What is more stressful than taking your driving test or doing a talk in front of 1000 people?
Travelling with kids!!
Finally, the world is starting to open up and many people are packing up to go on their travels. Whether it be flying halfway around the world to see their family, for a two-week stint in the sun or camping and BBQing at a local beauty spot.
I know that if I’m not well organized I get totally stressed out and not only is that bad for my blood pressure, everyone around me suffers too!
But because I know that’s what will happen I can make sure it doesn’t by planning ahead. I have spent almost all my adult life abroad, travelled extensively and on almost every plane trip I have taken with my son, we have had to do it without dad.
I have learned a few things along the way, here are my TOP TIPS…
1. Plan ahead
Start thinking about what you need a few weeks before your departure date, leaving everything to the last minute will guarantee to stress you out and important things will get forgotten.
Travelling with kids bring a whole new load of things to add to the list, so as you think of them, pop them down.
I use the Google Keep app on my phone just jot things down as I think of them. Often a thought will pop into my head whilst I’m making dinner or having a bath “Don’t forget the battery charger”, “Confirm the hotel booking” etc. Get it on the list.
Also when you are still in the planning stage remember to check for airline requirements – certain airlines demand that you use specific brands of child seats for example.
And of course, visas, insurance and the latest requirements for COVID regulations. Don’t assume that because your own country is open for business as usual, that everywhere is.
2. Make a List
I really recommend having a master list that you can use every time with space to add things for specific trips. I used to have mine on Evernote but I have moved it over to Google Keep. (more ways on how I use Google Keep here). Easy to check off as you pack and easy to add to when you think of something you shouldn’t forget (see step 1)
Also, your list should have space for each family member so that you don’t forget to pack undies for your husband or swimming gear for your kids, each person has a list and older ones can be responsible for packing their own stuff.
3. Pack savvy when travelling with kids
You are going to be carting even more stuff with you, so keep things to a minimum.
Don’t pack outfits, instead pack lots of mixes and match items. A couple of pairs of trousers, shorts or skirts that can be worn with every top you plan to take, accessories that can work with anything.
I spent a year travelling around South America, needed clothes for every possible climate and had one rucksack to carry it all in. Items that can be layered as well as mixed and matched are perfect.
Choose clothes that are easy to care for (no ironing) and quick to dry in case you need to wash them. Hand washing a few things or putting them into the hotel laundry is better than carrying half your wardrobe.
If you really struggle with packing do this…
Put everything you think you need on the bed.
Now take half of the things off the bed and put them away.
Done? Not quite, now take 50% more away.
This exercise really helps you to think about what you REALLY need. And let’s face it, unless you are going to the end of the earth or yomping up Everest, you will be able to buy anything you do need but didn’t pack.
And… Pick suitable shoes
Many moons ago, my parents once went on a 2 week trip to Greece with my fashionista step-brother. He took…wait for it…
20 pairs of shoes, yep, TWENTY pairs of shoes for 14 days, at the beach!
I don’t even own 20 pairs of shoes!
Again, pick shoes that can be worn with your mix and match outfits. In South America, I had a pair of boots and a pair of sandals, and they pretty much covered all situations. If you are going somewhere nice a pair of dress shoes might be needed too.
4. You don’t need the kitchen sink!
Unless you are trekking in the depths of Outer Mongolia, chances are you will be able to get what you need at your destination. Don’t cart half a suitcase of “just in case items”.
Use multipurpose products where possible all in one shampoo and conditioner, tinted suncream etc.
It is impossible to pack for every single outcome so reel it in and just take what you really need.
5. Kids that travel get their own bags
Each child has their own bag with items to keep them busy on the journey, books, toys etc. A few snacks (stay away from the high sugar) and for long journeys, it’s fun to add a couple of new items to the mix. With younger kids, you can get backpacks with a rein attached, the perfect way to keep your child under control and have them carry their own gear! Make sure they know that THEY are responsible for their bag.
You also need to lay some ground rules, one item out, one item in. They can only get one thing out at once. Plus explain that in some parts of the airport it’s not a good idea to get things out of their bag, remember to tell them where and when it’s ok.
If you are flying kids often get a free gift so make sure there is some space in the bag to put whatever the gift is inside.
There are some of the items I’d pack when my son was little, it was always just me and him flying long haul due to my husband’s short vacation time so I had to be savvy about flying.
