This is the fourth post in my ‘tips for travelling with kids’ series. If you’d like to check out the previous posts here are the links:
It’s taken me awhile to get this post finished due to Astrid having surgery and certain toddler turning 2! I’ve finally gotten there though. This post covers what we consider when packing and how to dress for the weather when travelling.
What to pack?
Lets just start by saying that I am absolutely the wrong person to give advice on packing light. I am dead set hopeless at it. Every single time we travel I set out to only take what I need, and end up with at least twice as many things as required. I think the best advice would be to ignore any advice I give!
There are a few things I have learnt along the way though, so I’ll share those.
Aside from passports and prescription medication you can pretty much buy anything else you need at your destination. This means you don’t need to over-pack. I always do though! Even if you are planning to do a lot of shopping during your trip, I still think it’s a good idea to take everything you need for the initial travel leg and first day or so. Rushing around airports or train stations trying to buy things you’ve forgotten or having to shop for essentials when jet lagged (and with jet lagged and tired kids), isn’t ideal. We’ve often traveled to some areas which do not have good access to shops – for example tropical islands and remote resorts. If you are doing this style of holiday it’s best to take everything you need for your whole stay, as you can’t assume there are shops nearby. This means taking enough nappies, formula and baby/toddler friendly snacks if travelling with really little kids. In most places there is easy access to shops, so don’t travel with too many consumables like nappies and food if you know that you will have no trouble buying them later. If you are travelling outside of Australia and using formula it’s a good idea to take enough for your trip, if possible. You may not be able to get the same brand and formulation elsewhere, and some small babies don’t take well to a change in formula.
Work out the longest time you have between access to washing, then make sure you have enough clothes to get your through this time period, plus at least 1 day spare (or possibly more if you have messy kids or babies). If you are staying in houses or apartments with washing facilities you can wash frequently and take far less clothes. Most hotels and resorts offer washing (you can normally check their websites before departing) but it tends to be expensive. It’s an option though for a few items if you get stuck and need some things cleaned. If you are in a city there is normally access to laundromats but it takes time out of your schedule to get things washed and dried, so you don’t necessarily want to be doing it every day. So, you would ideally want a few days of clothes between washes. If you are staying somewhere with access to cheap washing services (often outside resort or in towns), where you drop off your washing and pick it up a few hours or a day later, this can be ideal. If we know we can get our washing done cheaply this way, we will pack less.
As I’ve mentioned before, my kids are grubs. They are great at getting food all over themselves, spilling drinks on themselves and throwing up on themselves. We can’t always assume that only 1 set of clothes will get used per day. I have a pretty high tolerance for dirty clothes while travelling, but wet clothes or vomited on clothes need to be changed. I do probably pack too many items per kid, but sometimes they do all get used between washes. Other times they sit in the suitcase and I curse myself for bringing too much. I never seem to be able to win! Luckily kids clothes are small and you can squish a lot into a small space.
When flying –
establish if any of your flights have a lower baggage allowance. Often short flights and small planes have smaller allowances, sometimes by many kg’s per person than other flights. You will need to stick to that baggage weight until after those flights (or pay for excess baggage). There is no point leaving home with 23kg of luggage per person if you have a 15kg limit later on. Some airlines also have a bag limit, so you need to keep to weight and number of bags. We often pack additional bags and suitcases inside our luggage when departing to allow room for shopping. We also take portable bag scales (they are small and clip onto the handle of bags) so we can check bag weights at all times.
I covered what to take on board flights in my first post in this series, but it is useful to have at least one spare set of clothes per person in carry on luggage in case your luggage gets delayed or goes missing. If you have insurance it will be covered, but it’s annoying trying to find clothes for everyone when tired and jet lagged. Big suitcases on wheels tend to work better for flying. Some very large suitcases can easily take way more than your baggage allowance so don’t assume you can just fill them up!
