Travelling with young children for the first time? Being bombarded with everyone telling you a zillion things you need to take and another bzillion things to consider taking? Oh and don’t forget all the Apps people will tell you about, quickly followed by horror stories they saw on the news last night or my sisters-friends-cousin said to take an umbrella!
This post is just some really practical, simple things to consider before you travel with children for the first time and is based on our experience of travelling with a child between 3.5-8 years old.
Before you go
Consider the Climate
Depending on where you live, you might be going from a cold climate to a hot climate and children may protest with hats, sunglasses or sunscreen. Spend time getting them used to wearing hats and sunscreen. Using moisturiser is a good way to get your lil ones used to the feeling of sunscreen. Light, long length clothing and comfortable hats that pack easily are also essential items on our packing list.
Bath vs Shower
Something we didn’t even consider on our first trip was that Noodle had only ever had baths and not showers. And guess what, most all of our accommodation only had showers. Luckily he was ok with this, but I know other smaller children that scream bloody murder in the shower! Likewise for staying in cheaper hotels that don’t have consistent hot water availability.
Breakfast Included – Yes Please!
We love having breakfast included in the room cost provided the price isn’t ridiculous. Starting the day with hungry children (and adults) doesn’t end well. Alternatively you can find a decent supermarket and organise your own breakfast.
If you are staying somewhere with small hotel rooms you might want to look at alternatives like renting an apartment or staying in a hostel that has a great common area. Really not much fun to feel trapped in a small space with children!
- Ensure you pack the chargers and have the right power converter for all electronic devices.
- Check if your airline includes entertainment screens or whether you need to bring your own. For smaller children the in-seat entertainment units are a pain, they are too high for the child to see and to pay games meaning sitting on knees. Noodle was playing a game on one of the screens but kept pushing the screen too hard and the person in front could feel the taps. I understood his annoyance, but Noodle was too young to understand.
- Check airline restrictions if you are taking extra power packs.
Be practical, don’t dress your children ready for Instagram worthy photos and then spend time stressing that they are getting dirty. Pack comfortable clothes to suit the climate and activities. If you plan on getting washing done make sure the clothes are suitable for going through a clothes drier.
Taking multiple suitcases? Put a set of clothes for everyone in each case, that way if one case gets lost you all still have a set of clothes. Yes, you could buy new clothes at your destination, but depending on where you are travelling the sizes can be quite different so might not find something that fits. I am a Size 14 (AUS) and rarely find clothes that fit in SE Asia.
Travel Diary or Journal
Depending on the age of the children, look at getting a travel diary or journal. Some of the travel diaries have a Before You Go section where you can write about where you are going, what you expect to see, what you are going to pack etc. Some children wants lots of details before a trip, others go with the flow or are too young to understand. Do what works for you.
Grab yourself a diary or journal too! I have only just started keeping a travel journal and I love it! I use journals that I find visually beautiful with or without lines and write (scribble) all over the place – no photos of my mess will be shared here!
A pre-organised airport pickup to take you direct from the airport to the comfort of your hotel is a worthy investment after a long flight. Yes, you can save money by getting public transport but weigh up whether the cost and effort is worth it. Make sure you still have the address for the hotel handy in case the airport pick-up doesn’t arrive. I generally get a pick-up when we arrive, but then take public transport or organise a car for when we leave.
When you get there
Slow it Doowwnnn
Depending on the age of your children, and how well they travel it might be worth getting into the mindset of taking it slower. This is really hard if you enjoyed full and eventful holidays pre-children and still want to get the most out of your holiday! Trust me, it took us multiple overseas trip before we slowed down a bit.
So what does “taking it slower” really mean for us? Our first overseas trips with Noodle were pretty fast paced with 3-4 nights per place, multiple flights and lots of activities all crammed into 2-3 week holidays. As much as I tried to make this work, it just didn’t (thoughts of “I won’t let a child change my travel life!!” creep back into my head as I write this). Now we try and stay in one place a bit longer eg 8 nights, then have a few nights in 1 or 2 other places and just accept that we might miss things.
We rarely do full day trips as we know the afternoon is full of whinging and becomes unenjoyable. Allow some “chill” days to give everyone time to relax – in saying that, a “chill” day just means we don’t have planned activities. We will still go for walks, head out for food, swim, play cards etc but we just take it slower.
Don’t forget to simply enjoy the family time. You don’t need to cram every day with activities. Instead, take the time to play cards, go for slow walks, sit by a river and chat. When we have limited time for holidays (eg being restricted to annual leave) there is a feeling that you have to make the make the most of it by seeing/doing everything. Breathe In, Breathe Out, try and relax!
Quality family time is more important than dragging your children to every historical monument or tourist attraction. Make sure you also find time to do activities that the children want to do – even if it bores the crap out of you. Whilst we didn’t want to be at a games arcade for 3 hours in Siem Reap Cambodia, Noodle didn’t want to look at temples all morning either – but that was our balance.
I get washing done a few days before we leave so that I don’t have a mountain of washing to do when we get home. Trust me, you will thank yourself when you get home for doing this!
When you get home
Don’t rush to unpack. This is something I need to remind myself to do! You get home, you are tired, the children are tired and your brain automatically starts filling with everything you need to go – get ready for school and work, open the mail, pay the bills that came while away, where has the cat gone, what is that funky smell coming from the fridge etc etc.
Just leave the unpacking or take out only the essentials that you need.
I try and have a few days at home before going back to work so we can unpack without rushing and get groceries sorted. This also gives Noodle some time to rest before returning to school.
More to Come
You can literally spend hours researching online for packing tips, what to pack and what not to pack. Then get drawn into the vortex of backpack vs suitcase, whether you need an RFID blocking wallet and whether cat hair on your clothes needs to be declared at customs. I plan to build a Resources page over time to expand on these topics and rant extensively about how much I love packing cubes…all in good time.