Parents with young kids, we get it, we really do – the world of travel with your little one may seem like it is full of so many potential pitfalls. Let us give you the tips you need to succeed when you listen to this episode of Out Travel the System. We’re especially here for you, first time parents who may have never traveled with their kiddo before!
Host Nisreene Atassi digs into the highs and lows of traveling with kids under the age of 5 with Monet Hambrick, who blogs about her family adventures at The Traveling Child, and Christie Hudson, Sr. PR Manager for Expedia.
They share some of their favorite travel hacks when it comes to having kiddo in tow, including what gear to bring and what to leave at home, and how to pick the right accommodations for you (hotel vs vacation rental is always a hot debate.) Check out Christie’s pick from her most recent trip.
Learn about some of the amazing experiences Monet has been able to share with her children – start with the spitting elephant, and stick around for the sense of homecoming they felt thousands of miles away from home.
You may just find travel with kids under 5 represents a wealth of opportunities you never considered before!
The Truth About Traveling with Kids Under 5
Nisreene Atassi: As many of you now, I recently had a baby. Well, she’s two now. So maybe not so recently, but regardless, I’ve been lucky enough to travel with her, whether it was a road trip, a flight or a staycation. And I have to say the stress is absolutely real, but the memories and the joy of watching her experience things for the first time are also very, very real. That’s why I’m super excited to crack into this episode because I think it’s one that all parents will absolutely need to listen to. And I hope that everyone gets to walk away with just a few tips to make things a little bit better. I’m Nisreene Atassi, and this is Out Travel the System. My guests today are two very seasoned parents who are going to share all of their wisdom they’ve accumulated about traveling with their kids. First up, I’ve got a familiar voice for all of our listeners, Christie Hudson, senior PR manager for Expedia. She’s a mom of two kids ages two and five. She also just got back from a week long trip in Hawaii. So I can’t wait to hear all about it. Thanks for coming back on the show, Christie.
Christie Hudson: Thanks for having me.
Nisreene Atassi: Also here with us is Monet Hambrick. She blogs about her family adventures with her five and seven year old daughters at thetravelingchild.co. Welcome to Out Travel the System, Monet.
Monet Hambrick: Thank you so much for having me.
Nisreene Atassi: Monet, I’d love to start by taking you in the Out Travel the System time machine back to the very first time you traveled with your eldest child. What were some of the questions you had leading up to your first trip?
Monet Hambrick: Yeah, that was whew. She was six weeks old. We got on a plane. We went from New York to Florida. We were going to visit family. My whole pregnancy, people told me I wouldn’t be able to travel anymore once I had her. And I was like, well, you guys don’t know me. And then here was the moment of truth. We were at the airport at LaGuardia reading up on those tips just like the listeners today are here to listen to us. I was doing the same thing. So they say nurse during takeoff and landing. So I’m going to make sure that I do that. The change of clothes in case she vomits all over me or has a blow out on her diaper or something like that. But surprisingly, it went really well and we didn’t have any crazy moments. And when it was over, it was like, okay, we made it here. It’s done. And we had such an amazing time, her being able to meet my aunts and my grandma and so, so worth it for the priceless faces that they made when they got to meet their new addition to the family.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah. I love that. Christie. What about you? Do you remember the first time you traveled with your son?
Christie Hudson: I do. Vividly. Similar to Monet, he was very young. I think he was like three months old and we were headed to Texas to visit family. And I just had a little flashback while Monet was talking thinking about how every stage of traveling with kids is hard in a different way. Your first trip with your kind of newborn or infant is super intimidating, because you’re dealing with all these unknowns and you kind of have to throw out the whole way that you used to travel, even if you’re a seasoned traveler. It’s a whole new ball game. So there’s that. And that’s challenging. That’s a learning curve. But then after traveling with an infant, you’re like, that’s not so bad. That’s pretty good. They slept most of the time. It was actually pretty easy. They’re small. They can sit on your lap. And then you started traveling with toddlers or older and all of a sudden-
Christie Hudson: … things just get wild. So it’s all kind of hard just in different ways at different stages. But anyway, same experience. We were very intimidated, very worried, got to the airport very early, extremely worried about the ear pain with the takeoff and the landing. I remember that vividly. So I also had to nurse her in those moments and I was like, oh, don’t fall asleep. You have to keep nursing. You just overstress about so many things. And then it was kind of a breeze.
