- Each adult wears a backpack. Pack a “snacks and activity” backpack, and a backpack with diapers and clothes. I prefer backpacks because they keep my hands free, and because they usually have tons of compartments and zippered places to stash everything. With all the clothes and diapers in one pack (as opposed to packing a bag for each person), when the inevitable diaper or potty emergency strikes, I’m not looking through different bags for what I need – it’s off to the potty I go! Separate bags for separate purposes.
- Everyone gets a change of clothes. Pack a spare outfit for everyone, and two for anyone under 1. Babies spit up and blow out their diapers, and it’s awful to arrive somewhere covered in baby excrement. Do yourself a favor and bring extra clothes. I pack the adult clothes at the bottom of the bag, and the youngest person’s clothes at the top, since an outfit change is most inevitable for the younger traveler. (Note: I also pack extra underwear for me, and a toothbrush for everyone. Just in case we are stuck overnight somewhere…) Extra clothes = extra piece of mind.
- Snacks are necessary. Be realistic about what snacks you pack. Snacks are not a form of entertainment, they are sustenance, so you don’t need entire bags of chips, candy, and fruit. In my experience, snacks from home are forgotten once we land and can sample the local cuisine. Granted, no one wants to be in a tiny airplane seat with a hungry toddler, but remember that almost every flight has snacks for purchase if you are in an emergency. Fig bars, nuts, apples, and dried fruit travel well, don’t spoil easily, and keep you satiated. Non-messy food = happy flight attendants.
- Keep ‘em entertained. Pack age appropriate plane activities that are only played with on the plane. I have a drawer in our house full of plane toys that only come out once we have taken off and landed. This way, the novelty hasn’t worn off, and I’m not concerned that we will take a favorite toy that will inevitably get lost or broken and cause tears. I also allow my toddler some autonomy here. She gets a small backpack of things that she chooses to take, and she carries the backpack. On our last trip, she packed fruit snacks, crayons and a teddy bear. I never even opened my activity bag because she was content with her “own” stuff. Pack activities that are “special” for the plane.
- Ditch the car seat. You will have to decide what works best for your family here. We either check our carseat, rent one at our destination, or don’t take one at all if we know we won’t travel by car. Car seats as carryons are bulky and require a lot of effort to carry. If you really want to take your own car seat, the extra cost of checking it is priceless compared to the feeling of lugging the seat through multiple airport and onto multiple airplanes. Keep in mind that most Latin American countries don’t require car seats in public transportation or taxis, so unless you plan to spend time in a private car, you might not need the car seat. If you plan to rent a car, rent the car seat as well. Leave the car seat at home, or check it.
- Think long and hard about the stroller. Most places in Latin America have uneven sidewalks, rendering even the most hardy strollers almost completely useless. I remember lugging our stroller to my husband’s hometown only to realize that there was no way we could use it because, between the rain and the broken sidewalks, it was much more trouble than it was worth. Wearable baby carriers work great for non-walkers and early walkers. The exception to this was when we traveled to the Dominican Republic and had multiple long layovers. The stroller became a play place, a bed, a place for luggage, and was great when we had to run through the airport to catch a flight. Decide what you need the stroller for… if you don’t know, leave it home.
Hopefully these tips will help you travel light with young children, but it is by no means a comprehensive list. What tips and tricks do you have for packing light for air travel?