May 23, 2016 2:23 p.m. ET
“LOOK AT ALL that stuff those parents have to carry,” I used to say to my wife at the airport. “Can you imagine checking all of that?”
Checking bags, to me, meant giving up—the airport equivalent of moving from the city to the suburbs. Once I became a parent myself, that was still something I was unwilling to do.
But then our child got bigger (she’s almost 4 now), we had another (she’s about to turn 6 months) and things changed. I don’t make fun of the ’burbs anymore. I no longer gawk at the amount of luggage families have. And I understand that traveling with kids necessarily means lugging a lot of gear that I didn’t have to before, and abandoning my dogmatically minimalist approach to travel.
Most of my go-to kid travel gear helps with transporting children, getting them to eat and providing a comfortable, familiar place for them to sleep. The latter two duties make up 75% of parenting when your kids are a certain age; if you can nail those tasks, your time away might actually resemble a vacation.
Because I still prefer to avoid checked baggage, I choose light, compact items. On a recent trip to Turks and Caicos I somehow managed to pack almost all of the stuff below, plus our other belongings, in bags small enough for my wife and I to carry on. It was the most relaxing trip I’ve taken since vacationing solo. OK, that’s an exaggeration. But let’s just say it was a happy start to a family vacation.
1. The Shrunks Indoor Tuckaire Toddler Travel Bed
Yes, you could ask your hotel to send up an uncomfortable cot for your toddler or spend the time trying to find a rental on Airbnb that happens to have extra kid-size beds. Or you could just get this compact 7.8-pound blowup model, which compresses to fit in a small bag. Not only does it inflate in 30 seconds, it works with crib-sized sheets. The built-in security rails prevent kids from rolling off. (Recommended for children 2 years old or older.) $80, theshrunks.com
2. Mountain Buggy Nano
Most travel strollers sacrifice features for lightness, but the Mountain Buggy Nano weighs only 13 pounds—less than many umbrella-style strollers—and is loaded with extras like an ample sunshade, rear-wheel suspension and compatibility with any universal children’s car seat. Unlike most strollers, however, it can fit into the overhead bin when folded. With no need to check it at the gate, it won’t get dinged and dirty in the cargo hold, and you won’t have to wait for it to be brought up after your flight while trying to corral your antsy children. $250, mountainbuggy.com
3. Phil and Teds Airlight
Most baby carriers are heavier and more complicated than you’d expect. Fine for everyday use, but dealing with the octopus tangle of them when you’re standing in an airplane aisle can be a pain. The Airlight weighs less than 14 ounces and folds down to the size of a water bottle when not in use. It works with newborns weighing 7.7 pounds and up to 26.5 pounds. The zipper in the front makes getting your baby in and out easy and quick—ideal for when you’re on the move. $60, philandteds.com
4. Phil Teds Lobster
Asking for a high chair at a restaurant has always been a poor way to begin a dining experience. When your server finally arrives with a high chair after what seems like an eternity, it is most likely covered in who knows what. Depending on your energy level, you either dutifully wipe down the chair or just plop your child in it and hope for the best.
With the Lobster, however, you always know where your child’s chair has been. Recommended for children 6 months to 3 years, the chair is only 3.9 pounds, can fit in a diaper bag and clips onto the table, saving a lot space (I’ve used this on tables for two). The Lobster also signals to your child that it’s time to eat—whether you’re at a restaurant, a vacation rental or a hotel room. $90, philandteds.com
5. Ride Safer Travel Vest
Car seats these days are getting big—roughly the size of Soviet-era Yugos. That’s fine for your own car, since these seats really only come out when you have to vacuum the buildup of stray Cheerios beneath them. But carrying one on a vacation is a real pain. Yes, you could rent one with your car, but in my experience the half-hour you spend trying to install an unfamiliar car seat in an unfamiliar automobile is the worst way to kick off a vacation. A better solution: the Ride Safer Travel Vest, a kind of wearable car seat that positions the seat belt on the appropriate parts of a child’s body—no separate seat required. Not only does it meet or exceed all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, it fits into a carry-on. (Recommended for children 3 years old and older who are at least 30 pounds.) From $139, ridesafertravelvest.com
6. Lotus Everywhere Crib
The key technical spec of this 13-pound crib is that it sets up in 15 seconds—which is a godsend after a long flight or drive, when the only thing you want to do is get the kids down for the night. The crib’s sidewall zips out so you can lie down next to the crib to spend some quality one-on-one time with your baby. During the day, the Lotus can also serve as a familiar play area. There are lighter, smaller portable cribs for sure, but the backpack carrying case and the no-brainer setup make the Lotus worth the extra ounces. $250, guavafamily.com
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