Nisreene Atassi: I’m bringing this up so that you first- time parents out there listening can really understand that when traveling it’s completely normal and very common to feel anxious about the travel process. It’s a very big first, not to mention this is happening during a pandemic for some of you. So any nerves you may be having are completely understandable. Christie, how would you say pandemic-era family travel is different for you now compared to sort of regular travel before the pandemic?
Christie Hudson: Yeah, I would just say there’s such a heightened sense of germ phobia, frankly. I think you’re always paranoid about germs and you’re traveling with your kids or maybe just even traveling as a solo human, but kids just touch everything, look away and suddenly they’re touching the ground. They’re lying on the ground. Their shoes are in their mouth. They’re like licking the tray table. I don’t know. They’re literally doing everything possible to be disgusting. And while that was gross before now, it’s not only gross, but you’re actually really scared of those germs. And so I think just the amount of having to tell them to get up, don’t touch that. Let me wipe that down. Let me wipe your hands. It’s adding another layer of kind of vigilance. It’s a bit exhausting.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah. What about you Monet? How’s it been different for you?
Monet Hambrick: Thankfully, they were really good with masks and we don’t have to worry about that with them. Practicing a lot at home is so important. If you’re flying and your child cannot wear a mask and they’re over two years old, unfortunately at this time you might have to rethink your travels because the airlines are not playing. If they just turned two yesterday, that’s the rule. And a lot of airlines I’ve seen have been huge sticklers with that through the pandemic, since we’ve flown. Practicing, that I think is key and just making sure they are okay with that, because that’s been something how we’ve decided what type of excursions or activities are we doing. Because if you’re doing something indoors and I know, okay, my child can’t keep a mask on for three hours, well then we can’t go someplace where we’re going to be inside for three hours. You need to make sure that we’re always outside or if we’re inside, it’s short spurts of time. So I think those are things that are really important to think about now with travel.
Nisreene Atassi: I feel like a big part of being, and I’m using air quotes here for those who can’t see me, “successful” when traveling with your kids is being prepared as much as you can be. What was your mental checklist when your kids were under the age of five? What were the things that you needed to make sure you took care of or brought with you?
Monet Hambrick: Snacks on snacks on snacks. And that definitely does not end at five at all. If you’re on a plane or a train or in a car they get hangry and you don’t have anything to give them it is not nice for anybody, especially for places where you’re not going to have wifi. If you allow your kids to use tablets, making sure that you have TV shows and movies that are downloaded to the device directly where you don’t need wifi to access them because that’s not fun either. And then with that also traveling with a portable charger to charge those electronics. A meltdown because a tablet died mid flight is not fun. All airplanes do not have chargers. So making sure we always had that as well. And to be quite honest, always kept a lollipop or two in my purse because sometimes you have to bribe children and it is what it is.
Christie Hudson: Not above that.
Monet Hambrick: Not above that at all.
Christie Hudson: Not too good for a mid travel bribe, ever.
Monet Hambrick: Lollipops for my kids always seem to work. But then just the different activities to keep them busy when they were younger, especially like when they were learning their ABCs and 1, 2, 3’s. Using some time to just practice that with them. It was a great time because it’s uninterrupted to go over stuff like that with them. I always stop either at the dollar store or the dollar section, pick up some new things, wrap them because kids love unwrapping things. Oh my gosh, whether it’s new or old, if it’s wrapped, it is the best. That alone unwrapping gave them something to do. And then if it’s a new activity, it kept their attention, things like that. Yeah.
Nisreene Atassi: I love that last tip. I did that for our last trip. I just went and got these little Peppa Pig figurines and every so often when I could sense that she was getting bored or antsy, I would give her one. And then it would occupy your time. And even if it’s just for 15 minutes at a time, those are really precious and amazing 15 minutes. So that is a fantastic tip. I love that one.
