My son could barely open his wrinkly eyes when he received his first passport at seven days fresh, and from then he basically grew up in the air, exploring 10 countries before his first birthday. From Africa to Europe, Asia, India and South America … his passport had more stamps than my boy had teeth. He never had a nursery, cot or many nice toys. But he did have the biggest playground on the planet and friends from all walks of life.
I called it world schooling and the people, places, cultures, sights, sounds, tastes and smells along the way were his teachers. Sounds dreamy? Nah, it was mostly a shit fight. Myself a flustered mess. My husband terrified of the ticking time bomb lurking inside of me. But it was a beautiful chaos all the same and the family adventure of a lifetime which knitted a tight, unbreakable bond between the three of us. So since I’ve survived to tell the tale of extensive travel with a baby-come-toddler, I feel a great responsibility to share my wisdom with other parents who want to enrich their children’s lives with experiences, not objects.
Many of us make the mistake of thinking a life with adventure is over once we spawn these tiny bald dictators … but it doesn’t have to be. Nor do you have to grow grey while counting down the years until they are of a “civilised” age before you travel. You see, we just need to adjust our expectations and perspective a tad. With holiday season looming, these are my tried and tested golden rules for for travelling with little people:
COMMUNICATION: Airports, people, lights, sounds, smells and all the stimulation that comes with travelling can be overwhelming for small children. It took a while to figure out but once I began preparing my son for what to expect on the upcoming journey, he handled travelling infinitely better. In the days leading up to your holiday start painting the picture for your child during casual conversations. For example, explain that they will be going on a plane and there will be lots of people, they will see trucks and buses at the airport and the plane will take off fast and go into the clouds and when they land they will see Grandma etc. It’s even incredibly effective if you make them an active participant in the adventure by letting them carry their own mini luggage and hand over their passports for a stamp as this gives them a sense of control in an unfamiliar environment.
R & R: One of the most common misconceptions parents make when it comes to travelling with small children is ambitiously trying to outsmart routine by declaring things such as “if we push the kids to stay awake before travelling they will sleep the entire flight”. WRONG. VERY VERY WRONG. Trust me, I know from experience and the consequences are scary (both of us melting down in the aisle/baggage claim/check in). We all know children are calmer and more corporative when they are well rested, so avoid deviating too far from routine before a long travel day. If they are rested and relaxed then the entire journey will be smoother. Which leads us to point number three:
STRATEGIC FLIGHT BOOKINGS: When possible try and book any long haul flights for night time so your child sleeps a major portion of the flight and you don’t spend 14 hours chasing them down the aisle. They may be slightly over stimulated initially and want to explore, but once that’s out of their system they should crash out. If your child is old enough to have his or her own seat, there are fantastic “plane pal” contraptions which create a flat bed for them in economy. They are life savers.
MINIMALISM: Packing smart lays the foundation for smooth travel and a jovial postcard looking family. I travel with just ONE suitcase for all my and my son’s needs AND it never exceeds 24kg. That’s because I’m packing for the right season of my life and I no longer “fantasy pack” sequinned frocks and sky high heels. Be honest with yourself and clear on your plans. Chances are you are going to wear what you normally wear at home while running around chasing children … practical clothing (unless you have a wild date night booked then you go girl!). Choose colour palettes and garments that are versatile and can be easily mix and matched with various items. I ONLY pack black, white, grey and denim for myself and son. And a maximum of two pairs of shoes that happen to work with every single outfit. Playing dress ups to plan outfits before you leave also helps the decision making process. Another great way to reduce luggage weight and create space is to buy toiletries the whole family can share such as child friendly soaps and lotions.
THE LIFE CHANGING MAGIC OF ROLLNG: If I could give you one piece of life changing advice this would be it. Once you perform the act of rolling your clothes, you will never go back. You can fit way more into your suitcase AND the tight roll keeps the fabric from creasing so you barely have to unpack on arrival. Which means more time for mojitos.
MAGIC NUMBER RULE: Mine is five. My son can choose five toys and five books to take on holiday. When you are clear about what you have brought then it simplifies and streamlines the packing process if you are going to multiple destinations … and subsequently avoids any major meltdowns or finger pointing at your partner because you’ve forgotten your child’s favourite toy in a hotel or taxi. Remember your magic number and perform a “head count” of toys on departure. There are also many great companies around the world that offer toy and equipment rentals (bikes, pool floaties, scooters etc) which you can pre arrange to have delivered to your hotel or holiday house before your arrival.
LOOSEN UP: If you normally have strict rules surrounding screen time with your children, you need to loosen up while you travel. If you try be super-mum on a long haul journey, then the only person you will hurt is yourself because you’ll be exhausted and tense before you even arrive. It may kill you to do so, but just load up a tablet full of games and entertainment. This will keep the kids occupied and less likely to run away during layovers, delays, transit or simply during the flight. That way you may not only survive the journey, but possibly enjoy it. Remember it’s a holiday after all. For all of the family.
SNACKS: We all know what a hungry child is capable of. Plane and airport food rarely appeals to them. Fill up a cabin sized suitcase with snacks if you need to. My rule for loosening up with technology while travelling also applies to food. Do what you need to survive and even overpack for any unforeseen circumstances, like major delays. When you get to your destination you can easily revert to healthier habits.