7 Principles When Traveling with Kids

Yes, you can continue to travel even after you have kids. For a lot of people, traveling no longer is an option after having the little ones. They wait until they are bigger to go on a trip, big or small. Traveling with kids is a bit more expensive but more than that, I think what’s stopping most of us is the fear that things will turn out really bad and that it will just be a nightmare of a vacation, bringing out the worst in us.

We have been traveling with kids since our first born was three months old and we have taken him to four continents since. We started traveling with two kids when our daughter was also three months old, buying her plane ticket even before she was born (so we were forced to come up with a name to book the ticket). The preparations may vary depending on the ages of the kids but we have tried to apply a few key principles in our travel. I would like to share some of these with you so you will be inspired to see the world with your children.

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First trip with two kids. Katy’s first flight was booked before she was born.. because there was a seat sale. Taken at a remote island in Phuket in 2011.

Shift Your Mindset

It starts with an acceptance that traveling with kids is not easy. It is not impossible and difficult but it will not be the same as how you used to travel. It is challenging and trying at times but if you manage your expectations things will be easier. Know that you will have occasional meltdowns, that you will have to scamper to find a toilet or at the worst, end up with a sick child. It may seems like a doomsday kind of perspective, seemingly expecting the worst to happen, but it’s not. Instead it is an openness that a lot of things, not entirely within your control, will happen but that it will still be a fun trip. It is important to keep the fun in your mindset since that is really one of the reasons why we travel.

Plan Ahead

Closely tied with having the right mindset is planning. You will be calmer as a traveling parent if you know that you have covered your bases. Yes it may be challenging to take little kids along but with proper planning you get to prepare for certain things to ensure a smoother trip.

For instance, you can plan for your flight times. Especially for long haul flights, pick a time that coincides with your kids’ nap or sleeping times so that they can rest for most of the flight. Be aware of any lay-over that will require you to vacate the plane. I learned this the hard way during a flight from Sydney to Manila. I was not aware that there was a lay-over in Melbourne so I went ahead and got the kids cozy and settled in only to find out a couple of hours later that we had to get off the plane. It was one of the worst plane rides ever, hauling sleepy and tired kids out of the plane and having to settle them back again after an hour.

In terms of planning for activities, leave a lot of breathing room and be very flexible. Do not pack your itinerary with so many things to do, so many sights to see. Accept that you will not be able to tick off all your must sees and must dos. I used to be checklist traveler but I have come to terms with having a slower and more deliberate pace. It has actually allowed me to appreciate a place more since I am not rushing through things.

However, be wary too of over planning. Plan for the most important aspects like transportation, accommodations and key activities. Be flexible to change course if needed and allow for spontaneity as this is what makes travel memorable.

Pack Light

I like to travel light and as much as possible I don’t want to check in luggage . But with kids, it is so easy to bring the entire house along and to pack for every single imagined scenario. What I have learned throughout the years is that kids don’t need much stuff and they can adapt to their environment.

With this in mind I only pack the following items:

  • Clothing packed in individual cubes. Each family member gets one (1) big packing cube which contains day clothes and sleeping clothes. I do not bring more than is necessary and just buffer for 1-2 extra outfits. Small items like undies and socks are packed in smaller cubes. Sweaters, warmers, swimsuits are brought as needed.
  • Footwear is limited to just one pair plus another pair of slippers or Crocs that kids can use in the hotel, especially in the toilet ( I don’t like kids stepping on the bathroom floor barefoot).
  • Medications. Bring any prescribed medicines and vitamins in small quantities. Have a ready first aid kit containing basic medication for common illness (headache, tummy ache, dehydration, cough/colds). For longer trips, ask your doctor for a prescription for your child’s most common illness and bring these also in tiny sizes.
  • Nutrition. Bring milk powder especially if the brand is not available in your destination. I also used to bring bottles with disposable liners so that I did not have to bring a lot of feeding bottles. You just need to sterilise the nipples and caps and I used Medela microwaveable steam bags for this ( I can’t imagine bringing a steriliser on a trip).
  • Diapers. When the kids were younger, I brought enough diapers for the trip so I don’t have to spend on expensive ones abroad. The luggage space occupied by the nappies then became my allocation for things bought on the trip.
  • Toiletries. We have a ready toiletry bag with 100ml clear bottles that we just refill after every trip. All needed items are in small quantities enough for the trip. Except for trips to isolated islands or remote areas, I just bring exact amounts since you can always buy in case you run out.
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I cannot imagine traveling without these packing cubes. It allows for a more organised packing and you can assign cubes to each family member. Plus it makes it easier to transfer stuff around in case of excess luggage weight. (photo from http://www.eaglecreek.com)