Christie Hudson: Definitely the snack thing. Snacks are not only good for fending off a case of the hangrys but they’re also just kind of entertainment for kids under five. A bag of Cheerios really can work wonders because not only is it airplane time, but it’s the travel time on either end of the airplane trip. You get there, you’re waiting for the rental car. Then it takes 40 minutes to get from the airport to the hotel. And then it takes 25 minutes to check in. There’s so much time there. For kids who are really little, my two year old still has a pacifier. And if that thing hits the airplane floor or the ground at the airport it’s toast. So I always have a Ziploc bag with a whole bunch of backups. I have sanitizing wipes in case we go through the backups and we need to go back to some. And in addition to that, having a change of clothes for all age of kids and maybe even myself has been really helpful because you know, my son who’s five, he got sick on the descent into Maui and ended up throwing up into his mask and all over. So, gotta have those extra t- shirts and pants.
Nisreene Atassi: Well, if it makes you feel any better, in our most recent trip to San Diego, my daughter had diarrhea on the plane. We were literally on the descent so I couldn’t take her out. I literally just straight up threw her clothes away. It was horrible. There were a handful of people that were giving me dirty looks because I was throwing poopy clothes away in the bathroom. But then there were a handful of other people who were like, how can I help? So I think that kind of stuff, it does make you feel a lot better. So my biggest tip is don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be afraid to take the help of someone offers it.
Nisreene Atassi: Of course there’s being prepared. And then there’s being over- prepared, which means maybe packing too much, which is very easy to do. What are some things in your experience that you definitely don’t need while traveling with kids?
Monet Hambrick: Diapers and wipes. If you’re traveling, especially domestically, there’s no need to bring your entire bag, checking a bag, especially if you weren’t planning on checking one, just filled with diapers and wipes. Just bring enough for the flight the first day, depending on what time your flight is landing a little extra, just in case you can’t get to the store or you have delays. And then I think the other stuff kind of depends on, how you travel too. If we were going a place that only had public transportation. We traveled to Europe a lot when the girls were younger. So instead of bringing a car seat, I’d just bring a cheap umbrella stroller for them because we would take public transportation. So there was no need for me to travel with a big bulky car seat or when I was traveling the U.S. if I did bring their car seat when they were infants and they were in an infant car seat instead of the huge travel system with the big stroller that went on top, they have little stroller things-
Nisreene Atassi: Like adapters.
Monet Hambrick: Yeah, exactly. the adapter! You just snap it in. And it’s so much more lightweight than traveling with an entire travel system. And if your kids are really young, like when mine were babies, we just ditched strollers and car seats altogether. And I would just baby wear. I went to Italy and I just baby wore the entire time in a carrier. Of course, depending on the weight of your child might be easier or harder how much walking you’re doing, but in places where you don’t need a car where you’re going to take public transportation, kind of no need to bring that stuff. When we went to Thailand we didn’t bring that stuff with us, but I knew, okay, we’re going in a car for this particular sightseeing tour. I made sure that I just booked a tour that offered car seats for the girls. That way we wouldn’t have to worry about that.
Christie Hudson: I think it’s a great tip that you can rent car seats and cribs and sleepers and stuff like that. Most places that you go, you just have to kind of plan ahead a little bit. The other thing is, kids love to bring their own suitcase or bring their own little backpack on the plane because they see you packing all this stuff and they want to stuff there’s full of stuffies and books and all that good stuff. But just remember if they’re pretty little, you’re going to end up carrying that stuff.
Christie Hudson: This one’s kind of controversial, but we actually bring our big bulky stroller. And the reason is both the kids can fit on it. Five- year- olds can walk, but they don’t want to. So it’s just easier to bring that big bulky thing, check it at the gate. And then they can both sit on the stroller.
Nisreene Atassi: Traveling by air- anything for the baby gets checked for free. Stroller, car seat, pack, and play.
Monet Hambrick: You’re checking at the gate, your car seat stroller or even if you’re checking in with a ticket agent and you have a protective bag.
Christie Hudson: Oh yeah. Stuff extra stuff in there.
Monet Hambrick: I was like, oh, it can’t fit into my suitcase. Throw it in that bag and check it because it checks for free.
