Have Lovie, Will Travel

On Traveling with a Small Child: How One Hilltown Mom Manages Traveling
By Tony(a) Lemos, HF Contributing Writer

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At 3 ½ my daughter Zoe is an experienced traveler. During our most recent trip to Greece we had a six hour lay-over in Amsterdam. “Mama there’s gate E6. E7 must be next,” she says to me during our layover, as she walked ahead wheeling her little suitcase. I didn’t even know she could read!

I’ve traveled abroad extensively since my mid-twenties. I’ve included my daughter in my travels since she was 4 months old. She’s traveled by boat, train, bus and has spent many long hours in the car. And she has always traveled well (with the exception of one 10-hour flight at 18 months when she had just started to walk…). And I, as a single mother, am able to reach our destination calm and collected.

If you have plans to travel this holiday season, ask yourself if are you relaxed when traveling? Kids pick up on any anxiety and unease. If you feel a little stressed or unsure about an upcoming trip, pack some Rescue Remedy, anti stress aromatherapy patches, tea bags…. Why not pack yourself a little goodie bag too? With a little foresight and planning, traveling can be a fun experience for the whole family. (Click here to recommend a favorite family vacation destination).

To follow are a few travel ideas that have worked for us. Give some a try and see if they will help your travel experiences flow:


Never find yourself short of water or snacks. A thirsty child is a whiny child, and a low blood sugar mama is not as patient or as flexible. This is more difficult now with air travel as new airport regulations do not allow for water bottles on board. When traveling by air I always pack our stainless steel water bottles near the top of our checked in luggage so that they can be reached as soon as we get to our destination. Make sure that your children have had enough to drink before entering the plane. While on the plane, make sure that they drink some water hourly. We like to walk to the station at the end of the aisle and get water, that way we get some exercise as well.

For some extra fun, have a picnic in the air! Or on the deck, if on a boat. Fill a small thermos cup with heated macaroni and cheese. Make it the night before and refrigerate. Heat it up in the microwave before leaving for the airport. It’ll stay warm for hours. Bring along a little fork and spoon. Zip lock a PBJ sandwich cut in easy to eat quarters and toss in some individual size apple sauce or peaches for dessert.

Travel Snack Ideas:

  • Individual size of applesauce
  • Crackers
  • Goldfish
  • Pretzels
  • Cheerio’s in small baggies
  • Individual cereal boxes
  • Cereal bar
  • Fruit roll ups
  • Nuts

If traveling by plane, remember to check in with current airline regulations. Always pack some extra zip lock baggies, or make some vinyl lined sandwich snack bags.


After a lot of research into hand sanitizers, there are two “natural” ones I’ve chosen that we have used successfully while traveling. In general, I do not like this type of product and do not use them; however, after 36 hours, two planes, an eight hour lay over, cab ride, six hour ferry ride, followed by a wait in a small coffee shop and another ride in a small fishing boat…

Here are the two hand sanitizers I suggest:

We also travel with a small container of Dr. Bronner’s Lavender All-One Hemp Pure-Castile Soap, (the only cosmetic/cleaner that we travel with), Perx Organix Lavender Blend Towelettes, and a small pack of tissues (In my next article for Hilltown Families I will write about travel first aid).


Air: Try to travel light. You never know when a child will be tired and cranky and will want to be held. Once a backpack traveling mother, I switched to a suitcase with wheels as our main check in piece of luggage. I’ve put aside that old pack that had accompanied me on trips to Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Kenya, India, several cross country trips and all over Europe, for a new set of wheels. It was a kind of a parenting rite of passage. Like the mini-van (which I don’t drive as I am still searching for the perfect diesel van that can be converted into a biodeisel – more on that later).

As far as carry-on luggage goes, it is easiest to travel as light as possible. Zoe has a small toddler pack on wheels in which she carries her travel pillow, favorite doll, and art supplies. I carry a daypack. Never pack your carry-on full when you leave home, you never know what might be added throughout the day.

