Two preschoolers + mom on 3.5 weeks journey to Lusaka, Zambia from New York. Part.1: Preparation.
When the free airplane ticket opportunity was presented, I couldn't say no. Yes, it's 21 total hours on economy class seats on airplane times two (coming back). Yes, it's two preschoolers at the age of 3 and 4 at the time of travel and only one parent situation, me. Yes, it's 3 full weeks in the country without the comfort of accessibility of everything that helps with spending time with kids; playground, parks, bicycle, scooters, toys, and on. There was no exact plan or purpose of the trip other than to take the opportunity of the free ticket and visiting my parents there.
Listed challenges above might sound frightening, but it was no brainer to decide to go. No matter how challenging it might actually be, it's going to be a great experience for the kids and me. I was willing to fight the challenges for that simple fact. And let me tell you, after completing the 3 week Africa trip by my self with two preschoolers, now I can say I would do this over and over and over again at a heartbeat! Someone, please send me plane tickets! :)
This confidence in traveling with kids comes from successfully experiencing the fact that thoughtful preparation really plays a key role in traveling with children in sanity. That's why I'm dedicating a whole blog post just on The Prep this time. Of all the preparation needed for traveling with kids, I'm going to start with the most important one. Mind, the mental preparation.
Mind Preparation for the kids.
In my past blog about surviving long flights with toddlers, I have mentioned the importance of helping kids to prepare their minds for upcoming travel. This helps them to be in control of constantly changing situation and environment and not be nervous and stressed about it.
Recently, I listened to a marketing seminar and the speaker said people buy products that they're familiar with over the ones they're not. They buy from brands that they are familiar with over the ones they're not. They buy from stores that are familiar with over the ones they're not. People like familiarity.
Familiarity is the keyword here, and it applies to the children even more.
Getting kids to be familiar with what's going to happen is the first thing to start even way before packing. If you want to visit my previous blog talking about this topic, please click here and scroll down to "1. Get their minds ready I" I did the same thing this time and boy, it worked.
Let me share with you some ideas of topics to cover in casual conversation with the kids at least a month or two before the trip.
- Why we're going on this trip. Visiting someone? Vacationing? Good cause?
- How we're getting there (ig: car and plane, for how long)
- What is expected at the airport? Lines? Waits? Lots of walking in between terminals? Purpose of the Security check-point?
- Importance of staying together.
- Being responsible for their own backpacks, luggage(trolleys), and toys if hand-held.
- On-board etiquette. Being respectful to others. No yelling, shouting, kicking, touching, pulling, etc.
- What can be done during long haul flight or in the long distance car ride and what can't, and what not to.
- What to pack(for themselves) to enjoy the flight and what we can't bring(ig. big/heavy toys and loud noise creating toys, etc. This can be tied into onboard etiquette talk.)
- What to do if lost at the airport. Or in a foreign country. Talk through the drill many times. Also, talk about possible abduction and how to prevent it. (hint: NEVER follow a stranger.) I will briefly share my personal input on this down the line in this post.
I know this can be a lot of information for 3 and 4 years old to process. They don't have to memorize 100% of it. Not even 50%. They just have to hear it beforehand so when the time comes, it will be a lot easier for parents to guide them through the journey without 1000's of "NO's, DON'T's and STOP's.
Mind Preparation for parent(s) or guardian(s).
For the adults, it's pretty simple. Expect and prepare for the worst and be thankful when it doesn't come down to it. Sounds easy right? Maybe. Only when you're well prepared. What do parents need to prepare? Parents need to set their minds to the fact that the joyful part of the trip begins with preparation, packing, and the actual traveling, rather than at the destination. To make the travel process joyful, other somewhat un-joyful procedures need to be minimized, such as checking in with the airline, security checks, and airport pick-up arrangements. Listed below are some samples of what you can do to minimize havoc at the airport.
- Online or mobile check-in. Most airlines offer this option now. Even if you have luggage to check-in, do online/mobile check-in first, because the line for those who already checked online has a much shorter line to check in the bags. Minimizing the waiting in line time is ultimately what you want when traveling with children.
- TSA Pre-check. This is a fabulous option if one adult in the family is willing to go through the signup, minimal fee, and an interview before the trip. Having a pre-approved adult in the family lets the whole immediate family pass through the super short TSA Pre-check line.
- TSA Pre-check or not, minimize things to take out and take off at the security check line. Outerwear including cardigans and sweaters, laptops, ipads, metal jewelry, food, liquid, shoes, large batteries, and in some countries umbrella are some examples. Have the entire family wear something that is super simple to take off and on. Gather all the electronics that need to be taken out in one bag, so only that bag needs to be opened at the x-ray belt.
- Water/juice/milk and most of the kid's beverages are allowed. They just do simple test procedures on it, so expect some wait if you bring those. I normally eliminate kids beverages and just bring an empty sippy cup or water bottles, then fill it with water after the security check, or in the airplane when they hand you the bottled water.
- Pre-arrange airport pick up and rental services to eliminate the unknown variables in the trip. It's very important for parents to keep calm and in peace in order for kids to be at peace.