- Peelable stickers – they stick to the tray and walls of the plane
- Glowsticks – brilliant for night flights
- Invisible ink pen and a pad of paper – again perfect for dark flights
- Weekly Pillbox (with 7 containers), dice and small snacks that fit into the pillbox like M&Ms. Write numbers 1-6 on the lid of the pillbox. Put a treat in each container. Roll the dice, you can eat the treat out of the matching number. You can’t refill until all the treats have been eaten. This makes eating treats last much longer!
- Colouring books, crayons etc.
- A couple of new books/toys
- Small cars/animals
iPads weren’t really a thing when he was little and inflight consoles were a bit rubbish. These days most planes have a good selection of kids programs. I wouldn’t worry about screen time when you are on the plane. If it is keeping them quiet and happy, then just roll with it.
6. For Flights With Kids
This one is especially important if you are flying. Make sure your carry on luggage is well organized.
Keep similar items together on ziplock bags so it’s easy just to grab that one bag rather than having to ferret through the whole bag looking for things. If you are flying with a little one who needs nappy/diaper changes then put all the stuff you need together so you can just grab that out of the bag.
Assign a specific pocket or place for travel documents.
Remember to check the latest boarding rules before you leave so you don’t have a mini-meltdown trying to put everything into clear bags or small bottles!
Have a change of clothes for you and the kids and extra diapers/nappies in case of delays or accidents.
A week before you are due to fly, check the latest immigration and flight rules, including visa status. They are changing so quickly and so often these days due to the pandemic, you want to make sure you have everything you need.
7. Let them run!
OK, I will try not to turn this into a rant.
If you are going on a long haul flight DON’T put your child in a stroller for the whole time from check-in to getting on the flight.
That is what? 3 hours of them having to sit still and then they are expected to stay in their seats for a long flight too!
That is crazy pants.
It’s not fair on the kids and it’s not fair on fellow passengers.
Personally, I would say ditch the stroller completely and get them on a rein/leash instead. I appreciate that this is more difficult if you have more than one child and/or you are travelling as a solo adult but getting their wriggles out before ether board is a big step towards a calmer flight. We never owned a stroller, this forced me to pack light as I often had to carry a tired toddler too.
Do get them out and running about. Make them run races, airports are spacious, I have yet to go to one where we couldn’t find some wiggles space. In my experience, the more tired they are when they get on the plane, the better.
Some airports do have play areas but in my experience, most are pretty poor.
All our long haul trips to the UK from Japan and back have been just me and my son, so I know how tough it can be. But if your child is relaxed and having fun then that is one less thing for you to stress about.
Travelling long haul with kids is hard but it can be fun. And if you get stuck waiting, try this easy game to play anywhere. It’s fun can get silly (which is always a good thing in stressful situations) and can be played anywhere with no equipment.
8. Explain what is happening
You know what it’s like when you go to a new place. So much to see, so many distractions. This can be overwhelming for adults and even more so for kids.
Help them to keep calm as you travel by explaining what is happening. Why have you got to stand in the queue? What is the person behind the counter doing? Where will you go next? What is the next step?
And also go over possible scenarios. What should they do if they get lost? If they need the toilet there might be a long queue so they need to tell you as early as possible. etc.
When you travel with kids, give them a job to do such as holding onto the luggage tag until you get the suitcase weighed. Something that they can perceive as important often helps too.
We had a stand-by-me rule. When we were waiting to check-in, luggage check-in immigration etc. I would tell him it was stand-by-me time. As often I would need both hands to fill in forms or deal with tickets etc. We talked about how easy it would be for him to get lost and what would happen if we missed the flight.
These were the only times I was really strict with him but he got it and it worked every time. If you have a child that is a runner, then this is the time to use a child leash.
It gives the child some freedom but you know that they can’t disappear when you are in the middle of something important, and so you get peace of mind too.
We use a backpack with a leash from when he was a toddler until he was around 4 years old.
9. And Finally when travelling with kids enjoy the ride!
The most important I kept for last. Relax and enjoy the ride.
If you are an anxious traveller, pick a mantra and keep repeating it in your head. This trip is easy and fun. Whenever you feel yourself getting stressed, take a deep breath and repeat your mantra over and over. Your brain can’t process the negative thoughts at the same time as the positive so focus on the positive even if there is chaos around you.
Kids pick up on it if you are stressed and worried. So take a few deep breaths, crack some silly jokes, have a laugh, a G&T, the adventure you are going on is supposed to be fun!
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