Last July, when my son was almost two years old, we decided to take a family trip to Iceland for my mom’s birthday. A seven-hour flight with a lap toddler (hey, we were going to milk that free seat until the day he turned two), a seven-hour time difference and the catch – Reykjavik in summer, which meant 24 hours of daylight. To a toddler, that means it’s never time to go to bed. So, to recap – daylight forever, jetlagged adults and a toddler who follows the nocturnal rhythms of the sun.
I have never been so grateful to see a fuzzy stuffed red monster in my life. Elmo to the rescue. Now, that ratty, orange-nosed toy is the first thing we put in our suitcase when we’re going on any trip longer than approximately 45 minutes long.
Over the years and trips with our son and nieces and nephews, here are a few must-haves that are always worth the space they take when you travel with your kids on planes, trains and automob
A comfort item that evokes the feeling of home: It could be Elmo, Baby Ganesh (luckily, comes in travel size also), a favorite blankie – something that makes that that hotel or Airbnb feel closer to home.
New toys: As much as kids strive consistency and routine, have you noticed how they almost never say to new toys? So naturally, the best time to introduce them to new toys isn't during Diwali or Christmas, but rather once you take off and your toddler becomes restless. For an added surprise element, you can wrap the toys in gift paper because it will help kill one whole extra minute during a seemingly never-ending flight.
A stroller: I know it sounds like an obvious thing to pack but there's a method to my madness in deciding which of my three (yes, three) strollers to bring on a trip. Yes, there's the cult-favorite UppaBaby that I've brought to Singapore because I knew 1) jetlag would cause naps at odd hours of the day, and I wanted to keep my daughter comfortable while we were on the go, and 2) Singapore is a great walkable city with easy to navigate streets, unlike just about any European city. Now having been to Italy, Portugal and Spain with my daughter, I can attest that the more charming a city is, the harder the streets are to navigate with a stroller. Which is why I also keep a separate travel stroller that's super light weight, compact, folds with one hand (this is key!), reclines sufficient for a nap, and provides decent shade during the day.
Medicine: Meds for the kids. Meds for you. All of the meds. Children’s aspirin, children’s melatonin to help with jet lag, a thermometer. Firstly, please check with your pediatrician before starting any new meds and make sure to write down dosage amounts for each child’s age/weight. Because it’s not fun to try to read tiny, back-of-the-bottle instructions in French and try to Google translate (also true story). Bonus points for adult aspirin (your will get a headache at some point). Also – do mini airplane shots count as meds? Take them anyway. Or a flask.
Electronics: I respect the limited screen-time rules, but I also strongly believe that those rules do not apply in international waters or airspace. You don’t have to rely solely on them, but bring on the iPads, learning games or even no-screen educational computers. And if your child is old enough, don’t forget headphones, because no one on your flight wants to hear “Wheels on the Bus” for the 600th time. Bring small books, too, and other portable non-electronic games.
A barf bag: Or more eloquently, a medical-grade emesis bag. Even if someone doesn’t actually puke, they are great for stashing dirty diapers and wipes before you can toss them.
Hand Sanitizer Wipes: Germs: can't live with them, can't live without them. They're an inevitable part of life, especially on airplanes, public restrooms, or public anything for that matter. That's why I keep a stash of wipes with me at almost all time because you've probably learned by now that life's messes rarely come announced.
Layers of clothes: I never intended to buy a $40 oversized hoodie from a visitor center on my way to see the Peña Castle in Portugal, but when we left our hotel it was a warm, sunny day. However, when we arrived at our destination, situated high in the midst of mountain ranges, we were severely undressed. While my husband and I sucked it up, we purchased a hoodie for our daughter. Lesson learned: always keep layers of clothes packed in your backpack.
Bottle warmer: OK, I admit, this one is totally subjective but since this blog is all about speaking from experience, here's mine: my daughter still drinks warm milk every morning and night. Since most hotel rooms don't come equipped with a microwave, bring a bottle warmer with you. In the past, we've used hot water from coffee machines but if your suitcase allows, pack this in!
Avani Nadkarni is a former journalist who currently works in tech PR and is forever navigating the tricky balance of trying to raise her child in the U.S. while teaching him about his Indian and Sri Lankan roots.