Travel Essentials For Babies & Little Kids – What Not To Leave Home Without

We’ve travelled the world with our kids since they were 8 weeks old. Sara’s first trip out was to the US East Coast, Mexico and Cuba and Kabir was out to Oman for his first ever New Years. Since then, they’ve been to nearly 30 countries and been guinea pigs for our travel planning and packing. Over the years I’ve found somethings are indispensable when leaving home with the kids. Here is a list of my 10 essentials for travel with babies and toddlers.

Baby Carrier – great for the younger ones under 1, carry them around and visit museums and markets alike. They fall asleep easily and are well entertained by the world outside when awake. It also helps to have both hands free at the airport or at the market! We’ve used the Baby Bjorn carrier for the longest time and been very happy with it.

Checking out Oman in a baby carrier
Checking out Oman in a baby carrier

Stroller – we took it to our US trip when the kids were 3 and 6 nearly, great for long walks, airports when the kids are jet lagged and want to not walk, afternoon or early night naps and of course for carrying all assorted bags. Stollers on board the flight need to be under 12 pounds and easily foldable. Maclaren is a good choice, though expensive. Ours has survived several years of rough use.

Stroller - often used by the older one to nap
Stroller – often used by the older one to nap. It is easier to carry the younger one!

The Stole – as multipurpose as an item can get – sheet in aeroplanes, picnic spread in a garden, sarong on a beach … a must have. For more ideas, read this.

Sun Block – so much time is spent outdoors in the full day sun. This is relevant even during winters as the afternoon sun can be quite harsh and young children are more vulnerable.

Swim-suits – whether you plan to stay in a place with a pool or not, do carry one. especially to Europe and Singapore. There are so may places for open water play where the kids can just get into a swimsuit and have a blast, even the London zoo has one!

Look, I hatched from one of the dino eggs!
Look, I hatched from one of the dino eggs! Unexpected swimsuit moment at the Universal Studios in Singapore

Sterilising tablets, wipes and sanitiser – a combo that can tackle most of the moms worries. From snotty noses to public toilets, wipes and sanitiser can make a lot of places safer. Have one hanging from the handle of your day bag for ready use.

Travel Scrap Book – one way to make good memories out of a trip and help the child imbue the spirit of the place is to have a scrap book. At the end of the day making a picture of the what they enjoyed the most, sticking in some leaves/tickets etc into the book not only helps reflection, it makes for a calm dinner time and wind down after an exciting day. I usually put together my own, but this December, I’m dying to try the Litjoys Little Collector’s Passport!

The Travel Goody Bag – This is another must have for peaceful travels. Jet lag, less sleep, too much excitement is a heady cocktail that ends in more frequent meltdowns and tantrums. One way to ward off a tantrum is to hand the child something new and different as a distraction. I carry a goody bag which has small new things ranging from Kinder Joy to new colors to a small car or fun erasers or small DIY things. It has served me well during long flights and sit down dinners.

Empty Tupperware boxes of 3 sizes. nothing like raiding the hotel breakfast spread to carry you through the day. My son is a fussy eater and the daughter and I need lots of fruits through the day. So I make it a point to pack in some grub from the breakfast buffet.

The spirit of adventure. I cannot say this enough. Travel with kids will never be the same as before. But it will always be better than sitting at home. No matter how painful the jet lag and how disappointing an early night might be, it is a great adventure to travel together.

Never loose your sense of adventure!
Never loose your sense of adventure!

And here is your printable copy of a carry on bag checklist – The Backpacking Mama Packing Checklist

The 2017 Travel Planner

The question I get asked most is how do you manage to travel with young kids? The question I get asked second most is how do you manage to take so many holidays while working?

While the entire blog is an attempt to answer the first question, the second question is answered in one simple phrase – planning in advance. R&R is important and we do one every quarter, if not more often. Plus there is live events, if there is a match – cricket, football or tennis worth watching, we go and watch it.

Now all of this requires much planning in advance. For one, you cannot go for a live event of note unless you plan at least 6 months ahead as most tickets release and are bought that much in advance. For seconds, if you tell you manager/colleagues/team well in advance that you will be out for certain dates in the next 3-4 months a) there is no imaginary work crisis that can be cited as a reason to refuse leave; b) everyone can plan project deliverables with these and other considerations in mind – you do what needs to be done before you go, assign tasks in your absence etc and do not open laptop regularly during the break; c) people get used to your work pattern and if they value your contribution more than face-time, then it shouldn’t be a problem at all (if it is, do you really want this job anyway?). It can be done, we’ve managed with 2 working people across jobs in FMCG, consulting and late and early stage start-ups over the last 10 years.