Nisreene Atassi: Genius. Such a good start to this discussion. But of course there is so much more for us to dig into. When we come back, we’re going to chat some more about tips for family travel success. So stay with us. You’re listening to Out Travel the System. I’m your host, Nisreene Atassi. We’re here as your trusted travel companion and that includes pointing you in the right direction when it comes to what to do in these uncertain times. Catch up on our past episodes where seasoned travelers tell you exactly what it’s like out there right now in the world, or get tips to hack your next epic trip.
Nisreene Atassi: Check out our episodes about heading to Spain or Disney, or even our ‘Only In’ series about some of the most amazing cities across the United States. There’s lots more ahead this season, including a deep dive into France and when to blow up that travel budget. Like and subscribe to Out Travel the System right now on your favorite podcast player.
Nisreene Atassi: All right, welcome back to Out Travel the System. I’m here with Christie Hudson, senior PR manager for Expedia. I’ve also got with me Monet Hambrick, the founder of the family travel blog, thetravelingchild.co . Monet, there are some people who would say, given the widespread availability of virtual experiences now, they don’t see the need to load up a kid on an airplane and go somewhere or that they can just sort of wait until the kids are older. You’ve taken a very different approach. And I’m thinking specifically about a really powerful experience that you recently had with your girls in Kansas. Tell us a little bit about that.
Monet Hambrick: For me, virtual experience are just not the same. Being able to see something, touch it, feel it, like truly understand that experience. I don’t think virtual gives that to you. And of course, virtual is a great option if you can’t do those things, but if you do have the opportunity to do so, I highly recommend it. The experience that you were talking about in Kansas, they actually had an African- American history trail there. And we went on a few of the stops. So we got to go to Monroe Elementary, which was what sparked Brown vs Board of Education. We got to walk through the halls of the school, go into the classrooms. We got to walk through a simulator where it was as if it was the first day that they were trying to desegregate and hear the shouts and what people were saying to the students. Kids that were my oldest daughter’s age. For her and for my other daughter and for me and my husband to be able to experience that with them, because you can read that in a book that oh people were mean. You can read that in the book, but really not truly understand what it means by ‘people were mean’, but to walk through and hear the things that were said, like we don’t like these black people, we want them to die. That’s literally what we heard. That’s a complete different level for them to know that there was a specific water fountain and here it was that they could drink out of. And here’s a water fountain that white kids could drink out of. And to see the difference in the condition that those water fountains were in. That’s different than reading that in a book and just saying, oh, well they had separate water fountains. So to me, being able to do those things is much more powerful than just a virtual experience. And they stay with your child I think a lot longer as well when you experience something, versus you read about it, how you perceive it and receive it, I think is very different. Some people say, oh, well, you’re wasting your money. They won’t remember, but kids don’t remember everything. As adults, we don’t remember everything. I’m pretty sure none of us remember what we had for dinner last week Wednesday, but those moments in time shape you into who you are, being able to experience certain things. You won’t remember everything, but there are still certain moments of that that’s always going to stick by you. It’s very worth it to have the real life experience versus just the virtual experience.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah, absolutely. That was so beautifully said. And what a perfect example. What are some other travel memories with your kids that stand out in your mind?
Monet Hambrick: My daughter – so there’s two moments she remembers the most. One we were in Thailand. She was two at the time and we went to elephant sanctuary and she got to walk with the elephants and feed them. And then they take you to a river and you get to bathe them. And all she talks about all the time is ‘the elephants spit at me’ and it spit all over her. Like took a big gulp of water in the river and it spit on her. And she talks about it all the time. And she was two and she’s seven now. And when we were in Kenya, we got to go on a safari and we got to see five cheetah take down a topi, which is similar to like a gazelle or a antelope and when you talk about the circle of life, oh my gosh, for us to be able to witness that in a real life, that was crazy. And then we got to visit the Maasai tribe and them welcoming us into their village. Them blessing us before we came in. As a black family, for us to be there in Africa, in Kenya, for them to welcome us so much and tell my kids you’re home now. We want to teach you about our traditions. For them to teach them how to make fire. And she still talks about that all the time too. And then a funny point on that Kenya trip was she got slapped by a monkey. We were out eating-
Nisreene Atassi: Like on her face.