When travelling by car –
Work out what you can fit in your boot, and don’t exceed that, if possible. There is additional room in the car but it gets a bit squishy with too much stuff shoved in the foot wells and back seat for long periods. If you are swapping to a smaller car at some stage during your trip allow for that. We find taking a larger number of small bags is easier when primarily travelling by car. They fit in the boot space better, can be stacked around each other better, and you can often just unpack one or two at a time rather than several large suitcases.
When travelling by train (or bus) – there aren’t always bag size or weight limits, but you tend to be limited by what you can carry and move around. A few larger suitcases on wheels, or backpacks work better than lots of small bags. It’s still a good idea to have a smaller carry on bag or backpack for keeping with you in your seats, filled with snacks, drinks, entertainment and spare clothes.
Warm weather holidays
If you are doing lots of swimming or it’s a resort style holiday then make sure you have at least one pair of swimmers each. It’s not always easy to find swimsuits in the appropriate sizes. It’s also a good idea to have more than one pair of swimmers each as you are often in and out of the pool all day and putting wet swimmers back on is not fun (and the kids will whinge). Our whole family is lily white and burns easily so we always take rashie swim shirts (for kids and adults), hats and sunglasses. You also need to take a lot of sunscreen. However much you think you need at least double it! You will be applying sunscreen liberally at least every few hours all day for many days in a row. You will use way more than you think. If you run out, it may be possible to get more (most resorts sell it, and if you are near a town/shopping centre it shouldn’t be an issue) but we’ve found buying sunscreen overseas to be quite expensive, especially in resorts.
If you are somewhere hot everyone is likely to get sweaty. This means clothes often can’t be reused or you might go through several changes of clothes a day. However, if you are having lots of time at the beach or around the pool you’ll find most of the day is spent in swimwear and you can often throw a t-shirt and shorts or a dress over the top and get lots of wear out of the same clothes. Even with my grubby kids we can get several days out of some clothes and the same outfit can be worn out to dinner a couple of nights in a row. I prefer to take more swimmers, so they can be rotated and dried out, and less clothes.
For resort type holidays really good clothes aren’t usually required unless you plan on going out to a posh dinner, which is even less likely with small kids. We normally stick to shorts and t-shirts, dresses and 1 semi-nice outfit like a decent dress or nicer shirt to wear out to dinner. Things with long sleeves and some long pants can be good at night if there are lots of mosquitoes around. Breathable fabrics are good, you’ll get really sweaty in synthetics. I also try and only pack things that are dryer friendly since if we get washing done it will get put through the dryer at high temperature. An alternative is to wash things out in your bathroom of the hotel room and dry it on the balcony, but pack things that work well with this strategy (cotton t-shirts/pants/dresses – not jeans!).
If it’s not going to get cold at all, there is probably no need for jumpers, but one long sleeved t-shirt or a cardigan is a good idea in case you get a cool night. It often gets used on the plane anyway as it can be cold from the airconditioning. The kids often feel the cold more than we do. We’ve also found that some hotel rooms the airconditioning is colder than they are used to sleeping with at night (and can’t be adjusted sufficiently up). I’ve often put a long sleeved top or cardigan on the kids at night if they are waking up too cold.
Shoes take up a lot of room, so if we aren’t going anywhere fancy then I mostly stick to thongs or sandals with one pair of enclosed shoes with decent soles for any walking. Even if you go to a resort there might be some walks you want to do to waterfalls or for sight-seeing and then enclosed shoes come in handy. Otherwise shoes you can wear around the pool and to the beach are ideal.
It’s definitely easier to pack light for warm weather holidays. Aside from the issue with sweating, you don’t need too many clothes, all the clothes are light and pack down well.
Cold weather holidays
Cold weather holidays mean you often need a lot more items of clothing and they are bulkier and heavier. The upside is that you don’t often get too sweaty and can get more use out of each item of clothing.
