Travel gear is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can make trips more comfortable, especially when you’re bringing the kids along. On the other, every extra piece of gear packed into your luggage is something that can weigh you down and something you risk leaving in a hotel room somewhere. So when you decide what to take along on your next family trip, make sure that the travel gear you bring, from a foldable stroller to a solid pair of headphones, is worth its weight in utility. It has to work, and it has to make life away from home with your kids easier.
How can you tell the difference? A good place to start is asking parents who have been through it before.
We asked travel-tested parents which products made going on vacation with their kids easier. Not necessarily easy, but easier, less stressful for you, your spouse, and the kids. Their choices were inspired, everything from a mechanical (read: battery-free) white noise machine to an airplane hook that keeps tiny beverages away from tinier hands. Here they are, the essential travel gear for parents and kids you should consider the next time you hit the road.
Potette Plus 2-in-1
“Small butts can’t fit on adult toilet seats, which makes it tricky to potty train on the road. When our kids were first learning, we brought this portable seat with us on vacation. Not only did help keep them from falling into some disgusting gas station bathrooms, but it also has legs so it can be used as a potty chair. Honestly, our kids are three and four, and we still bring it with us.”
—Chris, father of two, San Francisco
Belkin Rockstar 5-Jack Headphone Splitter
“One: Yes, I let my kids watch cartoons when we’re on the road. Come at me. Two: While I love the transfixing effect it has on my kids, I don’t want to hear Paw Patrol for the hundredth time; nor do I want to let only one kid watch the iPad because there’s only one headphone jack. That leads to a lot of arguments. This splitter can connect up to five pairs of headphones, so both kids can listen. And when they fall asleep on the plane, my wife and I can listen to downloaded movies or shows. It doesn’t prevent them from fighting over who can hold the screen, but it does help.”
—Kenny, father of two, Tempe, Arizona
ALEX Toys Artist Studio Car Valet
“If my kids can draw, they’re pretty happy in the car or on a plane. We’ve been using this traveling kit for the past few years. It’s basically a tiny lunch bag that has designated pockets for crayons, markers, and other art supplies. It attaches to a seatback and folds out, diaper-bag style, to provide a pretty sturdy writing surface. It’s good for both staying organized and keeping them entertained.”
—Louis, father of three, Houston
Koo-di Pop-Up Travel Bassinet
“This travel bassinet from Koo-di has been a lifesaver. It’s light, sturdy, and easy to fold. Once stuck on a layover, I set it up in the gate area and my daughter slept comfortably. Also, if you’ve ever seen the movie Congo, it reminds me of those sweet pop-up tents that never took off? Never mind. This thing’s great.”
—Jonah, father of one, Lansing, Michigan
MotherMed Baby Bath Thermometer and Floating Bath Toy
“This product is great for home, but it’s especially good for travel when you don’t know the facilities as well.” — Ben, 38, father of one, New York
Chicco Keyfit Stroller
“When our daughter was still an infant we wouldn’t leave home on a car or plane trip without her Chicco Keyfit drop-in stroller. Not only was it compact ⏤ a huge space-saver ⏤ but it was also super easy to maneuver and had a solid amount of storage underneath. Plus, we could just gate-check it without having to lug our SUV of a jogging stroller on vacation.”
⏤Craig, father of one, Melrose, Massachusetts
“You can easily move this around to whatever seat you put them in so that their heads don’t roll around.”⏤Amy, mother of one, Brooklyn
Dohm Sound Machine
“In addition to helping create consistency for our kids when they sleep while we travel, the Dohm is mechanical, so it’s not synthetic white noise being played through speakers. It also has a cord that you plug into an outlet, so I don’t have to worry about the batteries dying. It’s perfectly reliable ‘old school’ tech that’s lightweight with a small footprint ⏤ what more can you ask for when traveling?”
⏤Marcus, 37, father of two, Scottdale, Georgia
“We take at least one cross-country trip per year, and with or without kids, The Airhook has been a godsend. Hooking onto the seatback in front of you, it gets drinks out of easy-spilling range, and puts our iPads at eye-level, out of reach from fidgeting fingers. That way the little ones can watch their movies without being tempted to press the home button.”
⏤John, 39, father of two, Boston
Gathre Vegan Leather Changing Mat
“We just traveled from New Hampshire to the Outer Banks, NC, by car with five-month-old twin boys. We brought along a Gathre leather changing mat to lay them down on at our numerous pit stops. It provided easy clean up when copious amounts of bodily fluids landed on it, and we even used it at the beach and poolside. It was a lifesaver.”
⏤Mark, father of twin boys, Rochester, New Hampshire
WarmHome Linen Storage Bin
“We always have a cloth bin on the floor of the passenger seat that’s refilled at the beginning of each car trip with an assortment of toys, books, and snacks. It’s a simple but essential item that makes entertaining our 2-year-old convenient. It also helps keep our car relatively clean by giving us a place to gather and store the plethora of loose toys and books at the end of a trip.
⏤Tommy, 28, father of one, Granby, Massachusetts