Monet Hambrick: Yes. We were eating and there were wild monkeys all around and they wanted her food. We told her you have to keep eating or else if you kind of play around they’re going to think… And one definitely came over and slapped her. And she talks about that all the time.
Nisreene Atassi: Did your parents take you traveling a lot when you were younger? Is that why you do this?
Monet Hambrick: Yeah, they did. I’m a first generation American. So I had a passport from when I was young because both my parents are Jamaican. We would go back to Jamaica often. We would drive all around the United States to see my aunts and my uncles. The moment for me that truly changed my outlook on things when I was going into my junior year in high school, I got a scholarship for this program called Experiments in International Living. And that summer I was able to go to Botswana for five weeks. I stayed with a host family there for most of the time, went camping in the Okavango Delta, work with Habitat for Humanity. And yeah, I was 16 years old and that was way before we had cell phones and you definitely could not FaceTime anybody or WhatsApp. So it was like in the middle of the night, calling my parents on a calling card, like, oh, I have five minutes left on the card. And for them to be able to trust me, that truly sparked my love for travel and how we travel too, because being able to be immersed in the culture by living with a host family there in a village – t hat just changed the way how we choose to travel. Me and my husband now with our kids and making sure, like – t he tourist attractions, of course, we go to see them, but also diving deeper into the culture that we’re visiting.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah, definitely. And I think that speaks to why sometimes the virtual piece isn’t going to cut it because sometimes it’s the smells, the sounds, tastings of the food and just piquing all of their senses. And especially when the kids are under the age of five, they are so acutely aware. Every sound and every smell and things like that and it does have a really big formative experience for them. So obviously when you’re traveling with your kids, it’s super easy to get just very caught up in doing everything for the kids and having the entire vacation get centered around them. How do you make space for grownup time, if you will, while you’re on vacation?
Christie Hudson: For us I think one of the biggest things is we, in our daily life, are very schedule-oriented with the kids. We don’t miss naps. We have a bedtime routine and a bedtime that is pretty strict. And so when we travel, we try and keep a lot of those things in place if possible. So we actually book our flights right around nap time so that we can hopefully get that like maximum amount of sleep on the plane. We try to, within reason, adjust to the time zone as quickly as possible and kind of keep routines and schedules alive as much as possible. We do lunches or breakfasts out, but rarely do dinners out. We usually have a way to cook in our vacation rental or we might order in or something like that if we’re staying at a hotel. And the reason why I bring all of this up in response to the question that you just asked about how do we create space and time for the adults to enjoy ourselves, is all of that stuff is so critical to do in order for us to have happy kids so that we can like have a drink on the patio before we go to sleep after they’re down for the night. If we go to the pool all day and wear them out, then we probably have a little bit of time in the afternoon where we can give them tablets or TV for a little bit. And we can enjoy ourselves there having a meal or have a cocktail hour or whatever. I think it doesn’t look the same as it did when you were a solo traveler or when you were a couple traveling. And that is an adjustment, just like everything with parenting. There’s a mourning period for a second because you’re like, oh, this is not the trip I used to get. But then like you said, there’s so many perks to the memories you get to create and have with your kids that it’s completely worth the trade off. Especially if you kind of try and take care of their needs first in a way so that they’re happier and calmer and more patient. And then you can kind of focus on you and they won’t even notice.
Nisreene Atassi: I want to talk a little bit about how you choose lodging. If you’re going to a warm weather place, it might worth it to upgrade your room so that A, you have a view, but more importantly, you have a balcony because you can put the baby down and just leave and go and spend the rest of your night on the balcony and enjoy each other’s company. So you don’t have to feel like you’re walking around a hotel room at seven o’clock in the pitch black trying to like be ninjas and not wake up the baby.
Monet Hambrick: For us it really depends on the destination that we’re going to. If we’re going to a beach destination, the Caribbean, typically we’re going to stay in a hotel. It’s just easier because unfortunately the whole beach line are hotels. So it’s easiest to be right there. You can walk right down. Also when we come back really sandy, we are on vacation, so we don’t have to clean it up. That’s very nice. Versus when we’re traveling maybe to a different destination, we do enjoy vacation rentals because we get to spread out. We get to cook. In the evening, again, we get to relax. The kids can be in one room and we can be in another. It really has a lot to do with specifically what type of vacation it is, where we’re traveling to. And also sometimes how expensive is this trip -what’s the price difference between a vacation rental and a hotel? If it’s a more expensive trip and we have points that can cover hotel costs, we might just do a hotel anyway, because it’s going to lower the cost for the trip overall.