Of course there is cold, and really cold. If it’s just going to be ‘regular cold’, i.e a typical Aussie Winter in the Southern States, then we normally just pack jeans and long pants/cargo pants, some long sleeved tops, ones that can be layered are ideal. Also, a couple of warm wool or polar fleece jumpers. Usually 2 jumpers each is a good idea in case one gets wet and/or filthy. It’s also a good idea to have at least 1 coat or rain jacket that is waterproof, even if it isn’t a warm one. Enclosed shoes that are waterproof are a good idea. You might be able to get away with sneakers/runners but if you encounter wet-weather you will get wet feet very quickly and shoes take awhile to dry out. We normally take warm hats for the kids at least, since they get cold quickly without something on their heads. Both our kids are used to wearing warm hats outside during a Canberra Winter, so are used to keeping them on.
If you are going somewhere really cold, snow cold, below zero a lot of the time cold…..then you need a few extra things! It does get pretty cold in Canberra during Winter. Lots of mornings are around minus 6 or 7, and we often are out walking to preschool or walking the animals in sub-zero temperatures. This means we have a reasonable amount of cold weather gear. However, we learnt on our last Europe trip though, that there is a difference between what we do at home in cold temperatures and being a tourist in a cold climate. When a tourist we would spend much more of the day walking around in the cold than we do at home. It was also colder all day than we were used to. At home it’s cold until maybe 10am and then the rest of the day is quite bearable (with the odd exception). Quite different to walking around in below zero temps for the whole day.
For really cold we pack the same as ‘regular cold’ but with a whole lot of additions. Layers and lots of them are required. We all own thermal base layers, that we use for cold mornings at home, and that I wear a lot when exercising in sub-zero temps. These are essential under regular tops and proper base layers also stop you getting cold if you sweat. Depending on the temps, you can layer a few on top of each other or at least one under a regular winter shirt/top. We have some for the kids and also take plenty of singlets and bodysuits for them so they don’t end up with a cold back and tummy if clothes ride up.
I’m not a huge fan of thermal underwear for me, but we do have some thermal pants for the kids. I personally prefer to wear a thick pair of tights or leggings under my jeans or cargo pants. I find they give me enough warmth without adding too much bulk. If I’m walking around I don’t find my legs get very cold, and I need the extra warmth on my hands and upper body rather than my legs. It’s definitely a good idea to have more than one layer of clothes on your lower body and at least 1 snug fitting one to trap heat. While I don’t feel the cold on my legs, the kids are spending more time in a stroller or carrier and not moving as much. This means we need to keep plenty on their legs too. Either the thermal layers or leggings/tights under their pants. Fleece lined overalls and jeans/cargos with a fleece lining are good over the top of the base layers and when it’s likely to be wet or snowy a snow suit over base layers are ideal.
For home, we all have jumpers and coats of various weights and warmth. I usually have at least a wool jumper or fleece over my base layer and then a coat over the top of that. The exact combo seems to depend on the temperature and how much activity we are doing. You can warm up pretty fast when walking a lot. This is why layers are necessary. Most buildings and public transport are also heated, so you need to be able peel off layers to stop yourself from cooking. We have lined wool coats, soft shell coats and good gortex rain jackets, so can vary the layers to the weather. The kids all have both warm, lined coats and waterproof jackets that are roomy enough to fit lots of layers under.
For feet, wool socks are a necessity as are waterproof boots. I can put up with a lot of cold but the days I’ve ended up with cold and wet feet I have been miserable. I’ve learnt to carry a spare pair of wool socks in case of wet feet. Also a good idea to have spare shoes and socks handy for the kids as they are extremely good at finding every puddle and getting soaked feet, even if the boots are waterproof. On that note, if you can find warm, above the ankle and waterproof boots for the kids, get them! The range can be limited in Australia (without paying a ridiculous amount), but we previously picked up appropriate footwear for kids at a reasonable price overseas. Kids with warm and dry feet are happier kids!
Everyone needs a warm hat that covers ears, and scarves to keep the neck warm between coats and hats. I can walk around in minus 5 degrees with only leggings on my bottom half but I have issues with cold hands, so we all have various insulated gloves, both ski gloves and less bulky gloves that I can at least attempt to operate a camera wearing. This Winter I trialled using sets of wool and silk liners in my gloves and they worked well for keeping my hands warmer. We have insulated mittens for the kids with regular wool mittens and gloves that go inside for extra warmth.
Carrying all the extra items of warm clothing adds to the luggage, but we usually get more wears out of each item than when traveling to hot locations, when you aren’t getting sweaty. With multiple layers you can keep inner layers clean from grotty kids hands and outer and mid-layers don’t get sweaty. It is still harder to pack very light for cold climates. Items also take longer to dry so you need to factor that into how many of each you need to pack.
Holidays with varying climates
These can be the hardest to pack light for, as you need some of everything from both the hot climate and cold climate sections. If you aren’t going anywhere freezing, you can generally leave out the thermals and get away with less jumpers and 1 coat. You can also ideally layer using the t-shirts from your warm weather section of the trip. It really depends on how long you are spending in each climate and what activities you are doing. You often have to take entirely different sets of shoes which adds extra bulk. It’s tricky to minimise the luggage when you know you are going to have wild swings in temp, but find things you can use in different temps and scenarios and consider what you might leave out if it’s only likely to be used for 1 or 2 days. You might end up wearing some crazy outfits of various layers but it’s better than carrying things for weeks you might only need to wear once.
Kid/baby specific items
* A mat or rug for babies to use on the floor. If you have a baby that is pre-walking age then having somewhere clean and soft to pop them on the floor is useful. Carpet in hotel rooms can be filthy and wooden and hard floors aren’t that comfy.
* Formula – if you are using formula, take enough of the one your baby is using at home to last the whole trip. If you know you can definitely get the same formula (often possible if travelling within Australia) then it’s not such an issue, but for overseas travel or travel to remote areas I’d take enough to be sure.
* Nappies – we use cloth nappies at home and if we have washing facilities I usually take the cloth nappies with us. Not all of them, but enough to last 2 days so I can wash overnight. I also take a large wet bag to store them in when dirty/wet. If washing is intermittent or not guaranteed I’ll take disposable nappies. I generally use disposables on long-haul flights too as 20-odd hours of dirty/wet nappies in your carry-on luggage isn’t fun. For short flights though we’ve still used cloth without an issue. We usually just take enough nappies to last a few days and buy wherever we are, they aren’t hard to get unless you are somewhere remote. When travelling to tropical islands with no shops, we’ve taken enough for the whole trip. They are light, but do take up room.The bonus is that you have more room coming back for shopping!
* Toys and entertainment – it’s a good idea to take a few small toys to keep the kids amused. The ones you plan to use on the plane or in the car are generally sufficient. Card games are good once the kids are old enough to enjoy them. We always pack the kids headphones to use in-flight entertainment or DVD players in the car. They can also watch movies or TV shows on laptops when having rest time or their sibling is asleep. We always have plenty of kids TV and movies stored on our laptops and tablets for this purpose.
* Comforter – both kids have comforter cloths that they sleep with. We always take these with us (and a spare) so they adjust to their new bed/cot at night without any drama. They also like to sleep with a stuffed toy (or 20!) so we usually let them take one or two of the not too large ones to sleep in their bed and to play with or keep them company on flights.
* Drink bottles/cups – we always take a drink bottle each for the kids for flights/trains and to use when out and about. Even though both are old enough to drink out of a cup, it’s best to always have water with us and drink bottles make less mess on flights/trains. A plastic cup with a lid is a good idea for when they have drinks in hotel rooms (milk before bed etc) and to avoid spills.
* Plastic cutlery/bowls – we always try to remember to take a couple of plastic plates, bowls and a few bits of cutlery to use in hotel rooms when the kids eat, and the plastic spoons and forks come in handy when eating out and there is no small sized cutlery.
