Travel can be stressful. Kids can be stressful. Traveling with kids? Oh boy.

If you’re a new parent, you’re probably surprised at how the mere presence of a baby or toddler can complicate something as simple as going to the store. Traveling gets much more complicated when kids come into the picture, but that doesn’t mean that every parent should settle for a staycation until the kids are off to college. In fact, if you’re planning to travel with a baby or toddler, all it takes is preparation and a bit of parental instinct.

Travel Tips for Parents

Young family with two children packing for holiday.
© Shutterstock

Traveling with a baby can be a nightmare for the unprepared parent. The experience of flying around the world and going to a totally new place is stressful for children—it’s stressful for most adults, too! The important thing for a parent to keep in mind is what their baby is feeling, even if they can’t communicate it.

Create a Familiar Space

Your baby might get freaked out to suddenly find themselves in a strange place around strange people, so it’s important to pack toys and even a portable play yard with you to create a familiar environment for your little one. Note that the first day or two of your trip will probably involve getting settled and letting your child acclimate to the new environment (babies get jet lagged, too!), so don’t plan to do very much at the beginning of your stay, and consider staying a few days longer than you normally would.

Get Through the Flight

The second best thing about traveling with a baby is that you don’t have to buy tickets for them if you keep them on your lap. (The best thing is that they can’t yet run away from you.)

Note, however, that if you want to use a car seat for your child you will need to buy another ticket. Some parents might see this as a worthwhile investment, as an extra seat gives you that much more space to care for your baby. Some babies experience ear pain from air pressure changes during airplane flights, in which case having them suck on something is the best cure. Not every baby goes through this, though, so if your baby is sleeping soundly during takeoff then it’s best to leave them be.

Pack Smart

It’s easy to go overboard when packing for your child: what if she needs this? What if I need that? What if so-and-so happens? But keep in mind that Hawaii’s got plenty of supermarkets, grocery stores, department stores—we even have Costco! Chances are, if you need something for your baby, you’ll be able to buy it while in Hawaii. You don’t really want to be trudging through the airport with all your bags, a child, and an extra 40 lbs of baby supplies.

It’s best to pack essentials for the entire trip, but consider buying items that are replaceable, disposable, or that you’ll only use once or twice. Even cheap clothes can be bought in Hawaii and then given away or donated before you leave. Trust me, the money you spend will probably save you time, stress, and even money in the end.

A Note on Liquids

If your baby needs medication or formula, be sure to pack as much as you need, despite liquid restrictions. Luckily, breast milk, formula, and medications are exempt from that rule, meaning you can bring as much as you need as long as you inform the TSA officer during screening. Check out TSA’s website for more information.

Take it Easy

You can never be sure how your little one will respond to travel. Some babies hate being in a totally new area, while some love all the novel experiences. Most just kind of sleep through it, though.

In any case, it’s important that you don’t worry about doing everything you want to do in Hawaii. Instead, just focus on having a good time and pay attention to your child’s needs. If you try to organize and schedule every minute of your trip, you’ll end up disappointed when things don’t go according to plan—and when there’s a kid in the mix, things never go according to plan. Most of all, make sure you (and your baby) are getting enough sleep!

Tours and Activities to Do with a Baby or Toddler

There’s plenty of things you can do with your child in Hawaii, whether for free or on a paid tour. Here are some ideas:

1. Luaus

Paradise Cove Luau
© Paradise Cove Luau

We’ve said plenty about luaus in many different blog posts, and yet we can never say enough. Luaus are perfect for parents, since they’re easy to attend and don’t require any preparation, and they’re great for kids, who love the music and flashy dances. Plus, there are luaus available on any island, any day of the week. If you haven’t been to a luau before, you should definitely go, but even if you have you should strongly consider attending one again.

Check out our list of luaus offered by HawaiiActivities here.

2. Night Shows

Rock-a-Hula Waikiki Luau Show
© Paradise Cruise, Ltd

Like luaus, there are plenty of night shows available in Hawaii to attend, including comedy, music, theater, fireworks, and magic shows. Also like luaus, they don’t require any preparation or special requirements: just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Take a look at the list of night shows offered on HawaiiActivities to see some kid-friendly options.

3. Restaurants & Food Tours

Stroll around restaurants in Hawaii
© Island & You

Hawaii’s melting pot of cultures makes for a variety of different cuisines from all around the world, including interesting fusions of local, Hawaiian, and international dishes. That means that if you want to walk around a town or mall and try a bunch of different dishes at nearby holes in the wall and local venues, you can. If you want to treat yourself at a fancy restaurant in Waikiki, you can do that, too.

If you really want to go out and experience local food, you can also drive around and visit various food trucks, shrimp shacks, and roadside stands that are popular, delicious, and won’t break your budget (you’ve got mouths to feed, after all). Whatever you’re looking for, you’re bound to find something you like for you and your little one.

See More: Hawaii Food Tours

4. Helicopter Flights

See sacred falls during helicopter tours.
© Novictor Aviation

Circle Island helicopter flights are one of the best ways to see the islands, and can often get you to places you wouldn’t otherwise see.They also, like airplanes, allow lap-children to fly free.

There are a few things to keep in mind, like the fact that you can’t do a doors-off flight with small children, your baby will need ear protection, and queasiness might be an issue. Besides that, though, helicopter flights are a safe and spectacular way for you and your child to see the islands.

See More: Helicopter Tours in Hawaii

5. Sightseeing Tours

Dole plantation
© Fun Group Hawaii

Not all sightseeing tours allow lap-children to ride along for free, but most do, especially if you’re riding in one of the larger motorcoaches. These sightseeing tours are a great way to see all the major points of interest on each island. While you could just drive yourself from one place to another (and you might want to, depending on how much attention your baby will need), you’ll be missing out on having a guide to tell you about each area, and you’ll have to do all the driving yourself.

As for major destinations, Dole Plantation is a family favorite, as it has things like a train ride, giant maze, and Dole Whip that kids love.

Everyone that visits the Big Island visits Volcanoes National Park. Besides the volcano itself, the park is also filled with cool lava formations, a museum, and a variety of geological wonders.

Pro-tip: There’s definitely a lot of walking and hiking involved if you want to see everything, so be ready to carry your child if you want to explore the park. Another warning, Kilauea spews out volcanic fog (vog), which is sulfur dioxide as well as other gases released by the crater.  While the vog is generally too thin to affect humans, if the sulfur levels in the air are too high, prolonged exposure near the volcano could be bad for your baby. Vog levels are monitored and you’ll be warned if they get dangerously high, but that doesn’t happen often so you most likely won’t have to worry.

6. Museums

Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
© Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

Visiting a museum in Hawaii is one of the best ways to learn about the islands’ history, culture, geography, and endemic wildlife. Bishop Museum on Oahu holds a ton of unique specimens from Polynesia that can’t be found anywhere else. It’s also got a planetarium, where you and your kid can learn about astronomy (or just watch a pretty star show).

There are also plenty of historic museums all around the islands to commemorate places, people, and events significant to Hawaii’s history. Pearl harbor Aviation Museum would surely peak your kids’ interests on aviation. Use your own discretion as to where you want to visit, since not everyone likes museums—and that applies to children as well as adults.

See More: Arts and Museums Hawaii

7. Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC)

Interactive activities at Polynesian Cultural Center
© Polynesian Cultural Center

There aren’t many theme parks in Hawaii, and all of them are on Oahu. Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), however, is the one park that you need to experience. Between the Marketplace and the all the attractions of the Center itself, this is an all-day activity that you and your family can enjoy. There are plenty of shows and hands-on activities that your child will love, and every night ends with a luau buffet dinner and show.

See More: Polynesian Cultural Center Tours

8. Boat Cruises

Boat cruise in Hawaii
© Liko Kauai

You’re on an island, so might as well do some sailing. After all, being out on the ocean is a lot of fun for anyone. The larger cruise vessels offer live entertainment, or at least fresh dinner, but smaller catamarans do quick sunset cruises that are fun, relaxing, and short enough to keep your toddler’s attention.

You can also sail out in the daytime on a dolphin-watching cruise, which is really popular with children. During the winter (November – April), Humpback whales migrate to Hawaii’s waters, which means whale watching cruises are available.

Check out our full list of all the cruises, sails, and boat tours in Hawaii.

9. Aquarium/Zoo

Play with dolphins at Sea Life Park
© Sea Life Park

Like museums, aquariums and zoos are really popular with kids. Honolulu Zoo in Waikiki is the only zoo in the state, and it features over 1,000 animals, including endemic and endangered species. You can also bring your own cooler full of snacks and drinks, provided you don’t litter or try to feed the animals. Waikiki Aquarium is located right next to the zoo. While not as big as other aquariums, it’s an inexpensive way to spend a few hours of your day and entertaining for kids, too.

The other aquariums you can visit in Hawaii are Sea Life Park and the Maui Ocean Center. Sea Life Park is largely like what you would find on the US continent at places such as SeaWorld, with live shows and interactive marine exhibits.The Maui Ocean Center is more hands-off, boasting the largest collection of Pacific corals in the world and a variety of fish, reptiles, and marine mammals.

10. Ride-along Activities

Kids playing on a floatable slide on board
© Waikiki Marine Sports

While you might not find yourself (and your baby) participating in a lot of activities, you can always find ride-along packages that let one parent take part while the other is able to watch the child. Shark diving tours are one such activity, where you and your baby can just stay in the boat and see the sharks from the surface.

Other snorkeling and scuba diving tours also allow ride-alongs, who can just stay in the boat for a reduced fare. If you see an activity you like with a ride-along option that allows infants, go ahead and sign up, or call in to ask if you’re unsure.

Free Things You and Your Infant Can Do in Hawaii

You don’t always have to spend money to have a good time in Hawaii. There’s plenty to do and see just driving around on your own without having to buy anything—and you’re probably spending all your money on baby supplies, right?

Here are some ideas to help you and your baby have fun on your Hawaiian vacation:

11. Visit the Beach & Tide Pools

Happy children ring playing on a Hawaii beach
© Shutterstock

I probably didn’t need to tell you to go to the beach when you visit Hawaii. The beach is a great place to relax and kids can inexplicably be entertained for hours just by playing with sand. Look for beaches with tide pools, as these little puddles are safer for infants and often hold small sea creatures. Just be careful of the sun: the UV rays are more intense in Hawaii, making it easier for you and your child to get sunburned. So don’t forget to bring your reef-safe sunscreen.

12. Go Sightseeing on Your Own

Happy asian family enjoying road trip with their favorite car. Parents and children are traveling the way to the sea or ocean.Holiday and travel family concept, Summer vacations.
© Shutterstock

While sightseeing tours are often worth the cost for having a driver and guide, sometimes your child needs the care and attention of a private tour. In that case, you can just rent a car, open up your maps app, and drive around the island yourself. One benefit of this is that you have full control over where you visit and how long you stay. You’ll also be able to stop and take breaks whenever you and your little one need it. Another awesome thing is that your trunk will give you space for bags and baby supplies, something you won’t get in a tour bus.

13. Attend Local Events and Festivals

Polynesian Cultural Center Tour Tickets - Create Your Own Package & Experience
© Polynesian Cultural Center

If you visit during any major holidays, you can bet there will be celebrations around the islands. Halloween is always a fun event if you’re in Waikiki or Lahaina, both places having costume contests for kids and adults. Block parties that include art walks and food & wine tastings are held in downtown Honolulu the first Friday of every month.

There are also other monthly special events held for the public at places like Waimea, PCC, and the Honolulu Zoo. Whenever you visit, look online for local events near you, especially ones meant for families and children, as there’s bound to be something worth checking out.

14. Spend a Day at a Park

family of two, father and his son, feeding koi carp fish in the beautiful pond, family vacation and fun activity concept
© Shutterstock

This is one of those things I suggest doing and always get this response: “But I can do that at home!”

My follow-up question is always the same: “But do you?”

A lot of people travel for the chance to experience something new or different, but many people travel for the simple change of pace a vacation offers compared to the bustle of everyday life. A picnic at the park seems like such a normal, mundane activity for someone visiting Hawaii, but think about the last time you got the opportunity to spend time with your family without worrying about what tomorrow has in store. Plus, Hawaii’s parks are absolutely beautiful and the weather can’t be beat (it’s Hawaii, after all).

15. Go on a Hike

A dad and daughter hold hands while hiking on the Pipiwai trail in the bamboo forest in Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui.
© Shutterstock

Hawaii offers many hikes that are easily accessible and don’t take too long. Even with a baby or a toddler, you can do a simple hike like Diamond Head, Makapuu, or Manoa Falls. If your child is small enough, put them in a baby carrier. Remember to do your research before you go, check the weather before you leave your hotel, and make sure you’ve backed enough snacks, water, sunscreen, and bug repellent.

You can browse the list of hiking tours in Oahu, here.

Ready for your Family-friendly Trip?

That’s our list! Again, it’s important to remember that while there’s a lot of fun and interesting stuff to do in Hawaii, if your baby isn’t feeling comfortable, it might be a better idea to stay in and just relax in your hotel for some time. You’re here to relax, after all—Hawaii isn’t going anywhere.