Experienced travelers know that when it comes to baggage, more isn’t necessarily better—and that holds true for trips with kids, too. Bringing along the full equipage of booster seats, strollers, toys, and bedtime gear is a surefire way to make any parent resolve to stay at home.
Thankfully, manufacturers are increasingly developing baby and child essentials that appeal to more nomadic lifestyles. Common go-tos, such as strollers, boosters, and even headphones, are becoming lighter, more packable, and better designed for children’s (and parents’) needs.
A traveling parent myself, I decided to delve into the world of next-gen family travel gear to find the best options for infants, toddlers, and school-aged children. My adventuresome eight-year-old was one tester, but we also recruited parents of infants and toddlers to try an assortment of options on road trips, overnight flights, and campouts in the United States and abroad. Here are our family-approved favorites.
Best stroller: Babyzen Yoyo+ Stroller
Supremely packable and light, this stroller accommodates newborns to toddlers.
Buy Now: $499, amazon.com
First, a confession: We don’t generally travel with strollers. Their wheels get caught on cobblestones and gravel, and many are too bulky to fit into the tiny elevators that are common outside the United States. We’ve found that the easiest, most efficient way to fly with an infant is to strap the babe’s car seat to the GoGoBabyz Travelmate, which glides through airports, fits into the plane’s overhead bin, and keeps the car seat handy for in-flight use and Uber rides. But when a family travel adventure calls for a stroller, the Babyzen Yoyo+ is the best option we’ve found.
Packed, the Yoyo+ is the size of a tote bag and includes a shoulder strap that makes it easy to carry for short distances. For longer commutes, we like the optional travel bag backpack ($75) that comfortably transports the 13-pound, 10-ounce stroller (and frees our hands to maneuver other pieces of luggage). As a backpack or a shoulder tote, the Yoyo+ is so compact that it meets most airlines’ carry-on requirements—and storing the stroller in the plane’s overhead bin eliminates any possibility of it getting lost as checked baggage.
It unfolds with one efficient yank and offers two configurations that adapt to the child’s age: newborns ride on a flat bed, which converts to a seat for older babies and toddlers. The wheels cruise smoothly over gravel paths and tree roots, and their lack of spokes means that pebbles and other bits of debris don’t jam up the rolling parts. The rain cover proved to be totally waterproof in a downpour, and latching it into place is fast and intuitive. Similarly fuss-free is the folding mechanism, which collapses the Yoyo+ in an instant—simply unlock one plastic latch and lift the stroller by its handle.
Best travel crib/play yard: KidCo PeaPod Travel Bed
This mini-crib/play yard actually fits into carry-on luggage.
Buy Now: $100, amazon.com
Even when packed, most play yards are inconveniently bulky. They hog any car’s trunk space and are too big to qualify as practical luggage when traveling by air. KidCo solves that problem by turning a pop-up tent into the perfect nighttime and daytime nest for babies.
The PeaPod is the size of a grocery bag when packed, and the flat, 4-inch-high parcel fits easily into a rolling duffel or suitcase. And it couldn’t be easier to set up: Once it’s removed from the carrying bag, the PeaPod springs into shape, becoming a mesh-topped tent with zippered door and a cushiony, quilted floor. That superfast bedtime setup can be a blessing when a late-night arrival has everyone feeling sleepy and cranky.
We also loved the PeaPod’s convenience as an insect-thwarting play yard. Pitching it during picnics eliminates the need to slather mosquito repellent on an infant’s sensitive skin. On a recent outing, babies immediately took to the space and enjoyed extended play sessions inside. The fabric only offers partial shade, so for nap times, a baby blanket draped over the top helps to darken the interior. But the PeaPod packs away in a snap, making it ideal for quick midday breaks as well as overnight use.
Best child’s backpack: Deuter Kikki Backpack
The whimsical design makes this backpack fun for kids.
Buy Now: $32, amazon.com
Our three-year-old tester crooned with delight as soon as she glimpsed the Deuter Kikki. She couldn’t wait to strap it on—and in fact, she immediately filled it with crayons and trekked around the house playing “airport.”
The pack’s appeal proved handy when it truly became travel time, because our young tester relished every opportunity to wear this cartoonish pack. Any piece of gear that staves off a toddler’s tantrum is a win in our book.
Four- and five-year-olds enjoyed wearing the Kikki, too, which also impressed us with its practicality. As with many adult packs, the Kikki features a padded, mesh-covered back panel that prevents the wearer’s back from becoming hot and clammy. Two elastic-topped exterior pouches are ideal for holding a water bottle and a favorite stuffie. The sternum strap keeps the pack secure, even when tykes break into a run. And the eight-liter interior offers enough space for an iPad, headphones, coloring books, and snacks.
Kids older than six deemed the pack too babyish (and parents found the capacity to be too small for a school-aged travel kit). But durable fabrics and quality construction make the Kikki tough enough for hand-me-down longevity.
Best children’s headphones: Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet Headphones
The volume limits and noise cancellation features of these headphones protect kids’ hearing.
Buy Now: $80, amazon.com
We’ve bought our children an assortment of cheap headphones over the years and noticed one consistent result—in environments with lots of ambient noise, kids cranked up the volume to alarming levels in order to hear their programming over the background din. We worried about the ear-pummeling effects, and Puro Sound Labs confirmed our suspicions. The company’s founder developed volume-limiting headphones after his daughter was diagnosed with noise-induced hearing loss.
The PuroQuiet On-Ear Headphones max out at 85 decibels, which the World Health Organization and other experts consider to be the upper limit for ear safety. Additionally, noise-canceling technology blocks out background intrusions, making those 85 decibels more than sufficient. Only the loudest restaurants made our testers want maximum volume.
Because it’s wireless, the PuroQuiet is especially tidy to pack. Swiveling earpieces allow the headphones to fold flat for storage—a feature that entry-level headphones typically lack. The PuroQuiet’s butter-soft leather also makes this model leagues more comfortable than drugstore options. Provided that we also packed a portable charger (such as the virtually indestructible LifeProof Lifeactiv Power Pack 10, $80), our youngest travel companions were able to use the PuroQuiet for days on end.
Best car booster seat: Mifold Grab-and-Go Booster Seat
Skip bulky boosters with this tablet-sized safety device.
Buy Now: $35, amazon.com
Experts recommend that children shorter than 4 feet, 9 inches tall use booster seats to help cars’ seat belts fit properly, and most foam-and-plastic models are too big and bulky to carry around outside the vehicle. However, the Mifold Grab-and-Go Booster offers comparable safety assurances in a dazzlingly portable package.
The seat measures just 9 inches by 4 inches when packed, but it opens like a book to present a miniature seat and backrest. Hard plastic arms extend from the seat to secure the car’s lap belt, and a center strap clips into the shoulder belt. The minimalist design does manage to keep safety belts in their recommended positions, which is impressive.
But unlike standard boosters, you can’t just toss the Mifold into the car and zoom away. You’ll need a minute or two to clip the seat belts into the channels at the hip and shoulder. Once that’s completed, buckling and unbuckling the seat belt is quick and easy, so fast errands around town don’t require a lot of futzing when getting in and out of the car.
The Mifold’s major drawback is comfort: The abbreviated seat pressed a bit into kids’ upper thighs. That was fine for short Lyft rides, but for long road trips and national park tours, we preferred the WhizRider (which will be available in October, and can be currently purchased in advance). This innovative fabric vest and leg harness packs even smaller and lighter than the Mifold, but it requires tedious buckling and unbuckling every time the child enters and exits the car. The tradeoff is comfort: Testers liked being able to sit directly on the car’s own upholstery, and they reported no irritation during hours-long car trips.
Best portable high chair: Bombol Pop-Up Booster
Make meals enjoyable with this folding high chair.
Buy Now: $125, bombol.com
Mealtime with a baby or toddler can be frenetic no matter where you are. But when you’re traveling without a proper high chair, eating peaceably together often seems like an unachievable ideal. The Bombol Pop-Up Booster makes that a greater possibility—and it packs flat to the size of a vinyl LP.
In its sleeve, the 2.4-pound seat slides easily into a diaper bag or daypack, so traveling parents need not balk at bringing it on urban walkabouts. The Bombol expands, origami-style, to become a truly sturdy booster seat complete with a five-point harness and chair latch that straps securely to almost all adult chairs. The car seat–style child restraint prevents wriggly toddlers from bolting through restaurants. And because it allows youngsters to sit in their own seat instead of on their parents’ laps, adults can actually enjoy their food and drink.
There’s no tray, but tabletops keep food and toys within easy reach. The padded thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU)-coated polyester easily wipes clean, and the included chair cover protects your host’s upholstery—handy when you’re visiting families that aren’t used to messy children.
Best diaper bag/carryall tote: FlyLow Remnant Tote
Waterproof and roomy, this zip-top carryall fits the whole family’s gear.
Buy Now: $50, flylowgear.com
Big—but not too big—this 61-liter tote manages to hold everything on the family’s equipment list, from diapers to bike helmets to beach towels. The zippered top keeps items securely inside, and waterproof fabric protects the contents from spills and showers.
Yet the bag is surprisingly light because it’s made from scraps of the same tough-but-supple fabric used to make ski pants. FlyLow turns those remnants into a simple tote with two small exterior pockets and comfortable, stay-put straps.
Best child carrier: Born Free Wima Baby Carrier
This carrier makes baby-wearing truly comfortable and convenient.
Buy Now: $115, amazon.com
It’s hard to have it all in a baby carrier. Some offer plenty of back support for the load-hauling parent, but make it complicated to get the child in and out. Others skimp on ergonomics (for proper hip development, pediatricians recommend that the baby’s legs stay flexed, not straight). The Born Free Wima puts all the pieces together into one ideal baby carrier.
We loved how the Wima demands no yogic maneuvers to attach the straps or to insert the child (many carriers require wearers to reach behind their back). You simply attach the straps, pull it over your head as you might a shirt, and snuggle the babe inside. Depending on the child’s size and age, you can choose from four positions (from in-facing on the front for newborns seven pounds and up, to rear-worn for children up to 45 pounds). All configurations place children in medically-approved positions.
The lightweight fabric keeps both babies and adults cool in hot weather. And the Wima offers exceptional comfort: Even after 90-minute walks and hikes, our testers experienced zero back soreness—something we can’t say for other baby carriers.
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