So here is your guide to planning holidays in 2017.

  1. Get hold of the holiday calendar
  2. Get hold of the sports calendar: Cricket, Soccer, Tennis
  3. Get dates of the music gigs
  4. Get a sense of good destinations for short and long trips

A month-wise guide

jan-plan

Here is the Oman guide.

mar-apr-plan

For a flavour of Cambodia, head here.

jun-jul-plan

Everybody does Europe, in 2017 do the Off- beat Europe.

Brazil sounds too far to be worth it with kids? Here is what a holiday there looks like.

If you do plan to watch live sport with kids, here are some tips.

aug-sep-plan

oct-plan

If you plan to head to Kerala, do try a day in the houseboat. This is how it looks.

dec-plan

I’m a big fan of South Africa, go there go there 🙂

So go ahead and wanderlust already, and if you need more persuasion to take more travel breaks this coming year, leave me comment and I’ll convince you!

Happy Travels!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20 Tips For Travelling With Kids

 

As we pack our bags and head to Rome this week, I realised how different our travel itinerary and our bags have become! From 2 rucksacks and 1 carry-on to a suitcase, a rucksack, 2 carry-ons, a bag for S, a pram, a camera bag and a sling, phew! When we step out of the door, it looks more like a strange crooked backed, wheeled beast has stepped out. But the beast does manage to have fun, and here are some hacks that work for us.

  1. The goody bag: If there is a train or car ride or flying during the day involved in the trip, I keep a goody bag for the kids. This has little new things that can amuse them for some time. A sticker book, a magic painting book, a small loom band set, a magnifying glass, cotton balls, a small wind up toy – anything small and new that can be handed out to ward off a potential meltdown.
  2. Games for long rides: There’s no better way to get involved in travel than observe the surroundings so we usually play games like I spy or Name-place-animal-thing to pass time.
  3. Snacks: Sweet as well as savoury ones. Can’t step out without them. I get hungry every couple of hours and so do the kids with all the walking. Nothing ruins the mood like hunger, so cheese cubes, fruit, chocolate bars, fruit loops, chocos, buiscits go along with us. Raid the breakfast spread, if there is one.
  4. Time to explore: Kids like to spend time exploring wherever they are. We are almost never able to just leave our bags in the room and step out or just do a look see at a park. So plan for time to explore the room and the park or any other place that is going to be what you though of as a short pit stop. It won’t be short.
  5. Sketchbook: To fill with experiences. S loves to draw and copied the Duomo in Florence. That way she remembers where she’s been.
  6. Medicine kit: Goes without saying. Finding Crocin in a different country or in the middle of the night can be a challenge.
  7. Self-packed bag by kids, edited: S usually likes to pack her own bag which she claims she will carry all they way. We let her put things together to make sure she is well occupied and carries the toys she likes, but it is always edited for any heavy, noisy or bulky items because there will come a time when she will simply hand over the bag to me and run off.
  8. Wipes and sanitiser: Self explanatory. No matter how old the kids are.
  9. Child-locator/ Branding: This I haven’t tried, but found recommended on many a site. Kids do wander off in large places so maybe this time we will put a bracelet on each kid with our local phone numbers on them.
  10. Public Transport: Always a better option than hiring a car. One doesn’t have to figure directions with constant cries of are we there yet, I’m hungry, I want to drive ….Besides, the kids seem to enjoy these more.
  11. Factor their itinerary: Everyday has at least one activity that the kids would love to do – pool, beach, park, play area. At the end of they day, it should have been fun for them too. If nothing else, ice-cream works.
  12. An extra t-shirt: In the day bag, for mess ups or chilly evenings or strong AC environment. Along with the stole, of course.
  13. Scan the documents: All of them. Passports, VISAs, tickets, hotel bookings. Having everything on the phone is a big boon if a bag is stolen or you can’t remember the name of the apartment after a long day.
  14. Mind the money: We’ve found it best to carry little cash and use the ATM to withdraw local currency as required. But be sure to activate roaming on the credit cards (yes, at least 2) and have a decent limit on international spends. Getting caught out without money or cards is no fun.
  15. Carry-on packing: The carry on bag carries 2 sets of clothing for kids, diapers for half of Africa and 1 extra t-shirt for each of us, just in case of a leaky poop or worse.
  16. One Parent-in-charge: This actually worked by default rather than by design. With M’s enthusiasm for planning the vacation, he has it all laid out – flight tickets, mode of transports, lodging and day plans. I don’t lift a finger, you know, because what if he thought I was doing the day plan and I thought he was in charge 🙂
  17. A plan for the day and check the opening times etc the night before: Going over the next day plans the night before is always a good idea, particularly if you are visiting a museum or driving to somewhere. The opening timings or renovations can throw your day out of sync if discovered at the gate of the sight. Of course if you are in Italy, the trains get cancelled and ATCs go on strike without notice.
  18. Play-dates: I really really want to make this work, but haven’t found a reliable way yet. S craves company of her age after about a week. So longer vacations have many more melt-downs unless she has some kids to play with. If we are travelling with friends (which is rare) it works, but on solo family vacations I try and fix up play-dates with locals through common friends. It’s yet to work as a system though, sigh!
  19. One swim bag: Oh yes, everyones swim things go in one bag that can be grabbed on the go. No fishing out swimming goggles for one and upturning the suitcase to find the swimming tube.
  20. Packing cubes: This is my latest discovery. Pack each person’s clothes and or inners in one bag/packing cube. Colour code them and let each person know their colour. No more pulling out the wrong socks.

