Saturday, 11 January 2014

Travel tips - travelling with kids

In my last post I uploaded my newly consolidated "master packing list". There are a few things in it that I think are quite smart, so I thought I'd share them here.

In no particular order, here are some things you might like to think of next time you're travelling, in particular travelling with kids.


  1. My kids are currently under 1 and almost three, so I haven't yet too many tips for older kids.
  2. I fly mainly in Europe, so I have no idea about the current procedures for security when flying in the US.

Packing for the plane- I always try to arrange my hand luggage in separate inner bags for when it will be needed. I like lightweight totes - simple fabric shopping bags or similar work well.  Anything that is very lightweight and can be squashed inside your main hand luggage bag will work.

  • First off, everything you'll need to show at security should be easily accessible. All liquids (toiletries etc) and all baby food or drink bottles. (When I've flown lately I've been able to take bottles of water "for the baby"). And any computers or tablets need to be easy to get out. Try to pack as much of this as you can into one lightweight tote that you can easily pull out at the security checkpoint.
  • After that, you need to think what you want access to during the flight. 
    • What do you want in your seat? Pack everything you want to access while sitting in your seat in one bag. The perfect bag for this is something that can stand near your feet without collapsing and you can reach into to access whatever you need, preferably one handed without being able to see it (i.e. if the tray table is down, or you have a child on your knee). Water bottle. Books to read, children's toys, snacks, drinks. Lip balm and/or moisturiser, hand cream. Wallet or purse if you're on a flight where you have to pay for food or you want to buy duty-free. A pen if you might have to fill in any paperwork. Any pillow, neck pillow or blanket you have with you.
    • What do you need to get out for toilet trips? Pack everything for toilet trips (eg nappy change items, or your own toothbrush/facecloth/clean underwear) in another lightweight tote or a small toiletries bag, and place this in the overhead locker so you can easily get it down without having to lift down your whole carry on bag (either inside a zip you can reach, or sit it separately next to your larger bag).
  • I always carry a water bottle with me, especially on long haul flights. I empty it before going through security, then fill it once past security. If there's nowhere to fill it before you get on the plane, ask the flight attendant politely to fill it for you. They are normally very happy to do so - it's that many less glasses of water they will have to carry around later. Don't forget to pull it out of your bag as you go through security, so you can show them that it is empty. (It you're travelling with a baby, you can sometimes now get away with taking it through full).
Packing cubes
  • I always pack my stuff inside packing cubes or packing bags. You will understand the value of this the first time you are asked to open your luggage at security somewhere. Opening up to a whole lot of small bags is much better than spilling out your underwear. And during the trip, it helps me to keep my things organised and to be able to find what I'm after. 
  • Each member of my family has their own bags, in different colours, materials or designs. So we know where our stuff is. If you travel a lot you can probably figure out the best arrangement for you, and soon you will know that "t'shirts are in the blue cube" and "socks are in the green stuff sack", for example. We have packing bags and cubes that I've made, simple drawstring bags bought from an outdoor shop, and more expensive ones from Eagle Creek and Sea to Summit.
Safe copies of documents
  • We have scanned copies of our documents stored in a safe place online (I realise some will think this is not possible. We are happy that they are as safe as they need to be). This way, if anything happens to our originals, we can still get hold of them, even if our bags are missing.
Contact information in case of emergency
  • I have my husband's phone number written onto the photo on the lock screen of my phone. So if anything happens to me and the only thing that find on me at the time is my phone, they'll know who to contact.
Writing postcards home
  • It's always nice to get some real mail these days. If you're thinking of sending postcards, take a look at the various apps available online, where you can have one of your own photographs printed with your message on the back, delivered by the local post service. It may be cheaper to use the service in the country you are sending to. And this way, you can often import the address from your contacts, and save having to look them up and write them out!
Electrical and electronic stuff
  • If not travelling especially light, I like to pack a power board from my home country. That way, I put one adapter into the local socket, plug in the power board, and can plug in all my chargers and appliances; without needing an adapter for each item. It also comes in handy when there are very few power points in a room, or when the power points are in inconvenient places.
  • Noise reduction headphones are fabulous on long haul flights. They just are.
  • If travelling in any one country for a long period, think about getting local sim cards, so you can ring between travel companions without incurring international roaming charges. If you still need to be contactable on your normal number, take an old phone to put the local sim into.
  • Other items that can be very useful to have tucked into a corner of your bag include:
    • Resealable plastic bags: various unforeseeable uses, over and above the standard "my shampoo bottle cracked and is leaking everywhere" type event.
    • Rubber bands and safety pins.
    • Some sort of small scissors/knife: if nothing else they'll help you get the labels off new clothes. Remember to put this in your check in luggage.
    • A pen: It's nearly always useful to have a pen in your hand luggage, even in this day and age of electronic communication.
Kid's toys: there are loads of blog posts out there about travelling with kids, and how to keep them occupied. I may add to them if I get around to it in the next few weeks. But here are a few of my tips.
  • Toy tethers. I have made, but you can also buy, ribbons that can be used to attached toys: attach them to children, attach them to a pram or stroller, attach them to a car seat, attach them to the back of an aeroplane seat. Mine have poppers on one or two ends. The end that doesn't have a loop made with poppers sometimes has a crocodile clip, or a carabiner or similar. For the plane I will be putting a safety pin in the end of one, so I can pin it to the seat if I can't find anything else to attach it to.
  • Baby links are great. They work as toys in and of themselves, and can be used for older kids to do sorting or counting. Then they can be used to attach other toys.
  • Some toys for babies/toddlers that can provide a lot of entertainment value for the space they take up include: play silks, balloon balls, a small set of stacking cups, and "indestructibles" baby books. 
  • Games like Bananagrams provide entertainment for adults, and children (over 3) can use the tiles for making words, or sorting letters.
  • Magnetic toys are great for travelling (items with magnets on them that stick to each other or to a metallic tray). BUT remember that magnets are REALLY dangerous if swallowed, so avoid them if you have younger children who could possibly get hold of them.
That's all I can think of now. I'm sure many more suggestions will come to me in the next few months as we pack and then head off on our travels. We'll have to see if I get around to writing them up to share.

