This post definitely won’t be of interest to everyone. It might be of interest if you travel a lot, or are thinking of some extended travel with kids and like me, are keen to lap up every ounce of experience from others doing the same.
I have put together a list of 10 things that I think are helping to make our travels a little easier / happier / healthier / less stressful / cheaper / less pukey and sometimes all of the above! A couple of our ‘travel hacks’ have come from the hugely helpful Instagram and ‘family travel blogging’ community, but as I look down my list, many are either just plain common sense, that we have applied a bit more diligently, or the result of a fair amount of googling that I’m glad to pass on.
1) Packing cubes (or cells). https://www.ebags.com/category/travel-accessories/packing-aids/packing-cubes/b/ebags
About a week after we left on our trip (annoying timing), I watched a video made by a travel blogger about packing cubes. I’d never heard of them, let alone had any idea how they would revolutionise my packing/unpacking nightmares! Simply put, these are small bags with mesh tops that fit a huge amount of clothing inside – much more than you might first think. They can be used to organise your clothes into different bags and easily identify whose is whose.
It sounds so obvious but they really have made life so much simpler. I had previously used cloth bags for some items, such as swimwear or underwear, but this relied on us all remembering which bag belonged to whom. Each of the girls also started off with their own suitcase, which kind of worked, but as we’ve travelled more it just hasn’t been practical to keep all their clothes in separate cases, particularly on some shorter stays when we want to open only one suitcase and leave others untouched.
Having invested in four sets of these bags, we can now organise our clothes much more easily and when it comes to unpacking we just lift them out of the suitcase, straight onto the shelf. I love them!
2) TRTL neck cushions. https://trtltravel.com
Given we are covering a few thousand miles in the car and taking nearly 40 flights, I knew that managing to get some sleep whilst travelling was going to be quite important. I did a bit of research and decided to give these neck pillows a go.
The result, after using for a couple of months, is that they have definitely transformed my ability to sleep on a plane and really increased comfort on some pretty long car journeys (often when myself and the three girls are squeezed into the back). For all of us, (except Willow, who is a little small for them and tends not to like having her mouth covered when she sleeps), these have been fantastic. Betsy likes to accessorise hers with an eye mask…
3) Travel sim cards
When I researched in the year leading up to our trip, the advice on sim cards was all pretty complicated and often concluded with ‘just buy a local sim card for each country’. By the time we travelled, things had moved on quite a bit. We discovered that you can get contracts from the UK that allow roaming in the whole of Europe, plus many other countries, for the same cost as if you are at home.
Lola and I ended up buying a ‘Feel at home’ plan from Three, which costs £10/month for unlimited calls, texts and 4G of data and Keith is on 4GEE max plan with EE. Both of these have been great and really cost effective.
Next, a couple of apps that I’m using all the time:
4) www.Booking.com A website for hotel bookings.
Over the course of this year, we are using a combination of Airbnb (and VRBO in north America), when staying somewhere for more than 3 or 4 nights and the rest of the time fairly low/medium budget hotels. Whilst we all seem to be happier when we are in our own apartment, we have actually ended up in quite a few hotels. The website and app that I have found most reliable and helpful is Booking.com. I just checked and we have made 23 bookings via the app so far and I have had no problems whatsoever.
Three reasons I like it:
- It has a really huge number of hotels and after numerous checks, does seem to offer the best price available
- You typically don’t have to pay anything in advance and get free cancellation on most bookings. This is massively helpful and so much better than Airbnb which takes 100% upfront.
- The app works brilliantly and it’s really easy to find all your bookings and details, make changes, add or cancel rooms when you need to.
5) https://tripcoinapp.com A budget tracking app
A short time into our trip it was very clear that we were spending more than we had estimated or hoped to. Even though I am fairly organised (have a spreadsheet and everything), I thought that having some kind of daily tracker of what we were spending would be useful. Again I consulted the oracle Google and concluded that Tripcoin would be worth trying out. It is early days and I have had a couple of teething problems – like the wrong exchange rates being applied – but overall I am finding this budget tracker really easy to use and a helpful check on what we are spending, where and when, to keep us on track.
What we are doing to keep us as healthy as possible:
6) The Magic 3: i)Antibacterial hand gel ii) Tissues and iii) Wet wipes.
Ok so this is really basic and obvious, but I remember my mum telling me a story about when she was travelling in South America and how her pack of wet wipes had ‘saved the day’ and we now have versions of this tale from our own travels. Even though we no longer have babies in nappies – everyone needs a moist tissue now and again, right? Nuff said.
