Traveling with Kids to a Trade Show

Are you planning on traveling with kids to a trade show? Maybe your industry’s next event is in a city on your family’s travel bucket list, or a convention you’ve always wanted to attend is happening nearby Grandpa and Grandma this year. Trade show managers choose the locations for their events not only for the attributes of the actual convention center or exposition hall, but for the attractions offered by the entire hosting city, so it’s likely that at some point your business travel will be to a location you’ve always wanted to plan a family vacation.

Many times you simply don’t have a choice when traveling with kids to a trade show - especially when the kids are all home during the summer months. If you want, or really need, to attend that trade show, you might have to bring a plus one (or more!) with you when the kids can’t be in someone else’s care. In that case, the ideal situation would be that the business event you plan on attending offers on-site child care by a professional within the industry, such as KiddieCorp. Accordingly, we were pleased to have the opportunity to speak with Christine Tempesta, President, KiddieCorp, Inc. to get expert advice on what to do when traveling with kids to a trade show is part of your business travel.

Know Before You Go

Don’t buy those airline tickets yet! Just because you might like to bring your child or children along with you, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work out if you plan on attending the trade show or convention together. “It’s not a one size fits all,” explains Tempesta. “There are shows that don’t include families. And don’t include kids.” She recommends finding out the specifics to your business event:

  • Are kids allowed on the trade show/convention floor?
  • If so, what ages of kids are allowed on the floor?
  • And, depending on the age of your kids, are strollers allowed on the floor?

Additionally, if you are attending with your employer or co-workers, of course, let them know about your plans to bring the kids and discuss how it will impact your involvement at the event. This is not the time to assume anything! While most people have been in a similar situation themselves, you might actually be surprised about a boss’ or associate’s thoughts about the inclusion of your child or children.

Stay at the Adjoining Hotel

Proximity is key when making your hotel reservations if you plan on traveling with kids to a trade show. If possible, Tempesta suggests staying at the hotel property that is hosting or adjoining to the trade show location. If the convention center or exposition hall is without a hotel or reservations are fully booked, try to stay as close as possible to the event - next door or no more than a few blocks away.

“It’s so much more convenient and just less tiring if you’re staying at the same hotel wherever the convention is or as close to it,” Tempesta points out. She mentions several situations where you won’t want to have to drive or trek out of your way - maybe a child spilled something on themselves and needs a change of clothes, or if you have someone helping you, they want to take them back to the room for a rest, etc.

Use the Floor Plan to Make Your Plans

Take advantage of the trade show floor plan that’s usually posted to the event’s website in advance. Tempesta expertly advises, “See the booths you want to hit the most and hit those first.” In the very possible event of a child meltdown, you don’t want to have to leave the trade show without first visiting the most important vendors that you wanted to see. Part of your pre-planning should be making a plan for yourself, prioritizing the exhibits you want to visit, finding their locations, and creating your own map for your (perhaps brief) time on the trade show floor.

In addition, you’ll want to utilize the trade show floor plan to find the amenities that will hopefully allow you to keep you and your child/children comfortable for a longer period of time. “Look at the floor plan ahead of time,” instructs Tempesta. “You want to know where the bathrooms are. You want to know where exits are. You might even want to make a note of where security is.”

Above All, Safety First

“Really important,” emphasizes Tempesta. “If your child is old enough - if they’re a baby in a stroller this doesn’t apply - but, you want to let them know what to do if they’re lost. So go over the plan: who can they go up to and not to leave that area.”

  • She reminds parents that trade shows are really crowded, so it’s crucial to show your child a safe meeting place and let them know not to leave that area in the event you get separated.
  • Tempesta also smartly recommends dressing small children in a single, bright color to give the extra peace of mind that you can quickly spot them in a crowd and know they are right next to you.
  • If you’re unsure of who to tell your child to seek out if they are lost, Tempesta also suggests they might go up to a vendor manning their booth to ask for help.
  • Lastly, you may even want to review “Stranger Danger” rules with your little one pre-show.

Your Best Survival Strategy: Packing

“The biggest thing is just packing,” recommends Tempesta. “Pack snacks. Pack little surprises. Pack something they haven’t seen before, so that if they’re whiny on the trade show floor, you can whip something out that is small and manipulative and engaging that will occupy them as something new.” Think several steps ahead - because, if instant gratification is the goal, you might lose momentum if you have to open packaging, install batteries, etc. Make sure whatever you are giving them is ready to go before you put it in the bag.

Think about your own concerns when dressing for a trade show or long business event - bring comfortable clothes and shoes for your children as well. Dress your child in layers so they stay comfortable throughout the day if the temperature changes or different locations are exceptionally hot or cold. If age appropriate, pack a full diaper bag. In fact, Tempesta adds you may even want to put a few extra diapers in. She also suggests a small emergency kit to meet different needs that may arise, such as including safety pins, band aids, pencils/crayons, sanitizing wipes, etc.

What Are We Doing Here?

Tempesta keeps things realistic: “If you have to bribe them, if you have to pacify them, just anticipate that will probably happen. They’re not going to be as excited about the trade show as you are.” Let’s be honest, most ages of children accompanying you probably won’t even understand what a trade show is even after you explain it to them. The concept of “work” itself often remains a mystery to most adolescents. So how do you frame the experience that your child or children are about to have with you when traveling with kids to a trade show?

