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Summer Travel Tips

Here we are... kids at the big American schools have wrapped their year (while the kids at the British schools still have a couple of weeks).

So now what?

Well, if you're like so many expats, you are headed off for a few weeks, often to see the family. I've been doing this sojourn for 13 years now and I've learned a lesson or two that I'm happy to share.

1. Plan Ahead for Summer Travel

Ha well, you can try to plan.. What is it they say, "Man plans. God laughs." My friend Nilam is the most organized planner I've ever known. I think she has a timetable for every minute of her day, every day of her life. I envy that. Me? I plan- ish. I know more or less what I want to do, but I also know that things often don't go as expected. Inevitably, somebody gets sick, the car breaks down, people disappoint you.

  • Itinerary: Create a flexible itinerary that includes activities suitable for all ages. Factor in downtime to avoid burnout. This is a big one that I learned too late. I once dragged my toddlers to 19 cities in three weeks. Dear God, what was I thinking?. The last stop was at my brother's home. He doesn't have kids. He didn't get why we were all melting down (mommy, too). We weren't welcome in his home for five years after. No kidding.

  • Reservations: Book accommodations, transportation, and tickets for attractions in advance to minimize stress upon arrival.

  • Packing List: Make a comprehensive packing list, including essentials like snacks, toys, and medicines.

2. Involve the Kids in Planning

Okay, so you've already got your plans in place. That's okay. Let the kids have some say in the day-to-day plan.

  • Destination Choice: Let your kids have a say in choosing the destination or activities. It makes them feel involved and excited about the trip.

  • Research Together: Look up interesting facts and attractions about your destination together. It builds anticipation and educational value. I find my teens roll their eyes at me, but they secretly like checking out what we can do.

3. Packing Smart
  • Essentials Bag: Pack a carry-on bag with essentials such as snacks, water, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, extra clothes, and small toys or books.

  • Comfort Items: Bring along favorite comfort items like a stuffed animal or blanket to help them feel secure in unfamiliar places.

  • Clothing: Pack versatile clothing that can be layered and is appropriate for the weather at your destination.

  • Bring empty suitcases: My friends and I just discussed this today at mahjong. They have been flying home longer than I have and all four of us cart empty bags with us to stuff full of things we buy back in the US where things are cheaper. My one friend actually brings outgrown clothes to her nephews so the suitcase is full both ways. But trust me on this: you need empty suitcases. The longer I live here, the less I bring back – but we always shop.

4. Traveling by Air

If you have teens, this is easy. They'll put in their earbuds, turn on a movie and forget you exist. Traveling with little ones is far trickier.

  • Arrival: Arrive at the airport early to allow time for check-in, security checks, and bathroom breaks.

  • Seating: If possible, choose seats that are convenient for managing kids, such as bulkhead rows or near the aisle.

  • Entertainment: Load tablets with games, movies, and educational apps. Bring coloring books, puzzles, and other quiet activities.

  • Snacks: Itty bitty kids are harder to entertain and my sister-in-law taught me a brilliant trick. She wrapped each snack in layers and layers of wrapping paper so it would take her kiddos longer to open the snack. Sure, it took some prep time ahead of the flight, but boy, did it buy me a bit of entertainment time on the flights.

  • Babies: Feed your baby as you take off and land as it helps their ears pressurize. And if your baby cries, so be it. They're babies. It's not like they mean to ruin everybody's sleep. Every single parent has been there and we all get it.

  • Buying goodwill: When I traveled with my tiny babies in the US, I used to buy scratch off lottery tickets and pass them out to everybody sitting near me. Ten dollars bought me a lot of help on the flights.

5. Traveling by Car

This is always tricky coming from Singapore where the longest drive is 40 minutes tops. Traveling for hours and hours in a car is mind-boggling to us all. So first things first, prepare yourself mentally. And as an aside: I went to find photos for this piece and looked for kids on a car trip. All of them were happy, smiling kids. Where's the photo that accurately shows 1. kids fighting 2. mommy crying 3. food all over the seat?