Be Ready for the Flight

One of the most daunting parts of the trip is the plane ride, especially if it is a long haul flight. Apart from trying to sync flight times with nap times, it’s good to be ready with a bag of tricks to keep the kids busy. Our carry on luggage contains the following:

  • One complete outfit per child and an extra top for each adult, in case clothes get soiled or check-in luggage is lost or arrives late.
  • Hoodie for each child since the aircondition in planes can get a bit too cold.
  • A small kiddie travel kit that contains their favourite small toys (with not too many parts since you don’t want to spend the time just picking these up every time your kid drops them on the floor), stickers and masking tape (just be ready to peel these off the backseat before you land), one book per child especially if reading is part of your nap/winding down routine, a pack of flash cards/game cards.
  • Snacks and nutrition. Bring your kids’ staple and favourite food in case they don’t like to eat airplane food. Include some fun snacks too so that kids know that it’s gonna be a happy flight.
  • A lot of wet baby wipes. Yes you will be needing a lot of these.
  • If you have an iPad, bring this too. It is always good to have this as a last resort to keep the tiny ones still.
  • A few earplugs that you can give out to your neighbours in case your kids have a meltdown. I think I got this idea from another friend of mine.  This gesture will let them know that you are considerate even if you are super stressed.

But more than the above, stay calm and try to keep yourself together even if things go haywire. Try not to feel guilty even if your kid screams his lungs out. It is easy to think that people in the plane are judging you as a bad parent. Let them think whatever they want and just focus on the job at hand. Stay sane and breathe.

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The calm before the excitement. Our first long haul flight with two kids – 17 hour flight to Amsterdam then connecting to Gothenburg.

Choose Accommodations Well

Our most memorable accommodations are not the nice hotel rooms but the Airbnb family apartments that allowed for sufficient running and screaming space for the kids. Our host family in Gothenburg, Sweden even provided the kids with toys they can play with during our stay.

For places with no available Airbnb, we pick hotels in centrally located areas to make sure that we can have a short break during the day so kids can nap and rest a bit. We try to plan the day around their sleep times to avoid getting them overly tired, avoiding a major meltdown.

It’s good that the kids are not picky and can sleep through the night anywhere. I guess this also comes from exposing them to various types of accommodations. As long as they are with us, they can relax and trust their environment.

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Our Gothenburg Airbnb apartment with a kids room and toys for the little ones.

Take Public Transportation

Part of the adventure of travel is trying out all sorts of available transportation. Let them ride trains, taxis, buses, ferries, tuktuks, trikes, jeepneys, bancas, etc. They also get used to being in transit when you allow them this experience. It is also a good learning activity as they learn about the various modes of transport.

Taking public transport is also cheaper, especially in places with organised metro and bus systems.

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Our little mate on board a ferry.

Choose Activities that are Fun for All

Find places for kids’  activities like children’s museums, playgrounds, parks, etc. But also include activities that are fun for the adults. For instance, food is such a big part of travel and we try to find interesting dining places that are also child-friendly. We try not to eat in fancy places since we will not enjoy the place as much and it may just be a waste of money. There’s always a time for fine dining during one of our date trips.

We don’t really shop a lot and if we do one of us stays with the kids in a park or play area or back at the hotel so we do not have to drag them to stores. It’s also not much fun to keep on saying “no, don’t touch that” or “don’t do that” so better not to bring them in places where you have a lot of restrictions.

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Good thing I also enjoy kids and science museums. Taken at Universeum in Copenhagen.

And most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. It is tiring, but there’s nothing like spending the entire day getting to know your children and seeing the world through their eyes.

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Bunk bed Lego building and bonding, fun for these two kids.

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