I'm a mom of three kids under 5
Prior to having kids, I did a lot of traveling, both for work and for fun. I've been known to land in New York from a trip, go home, switch suitcases, and head back to the airport all on the same day.
In my many hours of travel, I've perfected some skills that made things easier, like fitting enough clothes for two weeks on a tiny carry-on and having everything needed to sleep through a 12-hour overnight flight.
But when I became a mom I worried about kids making it impossible for me to travel as much as I was used to.
We took our first trip with our son was when he was 3 months old, and it was a disaster. We had the wrong gear with us, including a huge and heavy stroller that was a pain to check on the plane. We didn't even use it at our destination. We also failed to have a change of clothes for everyone on the plane with us — because accidents happen.
I use packing cubes and color coordinate them
When it comes to packing, I've learned that with multiple kids it's best to keep everything organized while also packing as little as possible.
I use packing cubes for everyone — including my husband and me — and use specific colors for each of us. This makes it easy to unpack when we arrive.
I also make sure that the same type of garments are packed together. For example, socks and underwear go together, while pajamas, sleepsacks, and loveys go in a separate cube.
If we check bags, I put the adults' cubes in one and all of the kids' cubes in another. That way each adult has one suitcase to keep track of and we know where things are.
I also pack outfits for everyone in case of accidents on the plane or airport. I put each outfit in a separate ziplock bag and stuff it in that person's backpack so it's ready when needed. For the kids, the outfit includes socks and underwear, because you never know when you'll need to fully strip them.
I bring an activity box full of new things to keep kids entertained on the plane
Prior to flying, I put together a box of new toys and activities for the kids that will only be available on the plane after we take off.
I usually go for things I can find in the $1 section at our local salvage store to keep it as affordable as possible and also not stress if we leave an item behind on the plane. These can be things like stickers, stuffed animals, crayons, and miniature cars.
The key is for the toys and activities to be new, so the kids are excited when they open their box.
I pack a lunchbox with snacks
One of my parenting mottos is "When in doubt, hand your kid a snack." There's a 99% chance they'll eat it and you'll avoid a meltdown.
So when it comes to traveling, I pack their lunchboxes with their favorite snacks.
I try to keep it to mess-free foods, like crackers, chips, and wrapped cheeses, instead of things like yogurt or fruit.
On our most recent airplane ride the flight attendants stopped by our row to check out what our kids were eating, one even saying that their snacks looked better than anything they had to offer in the plane cart.
We revisit the lunchbox throughout the flight to make sure no one gets hangry.
There are no screen limits when flying
I pack tablets for each kid for when they are done with snacking or uninterested in the activity box. I've come to learn that when it comes to travel, there is no limit on screen or snack time.
We always make sure that all tablets are fully charged, each kid has their headphones in their backpack, and triple-check that all favorite shows are loaded. Taking the extra step of making sure shows play while offline pre-flight will save you from tears on the plane.
Pack as light as possible and ship bulky essentials to your destination
At one point we had three kids in diapers, which is the least convenient scenario for travel. I learned that when it comes to bulky items like diapers, wipes, formula or sunscreen, the easiest thing to do is to ship to your destination.
This is not always available, especially if you're traveling abroad. If that's the case, I pack as little as possible and prepare to buy whatever is needed on day one.
I also don't pack one outfit every day for each kid. We try to stay at places with laundry available so we can wash clothes every couple of days and re-use.
We rent car seats at our destination
Traveling with three kids can mean lugging a lot of things around, including car seats. We've decided that when possible, we rent car seats at our destination.
The benefits include not having to be constantly installing and uninstalling our own car seats, not risking the seats getting lost or ruined on the plane, and having our car ready when we land at home so we can leave the airport without any delays. Most importantly, it means fewer things to carry around.
I specify in my car reservation the ages of our kids so they can have the appropriate car seats ready when arriving at the counter.
When renting car seats is not available, we travel with lightweight car seats like the Cosco Scenera, which costs under $60 and fits three across in the car.
We also rent toys, stroller, and cribs
After my first experience traveling with a full-sized stroller I decided to never do it again. Instead, I rent whatever we need, including a stroller, cribs, and toys, at our destination.
I use BabyQuip for everything. Think of it as Airbnb but for kid items. For example, we need a double stroller for the twins, so we search BabyQuip to see if anyone has one to rent at our destinations. Then we rent it through the site for a fee.
The items are delivered to you, and when it's time to leave, they are picked up.
For our trip to Florida I added sand toys to my rental, and they got used every single day. I didn't have to worry about creating more plastic waste because I knew the toys were going to get used by another family right after ours.
There are products I always bring with us
In my years as a mom I've come to love certain products that I simply cannot live without. When it comes to traveling, I have three things that I bring with us, regardless of where we go.
The tagalong handle attaches to any stroller or wagon so your kid can grab on as you walk around. It is ideal for amusement parks, airports, or any crowded situation. It's small enough that you can always have it in your purse or diaper bag. All of my three kids love holding onto to it, which makes it easier to keep tabs on them.
When traveling overnight by plane, I bring the Stokke Jetkid, which turns any plane seat into a toddler bed. It also can be used as a ride on cart, making it easier to move around airports with kids. They are accepted by most major airlines, so I recommend checking the approved list before showing up to the airport.
We always bring Stokke's CloudSleeper toddler bed as well. It's a toddler-sized inflatable bed, and it has side bumpers which gives us peace of mind because we know our son won't roll off a bed in the middle of the night. It comes with its own packing cube, making it easier to put in a suitcase.
Always be flexible
With my first child, I was incredibly strict about a napping and eating schedule, including during flights. After many tears and tantrums from both of us, I've learned to let go of schedules when traveling and embrace flexibility.
Yes, avoiding flying during nap time would be great, but that can be unrealistic. At the same time, trying to get a toddler to nap on a plane might not always work. So just go with the flow and try to keep everyone happy and calm.