Road Trips: The benefit of a road trip is that you do not have to be as picky about what you bring and what you leave behind… but do not let this fool you. Bringing everything but the kitchen sink will result in a chaotic car and many trips to the car and back. It’s easier to bring only what you need, give everything a home in the car. We have used a combination of plastic tubs (not aesthetic) and baskets (not spill proof).


Travel Pillow: A small travel pillow and a travel blanket are necessities! We found a great idea for a travel pillow at A Toy Garden. It has a square body with a Waldorf-style doll head. It is made of velour and has often doubled up as our travel buddy. These would also be very easy to make.

Travel Blanket: A travel blanket (about the size of an airport blanket) can be used to cover the car seat, or on a cold plane or boat ride. I love wool but it tends to be a little heavier. You can also make a simple blanket out of polar fleece or cotton, adding appliqué or embroidery to help your child connect with it. We save these only for use when traveling.

Sleeping Bag: When Zoe was only 2 1/2 I bought her a sleeping bag. She loves it. If you are planning on doing any camping as opposed to simple sleep-overs at grandmas, I recommend passing on the popular theme “toddler bags” and getting a kids bag from L.L. Bean. It’s a little more money but much more functional and will last your child a good many years. It is a little bulky, though. Not the kind of sleeping bag you would take on a backpacking trip. But we camped for two weeks in Maine and it was perfect.

Change of Clothes: And of course who would leave home without a change of clothes! A light t-shirt, a pair of leggings or shorts, a pair of undies and a plastic bag – all stuffed into the side pocket of my backpack.


Whenever we travel, I pack a small surprise bag to bring along. In that bag are packed little activity books and puzzles.

Coloring/Activity Books: For every trip, I have made Zoe a simple homemade coloring/activity book, loosely based on our destination. Usually I pick up a small drawing pad and draw a few pictures in it for her to color/copy. On our most recent trip to Greece, where we stayed in a windmill on a small island, I put together a pack with pictures of sail boats, a windmill, a map, etc. I also leave pages blank for her own creations, stick a few fuzzy drawings in for her to color, and tuck in some homemade stickers which I make from old magazines.

Favorite Books: Klutz has an assortment of fun activity books. They are a little pricey but can be well worth it. Another favorite is Richard Scarry’s Best Rainy Day Book Ever (oh, I loved this one as a child) or Taro Gomi’s Doodles: A Really Giant Coloring and Doodling Book. These are BIG books, so best for travel other than air.

Free Play: Zoe has always liked to create scenes, so we do not go anywhere without people. We travel with a little drawstring bag with a few people, maybe a wooden vehicle, a few houses, and animals, so she can make a scene and play. These keep her busy for hours. I have seen a travel size wood block set that looks like it would be fun at A Toy Garden in their travel toys section.

Other Ideas:

  • Magnetic travel games like Checkers, or Snakes and Ladders.
  • Card games like Snap or Go Fish. Or Fractiles for endless designs.
  • Woodkins wooden dress-up dolls
  • Small lightweight books. Our current favorites are the small size Elsa Beskow books.
  • A box of band-aids and a small sharpie can entertain a small child for hours!
  • A favorite solution for mid-flight boredom is a series of double-sided puzzles printed from Zoe’s favorite photographs.

These are just some thoughts to get you started. The ideas are endless…. We’d love to hear what works for you and your family. Post your suggestions below.

About the Author: Tony(a) Lemos

Tony(a) Lemos

Tony(a) is the director of Blazing Star Herbal School in Ashfield, MA and maintains an herbal practice in Northampton, MA. She is a graduate of Natural Therapy at Raworth College in England and has apprenticed with many influential herbalist, including Susun Weed. She is the vice president of the North East Herbal Association, and has taught at conferences and festivals all over New England, including Green Nations Gathering and the Women’s Herbal Conference. tlemos@noho.com

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