I am not naturally the most elegant person in the world, and if you are coming to read this post already in possession of matching Louis Vuitton luggage, you might not find anything enlightening. Furthermore, my definition of “elegant” includes the right attitude and being prepared rather than the latest Louboutin, which will explain the focus on a travel kit and staying zen.
My post is geared more towards traveling with children that are at least somewhat autonomous, and if that’s not you yet, don’t worry. I’ve been there. One day you’ll be where I am too. The post you’re looking for at your current stage will contain the word “survival” in the title as opposed to “elegant.”
All that said and if you are still with me, I have some tips to boost your confidence and your travel experience – even when traveling with kids. Particularly if it’s your first overseas trip.
How much have I traveled, and how much of an authority am I on the subject?
Well, to start with, I did a semester overseas in France when I was in college. Then right after graduation, I moved to Taiwan and, while there, flew to Okinawa, HongKong, Seoul, and Singapore. We also stopped in Hawaii on the way back. After a year in Manhattan, I returned to Taiwan for a year, then went to Paris for a year. Following that, I had a job in Manhattan that required traveling to Asia for weeks at a time, on a regular basis, for a period of two years.
Six months after we married, we moved to Africa for a year, traveling between Somaliland, Djibouti, and Kenya (with brief stops in Ethiopia). Then we moved back to France, and apart from the shorter trips – Spain, Switzerland, Germany, England, Belgium – we make regular trips to the States. This December we just completed a whirlwind tour of India and survived.
So this, friends, is my qualification for speaking on the topic, and here are my tips.
WHAT TO WEAR
Dress appropriately. This is multi-layered advice as you need to dress appropriately for the country you are visiting (long skirts in India, no sweatpants in Paris, etc.) and you also need to dress in a way that is comfortable and flattering for the plane ride. (Speaking of multi-layered, more on that below).
When I first moved to Taiwan, I wore shorts on the plane, thinking it would be the smart thing to do. It was summer where I was coming from and it was nearly peak season in tropical Taiwan. I couldn’t fathom, a couple months in, how some of the girls there could wear jeans in August in that heat!
The problem with shorts is they are uncomfortable on the plane. When you’re in high altitude, the inside of the plane is chilly. And shorts ride up. You have to keep pulling them back down. And, let’s face it, they don’t look very elegant. I know people still think they’re the most comfortable outfit for summer travel because I see people in airports wearing them all the time, but they’re not.
The best thing to wear is pants or jeans that flatter you and that have some stretch. You want to move freely so you need that stretch to the fabric, but you want to look tailored even after 16 hours of travel. (You don’t look tailored in sweat pants either). I know you can’t see behind this mound of luggage we brought to India – mostly donations – but this was my super comfortable travel outfit that made me feel great. Pink pants and a navy button-down shirt! Not even breakin’ a sweat with all that luggage.
I dressed my children in pants, too, and made sure they were the most comfortable pair they owned. My husband also pays attention to the pockets of the jeans he chooses, selecting ones that are deep enough to keep the most important documents close.
Wear good colors. Most of the airport bathrooms and check-in counters have harsh fluorescent light that make you gain 20 years and 20 pounds. Do yourself a favour and choose navy blue – or any other color that you know looks good on your skin even in garish lighting. For me, navy is top. Green comes second and pink comes third. And I usually stick to muted or no patterns, simple jewelry and makeup. I do wear makeup, though, because it’s reassuring against the backdrop of wrinkles (bathed in a neon glow). This was my summer travel outfit below.
Wear layers. When we went to India, the kids had a tee shirt under their long-sleeved shirt and sweater because we left in frosty December and arrived in 75° weather. I chose a button-down shirt with a collar whose sleeves I could roll up. By the time we exited the airport, they were able to strip down to tee shirts, which made the heat bearable, even in pants.
Last of all, wear comfortable and stylish shoes that either slip on or zip up in case you have to remove them at the airport, although they’re requiring that less now. The reason the kids are wearing shoes with laces is because they have a limited selection of shoes, we had limited space in the bags, and … they’re younger and can handle the bending down. 😉
WHAT TO BRING
I pack clothes sparingly and match the outfits in advance. But I pack supplies carefully. When we went to India, I brought antibiotics for food poisoning (just in case). I also brought hydrocortisone, antibiotics for urinary tract infection, Doliprane (the Tylenol equivalent), disinfectant spray and Band-Aids, baby wipes, and a host of other things I thought we might need. And let me tell you, I find I often do need these things.
