Planning a major trip months in advance has the effect of making it seem somewhat surreal; at least that’s the case for me. We’ve known about my husband Ian’s assignment to cover the 2012 London Olympics for about half a year, and quickly made the decision that the whole family would go. Yet, the excitement of the trip didn’t really build until the final weeks leading up to it; perhaps because it was hard to imagine myself sipping a Pimm’s on a London patio while wearing a snowflake sweater under a parka and scraping ice off the windshield.
Now that the packing has started in earnest, the reality – and the excitement – of our trip has started to sink in. That extra adrenaline is a big help, as packing up your family for an overseas trip is a big job. Now that I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel of trip preparation, I thought I’d share a few of my own tips with you:
I’ve always been a list maker. I’m the type of person who goes to the grocery store and, if I don’t have a list, buys everything I need for spaghetti and meatballs…except the spaghetti. My fellow moms will understand this; as keepers of all family and household minutiae, mothers constantly have about 73 thoughts, logistics, to-do items and details swirling around in our brains. So when it comes to packing for a major trip lists are really helpful; especially since you’ll need to think of extra things you wouldn’t need for a quick weekend trip. You can make your own lists – simple using any sort of word processor – or you can even buy a pre-formatted packing list like the one pictured here.
Pack for the weather
I know this seems like a no-brainer, but I can honestly tell you that it’s hard to pack for a climate that’s totally different than your own. With Ontario in the midst of a massive heat wave, I really don’t remember the last time I put on a pair of pants. These days, my usual garb is a pair of shorts, a tank top and sandals; I have totally – and happily – switched over to summer mode. So it’s a bit disheartening to see that the summer so far in London has been rainy and cool, with average daytime temperatures in the mid to low teens. Accordingly, I’ve had to take a second look at our suitcases – in my case taking out eight of the nine tank tops and switching them for a few long-sleeved t-shirts and (*sigh!*) even a sweatshirt. I’ll also need to make room for a hooded raincoat for myself and everyone else in the family.
Try it on
This is especially important for travelling with kids, who grow and change so fast. Before throwing in a favourite pair of pants or leggings, take a minute and get them to put it on to make sure they haven’t inadvertently turned into capri pants. I swear my kids grow overnight – sometimes they emerge from their bedrooms and they just look taller…and they usually are! Another advantage I’ve found to trying things on is that I often find minor problems with clothing items that need to be addressed. A button fell off a shirt, or a mysterious stain appeared after last week’s art class. By checking your items in advance, you give yourself time for minor mending or shopping for replacement items when needed.
They say that ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ but I think you have to take that with a grain of salt, especially when kids are involved. Sure, I’ll be hitting the streets of London (with a couple of days in Paris – woo hoo!) but I’m not sure it’s in my best interests – or those of my kids – to try to keep up with European runway fashions. The truth is: Most of my time will be spent visiting kid-friendly attractions. I’ll also be going up and down many flights of dingy stairs as we get on and off the Tube or double-decker buses. So do I really want to be teetering around in a pair of uncomfortable heels, or worrying that the vagrant in the subway might try to snatch my ‘Coach’ purse? No thanks. I’ll stick with my Columbia walking shoes and my MEC satchel if it means I can move around with ease and comfort; plus that’s more my style anyway.
Think like a kid
As a parent, I am constantly on the go. So the thought of sitting on a plane – while someone else brings me a beverage of MY choice – seems like pure bliss. Give me a neck pillow and I’m good to go. Not so with kids; unlike us, little people have endless energy and abhor being dormant for long. Of course on a plane, there is no choice; so you’ve got to think ahead and keep it fresh. One thing I did is to buy them each a new activity book; I found them at Costco for about $8 each. More than a simple colouring book, these have all sorts of educational activities; they are designed to help kids prepare for their next year in school. Since the apple never falls far from the tree, our kids are of the geeky variety that actually love homework so this is a treat for them.
Speaking of treats, don’t forget those; hungry kids equals cranky kids. There is always the possibility of unexpected delays with travel, so have some nourishing snacks on hand like nuts (our girls love almonds and cashews), granola bars, mini pitas or crackers. (Fruit and veggies are great, but bear in mind they are not permitted through customs so you’ll have to snack on them in the car or during check-in.) Stash a secret supply of Smarties or lollipops in your purse in case you need a quick fix for a fussy child. Don’t forget the water; air circulation is always brutal on planes and you’ll dehydrate if you’re not drinking frequently.
If your kids love their screen time as much as ours do, think about bringing a portable DVD player (with a few fave movies) or an iPad with some fun games. A small, blank pad of paper and a bag of crayons and markers, ‘Go Fish’ playing cards and dry-erase books are other entertainment ideas.