* Kiddy panadol/nurofen – always a good idea to take a supply of infant/child paracetamol and ibuprofen for use while away. You can usually get it easily enough while travelling, as long as you have access to pharmacies, so we just make sure we have enough to last a few days unless we are going somewhere remote. If the kids are on any prescription medications we take enough to last the whole trip.
* Blanket/sleeping bag – if the baby or toddler is still using a sleeping bag to sleep with then I take at least 1 (sometimes 2 if packing space isn’t an issue). A cot blanket is usually a good idea too since the ones supplied in hotels can turn out to be doonas or very heavy. The blanket can also be used on planes, in the stroller or on the floor of hotel rooms to sit on, so does come in handy. Once the kids are old enough for beds and regular bedding I don’t tend to worry about any of this stuff.
* Bibs and change mats – if you are using bibs at home and changing nappies both are essential.
Other random things that can be useful
* A knife – if you will be doing any cooking, or even cutting up snacks, take at least one good knife. Most hotels don’t have knives that cut butter and it drives us insane. It’s also useful when you want to cut up fruit, cheese or other snack items to have something with you for that purpose. Make sure that you don’t take knives in any carry-on luggage on flights or anywhere else it’s likely to cause an issue. We have a set of small knives with covers that we keep for travelling (and use on picnics etc when not travelling).
* Power adaptors – make sure you have power adaptors/converters suitable for the countries you will be travelling to. You can usually borrow them from hotels but it’s a good idea to take your own and they come in handy for charging things on trains or at airports too!
*Charging cables for all phones, cameras, tablets, laptops and other electronics like kindles. A power board and small extension cord to plug in all these devices! There are never enough powerpoints in hotels or apartments, or maybe we just have way too many electronic devices. We do normally travel with a whole bag of electronics!
* Umbrella – we own about 8 umbrellas. Mostly because we forget to pack them and end up buying another one every time we get stuck in the rain. Ones that fold up and you can keep in a small backpack or stroller are ideal. If we have the car, big ones that cover all of us are better, but a pain to carry if you are walking around a lot. I also use one to cover the camera when taking photos in the rain.
*First Aid kit – it’s a good idea to take at least some basic first aid items. Bandaids, betadine, antibiotic powder, paracetamol, ibuprofen, gastrolyte (or another oral rehydration solution), antihistamine, cotton swabs and a bandage are the basics. Astrid always ends up with conjunctivitis so we also take cholorsig to treat that if necessary. I also take medications for nausea and vertigo and travel sickness (for the adults). Plus any prescription medications we need. We also sometimes take a broad spectrum antibiotic if we are going somewhere remote, just in case.
* Sunscreen and mosquito/insect repellent – this is more of an issue in hot or tropical climates but a good idea to at least take some sunscreen just in case!
* Camera gear – OK this deserves a whole post on it’s own when it comes to what I like to pack, but I’ll keep it brief. I like to take photos, and lots of them so the camera gear is important. If you are relying on your phone to take pictures just make sure you have a method of backing up photos from your phone while you travel and don’t forget your charger! If you are taking a compact or DSLR then you want to take a spare battery, battery charger, sufficient memory cards (and/or somewhere to store photos while you travel). You also want to make sure you take a card reader or the appropriate cable so you can get photos off your camera (unless you have have a camera and cards that are wifi equipped). We have forgotten the card reader more than once and it’s a pain trying to get a new one in the middle of nowhere (thanks Anto for rescuing me on this one!). You also need a strategy for storing photos and backing them up while travelling. Either a portable hard drive and/or backing them up remotely if you have good internet access. A tripod is a good idea for landscape photography and low light, but it needs to be small and light.
* Laptop/tablet/kindle/e-reader – if you aren’t going to rely solely on your phone then one or all of the above are useful. They also come in handy for keeping the kids entertained. We used to take a lot of books to read when travelling, but now prefer kindles to keep luggage down.