For first world countries, I might do without the band-aids and the antibiotics for food-related illnesses, but would still have many of the other items. When we arrived in Chennai, we needed to wait outside for about an hour before our friend arrived.
During that time, William developed a heat rash and I had my hydrocortisone ready when he found the itching unbearable. I also had a big can of Evian spray to keep them cool and refreshed while we waited. And I had kept aside some candy for them to wile away the hour. We go easy on the candy during travel – a lollipop for take-off (and sometimes for landing) and then emergencies like this unexpected hour wait on the side of the road.
What I brought on the plane:
Visine – your eyes get irritated from the dry air and it feels good to rinse them occasionally on the plane and when you land.
Toothbrush and minty toothpaste – I usually brush my teeth on the plane before they ask everyone to return to their seats for landing. It can make you feel like a new person.
Dramamine, motion sickness bracelets, and extra (solid) plastic bags, mint chewing gum, extra tee shirt, and Chinese Tiger Balm for the belly and temples. Unfortunately one of our kids inevitably gets sick in moving vehicles. And since it’s inevitable, I try to make the experience as comfortable as possible.
Extra socks and underwear for everyone because you never know what might happen, whether it’s from avoiding a dirty toilet seat (and you miss) or stepping in something questionable after having removed your shoes on the airplane. Believe me, all these tips come from learning the hard way! This brings me to …
Slippers with protective soles for the long overseas trips. It helps you to be more comfortable, but protects your feet.
Snacks for everyone that are not too sugary or salty. I prefer everyone to eat the meal on the plane rather than fill up on snacks, but sometimes the wait is too long.
A book for the kids, one stuffed animal, a couple toys for the younger ones – whatever can fit in their small backpack, and of course their tablet or phone.
A Bible – this is a personal thing since I always like to have it with me.
WHAT TO DO:
Buy water once you go through security. The best way to feel fresh when traveling long distances is to drink tons, brush your teeth, use eye drops, and rinse your face, following it with a moisturising cream. Keep yourself hydrated. I had my children do a moderate version of that, particularly drinking water and brushing their teeth.
Speaking of feeling fresh, I want to mention that, if you’ve never been jet lagged before from flying overseas, it can feel a little like the flu and can last up to four or five days. If you’re the kind of person (or if your kids are) that need to take things slow, allow yourself that extra time to acclimate before adhering to a power-packed tourist schedule.
Practice being zen about the inevitable changes, problems, or unexpected delays. This reassures the children and helps them to handle the stress of travel like seasoned pros. If you’ve been waiting in one line at the airport because of a language barrier only to find out a half hour later that you need to be in another line, just get in the correct line and pull out a book. Let your kids sit on the suitcases. You’ve given yourself plenty of time anyway and you’re not going to be late. Save your entreaties and demands for when you really need it (because those occasions happen too).
Put coloured tags or ribbons on your suitcases so you can identify them easily, and see if you can get a bunch of luggage tags ahead of time to fill out while you’re waiting in line for check-in. Bring a small rolling suitcase as a carry-on to lighten everyone’s backpacks when you walk between terminals.
Find little ways to make the wait time pleasurable. Visit Duty-Free (even though it’s not really cheaper) just because there are lots of cheerful things to look at.
Give yourself enough time to sit down and enjoy a snack together,
Remind your kids about the movies that await them (!)
and the hours, and hours, and hours you have to yourself while they watch. You’re going to need that down time so that you’re ready to exit and face foreign territory.
You are building such memories in this grand adventure of yours.
And … you can bet that no matter how elegantly you travel with your kids (look at you now, you globe-trotter!) it is SO GOOD to be home.
IN OTHER NEWS
I wanted to tell you about some other news that’s happening this week. If you’re interested in reading about all the travel I mentioned above, you might like my memoir. And this is timely because both my books are on sale for .99 through Sunday. For some lighter reading, there’s also the clean romance to curl up with. The links are below.
What about you? Do you have any good tips for traveling with kids? Leave them in the comments!