Traveling on a budget usually means waiting in less than fun situations. It’s tempting to bring an entire bag of toys to keep the kids entertained, but if you are traveling cheep, you will probably be lugging all those extra toys from train to bus to plane and it’s much easier to care for your overtired little one if your luggage isn’t cumbersome or heavy.
Here are my tips to travel light, keep the kids engaged, and stay a little more sane on your next budget trip:
Carry on only.
It’s easier than you think to fit a weeks worth of clothes for a family of 4 in a backpack (or 2). Our last 14 day trip weighed in at 10kg (spread over 2 bags) inc toiletries, extra medical supplies, camera etc. Packing light means you can avoid the hassle of waiting for (or in many cases – loosing!) your bags in transit. Each seat you book (even for your 3yo who won’t carry a bag herself!) affords you additional carry on, and for our family of 4 – that’s quite enough bags for us to carry!
We always use backpacks (rather than suitcases) because once they are clipped on your back, you have both hands free to kid-wrangle and juggle passports. We also pack using larger ziplock bags inside our backpacks (it keeps like items together, while compressing, and it makes it super easy to unpack and repack when you really need the special pink socks at the bottom of the bag!)
Toothpicks and chewy treats.
This is a game, treat, and ear pain reliever all in one. This was our most used travel activity on our first trip (building towers, people, porcupines etc). It was also a great treat to offer the kids (as something to chew at takeoff!) This game takes up very little room (I put them in ziplock bag rather than original packaging) and you don’t have to worry about carrying toys around once you reach your destination. (The sweets are gone so the toothpicks can just disappear!)
Photocopy or print a favourite game.
If you have a long flight instead of taking ‘real’ games try taking a copy of one you know the kids love. A sheet of printed paper and a dice is lighter than a real game, you can use anything you have on you as counters. Again, this item is worthless so there is no stress if you loose/destroy/spill juice on a COPY of your favorite board game.
Bring a couple of balloons.
Blow them up (in an empty part of the airport) let any other kids who are waiting join in, once you are ready to board your next plane simply pop them and be on your way! (Paper planes are also work a treat!)
Toilet paper, face washer, hand sanitiser, spill cleaner. (Small packs, even if you are far less disposable at home, just bring them while traveling!)
They feel a bit funny, but they trumps any other travel towel; For packing it is far smaller than a normal towel, weighs nothing, dries in mins, can double as a blanket on the plane/train/at airport delays etc. It will be particularly great if you are flying budget (no travel pack on plane) or expect night waiting in transit (curling up with a little towel on couch seems like a great plan at 1am in a transit lounge!) they are perfect to taking swimming without lugging big bags, and if you are staying at cheaper accommodation options (airBnB etc) then having your own towel is a must. I must admit, they do feel a little odd when you first start to use them, but the sensation is fine by me when I compare to the benefits!
Dance in customs.
Any time you see a long line waiting ahead of you, try to bring a little fun to an otherwise stressful and tedious situation for your tots (it’s hard work being that good for a long time!). We loved ‘and you dance, and you dance, and you dance, and you stop!…’ Because it gave the kids a focus and also ensured we could get them to be ‘statue still’ when we needed them to be. (You don’t have to dance all the way – ‘Simon says’ or ‘Eye spy’ also work very well).
Bring your smart phone.
I’ve talked before about screen time, and when your in your 20th hour of travel you will be glad you loaded up a few movies, apps and kid friendly games on your phone. This is what we use when silence is required (ie when the youngest wakes at 5am and the passengers next to you are all still asleep.) iPad or laptop is fine too if you don’t want to hand over your phone, but phone is far more portable. If you are concerned about charge running low then grab a portable charge pack (we have a solar one and an electric one for different kinds of travel).
Bring an empty book.
This is by far my favourite thing we do. Each trip we bring a small, quality journal for each child. Anytime we wait (for food, transport etc) or just need some quite time (to reflect on the busy exciting life of travel) we pull out the kids books and pens. This is their place to record what they are experiencing on their travels. It helps them process what they are learning and doing in a new country and serves as an amazing memory stimulus for when they are older. 6yo is writing in hers as a traditional style journal where she drawing pictures and writes something about each thing we do (or at least the things that she thinks are the hi-lights of the trip – usually food ranks fairly highly in her memories!). The youngest (who was 3yo on our first trip) drew a few pictures and then we added photos later so she could tell us what to write about those memories. On the most recent trip (less than a year later) the now 4yo has embraced that idea of drawing an entry on every page, and while many of her entries are fictional rather than literal, I love the keepsake she is creating for herself. (In many years to come we hope to have a small bookshelf of tiny little travel books that show each of our kids travels from their perspective as they grow.)
Our last tip is that we book our seats on the plane/train as a ‘block’ of 4 rather than the usual row of 4. (With 2 in front, 2 behind). This means we get more window access, whoever is kicking their seat gets to sit at the back (to save the stress of annoying other passages) and it gives us more flexibility in how we pair up. (Sometimes swapping who is sitting together is just the fresh start you need to reset mid long flight!)
It’s different traveling with tots in tow; harder at times, but at other times it can be so much more fun than traveling solo!