There’s a reason the number one must-have for holiday travel with kids is a stiff drink waiting for you at your destination. As parents, we’re under all the pressure—and it’s especially bad during the holidays. Add in Thanksgiving traffic, Santa dropping gifts at grandma’s, and budget airfare that doesn’t come with checked bags, and you might start wondering why you’re even traveling for the holidays in the first place.
But here’s one thing you can celebrate! Kids don’t actually need as much stuff as parents—especially new parents—may think. And the very best stuff takes up less space or does double-duty while still getting the job done. The end result? You get where you’re going comfortably and enjoy yourself more when you get there.
Must-Have Gear for Holiday Travel with Kids
Here’s what you’ll need to ace holiday travel with kids, whether you’re driving to grandma’s or flying halfway around the world.
Shacke Packing Cubes
When your favorite suitcase is now the family suitcase, grab these colorful cubes from Shacke to streamline packing and unpacking. Assign every family member a different hue and have everyone fill their own to take a little something off your plate.
Zinc Flyte Kids Luggage Scooter
Zinc’s wheeled carryons with built-in kickboard scooters may inspire your pint-size travelers to keep tabs on their own stuff for once. And if you’re jealous, don’t be! There are grownup versions, too, complete with built in Bluetooth speakers.
Trunki Ride-Along Suitcase
Kids too small to scoot solo can roll through crowds on Trunki, the colorful anthropomorphic ride-along suitcase for the under-75 pounds set. Trunki’s only downside? Fixed wheels give it a tendency to tip on tight corners, but even so, pulling tired toddlers along still beats carrying them.
IMMI GO’s Car Seat
Renting car seats is a gamble (and not even that much of a money-saver), so consider investing in the only portable car seat that meets all U.S. safety standards. The IMMI GO weighs just 10 pounds, folds into its own (attached) carrying case, and slips easily into overhead bins.
BubbleBum’s Booster Seat
When you’ll need a booster at your destination, you can roll a BubbleBum up and tuck it in your luggage. Even if you’re not 100% sure you’ll need it, this inflatable seat is handy to have around if want to avoid juggling seats between cars.
HEXIN’s Large Travel Duffel Bag
Bring along a pair of these lightweight but large nylon duffel bags from HEXIN if you expect you’ll be hauling holiday gifts home. They fold nearly flat when empty but hold a lot when fully loaded for the return trip—just remember to factor in baggage fees!
High Road Kids Food ‘n Fun Organizer
Everything kids need on long drives (including some distance between them) is within reach with High Road’s between-the-seats organizer designed to hold tablets, toys, and treats. All three seats occupied? Opt for do-it-all back-of-seat organizers like these instead.
Lil’ Gadgets Connect+ Headphones
You have one screen and multiple kids… sounds like a recipe for disaster. But it’s not a problem when they have Lil’ Gadgets’ linkable, volume-limiting Connect+ headphones. Assuming they can agree on a movie, of course.
Go-Go Babyz Travelmate Car Seat Stroller
Ultralight collapsible add-ons from Go-Go Babyz turn any car seat into a mini stroller. While they’re not recommended for tough terrain, they are perfect for zipping through airport terminals and for short city walks.
The Jet Kids BedBox
Trunki is great for short hops, but on long haul flights you may want to go with BedBox, a slightly more maneuverable ride-on suitcase that turns airplane seats into first-class mini beds. Now if they’d just design a BedBox for grownups trapped in coach …
The CARES Strap
When bringing a full-size car seat on the plane seems excessive, but you still need to keep a wiggly kiddo contained during takeoff and landing, the FAA-approved CARES strap system converts the airline seatbelt into a secure five-point harness.
Plane Pal by Penguino Travel
Dangling legs are no fun in the car, and sleeping scrunched up on a plane is no picnic, either. Plane Pal is an inflatable pillow that gives kids a safe place to rest their feet on long drives and can turn a row of airline seats into comfy beds, so the kids can get some sleep on long flights.
The GorillaPod Magnetic by Joby
Hauling around a full-size tripod is a bummer, but so is being behind the camera for every snapshot. This magnetic mini tripod from Joby takes up hardly any space in a backpack or purse but is still tough enough to take to the Christmas tree farm.
The Duomo Watch
You can give kids more room to roam in unfamiliar places with Duomo’s smartwatch because it makes and receives calls, and tracks location, even in water. The kids get to experience a little independence, and you won’t feel like you’re shirking your parental duty.
Lotus Travel Crib
Skip tiny folding bassinets for baby’s first trip because they’ll be too small too soon. Instead, pack this lightweight, roomy Lotus travel crib that’s a safe and familiar spot to sleep from birth to three years. It’s also overhead bin-friendly when stored in its backpack carrier.
AeroBed for Kids
To get a good night’s rest on the road, skip co-sleeping with your toddler and stash AeroBeds’ heavy-duty inflatable mini bed in your luggage. It comes with its own electric pump and has generous sidewalls so “active sleepers” don’t end up on the floor.
Disc-O-Bed Portable Bunk Bed
When grandparents downsize, kids can bring along Disc-O-Bed’s crazily compact bunk bed system designed for toddlers through tweens. The tool-free assembly is so easy and the whole system is so light that kids can set up, break down, and carry their beds themselves. Bunkbed in a box!
The Munchkin BRICA GoBoost Travel Booster Seat
Toddlers can join the family at any and all holiday tables in this self-inflating, ultra-compact (and surprisingly inexpensive) BRICA travel booster that is also a diaper bag. It fits kiddos up to 50 pounds, so it’ll be handy for more than a few faraway Thanksgiving dinners.
The Bottom Line on Holiday Travel with Kids
When you’re packing, give yourself plenty of time to rethink any and all must-haves, including the ones on this list. If you can rent it, borrow it, buy it at your destination, or replace it with an app, leave it at home.
And it never hurts to ask friends and relatives you visit a lot if they’re willing to store what you’ll need again next time—because the less you have to lug, the better. You’ll enjoy the holidays more, your kids will learn the joy of low-maintenance travel, and (bonus!) you’ll have more room for presents.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Fun Family Vacations for Multigenerational Travelers
- 5 Family Travel Apps for Parents and Kids
- 10 Reasons Every Plane Should Have a Family Zone