10 Family Travel Must
From neck pillows to light-blocking eye masks, these travel must-haves start at just $15.
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Travel + Leisure / Tyler Roeland
Preparing for a long flight with your family is an adventure in and of itself. It's not just about packing your stuff, but also packing up lots of fun and making memories. As a first-generation immigrant and parent of two kids, flying is more than going on a trip — it is a way to connect with my family and friends who are almost 8,000 miles away in India. Since my children were babies, we’ve made this annual long-haul journey across continents. And while every trip brings forth new challenges, there are tips and tricks I have learned over the years that mitigate some of that anxiety.
Here are 10 travel accessories that I always bring with me no matter how old my kids get. From noise-canceling Bose headphones that are comfortable for kids’ ears to an adjustable footrest that attaches to your tray table, these items make long flights with my family manageable and comfortable — and you can get them for as little as $15.
Travel pillows are one of the most underrated luxuries of any travel, and especially on long flights. I didn’t get a travel pillow until my kids were a little older, and once I did, I wondered why I ever traveled without one. My favorite is this memory foam neck pillow, which boasts over 20,000 five-star ratings on Amazon. It’s easy to see why this is a customer favorite: The memory foam contours to your head for long-lasting comfort, and it keeps your neck from falling too far to the side or the front. It comes with a breathable cover, eye mask, earplugs, and carrying case, and since it’s machine washable, you can just pop it into the washer after every trip to get rid of any germs.
While I love it as a sleep-deprived parent, it’s also a great pick for kids who still take naps or just like to snooze. One Amazon shopper appreciated that this pillow allowed their kids to get some rest “on long car rides to their sport games/tournaments and road trips,” while another owner loved that the packable pillow kept them “comfortable” on long flights to Dubai and Bali with their family.
Anyone who travels with kids knows that packing light isn’t really possible. When you add extra clothes, toys, snacks, diapers, and everything else that you need to pack for a long-haul trip, your carry-on bag always feels too small. That’s why I love to travel with packing cubes, especially compressive options like these from Thule, which feature a wide, accessible opening and zippers that compress soft goods by eliminating excess air from the bag.
My favorite part is the frosted fabric that allows me to see what's inside for quick access, which comes in handy when my son spills water on his shirt as soon as the flight takes off or my daughter wants a sweatshirt mid-fight. These packing cubes also fit most carry-on luggage and come in two sizes.
This Amazon shopper called it a “best-in-class” packing cube and was impressed by its moisture-proof abilities: “When one of my bottles of liquid spilled into my suitcase on a recent trip, my clothes in the Thule packing cubes remained completely clean and dry,” they noted. Plus, the cubes are popular with parents: they “kept my messy kid's luggage so organized,” one happy customer shared.
If there is one thing you want to splurge on for a long flight with kids, it’s high-quality headphones. The Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones boast over 25,000 five-star ratings on Amazon, and my kids agree. Both of my kids have a pair, and it’s relaxing for them to listen to an audiobook or music without the distraction of the plane’s ambient noise. Plus, it gives me some personal time while they’re busy listening to their devices.
The padded band and soft ear cups are comfortable for long flights, and they don’t apply much pressure against your head so you can wear them for hours without your head feeling heavy. They also just work so much better than the generic plastic headsets the flight attendants hand out. The noise-canceling abilities are particularly impressive, owners note: “With 10 levels I can block out most of what is going on around me, when it is safe to do so,” said one shopper, so there’s no more listening to your neighbor’s loud conversation. While these are pricey, they’re 21 percent off right now, so snag them now to prep for your next family trip.
When I’m traveling with my kids, one of my top priorities is keeping everyone clean and healthy. These Wet Ones hand wipes come in thin TSA-approved packets, so they’re easy to toss into my carry-on so I can wipe down our seats before a long flight. Plus, they’re great for sticky hands after snacktime — or meals on our trips to India — and the 20-count packets have a tight seal to keep the wipes moist.
They’re also hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, and safe for sensitive skin, which is important to me as a mom. Other parents agree: The multi-purpose wipes are great “for hand wiping, spills, messy clothes, mud off of shoes, dusting, or in a pinch without a clean restroom, etc.” shared one shopper who took a six-week family road trip, while one customer with eczema called the alcohol-free wipes “a life-saver.”
