Although we agree on the most important issues, my husband and I are sometimes complete opposites. When we differ drastically, I’m never sure if it’s an Indian thing, a Punjabi thing, or just a Chawla family thing. In any case, the way in which he and his kin approach travel is most definitely a THING.
They are big fans of the lengthy road trip - crammed into oversized vehicles, brimming with newborns, grandparents, and everyone in between. Last summer, to drop my niece off at university (about a day’s drive and an international border away), we wedged seven of us, including an infant and a pre-schooler, into some giant, unparkable machine. We piled strollers, luggage and various chattel into every available nook and cranny. For several hours, the music was pumping, the conversations flying in two or three languages and my kids, who thrive on routine, were squirming in their seats.
For my husband’s clan, twenty hour plane journeys to and from India are viewed as a brief inconvenience and can be booked right up until the last minute with very little fanfare. Visits can easily be extended by a month or two with little to no planning, seemingly on a whim. While I find all of this amazing, chaotic, and entertaining - I'm a natural-born planner. I was raised by a mother who packs a good two weeks before a weekend getaway and books vacations at least six-months in advance. I break out in hives at the thought of being late and I'm also an avid user of checklists.
On one hand, I love travelling with kids - providing my girls a different perspective on life and a wealth of varied experiences, but on the other, sometimes the journey itself can be exhausting for all involved and can reduce the best of us to tears.
One thing that makes things easier is helping each kid pack their own travel kit to keep them busy and keep me sane. Never underestimate the soothing power of a well-placed diversion! An engaged kid is a kid who is, more or less, behaving.
So, what goes in the perfect on-the-go, kid-friendly travel kit?
Be sure "ol’ reliable" is in that kit. You know that toy. For my 3-year-old, it’s a ratty-looking, cheap plastic doll that literally goes everywhere with her. Seriously, this thing had a passport photo done because a kind photographer noticed it clutched so tightly in my daughter’s arms. Maybe it’s a favourite book. Maybe their collectible cars or action figures. Currently, my youngest daughter is completely obsessed with a miniature pumpkin that came to live with us pre-Halloween and we have yet to pry from her sticky, little hands. Whatever your child’s toy de jour is, be sure they have it close at hand for the journey.
I like to get my girls a few new books and activities prior to the journey and have them put it in their carry-ons unopened. They look forward to the moment when they get to break the fresh seal on an activity. When the plane is delayed or the traffic starts to build, that's your opportunity to turn their heads with something shiny and untouched. I’ve also learned to sneak a surprise, never-before-seen toy for each kid into my own carry-on and whip it out during that last leg. To ensure buy-in, the new toys often feature their current beloved characters.
My kids know almost everything is shared in our house. We don’t stand for the “she took MY toy” argument, because all toys are property of the whole team. However, the kids’ travel-kit is be designed to minimize arguments and frustration at every turn, so I double up on everything. Each one has a backpack that contains their own water bottle, books, toys, art activity and so forth. I try to make the kits as similar as I can, while accounting for the age and preferences of each kid. One thing I can count on with my two is that they will always want to play with the same toy at the same time, but in their own possessive, unique way. Having two of everything saves an argument and keeps mommy of sound mind just a little longer.
Art supplies have gotten me out of many a tight situation with the kids. Whether it’s creating a comic strip on sticky notes to put on the car window, or drawing a picture for the person we are driving towards, my kids are big fans of colour and creation. My travel favourite is Crayola’s Color Wonder products. Firstly, as a teacher, Crayola is my go-to, trusted brand for art supplies. And, Color Wonder is virtually mess-free - and I mean actually MESS-FREE, not just the kind that claims to be mess-free, but somehow your kids find a way to make the backseat resemble a Jackson Pollock installment. The markers, stamps and paints only write on the Color Wonder paper - not on car upholstery or a sleeping grandparent’s arm. If you haven’t discovered this product line yet, trust me, you’ll love it. Because, no matter how “washable” markers are, ain’t no traveller got time for wiping down airplane seat trays and car rental windows when the eyes of those fellow passengers are cutting into you.
I have the kids stock their travel-kits with several on-the-go snacks - raisins, crackers, cheese, squeezable pouches and so forth. I also put many overflow snacks in my own carry-on. Time zones, airplane food or endless drive-thrus will inevitably lead to hungry, cranky kiddies. Keep an arsenal of familiar, tasty snacks to ward off unnecessary frustration.
Just a few more tips...
Let them each pack their own bag. It builds a sense of ownership and pride. Even my toddler loves putting together her kit (I just make sure to edit and revise it when she’s not around!)
Be sure everyone has wipes. You never know when you’ll need to quickly clean hands and surfaces or deal with a less-than-ideal bathroom situation. Keep a bounty of your favourite wipes handy.
Let technology make your life a little easier. Just like we share all the toys at home, we also have limits on screen time, but those rules relax a little during travel time. If a well-placed game on the phone or program on the tablet will save everyone’s sanity, I say go for it. Invest in some kid-friendly headphones and let them explore. Although, I find there is a sweet-spot to the tech - it’s easy to let the electronic babysitter do its job, but too much will always prime my kids for disaster. Know your audience and switch out the tablet when you see their eyes begin to glaze.
Now let me go find those passports - I think we’ve got to catch that flight to India soon.