Ha. That’s the list. Do add more points and make our trips smoother!

Jet-lag Hacks

One of the things about going around the world with little kids, that you will not see on FB and Instagram, is the jet lag after. I can barely manage to settle my own clock. I remember sleeping for 14 straight hours when we flew to Chile, but that luxury (along with a few others) is wiped away with the arrival of the diapered ones in your travel itinerary.

Dealing with jet-lag, for adults, involves a few simple tricks

  • Keep awake/asleep through the flight depending on what time of the day (at destination) you arrive, so you can switch the clock to fit the local time.
  • Wake up with sunrise and exercise to get the blood circulation, and hence oxygen to brain, going.
  • Eat more fruits and salads at more frequent intervals and make sure you drink enough water/liquids

With young children and babies, things get more complicated. While S, the older one, is a delightful traveler who enjoys company in the flight, eats most of the local food and wakes up enthusiastically even for the early morning activities, even she used to get high fever for 1 day whenever we returned. K, now almost 2 years old, is a different story altogether. He takes upto 10 days to get over jet-lag and that too after making sure we are easing him into the new timing.

For kids, or at least K, there seems to be a sleep disruption as well as a tummy disruption. Traveling East to West is easier. As the day ends later than ours began, we take a short nap on arrival and then definitely wake up for then next meal at local time. East to West is more complicated. The day ends sooner than our body clock and its difficult to sleep earlier. So, we have been there, done that and found a few hacks –

  1. Night flights – if the flying distance is longer than 4 hours, we prefer night flights. We then land when it’s getting day and can make do with a short afternoon nap and adjust to the time more easily. Also, for the younger ones, managing a night flight is easier since there is little or no physical activity possible during the day and the kid gets all wound up. It isn’t exactly convenient, because the kids are rested and you are not, upon landing; but I’d rather have happy kids and cranky mom than cranky kids and cranky mom. For older kids (above 4-5 maybe) you could well take the day flight so you and the kids are able to sleep at the same time.
  2. Work with the sun – our bodies are tuned to naturally wake up when the sunlight pours in, so keep the curtains drawn open and allow the morning sun to wake you and the kids up. Equally, switch off the lights at night to send the body sleep signals. Even if the kids wake up at night, try to do activities in low light or choose calm activities like reading or colouring etc. You will find K running around and shrieking though, even in the dark.
  3. Swap the time one hour a day – when flying West to East, the kids will stay awake at night and then sleep through till even noon, sunshine or not. We advance the wake up  time one hour per day (if you have the luxury of course). So wake up at noon and sleep at midnight on day 1, wake up at 11 and sleep at 11 the next and so on. Afternoon naps, if any, should fit this moving cycle, else the night sleep time does not adjust well.
  4. Exhaust – swimming/park time are my best friends for combating jet-lag. Being out helps the body adjust to the sun – natural wake-sleep cycle and the activity helps night time jumping around less likely.
  5. Feed frequently – I didn’t have a clue what a disruption feeding cycles can be for a toddler. K has bad bouts of colic when we travel. So we now make sure he eats something every 2 hours if awake – 1 biscuit, half an egg, 4 grapes – literally anything that prevents a build up of gas in the tummy. Also, he has milk 5-6 times a day in stead of his usual 3 times. The child might refuse to eat and may look fine and active, but do make sure she eats, even if its just 2 bites. Even cake will do, though pure sugar like candy usually is worse than being hungry.
  6. Avoid cycle interference – (if its beginning to sound like a PhD, it’s because I have gone through some bad times). Apparently, the feeding cycle and the sleep cycle may  not sync up at the same time. Kids can sleep at the right times and still wake up due to hunger or an unsettled tummy. So we make sure dinner is slightly earlier, there is a small snack just before sleeping and there is a bottle of coconut water right next to the bed for night-time hunger pangs. Giving K water or coconut water every-time he wakes up at night, helps.
  7. Be ready to dance – given the sleep time is so disrupted, its possible the child wakes up just as he is about to nod off. Prepare to spend anywhere between 2x-3x the time it usually takes to put the kid to bed.
  8. Linger – my kids frequently wake up within 10 mins to half hour of  sleeping off, so I usually linger around the room to calm them immediately and prevent a full wake up. Cuddle up for longer, keep singing/humming, even if they look asleep.

