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

by Shawna …Here’s the rest of the post on packing for a trip south with the little ones this year. It’s continued from yesterday.

In terms of getting there and back, it is highly advisable to have snacks, drinks and amusements for the kids (at the time of this writing, bottles/sippy cups for small kids are allowed through security). Get thee to a dollar store and find a small cache of cheap plastic toys, stickers, paper, and crayons that are new to them, then only pull one or two out per hour, per kid. Happy Meal toys are good for this sort of thing too. If you have cheap headphones, they’ll work in most airline sockets and save you from shelling out for them once you’re in the air.

Other basics to bring in your carry-on? Money, a pen for filling out customs forms in both directions, travel Kleenex, a camera, chargers for the camera and any other electronics you’re bringing.

Age dependent: diapers (more than you think you’ll need if you’re going to a place they may be hard to buy like Cuba), wipes, bottles and a bottle brush and dish soap (I didn’t have to bother with this when my kids were breastfeeding, but now at 2.5 my son likes a bottle of milk at bedtime), and formula if you use it.

I get migraines. My husband gets motion sickness. My kids have allergies. Ergo, we travel with a small pharmacy of first aid stuff. Even without any known allergies being a factor, it does not hurt to travel with a small Ziploc bag containing kids meds (we take children’s versions of Advil, Tylenol, Benadryl, Gravol, and an anti-diarrhoea medication), plus kid-friendly bug repellent, afterbite, bandaids and Polysporin. Another Ziploc gets adult versions of similar meds which come in more compact pill form, plus Lactaid so I can indulge in all the chocolate banana milkshakes I want to (hey, I don’t drink, I’ve gotta indulge somehow right?)

I believe I mentioned my son’s allergy? This year I’ve ordered waterproof stickers with clear symbols and text indicating he can’t eat eggs, and I’m going to slap one on the back of his shirt every day. You can get stickers and even temporary tattoos at a bunch of places online if your child has a severe allergy you think people might need to know about.

You’re hoping for warmth and sun, yes? In addition to the obvious light clothes, don’t forget sunblock, hats, sunglasses, and light clothes to cover up your pasty Northern skin during the height of the day. And lead by example and use this stuff yourself too; it’s not just your kids that can get sunburns. And whether you have a pool or a beach, chances are very good that if you forget your swimsuit (like my husband did one year), you’ll be able to buy new one… but you will feel kind of foolish when your significant other mocks you during the packing session every year after that. A minimum of two swimsuits per person is good so that one can be drying while the other’s in use. Special considerations for young kids: inflatable toys take very little room; good-fitting lifejackets take a lot of room but, for us, are worth the peace of mind on a beach with high waves. Label them with a waterproof marker though ‘cause those suckers are expensive. You also might need/want water shoes if you’re going to a place with a slippery pool deck or a rocky beach. We took them last year but won’t bother this round. I always bring a thin canvas tote bag that squashes to nothing in the suitcase but is nice for carrying snacks, a camera (in yet another Ziploc), and other supplies to and from poolside/the beach.

Kids are messy. And they don’t just spill stuff on themselves. A small amount of laundry soap and/or a stain-removing pen can come in handy and mean you don’t have to bring a mountain of clean clothes. And while our toddler doesn’t want to wear a bib anymore, we have a special clip that can basically turn any napkin into a bib. The same effect could be had with a piece of string and two plastic clothespins.

Do some research on where you’re going and think about whether you will be doing any excursions. Kids old enough to hike up Dunn’s River Falls? Water shoes! Traveling to an area with malaria? Talk to your doctor about whether you’d need to take meds for it (tip: if the answer is "yes" you might want to reconsider this as a good family destination). Good snorkelling right off your hotel’s beach? You may want your own mask and fins, even if they can be borrowed/rented on site. Want to play golf? Clubs are easily rented, but if you don’t have the proper attire for the golf course you might not get to play. Think you’ll be taking a lot of ground transport? Consider whether to take a car seat or not. Do you need an adapter for the plugs in the country you’ll be visiting? A charger isn’t much good if it can’t be plugged in. Our hotel offers arts and crafts sessions that include tie-dyeing, ergo we bring some cheap white t-shirts, or even give some new life to old and slightly stained white/light clothing that still fits the kids.

Most resorts have at least one dining area that’s a bit more posh and requires more formal dress so long pants for men and a skirt or dress for women will likely come in handy. Light, easy-packing fabrics are nice. Don’t bother going overboard on shoes though, unless such things are important to you. I wear my runners onto the plane, and pack one pair of sturdy sandals for general use and one pair of light, cheap flip-flops to get me between my room and the pool & beach. And speaking of “wearing onto the plane”, I wear a hoodie or sweater under a rain jacket and leave my winter coat at home. In transit we’re going between warm house, warm car or cab, and warm airport. Light shorts go into our carry-on and we change before we start the drive from the airport to the hotel.

And, or course, don’t forget the basics too like underwear, shirts, shorts, and toothbrushes & toiletries!

I know this seems like a huge list, but believe me, it takes up less space than you’d think. Young kids go through the most clothes but their stuff is smaller so it doesn’t take a lot of room, and even adult shorts and t-shirts are pretty compact when you roll them up to pack them. I spend most of my time in my swimsuits and cover-ups and have no qualms about using the same dress for dinner for half the time I’m there unless I spill something on myself the kids spill something on me. I don’t even take more than one pair of clean socks since I’m in sandals almost the whole time.

In the end, for our family of four, we typically take two suitcases with pretty much everything, and use a third suitcase for just the life jackets and swim masks and fins. My main carryon is a small gym bag with travel documents and stuff for the plane for the kids and myself (headphones, snacks, amusements, etc.); my personal item is my camera bag (being a photographer, this holds more camera stuff than the average tourist would carry). My husband’s main carryon is a small knapsack that holds the stuff that won’t fit into mine and the diaper bag. Since my son is toilet trained for solids, we might not even need the diaper bag this year (!) and just use one slightly bigger bag and stuff a couple of diapers and small pack of travel wipes into it. The jury is still out on whether we’ll even need the fold-up travel stroller (which we normally take right to the loading gate where it’s whisked away), but I’m currently leaning towards leaving it at home.

So that’s it. Do your homework, fully charge all your electronics before you go, take more drugs with you then you think you’ll need and fewer clothes, arrange for your mail to be stopped or picked up and your house to be looked after and have a great time!  (And seriously, I don’t mind sharing our packing list if you want it – just drop a line in the comments.)

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 tries to go south with her family every January.