A winter getaway with kids? It's all in the preparation. (Part I)

by Shawna This week we are heading to Jamaica. “Are you bringing the kids?” is a surprisingly-oft-asked question. “Of course!” is always the reply.

It’s true, travelling with small kids can be a challenge. When they’re very, very little it’s actually quite easy as enroute they just do the same thing they always do: eat and sleep and poop. You have the challenge of changing them in the smallest bathrooms imaginable, but other than that it’s pretty uneventful as long as they can be easily consoled by having their needs met. (This obviously all changes if they are sick and/or their ears get blocked.)

But when kids are old enough to be more mobile, and too young to be easily amused with books and colouring and the like for long, well, they get bored. And a restrained bored toddler is not a fun thing for anyone to contend with. Our toddler Harris is at just this age. We’ll see how he copes on the flight.

Fortunately, no matter how bad the flight I can console myself with the fact that it’s only a set amount of potential torture and then a whole week of warm days and food cooked for me. Also, typically, these flights to tropical destinations are packed with kids just like ours so we’re just as likely to get sympathetic glances as annoyed glares, and the glares will be shared by all the other parents of toddlers. But I digress…

I could write a whole post on how to handle the actual journey, but what I really want to share with Kids in the Capital readers today is the preparation involved in packing and getting ready for a tropical vacation with youngsters. Bear in mind that my destination is an all-inclusive resort with an extensive children’s program, and that we don’t really plan on leaving the resort much, if at all...

Gone are the days when I could see a good last-minute deal on a Thursday night, then throw my passport, a couple of bathing suits, a pair of shorts, sunglasses and a toothbrush into a bag and head out on Friday. (At least… I had that option. It’s possible my younger self wasn’t really as wild and freewheeling as all that in reality.) Now it’s all about the planning to head off disaster if possible, or be prepared for it if it does happen. I have a formidable packing list divided into whether items go in carry-on or get packed in checked baggage, and organized by person. I also leave an extra column to check off items as they’re packed. Yes, I love me some lists, and will add items that I know are already packed, just so I can have the satisfaction of checking them off right away. I won’t post the whole list (though will email it to anyone who asks me to in the comments), but am going to try to hit the main things.

First things first: immunizations and passports. Do you need the first for where you’re going or think you might want to go? You’ll almost certainly need the latter if you’re heading somewhere warm in the winter unless your definition of “warm” is drastically different than mine. It’s crucial to have some lead time with these items, since it can take awhile for a shot or series of shots to be effective, and Passport Canada has set turnaround times for documents. Don’t forget to look into visa requirements too if you’re going anywhere but the U.S. Want to travel with your kids but not your spouse? Always have a signed letter from the other parents saying you have permission to cross borders with them.

Other papers? Copies of your itinerary and tickets. Proof of travel insurance (yeah, you need this, especially medical with kids – the cost of tickets home in an emergency can be nothing compared to the cost of out-of-country medical care) and contact info if you need to use it. Copies of your kids’ immunization records may be handy, depending on if there’s an outbreak of something while you’re travelling. Photocopies of your passports that you’d keep in a separate place from your real passports.

Feeling extra cautious or just flat-out know that the place your going might be prone to some sort of disaster? Register your intentions to travel abroad with Foreign Affairs. You can do this easily and quickly online.  Just make sure you have your passport handy to fill out the required information to register your trip. A friend of mine also advises to let your credit card company know when you’ll be travelling and where, in order to avoid having a fraud alert pop up and your card temporarily suspended. I thought that was overkill until my husband got a cell phone call from his credit card company warning him of suspicious activity on his card in Victoria, British Columbia… where we were vacationing.

To be continued in the next instalment tomorrow!

Shawna is mom to 5-year-old-next-week Sage and 2-year-old Harris. She has been writing online since 2003, and her latest project is a photography blog. She would like you to tune in tomorrow for the rest of this mammoth entry.