Packing for an overseas or interstate holiday with young children is up there with the more mentally challenging moments of parenthood. Just try squeezing your child’s entire collection of Peppa Pig stuffed toys into a suitcase and you’ll find out why.
Should it stay or should it go?
Packing challenges can be frustrating for parents, and typically end in tears. “That’s it kids. We’re not bringing any toys on this holiday!” (Cue devastated wailing and regretful retractions!)
So, what should you be packing for a big trip with little ones? In other words: which items will you reach for in the midst of an airport meltdown and thank yourself for having the foresight to pack?
We’ve been travelling full-time with a toddler for 15 months now, and here are some of our favourite toddler travel must-packs …
The number one travel companion. Pack headphones for you and headphones for them. They can watch videos or listen to kids music albums, audio books or stream live radio (like Kinderling). And you can enjoy the peace and quiet on long flights or train rides. Hurrah!
This is a gamble, because gumboots do take up precious space in the bag – though stuffing undies and socks inside each boot can justify the space they occupy. That said, if you’re planning a holiday in a tropical destination (or anywhere really), a week of rain can drive everyone up the wall. Gumboots and raincoats are a great fallback for making the best of even the worst weather, so everyone can enjoy their holiday.
3. A portable charger
Again, not something you’d think of for a child, but running out of iPad battery on a long-haul flight is the stuff of nightmares.
4. Photos of family and pets
If you’re going to be away for a few weeks or more, homesickness can hit hard. It’s a good idea to have a little album of loved ones and pets on hand for your kids to flick through when they feel homesick. For longer trips, you could create a printed book through Blurb, like the one we made for our son.
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I recently made this little book for Leo so he can look at photos of his family and friends while we're away and know he has a wonderful loving family waiting for him when he gets back. ✈️🌏 I was going to save it for the very first plane trip (to pull out at just the moment where we were desperate for a distraction!) but I gave him a quick peek the other day. Since then, he hasn't stopped wanting to read it, it's quickly become his favourite go-to book, and he loves saying his Aunty and uncles, cousins and grandparents names. 💕 Humans are hard wired for connection! #dlf_ourstory
5. Bring pocket-sized toys for restaurants
Having a handful of tiny cars and animal figurines in my handbag has been a lifesaver when eating in restaurants and cafes. Using napkins, salt and pepper shakers and cutlery to make “roads” keeps toddlers entertained while you’re waiting for food to come out (why does it always take longer when you’re dining out with kids?!)
6. Pack a few magnets
Hear me out. Not only are magnets a great toy in self-contained apartments with fridges (letters of the alphabet are good), they also make handy toys when out and about. One of my 2-year-old’s favourite distractions in a cafe is taking a small magnet around and finding out which surfaces it sticks to. This works best in quiet cafes, if it’s crowded customers may not appreciate being toddler-tested for magnetic attributes.
7. Play dough
Little tubs are great for long aeroplane trips and the containers can be used as toys for sorting, water play or collecting in their own right. And contrary to what we thought before we took off, you can keep play dough pretty contained on an airplane tray table.
8. Small books – or larger ones!
Packing a few books can be a lifesaver. I’m torn between the convenience of small books (like the ones you get in box sets) and one or two larger books that can keep kids entertained for an hour or more (like Where’s Wally).
9. Vacuum packed bulky clothes and nappies
To make more room for those all-important child distraction items, vacuum pack your coats or larger clothing items. Same goes for nappies, which take up valuable space and can be vacuum sealed as well to half their original size.
10. Favourite snacks from home
A box of muesli bars, crackers or quick oats sachets can be just the thing to get you through plane delays or late night arrivals in hotels after the restaurant is closed.
11. Intel on nearby playgrounds or resort kids clubs
Sometimes the best things can’t be packed in a suitcase. When researching accommodation, I open up Google maps and stalk the local streets looking for the closest playgrounds. A bit of research can pay off. Some places we’ve stayed have been memorable because of how amazing the local playground was – and how easy it was to keep our toddler entertained.
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Cool rock wall, right? Even cooler that it was in a children’s playground in Grenoble. France sure knows how to make playgrounds epic. 🤸🏻♀️ Which countries have you visited that took their playground game to the next level? (We’ve heard Sweden and Germany have amazing playground designs too!) #playgroundsoftheworld
What essential items do you pack when you travel with kids? Let us know over on Facebook.