Above are some typical situations that are involved with family trips and I'm sure there are lots of variations on all sorts of family trips. But hopefully, you get the idea. Take every possible extra step to reduce stress and havoc at the time of travel.
Let's move on to actual packing! Now, your main luggage packing should be different according to where the destination is, so I won't bother. I'm talking about packing for the actual traveling, a.k.a, carry-ons.
Whistle: What?? Yes, an old-fashioned whistle that's pretty loud. Above, I mentioned that I'll share my personal input on kids being lost and possible abduction. This topic was and still is the most critical issue at least for me especially when the location is a non-English speaking foreign country. Nowadays with horrible news regarding children being lost or abducted, if I can't spot my child for more than 20 seconds in a crowded place, I get chills down my back. Here in the States, I can simply write my phone number on them for anyone to contact me as soon as they find my child, but out in a foreign country where the mobile phone can't be fully depended on, it's another story. So here's what I do when I travel with my kids. (Or even when not traveling but visiting a crowded place in general.) I remind them of the following multiple times.
- When mommy or daddy is not in sight, don't run around looking for mommy and daddy. Stand still, and shout for mommy and daddy. We will hear your voice and come to find you.
- When mommy and daddy don't come to find you quickly, blow a whistle. This is when that good old fashioned whistle comes in. I prepare a whistle for each of my kids and have them use it in case of emergency, a.k.a., lost. Then, mommy and daddy will hear the whistle and come. Bells work fine too.
- Never ever, ever, ever follow a stranger even if that stranger seems nice, offers food, candy, toys, etc. NEVER. Even if you think that the stranger is a police officer. This is because I can't trust that my kids will clearly identify a true police officer versus a man with a uniform just yet at a foreign country.
- If lost, always stay together, hold the hand, and don't wander off from each other.
Again, above are my personal tactics I use with my children. Consider what will work for your own family and remind them repeatedly.
Child tracking device. This option can't be ignored since there are many product options out there. If you ware willing to invest in it, it's also a great idea, only if you know you can depend on it at any time, at any moment with high accuracy.
Medical Pouch: This is another packing essential I pay close attention to. You just don't want your child to be sick, and even worse, you to be sick, because then you can not care for your children. Let's start with the Precautionary list.
What was in my medical pouch for my Africa trip. The only thing missing in this photo is Tums.
- Malaria pills, required vaccines (if you're traveling to countries that have malaria outbreaks, yellow fever, etc).
- Children's and adult's motion sickness pills, wrist bands, and herbal oils, and candies. There's nothing worse being stuck on air or on a cruise being sick the whole time.
- Sterilizer, sanitizer, purifier, and disinfectant.
- T1 Sterilizer - sterilize bottles and pacifiers after washing/rinsing them in the public bathroom or airplane toilet faucet. You can also sterilize airline provided silverware, headphones, your own phone, kids toys, and everything that fits into this T1 sterilizer. Avoid bacterias and viruses as best as you can.
- GRAYL water purifier - This an awesome water purifier. Grayl is useful to bring to countries that tap water is not recommended to drink. We bring it around to purify water from public drinking fountains, restaurant waters, and to brush teeth and goggle in the hotel bathroom. Just fill it up at the airport water fountain instead of constantly having to buy plastic bottled waters. I'll talk about water/food safety in an upcoming separate blog.
- SONO Disinfectant wipes- This is an item that gives peace in mind not only when traveling with kids but also for the adults too. SONO wipes are used in medical facilities, without harmful toxic chemicals, so it's safe to use around children. Disinfect airplane tray tables, armrests, windows, seat belts, touch screens, game remote, and everything previous passengers must have touched.
- Vitamins or supplements. It's really hard to control what kids eat outside our own kitchen and quite often, kids have only chicken nuggets, fries, mac-and-cheese, or pizza to choose from when eating out during the traveling. While it's really important to encourage kids to eat healthy even during traveling, because I know it's not too easy, I bring supplements to boost their immune system. Here are my two favorites!
Click product names to see details on each product.
- First-aid kit: More band-aids than you think you'll ever need because children will go through many of them even for one small scratch.
- Fever reducer/pain reliever for kids. Some brands come in individual doses, packed separately.
- Thermometer: It's important to know if your child has a fever or not before giving fever reducer.
- Children's and adult's allergy relief medications.
- Children's and adult's medication for upset stomach: Tums, Pepto-Bismol, and such, because foreign food can easily cause an upset stomach due to water and unfamiliar ingredients.
The packing list sounds like a whole bag, but it really isn't. All of the Pre and Post ouch list fits into one medium size Ziploc bag, except the UV Sterilizer and the GRAYL water purifier.
Gosh, I can go on and on about other travel tips on traveling with kids, but I'll stop here for Part 2. I will share how my kids and I survived 14hrs + 7 hrs plane + 3 hr layover in Dubai airport in the next Part 2 blog. That itself deserve a whole blog to itself don't you think? ;)
Thanks for reading. Be back soon!