Christie Hudson: I’m with you Monet. It’s a hard decision. For me, sometimes going someplace and being in a vacation rental feels too much like being at home. You’re cooking, you’re cleaning, you’re putting things in a dishwasher. You’re doing laundry every minute. And all of a sudden you’re like, am I even on vacation? I love a hybrid situation. When we went to Maui, we stayed at the Honua Kai and it’s basically a condo resort. So you get all the goodness of having three or four pools. There’s a water slide. There’s the Duke’s right on the property. There’s room service and housekeeping and all those good things that you kind of want. And then also there was a little kitchenette that had an oven and a stove and a dishwasher and everything. So that for us was like the perfect thing for our kids at the age they are right now.
Monet Hambrick: And I’d say with the resorts, another benefit to them, especially when you do want to get that alone time when your kids are older, if they have a kids club and you’re able to drop them off, our kids are finally at the age. There’s hope at the end of the tunnel, parents of younger kids, okay. We can now drop them off where they can stay, have fun with your sister doing little kid stuff. And your dad and I are going on a date at this resort and we didn’t have to leave the property too, because it was at a resort. All the restaurants are there, there was a bowling alley, everything. And I was like, oh my God, we’re free. So that is a benefit of staying at resort sometimes too.
Christie Hudson: Magical.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah. I love that. Monet, what are some of the pieces of wisdom you wish someone had shared with you before you started traveling with children?
Monet Hambrick: So many times, people are telling us we were crazy for wanting to travel with our kids, wanting to go to this specific destination. But if you really want to do it, you will figure it out. You will make it work. And you know, what, if kids live there, kids can visit.
Nisreene Atassi: Also, I feel like just because your children are getting older, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to get easier. Enjoy I think the moment that you’ve got. Christie, what’s one piece of advice that you either wish somebody had told you or that you now try to share it with everybody?
Christie Hudson: I really wish that we had traveled more. When my first kid was between the ages of like zero and a year. They’re blobs and they sleep a lot. You just carry them around and basically live your life. And it’s just so much easier, but that’s also the time when you’re sleep deprived. And you’re pretty overwhelmed. A lot of people have to go back to work. So it’s not always an option, but if it had been an option, I wish I could go back and do that. And finally, school schedules and it just occurred to me that we are going to have to travel when everyone else travels, like during school breaks and holiday breaks and stuff. And I was like shoulder season, cost- saving crowd avoidance tips that I’ve been using as my travel bible for the last few years are going to be out the window. So yeah. There’s really benefits to traveling with your kids at any age I think. Some people think under five is probably the hardest, but turns out you have the most freedom. So yeah, I think you really gotta just embrace it.
Nisreene Atassi: I know I’ve definitely learned a ton in this episode and I hope all of you listeners have as well. Monet, thank you so much for spending time with us on Out Travel the System. It has been an absolute pleasure chatting with you and hearing all of your amazing stories.
Monet Hambrick: Thank you guys so much for having me.
Nisreene Atassi: And of course always happy to have you back Christie.
Christie Hudson: Absolutely. Anytime.
Nisreene Atassi: Christie Hudson is a senior PR manager for Expedia and Monet Hambrick writes about her travel adventures with her family at thetravelingchild. co blog. I’m Nisreene Atassi and this is Out Travel the System, brought to you by Expedia. In our next episode, we’re ready to think about heading out on the high seas with tips and tricks from this very capable captain.
Captain Kate McCue: Hi everyone. This is Captain Kate McCue of Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Edge. Out Travel the System, next episode, I’m going to give you an insight into the captain’s life and cruising from a firsthand perspective. Stay tuned.
Nisreene Atassi: Until then, happy travels. Out Travel The System is brought you by Expedia. Our show runner and executive producer is Claudia Kwan. Our associate producer is Katie Doten with sound engineering from Jill Constantine. Additional production support is provided by JAR Audio.