I just returned from a trip to Europe with my husband's extended family. It was the first time we travelled out of the continent with our five-year-old, and despite a couple of time-change-induced meltdowns, I'm happy to report it was a net positive experience.
I'm can't yet say I'm a pro at globetrotting with kids, but I've been obsessively stealing tips from parents who are - particularly those who've mastered the art and science of packing. With this holiday, here are some things I'm so glad I brought along, and some that I wish I had thought of.
- A fully loaded iPad and kid headphones. I may have forgotten my pool sandals, but I remembered to download Coco and Paddington 2 onto the iPad for some quiet, zone-out time on the aeroplane, and that is more important.
Baby wipes. There were at least eight instances when I thought, "Shoulda packed some baby wipes." These included: When my daughter dropped a piece of Kinder Egg chocolate down her shirt on the plane and I later discovered what I thought was a weird brown rash on her chest, when some unidentified sticky substance landed in her hair on a boat ride, and The Great Popsicle Stick Incident of 2018.
Luckily, the more forward-thinking parents in the group always carried packs in their bags, and they kindly shared when messes happened. Next time, I'm keeping some in the front pouch of my backpack for easy and constant access. This brings me to ...
Non-sticky, protein-rich snacks. For parents with picky-eating kids, travelling can be rough. There are some ways to help them warm up to the idea of an oversees culinary adventure (more on that in a bit), but sometimes, you just need to get some sustenance in their bodies during long journeys.
My daughter complained that the aeroplane meals were too spicy and was content poking at a packet of butter for 11 hours. I'm glad I had packed some almond butter granola cups and Cheerios, which allowed her to have something that resembles food. Nuts, dried fruit and healthy snack bars are also good options.
- A kid's water bottle. We thought this might be something that would just take up space, but it was used throughout the entire trip. There were public drinking fountains all over Amsterdam and we filled up the bottle constantly.
Large Ziploc bags. My daughter protested some of the clothes she was set to wear on certain days (holiday: It's just like regular life - only more scenic!), and there was a time when we rummaged through her suitcase for a particular pair of socks.
Some parents swear that stuff like this doesn't happen if you use the Ziploc Bag System, in which you basically pack your kids' clothes in freezer bags (4L to 8L, depending on how bulky the items are). Each outfit (including accessories and socks) gets its own bag, and each bag is labelled with the date and occasion. You can include an additional bag for backup items, such as a couple of shirts and pants that will go with anything.
One great thing about this method is that you can put dirty outfits back in the bags and seal them up to keep them from stinking up the suitcase.
- A soft jacket. I brought along my favourite plush Sherpa jacket for myself, but my kid probably got the best use of it when it served as her blanket and pillow during naps on long bus, train and plane rides.
A travel journal. My sister-in-law had made travel journals for her kids, which included cut-outs of all the sights they wanted to see, foods they wanted to try, and Dutch words they wanted to look out for. There were little envelopes attached to the pages to keep museum tickets, restaurant business cards and other tiny items. As we walked through the city, the kids would exclaim, "That's in my journal!" and start taking notes.
Creating a journal with your kids can be a great way to build excitement - as research shows, anticipation for a holiday can give you pleasure before the trip even begins. And for non-adventurous eaters, seeing certain dishes in their booklet may give them the dose of motivation it takes for them to try a kroket or bitterballen.
- Non-iPad activities. Paper dolls, finger puppets and small paperback books kept my daughter happy and calm during our downtime, which made me happy and calm, too. Here are some suggestions on what to pack when you're dealing with long airport delays and young children.
A mini smartphone-connected photo printer. This may seem excessive, but if you're travelling with a big group - say for a family reunion or a camping trip with friends - it's a fun thing to have.
My daughter doesn't get to see her cousins very often, so when they were together on this trip, we snapped a lot of pictures that we printed out for everyone on the last day. They turned out to be better souvenirs than anything we could have bought at the overpriced gift shops.