  • Breaks: Plan for regular stops to stretch, use the restroom, and let the kids burn off some energy.

  • Car Activities: Prepare a mix of activities such as audiobooks, car games, and travel-sized board games. Learn some games everybody can play like"I Spy." Our family recently traveled a long way and I used a few roadtrip playlists and then we all did music trivia. I'd play the first few beats of a song and everybody would guess. I've got to say, I'm taking my kids to my next trivia night. They're good!

  • Comfort: Ensure car seats are comfortable and consider window shades to keep the sun out of their eyes.

6. Accommodations

I miss the days when my kids were little and we can all fit into one room. It was so much cheaper to travel! But my kids love having their own room now, even if I try to make sure it's always connected to mine.

  • Family-Friendly Hotels: Choose accommodations that are kid-friendly, with amenities like pools, play areas, and family rooms.

  • Kitchen Access: Consider staying in a place with a kitchen or kitchenette to prepare simple meals and snacks.

  • Safety: Ensure the accommodation is safe for children, with secure windows, doors, and no hazardous items within reach.

  • Laundry: If you're traveling for a long time, find places along the way that have access to laundry. I always travel light and wash along the way. Air BNBs are great for this. It was especially great when my kids were little. They'd go to bed early and I'd get some laundry done.

7. Meals and Snacks
  • Healthy Snacks: Pack a variety of healthy snacks like fruit, nuts, and granola bars to keep hunger at bay.

  • Local Cuisine: Encourage kids to try local foods, but have some familiar options on hand in case they’re hesitant. I was pretty strict about trying new things and not letting my kids order from the kids' menu. I often quoted my dad to them, "It might be your favorite food and you'll never know without tasting it." My son actually got mad last week in Hong Kong because we hadn't tried enough street food.

  • Hydration: Keep everyone hydrated, especially in warm climates or during long flights.

8. Managing Expectations
  • Flexibility: Be prepared to adapt your plans as needed. Kids might get tired or overwhelmed, so having a flexible approach is key.

  • Patience: Travel can be stressful, and kids might act out due to excitement or fatigue. Stay calm and patient, using gentle discipline when needed. A word to the wise: sometimes mommy needs a time out, too! If you're really flipping out, lock yourself in the bathroom until you calm down.

  • Enjoy the Moment: Focus on enjoying the journey rather than just the destination. Cherish the small moments and mishaps as part of the adventure.

9. Safety First

It's really easy to get distracted on vacation. You're talking to your long-lost friend and you forget to watch the kids. In some ways, it's more important to put your eagle eyes on as they are in new locations with unfamiliar routines.

  • Identification: Ensure each child has some form of identification with contact details.If you're going to a big event, use a sharpie and write your phone number on your kid. I've lost my son in so many countries around the world as he was a bolter (I never once lost my daughter.) I learned this one too late.

  • Emergency Plan: Teach kids what to do if they get lost, including recognizing uniforms or badges of security personnel.

  • Health Precautions: Carry a first-aid kit and any necessary medications. Research healthcare facilities at your destination. If you're going somewhere very adventurous, know where the nearest hospital is and the emegency phone number. If you get really stuck, Ameican Express Platinum can help translate for you. That alone is the reason we have that particular card. Amex was simply amazing after my husband was badly bucked off a horse inthe Dominican Republic.

10. Capture the Memories
  • Photos and Videos: Document your trip with plenty of photos and videos. Encourage kids to keep a travel journal or scrapbook.Take photos and videos galore It all goes way too fast.

  • Flat Stanely: One year, the school assigned taking photos with Flat Stanley. That little guy made our trip so much fun because the kids were really into finding good spots for photos ops for him. Maybe you get yourself a silly thing that travels with you. I once had a rubber chicken that traveled the world with me for years.

  • Souvenirs: Let them pick small souvenirs to remember the trip by. It’s a fun way to keep the memories alive. If you give them money and they choose themselves, it's also a good way to teach money management.

By planning ahead, involving your kids in the process, and staying flexible, you can create a travel experience that is enjoyable and memorable for the whole family. Safe travels!

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