am ill get no sleep this weekend due to parties and such. We are here to ski hard and not rest although the final day has the spa on our “itinerary”
    When im with the kids i long for adult time and when im without them i miss em and get less sleep anyway. Once my wife and i took a sat night at a hotel and had my mother take the kids but the hotel had a fire alarm so we got up early. Lol
    I gave up on getting an actual 7-8 hrs of sleep long ago and i dont even think i need more than 6. When we fly w kids we take cat naps when and where we can. Its not perfect but when you get to the beach or ski area or family home being visited, it becomes worth it. I am glad mine are out of the big car seat on plane and huge diaper bag stage. Now its stealing daddys iphone to watch netflix or play angry birds and using portable dvd players to watch movies we can get free from the library. I find im healthier when on vaca with the family: only having 1-2 glasses of red wine at a dinner with me wife vs last night where i plowed through 6 Heady Toppers and someone else drove us home. (Google the beer)

  28. Probably the biggest impact our children have on travel is the added cost. This reduces the amount of travel we do.

    The next would be choosing flight schedules. This can control which destinations we are looking at because we want to ensure we are close to a bed during sleep time for the youngest. We learned that one with our older child traveling to Europe. We’re now saving any longer complicated trip for when the youngest hits 4 so that we don’t have to deal with a tired crabby kid while being tired ourselves.

    We have never taken a car seat on a plane so for us it isn’t a big deal, get one of the bags with wheels that others have mentioned and check them. Neither kid was ever comfortable in one so it’s pointless on the plane for us. We used CARES for a year or two.

    The luggage train (up to 4 bags plus carseat and stroller) can be a bit much and plays into considerations of ground transportation, generally I’m booking larger rental cars and avoiding mass transit.

  29. @omatravel: Totally hear ya on the larger ground transportation. Forgot about that one. We always try to rent a van, just like we drive at home, and they are $$$.

  30. It’s definitely an interesting challenge trying to maximize our use of points for an upcoming trip to Europe, since it seems so many hotels have a maximum of 3 people. I’ve slowly gotten used to the idea of booking two rooms as necessary. It uses up points twice as fast, but I figure since my wife and I often apply for identical cards, it isn’t so bad. Surprisingly, my 8 year old daughter is super-excited about staying at the Park Hyatt Paris VendΓ΄me (I think she’s going to get very spoiled!) πŸ™‚

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *