Still a little sleepy from your siesta, you lumber down the resort’s long marble corridor. The humid Pacific breeze teases a balmy beach afternoon. Maybe afterwards you’ll sip a smoothie by the pool or head to an oceanside cabana, but first, you’ve got an appointment. As the hairstylist floats the cloth cape over your shoulders, you settle in for pampering. Why not treat yourself to a haircut while on vacation? There’s endless free time, refreshments, and, to keep you busy as your ends are snipped away, a xylophone. It’s your first haircut after all. What more could a 15-month-old want?

And what else might parents want? Those kinds of questions, increasingly, are what the travel industry is looking to answer as trips with children grow in popularity. In a 2022 survey, 85 percent of parents said they were very likely to travel with their children in the next 12 months, according to the Family Travel Association. Whether it’s driven by the wave of experience-seeking millennials now in their parenting phase or our collective need to make up for lost pandemic time, instead of leaving the kids at home for adult adventures, the whole family is taking off.

Airlines are meeting the trend by offering families with little ones designated check-in lines, priority boarding, activity kits and more. Last year, Air Canada even tapped Walt Disney World for in-flight safety videos. Hotels are adapting too: in Toronto, the Hazelton Hotel and One King West have both partnered with celeb-loved Cybex to offer guests free stroller loans during their stays.

And yes, there’s haircuts. At Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, a Five-Diamond resort a 25-minute ride from Mexico’s Puerto Vallarta airport, my son Clark gets the VIP treatment while we dole out snacks and play paparazzi. And though it’s a far cry from the vacations my husband and I used to take, melting into lounge chairs with frosty drinks in hand, it’s also not the Crayola-coloured chaos I imagined toddler travel to be.

The Kids Club at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit

The Kids Club at Grand Velas Riviera NayaritGrand Velas Riviera Nayarit

“There’s a big push in our society to make everything ‘kid-friendly,’ but other places in the world make things ‘family-friendly,’” says Jess Darington, who shares tips on how to travel with kids with her over-300,000 Instagram followers on @whereisbriggs and through her digital courses. She’s been on over 150 flights with her son Briggs, 3, (many with her infant daughter in tow, too), discovering destinations that balance the need to keep littles one entertained while still scoring parents some well-deserved R&R.

At Grand Velas, there’s a gourmet menu of made-to-order purées, but also, mezcal tastings. There’s the daily afternoon picnic featuring Moana, Woody, Elsa et al, but otherwise, you’re soothed by pristine Koi ponds, large-scale abstract paintings by Oaxacan artist Rosendo Pinacho and the citrus aromatherapy wafting through the open-air lobby. There’s a two-foot-deep pool lined with mini cabanas—quite possible the most adorable things you’ll ever lay eyes on—instead of towering water slides and frenetic play structures. It’s my idea of luxury, as a mom and as an independent human with her own wants and needs.

“Obviously you don’t stop being a parent on vacation,” says Darrington. “But every person in the family deserves to have a good time.” And I can confirm it is possible. Here, how to travel with a baby, toddler, or big kid(s) without sacrificing your sanity.

Caitlin Kenny

How to travel with a baby tip 1: Choose your destination wisely

From winter glamping road trips to long-haul flights, Darrington has been taking her son everywhere since he was three weeks old. But some destinations are more convenient than others: “Speaking as a mom with a toddler and a baby, an all-inclusive is so much easier than any other trip you can do,” she says. “You can walk to all your meals and entertainment and not have to worry about taxi or public transit with nap schedules.”

When it comes to choosing which resort, start by looking into locations with direct flights and no (or a minimal) time change. For us, Mexico’s west coast checked those boxes, and Grand Velas in particular promised a chic escape with thoughtful details that make a difference to us as parents. All 267 rooms are suites with balconies—ideal for nap time—with a dedicated concierge just a message away to handle any requests throughout the stay.