“Of course, they always want to know how it affects them,” reminds Tempesta. Tell them: “You’re going to go with me. We’re going to stop at certain little stands. You can eat. You can play with your toy, but we’re going to do this, and then I will always check in with you. I might not be looking at you; I’ll look at the person there and talk to them, and if you’re nice and quiet, that would be great. And then later, we’re going to go (whatever it is you’re going to do later).”

You might have this conversation with your child several times, but even if you’ve spoken to them about the event in advance, Tempesta recommends telling them again right before you go into the showroom because they probably don’t remember.

Keep Kids Engaged on the Show Floor

Phew, you made it! You’ve finally arrived at the event, you and your little(s) have a solid plan in place, you’ve packed for survival, and you’re dressed comfortably for a long day. Now what? Well, luckily, our expert, Christine Tempesta, President, KiddieCorp, Inc. has vast experience in keeping children happy and entertained at trade shows and conventions. Basically, the key is to find ways to keep them engaged, too, with the people and happenings on the trade show floor. She offers some great ideas:

  • Depending on the child’s age, you can make a game out of the trade show that motivates children to continue along with you as you make your way through the event. For example, Tempesta thought of making “trade show bingo” using the numbers posted at each booth space. She explains it can be very simple - just a piece of paper you’ve drawn a grid with numbers on, and your child can mark off the numbers as you visit those booths. (Tip: Think ahead here and make sure you include the booth numbers from the vendors you want to visit!)
  • Even though giveaways might be extremely desirable to your child, you may want to stay away from encouraging them to collect swag as you can get weighed down with it very quickly. But, why not have the kids give away a little swag? “That might be a fun thing, depending on your child, to bring a little something to give back,” suggests Tempesta. She recommends something small and easy to carry, like individually wrapped mints. This gives kids the opportunity to have their own brief interaction with a vendor you are visiting.
  • When traveling with kids to a trade show who might need an intermediary to help them ease any shyness or discomfort in order for them to interact with the event, Tempesta thinks of bringing a camera or a puppet for them to use. “That might keep them interested,” she says. “They get a little positive feedback, so it’s not so bad to be there if they have a cute little way of just engaging with people.”
  • SOS, when all else fails, or at least no longer keeps their attention, remember you are in survival mode and it’s okay to be more flexible with rules about devices and screen time. For small children in a stroller, you may be able to help them relax with headphones and some music. But, don’t beat yourself up about packing that extra phone or tablet in your bag if you must resort to letting them use it.

Manage Your Expectations (and, Your Travel Companions’)

Even with all the surprises, snacks, breaks, etc., plan on being able to stay at the trade show no more than 3 hours. Anytime after that Tempesta advises a child of any age will be fading. But, what happens in those opportunities where you start having a great conversation with an exhibitor and it would be valuable to your business to continue talking more, either at the booth or later at an associated networking event? Wouldn’t it be ideal if another adult was with you to take the lead in caring for the kids?

“I think it’s great if you do have a sister or a friend, or someone not quite as engaged as you who can come and help you, because then they could even take the child over to the eating area,” explains Tempesta. That extra 15 minutes you might be able to gain from having a travel companion could make a huge difference in the relationships you are able to start to build at a trade show. However, those anticipated 15 extra minutes can sometimes turn into an hour or two of deep conversation. Less so on the trade show floor, because exhibitors are also generally trying to see as many people as possible, too. It is worth talking over with anyone willing to help you when traveling with kids to a trade show. Let them know your engagement with the event and business associates might suddenly deepen and make sure that they are fully signed up to carry out a Plan B if you are not able to immediately resume responsibility over the kids.

Advocate for On-Site Child Care

The bottom line: “Of course, the most ideal situation is that they have child care at the convention,” points out Tempesta. She describes events that KiddieCorp has been a part of that were as seamless as providing check in/out to their child care providers right on the trade show floor.

If this is hardly the case with a business event you are anticipating attending, Tempesta encourages parents to reach out to the trade show manager by email requesting that they consider making their trade show more family friendly and provide child care services. “They are important,” Tempesta says of attendees. “If they have a voice and express their opinion, there’s probably at least 10 more people with the same thought. I would say their voice is important to the show manager, and they should bring it up because it’s done at a lot of shows.”

The added value of child care at trade shows and conventions doesn’t just benefit attending parents but extends to the event organizer as well. Tempesta elaborates: “I’ve been at meetings where parents said, “Well, I’m not staying for the last day because I have a 2-year-old at home,” or “I wanted to be on a panel, but I told them no, because I’ve got my kid here.” So, I think companies need to know if they offer child care, you’re going to get people more engaged, participate more, maybe even being sponsors, when they wouldn’t have before. There’s just a lot more people can do if you give them that help. For parents, it’s their number one thing. It’s more important than a fancy coffee break in between sessions.” 

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About our special guest to this blog:

Thank you to Christine Tempesta, President, KiddieCorp, Inc. for her insightful interview on best practices for traveling with kids to a trade show.

KiddieCorp, Inc.

Founded in 1986, KiddieCorp has been providing high-quality, on-site child care to conventions, trade shows, and sports organizations across the US and Canada. For more information, visit