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Family/Kids Travel

5 Rules for Bringing the Kids Home for the Holidays

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Whether you’re heading out on the road with your family for the Holidays or bringing home baby for the first time, Editorial Director Sarika Chawla has been in your shoes. Follow her five tips for packing, surviving travel disasters, and introducing your child to a large (and doting) crowd.

Taking the kids home for the holidays? There are the benefits that go along with visiting family: lots of helping hands, a spare bedroom instead of a hotel, and plenty of free time. Then there are the drawbacks… so many helping hands, no hotel, and all that free time.

No matter how old you are or how many therapy hours you’ve logged, few things push as many buttons as visiting family. And when you introduce a new generation to the mix, it doesn’t get any easier.

I recently schlepped my not-quite-toddling toddler on a family-meeting journey of epic proportions. I traveled for 32 hours with a 14-month-old, two suitcases, and one overstuffed purse, crossing the country in the aftermath of a hurricane, met up with family and made our way to New Delhi via London. If we could pull that one off, the lessons I learned will certainly help you get to Aunt Susan’s this holiday season with minimum stress.

Pack it, Buy it, Borrow it

When it comes to kid stuff, there are three options: pack it, buy it, or borrow it. It’s a balancing act to pack everything you need for a trip without massively weighing yourself down. There are the obvious immediate needs: diapers, formula or powdered milk, snacks, clothing, toys to keep them busy on the road. But pack only what you need for the road, and ship the rest ahead of time. Send it in a cardboard box, and you don’t have to deal with toting back an empty suitcase.

Above all, the most useful travel gear we’ve invested in is the Lilly Gold Sit ‘n’ Stroll. It’s a car seat that converts into a stroller…no need to travel with separate items. This came in especially handy in a country where car seats aren’t the norm (“It’s not that far; just put the baby in your lap” was the common advice in New Delhi). The seat is also FAA approved for domestic flights. (If you do buy only one seat and travel with a lap child, ask the gate agent to put you in a row with an empty seat. They’ll accommodate whenever possible because really, no one wants to sit next to you.)

The beauty of visiting family is that there’s always the option to borrow goods. Ask them to put out a call to friends and neighbors for a small crib or a Pack ‘n’ Play, a car seat, a few small toys, even a high chair if needed. You’ll be surprised how many families have old baby stuff stashed away.

The last option is to buy it when you get there—or pre-order items like diapers and wipes to be delivered to your destination. Not the most economical option, but it does allow for minimalist packing.

Packing Tip: If you don’t own a tablet or you’re one of those anti-screen time parents, rethink that position. A tablet weighs so much less than a stack of books and toys and takes up a fraction of the space. When you’re on hour 13 of your journey with an overtired kid, you’ll be grateful for the zone-out time. There are plenty of educational apps so you can let go of the guilt: anything by Sandra Boynton; My Baby Piano; spelling and numbers games, just to name a few.