* Ziploc bags – for storing any liquids or open containers, open food etc. It will save your bags from ending up wet and or filled with something you rather they weren’t. If you are flying put all open toiletries in ziploc bags as they tend to leak from the air pressure changes. It’s also useful to individually bag sets of spare clothes for easy access and for keeping snacks handy. A range of different sized bags is useful.
* Compression sacks – we love using this to cut down the space that clothes take up in our luggage. You want the ones you roll to compress (not the vacuum cleaner ones). They work really well for bulky items like warm coats and cloth nappies. Things can compress down to 1/4 of their size, giving you much more space (if not weight allowance). We also use them to separate out clothing sets for different people and to put dirty washing in between washes.
* Passports and travel safe – obviously you need passports for overseas travel but it’s also a good idea to take a small travel safe to keep at least passports, credit cards/cash and other important items in, when in hotel rooms and apartments. We’ve learnt the hard way to not forget your passport (usually easier to remember to take the safe, than just passports floating around your bag) and to have somewhere to keep them dry (like ziploc bags) if you are out and about. Wet passports that required emergency ones to be issues cost us a lot of time and lot of money.
Dressing for the weather
This is pretty easy in hot climates. You generally want to wear minimal clothing to stay cool. Breathable fabrics work best. However, for both sun protection and to protect against mosquitoes long sleeves and pants are ideal at times.
Due to our very white and pale skin we always make sure we put sunscreen on every few hours, especially if swimming and out in the sun. We also keep the kids out of the sun during the middle of the day, if possible, as it’s too easy to get burnt. It’s a good time to rest or do indoor activities. Hats and sunglasses are essential when it’s bright and sunny. The kids are trained to always wear their hat outside so it isn’t hard to enforce (most of the time) and we have swim hats for the pool too.
If we are out and about and using the stroller or carriers it’s easy for everyone to get burnt and over-hot. A light muslin wrap works well for covering baby and toddler legs in the stroller. You need to remember to put extra sunscreen on legs and arms that stick out of strollers and carriers. It can get pretty sweaty with a baby or toddler pushed up against you in a carrier so nice breathable t-shirts are ideal to wear. You will probably still get sweaty but it will be more bearable!
This is wear babywearing can pay off big time! It’s much easier to stay warm when you share body heat. It’s like carrying around a free heater. The downside is that kids can get cold in the stroller or carrier if they aren’t moving too much, particularly arms and legs. We tend to do lots of layers.
Leggings or tights, with warm pants or a ski suit over top. Wool socks over the tights and warm shoes/boots. The top half you need a thermal layer and a long sleeved top and then a jumper/snowsuit or a warm coat, scarf and ear-covering hat. We always put mittens and gloves on them in cold weather but they don’t stay on long so our trick is to either pin the mitten to the sleeve (hard for them to get off when both hands are mittened up) or if they get out of that one then we use velcro straps around the base of the mitten to keep it attached.
Astrid is now old enough to leave gloves and mittens on but we spent most of our last Europe trip velcroing them around her wrists. Soren still takes his off (well did during our Winter) so they get pinned or velcroed so he doesn’t get frostbite!
If you can keep kids hands and feet warm they will be much happier. They often don’t move their hands and feet as much as adults (especially if they are being carried) so it’s a good idea to check if they are warm enough. We’ve found they happily go off to sleep in the stroller or carrier when all rugged up and warm, which extends the amount of time you can walk around sight-seeing.
Both our kids have been trained to keep their hats on when it’s cold (the advantages of being out in the cold Canberra Winter a lot) but we still have the odd tantrum and hat throwing. Normally it’s no hat – no play, so we then we go inside and no more playing. Not always easy to enforce when travelling but it works most of the time. Hats that tie on might work for some small babies or toddlers, but we normally just persevered with putting the hats back on and not doing fun things if they wouldn’t keep them on, which mostly works!
I think that is about it! As you can see, I’m definitely not the master of packing light, but hopefully I’ve given you a few handy tips or some food for thought. As always, I’m interested to hear other peoples thoughts on the topic, and experiences, so feel free to comment……