7) Insect repellent that actually seems to work: https://off.com/en/product/deep-woods/deep-woods-insect-repellent-vii
I have a love/hate relationship with mosquitoes and other biting bugs. (They love me, I hate them). Since I started travelling abroad in my late teens, I discovered that joy of joy: I get bitten loads and react badly. My two most memorable occasions were passing out in a pharmacy in Bali, due to the size of a swollen bite on my leg and having to get a shot in my backside from a doctor in Melbourne, after being bitten on my hand and it swelling up like a rubber glove. So much fun!
So I did my homework. I researched the most effective insect repellents, resisting the urge to just buy anything with 100% Deet and the brand that came out on top was Off and specifically their ‘Deep Woods’ range. As any sensible, rationale and balanced woman would do, I immediately ordered 18 bottles to be delivered to my friend Leeanne’s place in LA, so we could collect it before we headed to the Tropics.
The result: There were a couple of days, after the rain came in Trancoso, when we all got bitten a bit, but apart from that, I can report this stuff really seems to work.
8) Motion sickness medicine that does the job.
Skip this if you or your children have never suffered, but those of you who have spent hours clutching a paper bag close to a child who has gone grey and you know any minute is going to vomit…We have found an over the counter medicine that has been more effective than any we’ve tried before.
My cousin from Sao Paulo recommended Dramin (main ingredient Dimenhydrinate) and the stuff we bought in Brazil came as oral liquid that you add to a small amount of water. It has worked like magic! It is also sold as Dramamine and you can buy online.
9) Swell Insulated Water Bottles or similar. https://www.swellbottle.com
Another really obvious one but having lots of cold water available whenever we need it has been massively helpful, particularly when hiking or on long, hot car journeys. We started off with just two of these bottles for Keith and I and the kids had ordinary water bottles, but soon realised that more would be great and cold was definitely better, so we bought the three girls one each as well. No one has dehydrated…yet.
10) Henna Tattoos – A big warning and a massive parenting fail
I had never given Henna much thought before this trip and when we arrived in Trancoso there were many people offering henna on the beach. The girls loved the idea and in our first week they each had a tattoo. Seche was the man with the henna and he was lovely. All was fine.
On our last day, Seche (who we had regularly seen and said hi to) offered the girls a free tattoo as a goodbye gift. Without much thought again we agreed and they each chose what they wanted. Willow chose a huge Tasmanian Devil which she had drawn on her back. Hilarious we thought…until three days later when she started to complain about it itching. The tattoo then became red, swollen and with raised bumps where the henna had been placed. We consulted Dr Google and then a real Doctor and were pretty horrified to discover she was having a fairly common, but pretty serious allergic reaction. We got some topical steroid cream and this helped calm it down, however, three weeks on we can still see the outline and this could remain for some while yet. We have also been told that Willow is likely to now be sensitised to PPD (which would have been in the henna) and this could be incredibly dangerous in the future. She will not be able to have Henna again, nor it seems, hair dye as she could have an extreme and in some cases, fatal reaction.
Finally, a tip from Keith about ‘extra weight’ charges on your luggage and a comment about home schooling:
I thought I had packed fairly minimally (one large case each for Keith and I and a carry on size for each of the girls). After three months I would say we could all happily do with 2/3 of the clothes we have brought and probably even less. We’ve managed to get rid of some stuff but try as I might, our bags are not getting any lighter. When we fly on smaller planes, the weight of our bags could cost us quite a bit in extra charges. So when we rock up at the airport and heave our bags onto the scales at check in, Keith, I and budget conscious Lola, are all glancing at the screen to see whether we are going to get charged for extra baggage.
This has actually only happened once so far. Partly because, our flights in South America have been with LATAM and my One World membership means they give us some leeway and partly because *small voice* my ever creative husband, has discovered that if he places his foot just slightly under the base of the scales, after lifting the bags on, he can take a couple of kilos off the weight. I am not condoning this behaviour, nor suggesting that you deploy such ‘extra baggage cost dodging’ tactics yourself, but just thought I’d mention it.
Re: Home-schooling; There is absolutely no doubt that in the last three months some of my most magical moments has been witnessing Lola, Betsy and Willow growing right before us. I love seeing their eyes open up, their curiosity grow and with it their confidence. All of this I consider learning.
Alongside this, we are attempting to do some of the more formal school-work their classmates and peers are doing. It is occasionally fun and I have to say I’ve learned a lot, but mostly it is hard, sometimes boring and not always, but nearly every time, ends with either one child and/or parent being in a grump. I had thought I would write a dedicated post about home schooling but until we feel we’ve cracked it, I don’t think I have much to share that would be of any use.
The only one massively helpful aspect has been we engaged one of the girls’ teachers to collate and send through some of the work their class is doing. This has been brilliant! It also means I have a big collection of school work (mainly English and Maths) for year 2 and year 4 which I’d be happy to share.