I love to travel and have been fortunate to find a partner who shares the interest in equal measure. We have two kids – an infant aged 8 months (El Gato) and his pre-schooler brother, exactly two years older (El Mono). Every time we get back from a vacation, the usual questions we get asked by friends and relatives are:
“Did you take your helper along?”
“Wow! You are so brave! Isn’t it painful for the long haul flights? How do you manage?”
“So many diaper changes and feeds? Isn’t it very stressful?”
“We are waiting till our boy turns 5 to go on a long distance vacation”
Even Hubby Dear (HD) had some of these fears before the first trip. But since our first baby, we have travelled a few times: a mix of short flights (1-2 hours), medium duration (4-7 hours) and long ones (13 hours) to various places when El Mono at different times was 6 / 8 / 12 / 18 months and more recently with the two kids together.
Since the first trip HD has been as comfortable as me with travelling with small kids. We are no experts in parenting, but I thought I would share some of the tips and ideas which worked to make the experience pleasant for us.
Tip 1#: Night Flights
We always try to get the direct night flights with a bassinet seat and one needs to book early for bassinet availability. Bassinet helps to avoid a paralysed arm the next day. This helps the kids to sleep especially if we tire them out on the day of travel. Even if the kids don’t, my logic is: for how long will they cry, couple of hours??, but eventually they are going to sleep and you can also close your eyes for a while. A rested mom on a holiday is the most important of all. Trust me!
Carry essential medicines in cabin baggage. Kids’ nose can get stuffy, so saline sprays can be a saviour during those moments. Panadol sachets are useful for any unfortunate fever in the flight. The homeopathy medicine Chamomilla for those times when nothing seems to stop a baby from crying.
All major airlines let you carry water for your baby and have kid’s/infant’s meal available. If my babies are asleep, I generally take those jars and crackers with me in my bag for the next meals.
Tip 2#: Packing Cubes and a separate Kids “Go-to” Bag
We got introduced to packing cubes before our last trip to Melbourne and Sydney and it changed everything, for the better!!! Read about these wonderful cubes in a separate post here. In this trip we had a 4 consecutive nights spent in 4 different hotels – the cubes made the daily unpacking and repacking very quick and convenient.
This time around, we had made a “Go-To Bag” – as I referred to it the whole trip, out of a gym shoe-bag that we got free with some promotion; it was filled with all the snacks, the feeding bottles, few diapers, wipes, some scented plastic bags (you definitely don’t want that disgusting smell when kiddo decides to go poo-poo in the car), a thick table cloth (for those moments when you see a lush green patch and wish for a relaxed sit-down), a small toy, colouring pencils and so on. This was very handy and every time the kids wanted something, we like “Jeannies” had fulfilled their needs! This way you don’t have to stop the car all the time, rummage through the suitcases or the backpacks, and also when stopping for meals, just take the handy little bag along and you are set.
Tip 3#: Keep outdoor time for Kids in the itinerary
In advance of the trip, we now plan out a good balance of parks, places of interest and shopping in the itinerary, so that everyone is happy!
Disclaimer: Our kids are pretty young, so entertaining them is not so much of an issue, as long as El Mono has a ball to play with or a paper plane to fly, a green park, where my little one can crawl, and some planes, helicopters, birds in the sky! When visiting open places like parks, we would definitely carry a ball, a bubble maker and and one toy with us and we knew the kids were sorted. The kids at this age can easily be amused with things around and if some silly stories can be made up about those things, then its even more fun – for example I may say: “El Mono! Do you see that tree? Can you go and find out if there is an elf hiding behind it?”
Australia has no dearth of parks and plain green grounds for kids; there are so many things for the children to do there that you are spoilt for choices. So in the most recent trip, every morning we had a long list of things to see/do which had few hours of touristy sightseeings, an hour or more in the sandpit/parks (always with the hope that the more they play, the more tired they get!) and some tidbit shopping here and there.
Tip 4#: List of items for Shopping
It maybe difficult to shop with kids in tow, so it’s best, if possible, to look online for the things to buy or make a list of the must-haves from a particular shop/mall. This way it makes it easier in the mind if you know exactly where to go, what to ask and what to buy. We had some basic things to buy in Australia, like something you don’t get in Singapore easily or it’s too expensive here. I knew exactly what to get, so one evening at Woolsworth, before retiring to our hotel after a long day, I picked up organic eatables, vegemite, Tim Tams, some organic body lotions and such for the kids. Apart from the above boring shopping I did pay couple of visits to Sephora and a few Australian boutiques too!
Making a list for everything makes me feel sorted and relaxed. Believe me, I have had those moments when I went absolutely crazy and nearly had a panic attack thinking I had to buy so many things without a “things I want to buy” list and got lost in glitzy overwhelming malls! Not very productive and it makes you feel depressed later.
So do some Googling beforehand and know what to buy, because you will always be short on time for shopping when travelling with kids.
Tip 5#: Hide the stains on the kids’ clothes
The last thing you want in your precious vacation photographs is your kids looking dirty in those 3 day old, sauce smeared sweaters and muddy trousers!
The trick is to pack dark coloured clothes mostly, because they are quite forgiving in the photos.
Layering is also a clever tip. If your little one decides to rub his cute chocolatey fingers on the t-shirt, do not fret, just put a short sleeved t-shirt / a shirt for a second day use.
Tip 6#: Serviced Apartments or Airbnb
Staying in a serviced apartment or Airbnb (as opposed to a regular hotel) makes living out of a suitcase slightly more comfortable when you have kids with you. This way you have to carry less utensils with you, like bowls, plates, spoons, etc so the luggage is lighter. Laundry if at all, becomes easy too.
Cooking light meals for El Mono was very convenient, like oats and banana, French toast, etc. Even for us, on those hasty mornings, homemade breakfast was very convenient and hassle free. Somedays it got really chaotic getting both kids ready on time, for the limited time breakfast spread in the hotel.
I try to feed my kids whatever is available and I believe if they are really hungry they will eat whatever is given. However, El Mono still doesn’t eat pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, etc. I let him eat whatever he is okay with (mashed bananas with oats, boiled eggs, bread, french fries, etc) knowing that it’s only for 1-2 weeks and I can get him back on a balanced diet once we are back.
Tip 7#: Lightweight Strollers
For our last trip we had taken one stroller thinking that mostly El Mono will walk and when he is tired we will carry El Gato in a baby carrier and El Mono will sit in the stroller. It was a big mistake not to take two strollers: Both the kids fell sick for a couple of days and we had to make the older kid sit in the stroller and carry younger kid the whole time for a few days. This took a big toll on our backs especially in Sydney where we had to walk all over as we couldn’t find a taxi with an infant seat: it’s mandatory in Sydney to put an infant in a baby seat even in a taxi.
Tip 8#: Share your itinerary with the pre-schooler kid
We find that El Mono can get quite cranky for no apparent reason. We have also found that if we tell him in advance of what is to come he is less cranky with changes. For example: “We are going to get into a car and you will have to sit in your own seat and wear a seatbelt” or “You can play with your ball when we are in the park but that will be after we have finished lunch”.
Finally, when travelling with small kids, we keep an open mind: we know that we may miss visiting a place on our list, or we may lose half a day or more to an unfortunate fever, or we may not be able to dine at a popular restaurant due to a cranky toddler. We expect for such things to happen and do not fret about it and it helps us to carry on with a smile.
So those are some tips we follow on our travels.
I would love to hear back from you awesome parents about what you do to make travel easy. Please leave your valuable tips and tricks in the comments section.