Wondering how to find the best kid-friendly all-inclusive resort? While not all must-haves, these are some of the perks Darrington loves to look for:

  • A suite with a separate sleeping area
  • A private outdoor balcony/patio
  • Free room service (handy when you’re nap-trapped!)
  • Baby gear rentals (cribs, high chairs, etc.)
  • Bathtub (if your kid isn’t used to the shower)
  • Blackout curtains in the room
  • Stroller-friendly access and elevators near all staircases
  • Wide variety of cuisines at restaurants (for picky eaters)
  • Baby change stations in bathrooms throughout resort
Caitlin Kenny

How to travel with a baby tip 2: Survive the flight

The most common questions Darrington gets from her followers are about how to travel with a baby on a plane. “Flying with a baby is the biggest concern,” she says. “A lot of people feel comfortable as soon as they get to the destination because it can be closer to their home routine, but the airplane is scary because it throws everything off.”

Her answer? “You need snacks, all the snacks—even if you think your kids aren’t going to go through them all, bring them anyway,” she says. For flights when Clark was younger, I nursed or added water to bottles I had pre-portioned with powder formula, but now that he’s a toddler, it means a diaper bag that can barely zip shut thanks to Cheerios, berries, grapes, puffs, oat bars, meatballs, muffins and more. I packed it all (plus refills) in a snack spinner with separate compartments to slow him down, and he still manages to consume a shocking amount. But considering that a fellow passenger personally thanks him for making her flight enjoyable before we disembark, I’ll be the snack pack-mule any day.

You’ll also need bag space for sleep aids, says Darrington—and that’s even if you don’t expect to fly during naptime. Delays happen. “Whatever you use at home to help your baby sleep, try to recreate it on the flight,” Darrington suggests. She always brings her portable sound machine and a muslin blanket. And for awake time, you’ll want to jam-pack your bag just a little more: “I have specific toys for flights that aren’t in the regular rotation,” says Darrington. “That way they can be new and exciting on travel days.”

How to Travel with a Baby tip 3: Babyproof your room

This can sound like work, but it’s really just a quick sweep when you first get settled so that you can unwind after. “Before your kids have free rein of the room, put things that can be broken, like vases, away in a closet,” recommends Darrington. We relocated glassware off low open shelves, but does Clark still manage to find the single flute we missed way at the back? Of course. (Thankfully, we manage a timely interception).

It can help to have a spot that’s all theirs to explore: “I’ll designate a bottom drawer for toys that my toddler can easily access,” says Darrington (magnetic tiles and a buildable racetrack are recent ‘hotel toy’ wins for Briggs; new books and stacking rings are a hit with my son). “When we’re getting ready in the morning or if I need to sit to nurse the baby, he can independently play while we’re busy.”

For baby gear, we’re able to have it ready in the room by requesting from Grand Velas’s baby concierge service, which offers cribs, rockers, strollers, carriers, baby tubs, bottle warmers, sterilizers and more. All we have to do is unpack and set up our ride-or-die Slumberpod, a portable blackout tent loved by Darrington, too.

How to travel with a baby tip 4: Max out nap time

Most parents have heard the eyeroll-inducing advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” which isn’t realistic when you’re at home with a long to-do list. But at a resort? “We take a big family nap—it’s our vacation so we might as well enjoy it,” says Darrington.

For my husband and I, we spend many of our son’s naps out on the suite’s balcony that overlooks the pool and ocean. We packed a travel-size backgammon board and do play once, but mostly enjoy the underrated magic of having a conversation with your partner that’s not focused on day-to-day logistics planning. On other days, we take turns venturing out. I hit the spa for a hydrotherapy circuit and the best massage of my life (two words: heated slippers!); my husband choosee… the gym. *shrug*

Caitlin Kenny

How to travel with a baby tip 5: Make it special—for everyone

Whether it’s their first dip in the ocean or a unique craft in the kid’s club, resorts are loaded with memory-making potential for children. Even if they’re too young to remember the trip—you aren’t. I’ll never forget the way Clark strutted away from the salon chair with his sleek combed hair, or how he laid back in the mini cabana with his sippy cup in hand.

And the precious moments don’t have to be all about the kids, all the time: “Room-service dessert and drinks after the kids go down, or having lunch served to you at the pool—those little things are so nice to enjoy,” says Darrington. A vacation with little ones means you’re still waking up early, doing diaper changes, and playing endless peekaboo, but the key is finding ways to make the parts in between special for you, too.