Packing for kids can be tricky. In one instalment of Bill Watterson’s iconic comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin goes off on a trip with his parents and forgets to bring Hobbes the tiger along. His parents, of course, never hear the end of it throughout the car journey.
Travelling with kids, especially younger ones, is never easy, with checklists threatening to be longer than a foot ruler and parents wishing they had an extra pair of eyes and hands to keep an eye on their wards. However, packing is one element of travel that, although quite a chore, can be made easier with simple ideas and checklists.
Sit your children down and ask them to help you draw a list of the toys, games and clothes that they simply can’t do without. Don’t forget their favourite security blanket if they are attached to one. Negotiate your way around unwieldy accessories – for instance, why that pirate’s chest simply cannot be lugged along. Next, throw everything in the final list into your bag, so that you don’t leave them behind.
Each child has different sets of interests, but pack essential games and sports accessories. For instance, Lego, Frisbees and inflatable beach balls are easy to carry and barely take up any space. Of course, you do need a strong pair of lungs to inflate the beach ball. Make sure you carry a drawing pad along with a case of pencils and colours to keep them busy. Toy stores such as Hamleys have nifty travel games like magnetic Snakes and Ladders and Ludo, which means you don’t have to scramble on all fours looking for missing pieces every time the car or bus hits a speed bump.
If you plan to carry some “educational material” along with you, then publishing house Parragon has excellent Gold Star activity books that you can tuck into your handbag and whip out every time your child complains that he or she is bored.
And of course, don’t forget to carry a stack of books – some old favourites and a few new ones.
Like it or hate it, the tablet is here to stay. In many ways, a tablet can be a boon while travelling – they are relatively light as compared to laptops and have enough games and stories on them to keep the kids busy during long journeys. Ensure that your tablet is charged before you leave, and your child’s favourite apps are loaded, especially those that don’t need the Internet to operate.
Yahoo! has a neat weather app that will tell you what kind of weather to expect, and help you pack accordingly. If you’re travelling during the monsoon, carry a raincoat and gum boots. As a rule of thumb, avoid packing light- or pastel-coloured clothes or anything that gets creased easily.
If you plan to buy new toys or books for the journey, save them as presents and hand them out during exceptionally cranky moods; we can promise you instant smiles.
Most kids love to pose, but even more, they love to take pictures. Buy them a cheap camera for their own use and let them take responsibility for the gadget.
Pack a small bag for your child, which includes a towel, water, a snack, a book and an address slip with your contact details and the hotel you are staying at. Most kids love to shoulder this responsibility, often lugging their little backpacks across the airport, and refusing to part with them.
Lastly, don’t forget to pack a small diary or travel journal. Encourage your child to fill it for 10 minutes daily, recording the trip’s highlight by way of a note, a drawing or even pressing a flower.
• Organic mosquito repellent free of harmful chemicals, such as citronella oil.
• Medicine kit: Make a DIY medicine kit at home with some basic pills for cold, cough, tummy and motion sickness, band-aids, cotton, wipes, antiseptic cream and a thermometer. Make sure prescription medicines are in, along with the doctor’s prescriptions for the kid. Add a candy or lollipop, it does wonders to soothe aching wounds.
• Carry a small travel-pouch with bottles that can hold tiny amounts of toiletries for your child. This means you can carry them in hand baggage instead of checking them with your luggage.
• Gadget chargers and spare batteries for toys.
• Professor Dumbledore said, “One can never have enough socks.” Can’t argue with that.
• If you’re travelling by air, keep a pack of chewing gum. Kids can have that in case of ear aches due to cabin pressure.
• Cap, sun hat, sunglasses, scarves, mufflers, gloves.
• Slippers or flip-flops, comfortable closed sneakers.
• Swimwear if there will be a pool or a beach.
• Water bottles and juice cartons to keep the kids hydrated.
• Snacks on the go, such as biscuits, dry fruits and fruit bars.
• A mini night-light to keep the monsters away in hotel rooms.
• Hand sanitiser or wipes.
1. Astalakshmi Venkatesh lives in Bengaluru and often travels with her husband and daughter on holidays. “My daughter is six years old, and she’s prone to motion sickness. If we are travelling by car, I pack lots of plastic bags!” she said.
2. Venkatesh, who works at an online marketplace in Bengaluru, remembered another holiday when they were trekking in Thekkady in Tamil Nadu. “She had rubber boots on but leeches kept getting in to her normal shoes,” recalled Venkatesh. “I realised then that I should have packed proper trekking boots. But she didn’t mind, in fact, she was fascinated by the leeches and kept saying, ‘Mamma, see!’” Venkatesh also has a travel pouch with small sterilised bottles in which she keeps small amounts of toiletries and medicines. But her best tip is for infants who cannot sleep without a cradle – “I would carry a sari and we’d tie it between the two berths in a train,” she said. “That would become a makeshift cradle.”
3. Two years ago, Chaitali Airan was travelling with her family including her five-year-old son to Singapore. “I thought my son was too big for a stroller,” she said. “But after walking around for one day in the hot and humid weather of Singapore, I decided to rent a stroller immediately. I found a ‘Rent-a-Stroller’ service online. Universal Studios, which we visited, was more fun when you don’t have to juggle between lifting your son and your bags and countless other things.”
4. Airan, who works in the banking sector in Dubai, also suggests that parents carry small change in the local currency. “My son wanted to go to the toilet, minutes after we reached our next destination – a boat ride,” she recalled. “All I had was 100 Euro notes. By the time we managed to get change, the ship had literally sailed. We had to go back to the hotel instead. I now carry lots of change – most airports have change machines.”
5. Jayshree V. and her family are vegetarians. “After four days in South Africa, my three-year-old daughter absolutely refused to have pizza,” she said. “Now on a foreign trip, I carry an electric hot plate, pans and staples like lentils and rice in a zip-lock bag. The content look on my daughter’s face is worth the hotel complaints about smells emanating from our room.”
Seven-year-old Reyansh Airan draws up his own checklist:
“Sometimes, your parents don’t allow you to carry your iPad or laptop. But that’s not always a good idea. Here are my suggestions for stuff to bring on a holiday.
• Get your parents to load the laptop with your favourite games and movies.
• A book that you would read for entertainment, and not a study book.
• An iPad that is fully charged and has the right apps.
• Milk, candy, fruits and biscuits.
• Your own bag
• Mints for the plane”
Bijal Vachharajani , when not reading Harry Potter, can be found pottering about in the jungles of India. She is the author of two children's books, "So You Want to Know About the Environment" and "What's Neema Eating Today?"