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.

Indiaaaa, India…clap clap – OR how to watch a match in the stadium with kiddos

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Cheering for the Indian Team @ Adelaide Oval India – Pak, WC 2015

Watching the matches was an awesome experience. I really dont care much for cricket, but the stadium atmosphere, the national anthem being sung by 50k spectators…all worth being a part of. We watched a total of 5 matches across 4 cities with the 2 kiddies in tow 🙂 and a lot of people asked – how do you do this? So here is the 101 on match watching with the kiddies.

1. Tame expectations – do tell the husband that actual match watching is in the range of 50%-60% at best for an ODI, a T20 can be watched almost whole. We mostly left early or reached late and had to step out a number of times to either feed or entertain kids. Here is M’s view of how the time is spent.

2. Watch the first one outside India – sad, but true. We’ve watched cricket in Australia, England, South Africa and Sri Lanka and the facilities are designed to make the whole process truly enjoyable.  There is a variety of food available, we were allowed to take the pram and bags, including food items, inside. Play areas and parks surround the stadium and one can step in and out a number of times.

Chasing pigeons outside the stadium in Perth
Chasing pigeons outside the stadium in Perth

Once you enter, the entire stadium is accessible; and most of all there were Parents’ Rooms, with changing trays, feeding rooms TV and AC to help manage kids under 2! (this is Australia only). The SCG, MCG, Adelaide Oval allowed prams, Perth did not. But for the others, the attendance must have been 1/3 kids under the age of 10. And the stadium looked like this!

Line of prams at the MCG
Line of prams at the MCG

South Africa had the grass bank stands which allowed for plenty of room to run around, kids were given a bat and ball to play with and many people had set up their own barbecues too.

We have watched the Football WC with Sara in Brazil and the stadia were bad, it was a really long walk from the parking/public transport drop off, prams were not allowed and we had to carry her a lot of the times. They didnt have food and did not allow us to take any in – so we survived on heavy meals before and popcorn and chips during. The entry queues were long and the only saving grace was that they would allow us in through the special entrance as i was visibly pregnant.

In India, S’s first match experience was at 9 months for the Nehru Cup (football); not too bad.

3. Prepare smaller kids for the noise levels – K used to get all shaky every time there was a roar. By the 2nd match he was used to it and needed only a tight hug to sail through the cheers.

4. Do carry sunblock and hats – the most likely reason for not having a good experience abroad is the heat/sun in your eyes.

Holidaying in the host country is s good option too, if you want to avoid the risk of spending a lot of money on tickets and then not liking the stadium or having a bad experience. The atmosphere is all party, most cities have a fan zone with a large screen playing the match live and there is plenty stall set up by sponsors to keep kids busy.

Ping me if you’re inspired to watch one live and want to know more.

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!

O(h)man!

Beautiful beautiful Oman!

A mere 3 hour flight from Delhi (so the Calcutta flight was pretty much a test run), it’s a different feel of the middle-east, closer to Turkey than to the Dubai we’ve come to expect from this term.

S playing chef on the flight
S playing chef on the flight

We did 2 days in Muscat and 3 over the Wahiba Sands covering desert and beach.

Muscat is a flat city and at night the lights make it look beautiful. The Muthrah souk area, facing the waterfront, is a great place to spend time with kids. S ran around the steps the whole time that we enjoyed an outstanding meal and 5 layered fresh juice (yes all fresh, no sugar, no cream and utterly delicious. We drank 4 glasses!)

The Juice @ Fast Food and Juice Center, Mutrah Souk
The Juice @ Fast Food and Juice Center, Mutrah Souk

And the dates, oh the dates, the soft warm dates and the meat/kebabs/shwarma and the hummus and  the feta cheese, the Greek Salad tasted out of heaven… ok, so this is more a food post than kids post, sue me. Food for kids also was not a problem at all. S loved the kebabs and fish, they were full of flavor and low on chillies pretty much everywhere we went.

The funnest places for S were the Ras Al Hadd Turtle Reserve and the Desert Night Camp at Al Wasil. Though, we also did dolphin watching and snorkelling. The motor boats are not a big favorite with S. I forgot to carry the homeopathic coculocus, which usually helps with the motion sickness.

She’s turning out to be quite a wild life lover (my genes); despite being tired out, she stayed awake till 1030 pm for a night trip to the beach to see the the turtle hatchlings. Unfortunately, we got to see only a turtle pushing its way back to the sea, but that was the highlight of the trip for her; it’s a different matter that i had to carry the sleeping child all the way back on the beach (all the better to work of the kebabs, my dear).

The Desert Night Camp was incredible. She had her sand pit set out in a jiffy. The dunes were a new experience too. S and I climbed and ran down and clicked a beetle and slid down again. I was a tad worried about K and the sand, but he was absolutely comfortable in the camp and on the dunes. Not too much sand was flying around and he fell asleep after watching the sunset. The ride up the dune was a little too bumpy for the 14 wo, but went ok. I just had to hold his head to avoid too much shaking.

Play area @ Desert Night Camp
Play area @ Desert Night Camp

Tiwi Beach was the next stop. We found a lovely place for lunch – Wadi Shab Resort Hotel. The food was sad by the standards we had come to expect, but it had a play area, safe beach, beautiful bougainvilleas and a pool and shower (useful for a kid to change after the beach). The beach was a pebble one and a disappointment for S.

The last stop was the Bimmah Sinkhole, just a peep and we headed off. This was the place i wish we’d spent more time at. It’s a nice pool and S really wanted to swim in it.

K seemed mostly happily indifferent to location, as long as he was well fed and facing out in the sling (bf-ing with a feeding veil in public in Oman was not an issue). Though he stared around in wonder at the Desert Night Camp.

So while this was only part of Oman, the must dos with kiddos

1. Undoubtedly Ras Al Hadd. Aside from the turtles, it is kid friendly with a turtle museum, lovely beaches and good food.

2. For kids old enough, the Desert Night Camp. The dunes are small and easy to navigate, the sands not too windy and the camp, well, was actually luxurious and expensive. sigh! For younger kids, it has a play area and kids over 8 can also do the quad biking. There is also the facility to play cricket, badminton and a number of indoor games in the Rec Room. The food, i don’t even need to say this, is outstanding (assume default position unless mentioned otherwise).

3. For pool lover kids, the Bimmah Sinkhole would be a good visit. It’s a large pool, fairly safe under adult supervision. The park also has a few swings if the kids ever get out of the sink hole.

Top tips

Sling and pram. We carried both and am so glad we did. The walks were longish and it helped to have S in the pram, particularly in the Souk.

Do Not carry a sand pit set which takes up significant space – make do with tall paper glasses and spoons and forks. Elementary, I know, but somethings need to hit you in the shins ..

For bubs under 4 months, the ride up the dunes can be quite jerky. The head needs to be held firmly. Also, keep a light stole handy to over the face in case of sand flying.

The New Year is off to a good start…. next stop – Australia.

For more photos, watch out on FB.

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.

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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 🙂