After eight years of international travel, we have made some pretty hefty rookie mistakes, I still cringe thinking about them. We have boarded flights after weeks in a dream destination only to gaze over at one another and mumble, what the hell just happened? No seriously, what – was – that???
In an attempt to avoid frustration, save some cash and forgo a premature divorce, we have listed a few helpful tips to keep your family smiling on your next trek, wherever it may take you!
Hand Carry Luggage Whenever Possible
In our family, we all pack one backpack, which makes carrying easy and forces us to pack only those items that are necessary. By not having to stand in a line to check your bag, you not only save time on both ends, but in the event you have an accident on a plane, need a quick change of clothes, a game, or whatever, you are fortunate to have all of the necessary items on you.
I will be honest though; packing light in the winter is not always easy and might require you to pack more than just a backpack, so forgo the winter treks all together and wait for warmer weather! Just kidding, we know you love the powder.
Be Prepared – Anything and everything is possible when traveling. Be sure to have those important details on you such as: health insurance cards, emergency phone numbers, hotel/apartment contact details, rental car agreements, copies of your passport and your credit card(s), cash, foreign identity cards, medicine, and tell someone trust worthy where you are going, etc. Did I miss anything?
Be Strategic With Your Choice of Lodging – After moving every couple of days from hotel – to – hotel on a trip to Ireland, we realized not only did we feel unsettled, but so did our children. Soiled clothes packed into suitcases, different pillows beneath our heads each night, exhausted from packing and unpacking almost daily, we vowed to never again move from place – to – place on another vacation.
Now we have a general rule of thumb. If we stay in a place for more than four or five days, we will rent a house or an apartment. A hotel is ideal for creating a relaxed experience where breakfast is served and dinners are readily available, however, after more than five days, we typically long for a bit of space. A house rental or apartment allows us the flexibility to cook our meals, play and linger in a yard, have more than one bedroom and simply spread out. We appreciate that on long haul journeys.
We book our house rentals through Airbnb or HomeAway.com. We have had great experiences with both websites and the homes we have rented. Be sure to see if the house if family friendly, with toys, games, safety locks and a yard available for children. Magic I tell you!
Have Snacks, Water, Plastic Bags, One Change of Clothes and Wipes Available At All Times – Through the years we have learned many things. Of that wisdom gained, was that children and adults alike get motion sick, will throw – up and ruin clothes, car seats and anything in the way in an instant. Pack the gear below and good luck!
Plastic Bags – Rough on the environment, so true, however amazing at containing bodily fluids! A plastic bag is ideal for containing not only vile bits, but also, dirty clothes, soiled rags, and other waste you would prefer to tie off with a knot and never have to deal with again.
Wipes – Wipes do wonders for removing smells and quickly spot cleaning dirty surfaces, including little and big bodies. So go ahead and get yourself some wipes!
Fluid in the form of water – Water is perfect for quick cleans, and hydration. Always pack a bottle of water and be sure to keep it filled.
Grub – Snacks make cranky children that much happier and when trains, planes and other modes of transportation run late, there is nothing worse than having a hungry tummy. Pack some treats and calorie dense food (think trail mix, cheese and nuts, apples and peanut butter, etc) for the tough times and trust us, there will be tough times.
Clean Clothes – Clean clothes not only provide warmth, but they also provide dignity. There is nothing worse than being forced to walk around in soiled clothes, so always pack a clean change of clothes and keep them on you at all times. Make this change basic, a pair of pants, socks, underwear and a fresh t -shirt. This should be a staple for every member of the family…trust me on this one!
Entertainment – If you are planning long train, plane or car travel, be prepared to entertain your children. If you are like our family watching movies in the car is not an option due to carsickness, but we have discovered the joy of podcasts, a playlist of our children’s favorite songs and car friendly games.
We also pack small blankets and tiny pillows, which are great for making our children comfy on long rides. Plus, sometimes when they sleep we get to enjoy quiet hours of adult chatter as we drive through incredible scenery. What a treat!
Schedule Time Each Day For the Children to Play – Children need time to play, explore and relax, just like we do. Make time each day at a playground, a pool, a lake, the ocean and/or in a forest to allow your children to just be children. Children are less inclined to worry about seeing another cathedral, visit another museum and sit quietly in another restaurant, but they certainly want to splash in a pool, jump out and eat an ice cream. Those experiences will stay with them longer than a trinket filled museum.
Less is More – It can be easy to feel ambitious when traveling, especially to a new destination. If you are like us, you take on the philosophy that this might be your last opportunity to visit a city, see that famous cathedral, take in that amazing museum, walk every street and soak up each and every magical moment – don’t. Seriously, do not!!!
The more you have on your list of items to check, the more miserable your family will become. Rather, set your sights on a couple of “must –sees” each day or for the duration of your trip and schedule in plenty of time to relax and play.
Remember you are on holiday and holidays are meant to be relaxing, not packed with travel agendas.
First Aid Ready – Always, and I mean always, have a first aid kit available with everything from band-aids, to pain relief, to stomach medicine. On more than one occasion while traveling we have relied on our handy first aid kit. This makes your trip that much more enjoyable and safe by not having to travel to drug stores and fumble your way through asking and searching for the perfect medicine.
Learn and Remember – If you find yourself coming off of a vacation that truly felt like a vacation, take notes. What made that trip so memorable? Did you have to fly, or were you able to drive? What time of year did you go on your trip? What was the main event each day? What did you eat, etc.?
It took us several years to realize that we as a family had outgrown sightseeing city trips. We are most happy at a beach, exploring new coves and sand all the while eating lots and lots of ice cream.
We also love anything that involves spending time in nature. We have found that our children thrive in the great outdoors, where they are free to roam, explore and collect things and we can watch without having to worry about them “behaving” in a museum, in a store, cathedral etc. Whew!
Say Yes! – Holidays are meant to be fun. If your little ones want to visit an Ostrich farm, splash one more hour in a pool, skip a bath, or eat yet another piece of cake, just say yes. We all need time away from our regular routines where we allow the rules and the confines of our everyday lives to slip away.
Let the days linger and the nights light up with a starry sky.
Have a great trip!