Load up on patience & coffee. We have found jet-lag to be the most troublesome part of travelling with kids so far.

Stole

Just the most massively useful thing a globetrotting backpacking mama can carry. It has immense practical value. You can use it to

1. Cover a baby at nap-time, in Oman

2. Protect a baby from insects, by draping it over the stroller, in the Amazon Jungle

3. Provide half an hour of entertainment to 3-9 month olds, with the stole fluttering within reach and throwing interesting patterned shadows around, pretty much anywhere

4. Plonk kids on one, at the Bondi beach

5. As a beach towel to dry off post the nth swim, since it dries as fast as it gets wet, at Copacabana

6. Double up as sarong for self, in Salvador

7. Double up as skirt or lungi to enter temples which wouldn’t allow shorts, in Thailand

8. As a weather shield against the sun, the rain and the wind

And still use it as a stole if it survives the above.

More importantly, it has immense psychological value. With the stole in your backpack, you will never feel guilty about having left anything behind!

And hence the phrase that has made it’s way into globe trotting slang ‘you know that 50 countries down backpacking mama, she’s a supermom who knows where her stole is’

P.S. a medium colored, mal-mal piece works best.

*credits* the towel from Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy.

Food Glorious Food

One of the big concerns about travelling with young kids is food. So here’s a feeding 101 for bubs on the move.

Under 6 months. Milk only

If your baby is EBF, the only thing to carry with you is a good feeding veil and a smattering of ‘my baby, my rules’ attitude.

1. Plan your food/rest breaks to match feeding time for the baby. Be mentally prepared to stop every 2 hours or so.

2. Use the commute to feed – in the car/cab/i’ve done this in a tram in SFO; so you’re ready to move as soon as you hit your destination.

3. Do carry a veil. A long stole that can go around the neck also serves well. In most countries a covered feeding should not attract attention; if it does, and i did get a comment in the US, just keep calm and carry on.

If you’ve started with formula, the cleaning and sterilisation can be a chore. Most hotels will do the cleaning for you; and we had moved to a hot water rinse in place of the whole sterilisation by the 9 month mark. You could carry an electric steriliser, but it takes up a big space in the bag; boiling is another option and hotels do help out.

Solid foods. Here is a list of things you could do

1. Pack well from the breakfast spread – boiled eggs, bread butter and jam sandwiches, sausages and fruit survive a good 4 hours.

2. Soup and bread is a soft chewable option. Most restaurants will serve boiled rice/potatoes/veggies with a white sauce.

3. Milk and cereal (a favourite one can be carried)/biscuits.

4. Gerber has fruit and veggie pulp as ready to eat baby food. Though, i prefer Heinz which has powders which are easier to carry and dont spoil.

4. Do carry a favourite snack, even if it is cake/cookies/fries, just in case it takes time to get to the food. Hungry kids are crabby kids and can quickly make for a big family meltdown.

Bon appetit!

Travelling with two!

I did it! Yes, its worth a celebration, what with his colic and her ‘being the older sibling’ issues. And without the new trend of distributing chocolates for the co passengers. Babies cry, parents’ lives have to go on and the co passengers, being adults themselves, have to be able to live that down with grace and without candy.

IMG_4499

We celebrated his first flight at 2 months with a cake in Calcutta. The city looks absolutely stunning between Christmas and New Year (the weather trumps the pujo decor).

K was wonderfully curious about the whole experience, looking around at the lights, fascinated by the windows, amused by the diaper change in the plane. Diaper changes – so choose the seat closest to the loo, when travelling with two; the trips more than double, trust me!

I used the sling with him facing in, but he might well have enjoyed facing out. S was her usual self, it helped to have UNO cards and a card to prepare.

It might have been useful to carry both, the sling and the pram with two kids under 5; but since i was alone, the luggage and pram were impossible.

All in all, a good test run for Oman. Oh yes, we celebrated K’s being born 2 weeks early by making booking for New Years, since, you know 2.5 months is a good enough age to travel 🙂