The Founder of Travel Mamas Shares Her Best Tips for Traveling with Kids

Colleen Lanin from Travel Mamas
Family selfie taken on Watson Lake in Prescott, Arizona

I’m Colleen Lanin, founder/editor of I live in sunny (and HOT!) Scottsdale, Arizona, USA with my husband and two kids. I’ve also lived in Minnesota, Southern France and San Diego. I’m hoping to move to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico next year, but that will really depend on my husband’s employer. My hobbies are hiking, jogging, Pilates and drinking wine. (I have to do the first three so I can do the last one!) I like to call myself a shy extrovert. I like talking and being around people, so others often assume I’m outgoing. The truth is, I was very shy when I was young and I’ve learned how to fake it.

How and why did you get into traveling?

I fell in love with traveling during my eighth grade school trip to Washington D.C. That love deepened a couple of years later during a family whirlwind trip to Europe. That’s when I declared to my parents that someday I would live in France. I made good on that promise when I lived with a family for a month the summer after high school. Then I lived in Montpellier, France during my junior year of college. Now that I have a husband and kids, though, I need to plan our travels around their schedules as well. I don’t know if I’d like the nomadic lifestyle, but I do love living somewhere new and finding my groove there with my favorite restaurants and things to do. The minute I get comfortable, I start to get bored. If it were up to me, I’d live somewhere new every two or three years.

Colleen Lanin from Travel Mamas

How do you prepare for your travels?

My biggest recommendation for preparing for your travels is to print (and follow!) a packing list. I always print a Travel Mamas Packing List. On our last trip, I got cocky and thought I didn’t need to do that. Guess what? We forgot our passports! We had driven to Los Angeles to spend one day and night before our flight to Mexico the next day. We had to get our passports Fed-Ex’d to us and delay our flight by a day. Believe me, I will not go without checking my packing list again!

To stay in shape, sometimes when traveling, I’ll take advantage of the hotel gym or I’ll pack my Camelbak and go for a run. But most often, I find that I walk so much during my travels that it’s not necessary. I have a Fitbit and love getting in all of those travel steps!

Colleen Lanin from Travel Mamas

How do you finance your travels?

I have been a travel blogger for nearly 10 years so I am lucky to get a lot of my travel sponsored. Sometimes that means a full-on press trip where nearly all expenses are covered, or sometimes that just means a discounted hotel room media rate. For years, I have said that my husband pays the bills and I pay for fun. Thankfully, I have been earning more income from Travel Mamas lately and now I pay for some of the bills, too. Managing Travel Mamas is my primary job. I make most of my income from network ads, affiliate sales (small commissions on sales on my site), and sponsored posts and giveaways. I am also a co-host for #KidsNTrips Twitter Parties, which I host with LA Times Columnist Jen Leo and La Jolla Mom Katie Dillon.

Colleen Lanin from Travel Mamas

Why is traveling important for you?

Traveling is important to me because it’s what keeps life interesting. Sometimes I travel too much and feel overwhelmed by all of the work I have to catch up on once I return home. I vow not to travel for a few months but then I get antsy and I need to get out there and see, smell, taste and experience something new!

I love traveling with my kids because it helps me to see the world anew through their eyes. Plus, it’s so educational for my children to see how other people live and meet different types of people. History comes alive for them when we visit monuments and museums so much more than solely reading about places and events in books. (But we love books, too!)

How do you bring your things with you?

I know a lot of travelers brag about how little they pack but that’s definitely not me! I like having options and conveniences when I travel. My favorite luggage that I’ve found so far is the IT Luggage Tow. You can easily link three bags together with this system. Plus, the bags are super light and the wheels are sturdy.

Colleen Lanin from Travel Mamas

How do you organize things in your bags?

I lay out my clothing by days, adding extra options for fancy dinners out, exercise, hiking, etc. I always look at the 7-day forecast for my destination to know what weight of clothing to pack.

For years, my kids have packed their own bags using the Travel Mamas Kids Pack Myself Packing List. They lay everything out and I do a quick double check before we put it all in the bags. Everyone brings their own backpack filled with games, books, Kindles, magazines and entertainment too.

When I backpacked across Northern Europe for seven weeks after my year in France in college, I packed way too much. I’d leave something behind at every youth hostel with a note that said, “Free!” on it. This was back when I was lugging everything around on my back. Nowadays, I’d rather pack extra and use an airline credit card to get free baggage check.

Colleen Lanin from Travel Mamas

What has been your best travel-related purchase below $100?

I think it’s smart to pack a paper map of your destination. You can find these online or at your local bookstore for most popular destinations. They only cost a few dollars and make it so much easier to plan your day, especially if you plan to use public transportation like the subway. We all have maps on our smart phones and can feel really reliant on those, but it’s easier to get a true understanding of a place with a real live map!

When my kids were wee, I loved our CARES kids’ safety restraints. They weigh less than one pound and keep children safe on airplanes without the difficulty of buckling a cumbersome toddler car seat. They’re great for kids 22 to 44 pounds.

What other favorite gear do you have?

I LOVE my Canon PowerShot SX730. I used to have a heavy DSLR but I wound up leaving it back in the hotel room a lot because I didn’t want to lug it around. Then I went to taking photos with my iPhone for a few years. Although smart phone cameras have improved significantly over the years, the image quality and zoom just can’t compare to my PowerShot. Plus, it’s so small and easy to toss into my purse or day bag. And, it syncs with my smart phone so I can share my images via social media with ease.

Colleen Lanin from Travel Mamas

What are your best travel tips for travelers and for parents with young children?

None of us knows how much time we have on this planet. Don’t put off living your life. Go live it now! For traveling with young children, my best advice is to plan, plan, plan and be willing to adjust, adjust, adjust!

You really do need to try to squeeze in those naps when traveling with babies, toddlers and preschoolers. My kids always napped better in their strollers or car seats. Meanwhile, other kids might do better napping back in a hotel or rental home crib.

Also, don’t worry about everyone hating you on the airplane. There will always be haters but there will always be sympathetic travelers who have been there, done that. Look for the helpers, even if just for a reassuring look. As long as you are focused on keeping your child content and comfortable, that’s all you can do! And, NO, don’t give out goodie bags to the other passengers. You have enough to contend with.

Travel Mamas Guide
Travel Mamas Guide

What inspired you to write your book?

I had been taking writing classes for years as a hobby but had never tried to get anything published. I thought I’d write an article with tips on traveling with babies and young children to submit to a magazine for publication. I just kept writing and writing and writing and pretty soon realized that I was writing a book, not an article. “The Travel Mamas’ Guide” is a book to help parents of babies, toddlers and preschoolers travel with their children, and stay sane!

The most difficult thing about writing my book was definitely not the writing. Writing it was the easy part. The hard part was editing it and editing it again and editing it again. I also jumped through a lot of hoops to write a book proposal and land an agent. Then we couldn’t sell the book because my platform supposedly wasn’t big enough years ago. So, I decided to self-publish. That involved a whole lot of work and headaches, too. I’m glad I did it but I probably would have waited to find a publisher. If JK Rowlings sent her books to over 200 publishers before finding a house willing to publish them, I probably shouldn’t have given up after 12 “nice” no’s.

Colleen Lanin from Travel Mamas

What will the future bring?

I hope a move. I’ve been in Scottsdale for three years now and I’m feeling that itch!

As for new plans for Travel Mamas, I’m not sure right now. I’ve been in the process of really updating my site and improving old content and images, and adding more affiliate links. Once I’m done, I’ll take a look at what I want to do next. Whether that means getting back into freelance writing, hiring more writers to write for, starting a podcast, or doing something totally new, I’m not sure. I do feel ready for a change. I’m just not sure what that change will be!

Visit Colleen Lanin on her website and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

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