Staying hydrated on flights is very important for a variety of reasons. Dehydration can cause headaches, fatigue, dry skin, and constipation, so the Aerospace Medical Association recommends about 8 ounces of water for every hour you’re on a flight. For long flights, this adds up to a lot of water that would quickly become room temperature in a plastic bottle. With a 25-ounce capacity, this BrüMate ReHydration Insulated Water Bottle keeps lots of water cold for several hours, and the straw is particularly handy for spill-prone kids.
As a mom, I appreciate that this bottle is leakproof—no one wants to sit in a wet soggy seat for 15 hours (I may or may not be speaking from experience). It comes in several fun colors, so every member of the family can choose their own.
Kids’ luggage helps get little ones excited about an upcoming trip while also teaching them responsibility and independence. This five-piece set includes a roller suitcase, backpack, lunch bag, neck pillow, and luggage tag, which are available in several fun patterns, like dogs, butterflies, and donuts. The 18-inch carry-on roller has a telescoping handle and fits into the overhead compartment.
One shopper, who bought this for their 4-year-old grandson, shared that “he was so excited to be pulling his own luggage through the airport” while another happy customer appreciated that “The inline wheels on the larger suitcase glide smoothly, allowing my kids to roll their luggage effortlessly without any assistance.” Note that this set is not recommended for kids who are 3 years old and under.
Achieve business-class comfort without business-class prices with this hammock-style footrest. The memory foam airplane footrest is installed over your tray table so you can elevate your feet and stretch them out. After listening to my kids’ constant fighting over who gets to use it on our travels, I finally caved and bought one for each of us.
The straps are adjustable, so they work for little legs and adults, and the whole thing rolls neatly into a travel pouch when not in use. One shopper who took the footrest on an overseas flight shared that “I was able to sleep a little better because my feet were supported.”
A sleep mask is a must if you want to get quality shuteye on long-haul flights. It not only blocks the cabin’s overhead lights but also the reading light from your seat neighbor. An Amazon favorite with nearly 10,000 five-star ratings, the Manta Sleep Mask blocks out light without causing uncomfortable eye pressure thanks to its carved-out C-shaped eye cups. Since it’s adjustable, it can fit kids and adults alike, and it comes with a case and wash bag. (It’s also fully machine washable.)
One Amazon shopper called it a “100/10 must buy,” reporting that it blocks all light, allowing them to sleep “in bright rooms and even while napping outside in my swing under the full sun.” The whole family will enjoy it too: One owner shared that their youngest kid “fights” them for the mask since they love it so much.
How many times have you sat down on your airplane seat only to realize that your charging port doesn’t work? When you’re traveling with kids who want to spend hours and hours watching in-flight entertainment, you’d better hope their devices; batteries last. My flights home to India average 15 hours, so no matter how much charge I have on my tablet and phone, it is not going to last the whole way. That’s why I always travel with an external power supply like the Goal Zero Venture 35 Portable Charger Power Bank, which has two USB ports and one USB-C port so it’s compatible with all kinds of devices. The power bank also includes an integrated 50-lumen flashlight — perfect for getting up and stretching your legs mid-flight when the lights are all off.
With an impressive five volts of power, you can charge the whole family’s devices at once. One pleased customer shared that their family “Charged two Nintendo switches, two tablets, and our two phones the entire weekend and the Goal Zero was still at 75% by the end. Happy kids and happy parents!”
It’s no secret that overseas travel is exhausting, especially with kids. Parents deserve some self-care while navigating family trips, and I highly recommend the Summer Fridays Jet Lag Hydrating Mask, which keeps my skin moisturized and dewy despite the dry air onboard.
While I don’t like sacrificing my grooming routine for air travel, some things do need to be adjusted because of TSA liquid guidelines, so I appreciate that this mask is only 1 ounce and fits easily in my carry-on. And it’s not just for when you’re jetlagged, noted one shopper: it’s an “amazing nighttime moisturizer,” too.
At the time of publishing, prices were as reflected in the article.
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