15 Smart Travel Hacks Every Parent Needs to Know

published Jun 26, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Little girl portrait with smiling on airplane
Credit: Yusuke Murata / Getty Images

It’s officially summer — ‘tis the season for family travel to the beach, family reunions, summer camps, or even just visits to Grandma’s. There’s nothing like some sunshine and family time to celebrate the school-free season. But before you lather that sunscreen up and stuff your car with all of the road trip essentials, you’ll want to read through these ingenious TikTok tips.

From how to keep your personal items secure to the best packing methods, we gathered some of the best travel tips so you can spend more time planning your itinerary — and actually enjoying your vacation.

1. Put a tracker in your luggage. 

If you decide to check a bag (or just want more sense of security), this tip ensures you’ll always know where your belongings are, in case your luggage is lost by airlines. Buy an Apple AirTag (for $29) or other tracking device (like this three-pack for $20) you can connect to your phone or computer and decrease the chances of losing your suitcase. You can also put them in your purse, backpack, or even in your kids’ pockets to be extra safe when traveling. 

2. Bring a laundry basket to the beach.

This smart hack makes for a sand-free car ride home from the beach, lake, or river. A plastic (or collapsible) laundry basket is not only a great vessel for carrying towels and toys, but also (with a quick shake, or even a hose-down), it will ensure you won’t be finding sand all over your car or home for weeks. 

3. Keep your flight info handy (without a physical boarding pass).

If you have an iPhone, text a friend (or your spouse) your flight number or add it to your phone’s calendar, and all you need to do is hold down on the number to see all of your flight info (terminal, time, baggage claim, status, gate, etc.). This tip is great for sending to friends and family who are planning to pick you up from the airport. 

4. Pack outfits by kid, by day. 

By placing each outfit (plus a back-up, just in case), in a gallon-sized plastic bag and labeling each bag with the kid’s name and day, you’re saving yourself a whole lot of trouble once you get to your destination. Roll each bag up tightly to press the air out like a DIY space-saver bag, and you’ll save tons of room in your luggage, plus you’ll have a back-up outfit ready to go for the diaper bag. You can even throw in hair clips and accessories if you’re that organized.

5. Put all of the “flaggable” items in one bag.

By giving all of the items that are most likely to get flagged by airport security (think: toiletries, liquids, electronics) to one person, in one bag, you’ll spend less time going through TSA because only one bag will need to be searched. This way, one parent can wrangle the troops in case the other needs more time in security. 

6. Pack clothes in a hanging organizer for more organized luggage.

This ingenious packing hack uses a hanging sweater organizer to let you separate clothes by outfit or by day, and all you have to do is hang it up once you get to your destination. Bigger ones are helpful to see everything clearly while packing (and typically fold up super compactly), and smaller ones (like in the TikTok above) can even fit inside the luggage itself. 

7. Skip the long customs line with Mobile Passport Control.

If you’re itching to get home, or have lots of kids’ passports to keep track of, use this app the next time you travel abroad. If you download the Mobile Passport Control app, you can load up all of your documents, photos, and information so you can breeze through customs in a much shorter line — with no paper forms to fill out.

8. Organize, organize, organize.

If you’re packing for a bigger family, consider investing in space-saving packing cubes and let every child choose their own color, which will then hold all of their clothes for the trip. Use food containers, pencil cases, and other smaller organizers to store jewelry, accessories, hair clips, toiletries, and other easily misplaced necessities. 

9. Use a shoe organizer as a road trip caddy. 

Stuff everything your kids might need (or ask you for) on a road trip in a plastic shoe organizer that you can hang over one of the front seat’s headrests. You can find them for a few bucks online or at the dollar store, and it’s easy to fill with snacks, toys, books, electronics, markers, and whatever else your family loves. You can also use a shoe organizer to keep babies’ clothes and diapers tidy for your trip, or use an above-head compartment for easy road-trip storage.

10. Pack shoes in shower caps.

No need to find a separate storage area for shoes and sandals if you wrap a shower cap around the bottoms to keep the rest of your luggage clean. This is especially helpful for wet or dirty shoes after an adventure, and most hotels have them on hand.

11. Use a portable dolly to lug your bags through the airport (or hotel).

If your carry-on doesn’t have wheels, or you’re juggling lots of kids’ heavy bags on your shoulders, snag one of these portable dolly carts and put it in your bag. Once you’re in the hotel lobby, airport, or beach, unfold it and let your back breathe a little. 

12. Pack painter’s tape.

The one must-pack item that never crossed my mind? Blue painter’s tape. As this mom has made clear, the tape has about a million uses when traveling with kids. To name a few: baby-proofing cabinets and tables; creating blackout curtains (with black trash bags); and using for makeshift luggage tags, airplane games, lint rollers, outlet covers, etc. There are seemingly infinite more uses just waiting to be found. 

13. Watch movies hands-free.

If your plane is screen-free and you don’t want to hurt your neck, follow this simple hack for easy viewing. Place the plane’s paper bag (yes, we know what it’s for) inside of your phone’s case and then hang the bag from the closed tray table. Happy viewing!

14. Use a zip-tie around buckles to avoid pickpockets.

In high-traffic areas like Europe or touristy destinations where thieves and pickpockets might have an easier time going for bags or wallets, follow this simple tip to keep your bag secure. If your bag, fanny pack, or backpack has a buckle, tie a zip-tie around it so people can’t unbuckle it without you noticing.

15. Don’t forget a change of clothes for yourself.

If you’re traveling with babies, toddlers, or kids who tend to get carsick (or plane sick, or seasick), don’t forget to pack a change of clothes for yourself, in addition to the backups for your children — or at least an extra T-shirt or hoodie just to be safe. Because accidents happen.

Cubby: Eat. Live. Play. Families Together at Home.

Want more great home ideas for families? Sign up for Cubby’s weekly newsletter featuring our best editor-approved product recommendations, meal ideas, and all the kid’s room decor ideas you need.