Travel packing lists

I'm busy preparing for a long trip, for two adults and two small children, involving long-haul flights, time staying with friends and family, and a long road trip with tenting accommodation in camp grounds. It is occupying about 98% of my brain processing power at the moment (not least because it's cold here, and I am LONGING for some sunshine!).

I have been trying to consolidate a really good packing list. One that will be an efficient basis for many trips in the future, be they long or short haul, involving plains, trains or automobiles, and staying in homes, hotels or tents. Yes, this has taken me many more hours than is reasonable, and my husband has been making references to "one pair socks, cotton, golf pattern, blue". (See the Big Bang Theory episode where Sheldon is putting RFID tags on his socks.)

But I now have a starting point! This is an conglomeration of my own old packing lists, the list that came with the iPhone/iPad app called "Packing Pro" and some lists I found in various places on the internet. I'd love to give credit to all my other sources, but unfortunately I didn't think that far ahead and I didn't  note down where I looked. I hope there's enough of me in this that no-one feels I have stretched the limits of plagiarism.

So here it is: my basic packing list. I would never take all of this on any one trip, and I'm sure to find some other things to pack that aren't here. But hopefully with this in my iPad, I can now start to feel that I have some sort of overview of what we have to fit in our cases for this trip.

There are two files here. One is a .xlsx, to be opened in Microsoft Excel or similar. One is .csv, and this will also work in Excel etc, but is provided here more for anyone who wants to import it directly into Packing Pro.

I'll try to write up some of my travel tips relating to this list in another post.

The Excel version of my packing list is here.

The Comma separated version of my packing list is here.