traveling with little ones

Mostly, this blog is about our life in Hohhot. But, part of our life in Hohhot is the travel required to get here, to visit home, to process visas, to have a baby, to exit/re-enter as required for our visa, and on a rare occasion to travel for “fun.”

There isn’t much about traveling with little people that is fun. A local friend is currently in America, but before she left, she asked me what I do to entertain myself on the long plane ride from China to the USA. Entertain myself, really? I haven’t had the opportunity to do that in 4 1/2 years! In fact, I haven’t even had my body to myself on a international flight since we moved back in 2012. Since then, I’ve either been pregnant or nursing an infant every time we’ve traveled. So for us, those long flights are all about SURVIVAL. For us and everyone else around us.

Tomorrow we’ve leaving for Hong Kong. I’ve been preparing some things to (hopefully) make our travel easier (you’ll see those links at the bottom) so the theme of today’s post is navigating this country with kids.

How we travel

If by plane: We travel in economy class, with as few bags as possible, and generally we don’t get our kids a seat until they’re required (2 years). This is clearly less comfortable than paying for an extra seat, but we’d rather save the cash.

If by train: Generally we try to get a soft sleeper compartment and get the whole compartment. This is baffling to the ticket agents that we actually want to pay the adult price for our kids who don’t have to have a ticket, but we like the privacy and having the whole compartment to ourselves. All the stares and conversation is sometimes too overwhelming for me if we have to do the hard sleepers. I’m normally happy to pay extra for a door we can close.

soft sleepers

We took a train to Chengdu (24+ hours) with a 2 1/2 and 4 year old.

We don’t have a nanny or grandparent or anyone crazy enough to travel with us. (Except the time I was pregnant and James needed back surgery and couldn’t really move or lift anything…the Gears helped us get back to America that time otherwise we WOULD NOT have made it).

My point is, we’re not one of those families who sits in first class while the nanny minds the kids in coach. And, none of our kids are old enough to really carry anything so we pack as light as we possibly can because in addition to carrying our bags, inevitably a kid will also need to be carried. So when we plan our travel we try to create some kind of balance between sanity for us and not breaking the bank.

How we pack

I’m not the best person to offer advice here, but we try to take only what we feel like are “essentials” but those vary for every person and every family. And what is essential also changes based on the age of our kids. I long for the day when diapers are no longer a necessity.

I’ve written a bit about what we do for hotels before, but what we pack also depends on where we’re staying and what kind of kid-friendly implements they have.

One of our best purchases was a “pea pod” a tent-like baby bed that folds up small enough to put in a carry-on.

travel with kids

This was our month long trip to Hong Kong in 2013. Two backpacks, one suitcase, stroller, and diaper bag…not bad for 4 people.


travel with kids backpack

Our daughters have these small backpacks that these use as their carry-ons. I put a couple changes of clothes in there and let them choose a few small toys. We always have crayons and paper in there and some of the other activities mentioned in this post.

How we entertain the kids

Our philosophy on this to make travel as easy as possible for us, to be polite and respectful to those around us, while still maintaining most of the normal expectations we have for our kids.

scavenger hunt: I have a laminating machine so I’ll laminate this to use in the future too. Because we’re trying to encourage our girls to improve their Chinese, I plan to add this together with the ticket reward system below if they can say they the items on this list in Chinese.

50 ways to entertain a kid on a plane by Parent’s magazine Some ideas were great, and as you can read in the comments some require taking along too many things and some might make other passengers angry.

practice writing: We’ve printed these with the girls’ names and they can trace and practice writing. If you laminate them they can be used and re-used as crayon or dry erase marker will wipe off.

ticket reward system. I prepared these today for our trip tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes.


I bought some magnetic fishing puzzles at the Culture Market for 15 RMB. The fishing poles can be re-used for other games. My oldest is learning to recognize words so tomorrow we’ll try fishing for the words (paper clip on the cards to catch with the magnet) and read the words she catches.


We don’t use chopsticks at home but it’s a skill I’d like my girls to get better at so we’ll try playing with these tomorrow on our tray tables. The airline provided cup or water bottle will serve as a container.

travel ideas for kids

An old chip container with holes punched in the lid…The kids can feed pipe cleaners in the holes. Keeps little fingers busy and doubles as storage for other toys inside which makes for easy packing.

I should also say at this point that we are not always so prepared. Sometimes we just throw some toys in a bag and hope for the best.


Other thoughts

Breastfeeding/Diaper changing

China’s airports are some of the most nursing friendly places I’ve encountered on the planet. Especially in Beijing’s airport there are nursing rooms available at almost every gate. They are clean, private, and equipped with a sink, changing table, chair, and electrical outlet.

nursing room Beijing airport

Nursing room in Beijing Airport

They also have family bathrooms and small playgrounds throughout most airports which make travel nice and gives the kids a proper place to run off some energy.

That said, things get much more difficult after you leave the airport. Other than airports I haven’t seen nursing rooms or family bathrooms. Public bathrooms generally have no decent place for changing diapers and no place at all for nursing.


I know most most families love them, but we don’t always travel with them and here’s why: Sometimes it seems like more of a hassle to lug it when it can’t be pushed and to get it in and out of a taxi. Also, we have had exactly 0 successful attempts with gate-checking our stroller from or into the Hohhot airport. No matter who we ask or what they say, it ALWAYS doesn’t show up until the baggage carousel. EVERY TIME it just gets checked with the baggage and not gate-checked so when you have to carry the kid from the gate to baggage claim anyway, that was half of the reason for the stroller anyway. Also, carts are free for use in Chinese airports and kids can sit in/on those just as easily.


Other parents in Hohhot….what are your best travel tips for kids? Leave us a comment.


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