I am so Type-A it’s painful. If there is a way to plan for it, I do. This is both useful and hindering at times when it comes to parenting young children, but when it comes to traveling, it is essential!
I have found that unplanned travel in my family leads to 1.) my increased stress level; 2.) added expense; and 3.) unnecessary meltdowns for my kids. If you have success in winging it while traveling, then I am so happy for you, but if you are like me, these tips may help you:
Since having children, I like to try to plan things out a year in advance if possible, but at the very least, I need six months-notice. This may seem extreme, but if you are traveling internationally, you will need to give yourself ample time to apply for any travel documents you may need, as well as arranging any special air travel accommodations.
Additionally, when traveling with young children, having a kitchen is essential, and good Air B&Bs book up. We also frequently utilize timeshares, and members are allowed to book up to a year prior to the trip, so if you have location preferences, you need to be one of the first on the phone the day you are able to start booking. This also allows you time for shopping more affordable flights.
This seems like a no-brainer, but it never fails that I get down to only needing a few things the week or two before leaving town, and I will still inevitably walk out of the store multiple times without those items if they aren’t written on my “travel list.” I get specific right down to reminding myself that I need to remember my purse, keys, passports, and travel snacks. When you are rushed, frazzled, sleep-deprived, and chasing kids, you could forget your head if it wasn’t attached. Make a list!
Purchase what you need when seasonally-appropriate
With the dawn of Amazon, it doesn’t seem as dire if you live in the Midwest and are looking for sunscreen in February, but there are other items that can become more difficult to be located when not in season. I HATE paying retail, and my kids inevitably outgrow the previous year’s summer clothes prior to our winter vacation. This leaves me two options: 1.) purchase items from everyone’s limited and full-price “cruise-wear collections”; or 2.) buy clearance shorts, tops, and swimwear at the end of the summer in the next size up…Ding! Ding! Ding! I also watch clearance bins for goggles, swim toys, and sunscreen (that has at least a year before expiration) to get the best prices on those, as well.
Set aside money throughout the year
Vacations are expensive no matter where you go, but you can make it sting a little less if you set money aside leading up to the vacation. My husband and I do this in numerous tricky ways: 1.) setting aside birthday or money gifted to us; 2.) setting aside money someone used to pay us back for something we had already paid for; 3.) setting aside money from the two months per year where we get “extra” pay checks. Generally, by the time we leave for vacation, we have already paid for the trip or at least made a good dent in the overall cost.
Start packing a month in advance
I will sometimes start packing as early as six weeks-out, but generally a month does it. It is easier to pack early for a warm-weather trip in the winter since those clothes aren’t in use. This way I can visually see what I still need to track down, and what I have. I just started packing for our winter vacation and have realized that not only have the boys both outgrown their flip flops (obviously essential), they also have no other summer shoes that will fit. This leaves me having to search for four pairs of new shoes, and I may even have to pay retail…the horror! But, it will still be better than getting to my destination and having to track these items down. It will also allow me time to make sure that they are the right size, and that they are comfortable enough that the kids will wear them.
Pack food staples in your luggage or pre-ship them
After years of traveling with babies/young children, I have learned that vacations go more smoothly if you can at least have some consistency with their normal routine. For us, that involves food selections. You may be thinking, “Well, they have grocery stores everywhere, so you can just buy it when you get there!” Au contraire my dear fellow travelers! As a frequent traveler to Mexico, their brands are totally different than what my kids are used to, and even the ones that are consistent are packaged in different factories and vary widely in ingredients.
If you are traveling to Europe, Asia, or elsewhere internationally, you may find that their food safety standards don’t allow them to even import your kid’s favorite items. This has left me having to pack or pre-ship food staples, such as applesauce pouches, oatmeal packages, crackers, pasta, and peanut butter. Even if you are traveling state-side, you may find that your only local shopping choices are small corner-stores or drug stores that do not carry a wide selection of foods. It is one thing to take your kids out for a few adventurous meals, but nothing ruins a trip faster than a cranky toddler who hasn’t voluntarily eaten a bite of food in three days.
Call ahead to see what is available in (or near) your hotel
The first year we traveled abroad with our oldest, I was going to ship my pack-n-play, diapers, and baby food to our resort. I had concerns over food safety, product ingredients, and availability of the items we would need. A call to the front desk saved me a ton of hassle! I not only learned that they provided clean (and, in our case, brand new) pack-n-plays, but that we were only a short cab ride from a Walmart that carried most of the American brands that we used for our son at home. The cost was very comparable and saved us from trying to lug an extra suitcase while trying to already navigate with a stroller and infant.
If nothing else, I hope I have given you a few ideas that will make your next adventure with kids go a bit more smoothly even if you aren’t an obsessive planner like I am. Avoiding the mom-drama is half the battle on vacation, so let a little planning go a LONG WAY!