Every so often an idea strikes you and even though a nagging voice at the back of your mind screams at you to take a second to think it over, you ignore it.
That’s what happened to me recently when I decided it was a good idea to travel to Europe with two small boys.
It all started when a good friend of mine took up a teaching exchange in London for a year and I excitedly planned a visit to the UK and France with my husband and two young children.
What could possibly go wrong, you say? Well more than I anticipated but not as much as I feared!
Still with me?
Having never travelled further than interstate with the kids before, I was unsure and understandably apprehensive about what I was in for.
My kids are not particularly chilled-out or wonderful travellers at the best of times and I was prepared for every worst-case scenario.
My youngest child had spent many a night in the hospital this year for croup and was then diagnosed with asthma before our trip.
She’s crazy! I hear you say.
Possibly, but hear me out.
We survived, and not only did we survive but we had the time of our lives!
So here are my tips and tricks for making the most out of the trip of a lifetime with little ones:
For the plane:
- Pack as light as you can allow. When navigating airports, trains, taxi bays, hotel lobby’s etc you will need to be able to manage all the luggage between the adults whilst keeping a firm grip on the munchkins. My boys had just turned three and five respectively, so this meant a backpack each, a shoulder bag each and a large suitcase each plus a child’s hand. We looked like pack horses, but at least we didn’t lose any kids. Tricky but doable!
- Limit screens in the week before the trip. By the time we were on the plane, the kids were begging for their iPad’s because they had watched barely any tv in the lead up to our holiday. Another tip is to download something different on each iPad, so they can swap if they get bored of the content.
- Invest in some good quality children’s headphones and don’t forget the plane adapters! The kids liked to alternate between their iPad’s and the plane entertainment which thankfully only meant plugging their headphones into the $3 adapters. Seamless.
- Snacks, snacks and more snacks. Newsflash – plane food can be a bit gross. Don’t get me wrong, they really do a lot with what they must work with but to pre-schoolers this means nothing. Small, easily accessible snacks in frequent intervals are a life-saver with grumpy little travellers.
- Lollipops and water bottles with a straw for take-off and landing. Basically, anything they have to suck on will help protect those little ears!
- Blow-up footrests. These are worth their weight in gold. Not all airlines will allow them but if you can get your hands on some that pack down easily and are light to carry it won’t be an imposition to travel with. Our airline wasn’t fussed about them at all providing we waited until after take-off and had them packed away for landing. These meant that the little ones slept on the plane allowing Mum and Dad to get a bit of shut-eye as well!
For everything else:
- Book through a travel agent if you can. Going through a travel agent meant when things went awry in the trip with transfers or hotels, we had a 24/7 English speaking service to aid us in getting to where we needed to go. With small kids, you need things to be as smooth as possible and know that there will be a warm bed at the end of it. No exceptions. A third party meant that this was always an assurance.
- Try to book accommodation with access to laundry services. This will be crucial to being able to pack light! We ended up washing every three days simply because the kids mowed through their clothes, but it meant we could manage two large suitcases between the four of us.
- Get your hands on some coloured packing cubes. These are a game-changer. I picked some up in four different colours on eBay for approximately $11 for a pack of 8 different sized bags. This allowed me to pack everyone’s clothes and belongings neatly in shared suitcases without mixing everything up. When packing and re-packing while travelling this became an essential time saver.
- Pack small toys that the kids haven’t played with before. We managed weeks away with just a travel bag of Lego and two Busy Books. These are available at most department stores and include 12 small figurines. The kids were obsessed, and they kept them busy for hours.
- Invest in a sleep trainer clock. For $15 from Kmart, we took a rechargeable sleep training clock away with us which sat in the kids’ room. It meant that they weren’t necessarily trying to start the day at 3am every day which allowed them to kick jetlag reasonably quickly.
- Try not to over plan. We were fortunate that our little men were very well-behaved when travelling but this came at the cost of the next day. Cranky, tired and generally unpleasant we had almost no hope of doing much more than a bit of light exploring and letting them hang out in the hotel to play with their toys. We recognised this pattern fairly quickly and were glad we hadn’t booked anything too pressing for those days.
- Find a supermarket straight away. Wherever you end up when travelling, you will need to locate a supermarket as soon as you can to be able to stock up on the essentials. Milk, fruit, snacks etc. the only way the grown-ups will get to relax is if the kids are settled in.
- Plot out a list of the closest hospitals with emergency departments in the vicinity of your accommodation. Hopefully, you won’t need it, but it always pays to be prepared, especially in unfamiliar surroundings or if travelling with little people prone to illness.
- Ensure you have adequate travel insurance. Our youngest needed a letter from the paediatrician to prove he was fit to travel and that was it but if he had needed hospitalisation, without insurance the bill would have been astronomical.
The list of tips could go on and on but the biggest take away from our trip is this:
It doesn’t matter how amazing the views are, how lovely the food is or how lively the culture, children will still need three essential things for a successful foreign holiday – food they recognise, toys to play with and somewhere to run around. If we could manage all those things, then we had two much happier teeny people to be dealing with.
At the end of the day, kids care not for the French Riviera or how old the building is in front of them. They want slides, swings and a chocolate milkshake. They don’t care how uncultured they appear…
In the end, our boys surprised us beyond measure with how well they travelled and adapted to change. We were able to experience and share with them such an amazing adventure and with all that we know now, we know the next one will be even better!
You may also like to read: