With the long summer holidays ahead, travel is on the cards for many families. A change in routine, with new faces, languages, cuisines and landscapes, can be a well-deserved and welcome break. That said, an ill-conceived vacation, especially with children, can turn into a nightmare and defeat the very purpose of your holiday. A little bit of planning and preparation, however, can ease the hassles of travel and make the experience an enjoyable one for your family.
Ahead of the trip A travel experience, like good food, may be enjoyed thrice over – in the planning stage, during the actual experience and in reliving it through your memories! Make the days ahead of your trip heady by involving your children in the preparation.
Learning while preparing
Children in their teens can help draw up detailed itineraries for the trip by researching the places on the Internet, reading travel books and magazines and checking with friends. So, even if you engage a travel agent, take the children along for some joint planning and organising. All this can boost their sense of involvement (which is very important so that they do not feel they are being ‘dragged along’!). Younger children can read on the Internet about the places you plan to visit, and also choose some activities they like.
Decide on the maximum number of bags you can handle and then work backwards to see what will fit in. Try to stick to the golden rule – “Lay out all that you wish to take along, as well as all the money you think you will need – then pack just half of the stuff and double the money.” Another rule of thumb is one backpack and one hand-carried luggage for each adult. Let the children pack and carry their own backpacks with things to keep themselves occupied (colouring/puzzle books, storybooks, crayons, pencils, erasers), one change of clothes and a small snack. Older children can take charge of their own strollies/suitcases. Now, moving on to what to pack:
Be realistic about the equipment you can carry. Are you sure you can handle your camera, phone, your digital SLR and several lenses, your handycam and your iPad? You will want to capture those precious moments with your children, but choose just one means of recording memories. This is especially important if you have small children. If you have tweens or teenagers who are photography/videography enthusiasts, however, this is a good opportunity to let them hone their skills. So go ahead and make them the official photographers for the trip, and let them choose the equipment they wish to carry (and be responsible for).
Try to accommodate your children’s favourite outfits as long as they are appropriate for your destination – letting them wear the clothes of their choice is sure to keep them in good spirits. Use the layering concept – pack three or four t-shirts with one or two being long sleeved, instead of just one bulky sweater. Layer your child with the t-shirts if it gets cold, and remove the layers if it gets warmer. This way, you will have outfits for a couple of days, spare t-shirts if there are accidents and a lighter suitcase! Pack a couple of shawls too – these usually take up less room, can be used as a light blanket or bed sheet and can be shared by two people, at a pinch. Shoes are heavy and take up a lot of space in the suitcase, so ensure that everyone wears a pair of comfortable, sturdy and waterproof shoes that allows for a lot of walking, sightseeing and trekking (sports shoes, for example). Take flip-flops for beach vacations and warm socks if you are going to a colder destination.
If your family (or part of your family) is vegetarian or vegan, or if any of you have food-related allergies, prepare ahead. Ask friends who have visited the destination and research on the internet for restaurants that serve food suitable to your family. If you have young children, you may want to pack some food items that may come in handy during the journey or as ‘filler snacks’ during the vacation – dry cereal packets, fruit bars, juice, flavoured milk intetra-paks, dry fruits and nuts –choose these depending on your family’s taste and your destination’s climate.
Do not take along library books or treasures that you cherish. Buy paper backs and comics for older ones and relatively dispensable light books for younger ones (they are sure to get soiled, wet etc.)
Though most places have medical shops that stock paediatric medicine, remember that sickness may happenen route! If you are travelling abroad, you may find that brand names of medicines are unfamiliar, and pharmacy and medical insurance laws vary, so carrying a stock of OTC medicines for simple illnesses like colds, headaches makes sense. See box alongside for suggested contents of the medicine kit.