Extended travel with children

The world is a small place; until you have babies and toddlers, and then suddenly the world is a giant place, and even driving the hour and a half it takes to get to the relative sanctuary of your mum’s house seems like an insurmountable hurdle.

So, if making it to Waitrose in one piece, or driving to do the school run seems like such a major achievement some days, how on earth do you think about travelling, abroad, recreationally?! 

Actually, it isn’t as bad as you might think. I covered some of my general thoughts on flying with children already, but I also wanted to post about something we’ve been lucky enough to do a few times since having children: travelling for an extended trip / sabbatical. 

We have taken longer trips ranging from 1-4 months duration with our children, and the packing and preparation is a bit different from packing for a regular week or two away. So too, is how you settle in when you’re at your destination – and trying to get into a routine. 

As you can imagine, mr tMatM really had a blast wheeling two full trollies full of luggage through Heathrow

Take fewer toys

Partly because during a longer period abroad you will find it impossible to avoid buying a toy or two at some point, maybe as compensation for a dangerous flight of stairs, a trip to a&e and a glued head (maybe). 

Anyway, if you bring less toys at the start, you won’t feel so wretched about adding more toys to your heaving collection awaiting you at home. And, your child will have some kind of happy souvenir of your time away. Because what screams Sydney souvenir more than a tiger costume?
Anticipate child proofing

On a shorter trip – a week or two – you can just wing it a bit more on the childproofing. And by that I mean you’ll live quite easily for that two week holiday in a state of heightened anxiety around sharper-than-you’d-like corners, and so on. But living like that for a longer trip wouldn’t be possible. Or advisable in fact.

So, on our last couple of long trips, and with just-walking toddlers in our midst, we decided to just swallow the cost of all-out child proofing.

What this means, realistically, is a glamorous trip to IKEA on the day after you arrive, to source in bulk: socket covers, corner guards, cupboard latches, mats for hard floors, and stair gates. Admittedly not the most exciting way to spend your first days in a new city, but you’re jet lagged anyway and it’s absolutely worth it, to be able to relax (or, to cook supper) safe in the knowledge that no major accidents are around the corner.

Preemptively source your local  GP / hospital 

Obviously you’ve just childproofed, but nevertheless, I recommend having some sense of where you can access good local health care. 

It’s not the type of travel research you used to do pre-holiday (“best cheap hostel Laos 2006”), but it’s worth it. Otherwise you may find yourself bursting into the waiting room of a local GP asking slightly dramatically “where’s the nearest place with someone who can suture my child’s head?” because that is also the moment your foreign phone decided not to work.

Preemptively source the local supermarket

A&E you might not need: peanut butter and bread for toast cut into the perfect crustless triangles is non-negotiable. Make sure you are set up so that your first morning abroad doesn’t involve hissed expletives in the front of the car while you try to find food with hungry and most likely jet lagged children in the back. Extra points if you can source a 24hour establishment other than a McDonald’s.

Jet lagged success story: a box of cheerios the same size as yourself, plus a quick nap

Find a library

An excellent way to pass a morning in a new area with a toddler. Some libraries won’t let you take out a membership if you’re not a local resident but they are still likely to be happy for you to join in children’s reading / singing groups. And if they are happy for you to take a temporary membership, even better, given your packing restrictions will mean you likely don’t have the entire Hairy Maclary collection with you.

Buy an extra suitcase during the trip 

Just do it. For your sanity on the last night where you are considering throwing away shoes in order to zip up your straining suitcases. An extra bag is the dream in this scenario.

Routines

It depends on the sort of family you are in your regular everyday, of course, but we found that settling into a new sort of routine has helped longer travels seem less stressful for the children – and by proxy, us too. 

A short trip can more readily involve random bedtimes and tired children and different mealtimes and so on – but our children have really enjoyed feeling like they have some ‘normal’ amidst all the fun of a longer adventure away. So, we might spend the day in a different way from our home lives; the bedtime might be later than at home, to accommodate a bit more exploring of the local area – but there will likely still be a vaguely steady bedtime, or at the very least, some consistency around bath-books-bed. Not having highly strung / exhausted toddlers makes time away much easier all round.

The best kind of travel

Look even though it might seem a bit counter-intuitive at times, battling to travel in a longer term context with small children – rather than sticking to the simple days at home with your lovely support network and friends and family and nurseries/daycares – being away for an extended period has always been a great experience for us. 

The children relax more than on a short trip. You can explore an area leisurely. Your children will meet and play with children everywhere you go. Siblings will strengthen their bond with a new and shared experience away from the usual distractions and rivalries at home. 

Having a sibling moment on our first day in Hong Kong

Worth any child proofing / jet lag logistical dilemmas, for sure. 

Saying goodbye to Sydney

There we have it: source the hospital; take fewer toys, more suitcases and visit the library. Long trips, no problem.

tMatM x

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