As you may imagine, with newborn twins, I didn’t venture too far in the early days. When at home, in the comfort of my house and carefully orchestrated routine, I found it fine and very manageable, and I must admit, a little boring (it was while on maternity leave that I discovered internet shopping). But going out on my own during the day with two babies, even up to a café or for a stroll, with all the packing and loading and unloading, was just exhausting. Plus the boys were terrible pram sleepers, they wanted their bed, so going out was often not peaceful.
Once past that tumultuous initial twin year, it was time to travel. Gingerly at first, short flights to the Gold Coast, Palm Cove, Port Douglas, then bravely moving on to Thailand and Hawaii. In those early days we’d fly to one spot, park ourselves there, and come home ten days or two weeks later. We didn’t really start the “city hopping” type travel till the strollers were ditched and the boys were happy to walk, eventually hitting mainland USA (tips for Disneyland in this post) and finally, Europe. I saw plenty of travellers in crowded cities like Paris and New York with small children and big prams – they are more courageous people than I was. But hey, twins gives you a slightly different view of life!
So here are a few things I’ve learned along the way. Some of these are general tips and not specific to children, but hopefully they’ll make your family adventure a little smoother. In no particular order
1. Bring a comfort item from home for bedtime. When the boys were little, it was a small blue blanket that they always slept with. These days it’s one of their plush character toys. In an unfamiliar hotel room or house, a little slice of familiar home can make bedtime easier.
2. Buy bright caps for the kids to wear when you are walking around. On our last few trips the Marito and the boys have worn their treasured bright red Ferrari caps. They walk faster than I do, so I would just look for the little three red hat cluster, it made it easy to track them down. This also comes in handy on the beach and in parks.
3. Once the kids start writing, get them to keep a little travel journal where they can write something every day. When they had just started school this was just one sentence every day, but on our recent USA trip it was pages. They are something to treasure but also they are often hilarious, reading descriptions and perspectives from a child’s eyes.
4. Where possible, book an overnight flight. The kids get on the plane, have something to eat, watch a movie and then have a good chunk of sleep. I also bring their PJ’s onto the plane to change into to help them get into a sleep mindset. Even though they are older now, day flights are still a bit of a challenge and seem interminable to them.
5. Pack a change of clothes for the kids on your carry on luggage – accidents and travel sickness happen.
6. Tie a bright ribbon or something unusual onto your checked in luggage – makes it much easier to identify in that sea of black on the carousel!
7. If you are staying somewhere more than a few days, try and find accommodation with a kitchenette. There are lots of hotels and resorts with kitchenettes these days, otherwise there are serviced apartments and of course Air BnB. I don’t like eating out for three meals a day and I don’t think kids can handle it either. This is especially so if you are travelling with toddlers, or a baby that needs pureed food.
8. If you do plan to eat out, contact the hotel in advance of your trip and ask for suggestions of family friendly restaurants, they are always happy to help. Then you can check out menus and locations in advance. OpenTable is fantastic for restaurant bookings in the US, or often the concierge will happily make bookings for you.
9. Another tip for eating out, bring something small to entertain the kids – and by this I don’t mean electronics. We do not let the boys bring their Ipads to restaurants, they can bring some pencils and paper or a small toy; it helps the time pass while they are waiting for their food, or if we have two courses and they only have one. Or, they can talk to their parents!
10. Make sure you take kids Panadol/Nurofen, bandaids, or other key medical items
11. Other things that come in handy – scissors (check in luggage), sticky tape (you never know what you’ll find that you want to pack and bring home!), zip lock bags. Any toiletries that may be prone to leaking, put them in a zip lock bag before putting them into your toiletry bag. I also always take washing powder and disposable gloves. Hotel laundry prices are just horrendous and I can’t fathom paying them. Otherwise look for a Laundromat.
12. I’ve discovered that a lot of hotels don’t have interconnecting rooms, particularly in Europe (or if they do they are extremely expensive). Some hotels do have “family rooms” which sleep 4 or 5 but there aren’t a lot of these so they tend to book out quickly. Plan ahead.
13. If your budget allows, book a driver at your foreign destination to pick you up at the airport. After a long flight, it is nice to have someone waiting who will haul the luggage and not have to find a taxi queue and just be deposited at your hotel. You can find plenty of companies on the internet that do this (such as Execucar in the US) or a travel agent can organise it for your; I generally find that if you organise it through your hotel it is a lot more expensive
14. If you’re doing a country hopping type trip which involves filling out lots of arrival cards with passport numbers, get a business card size piece of cardboard, write everyone’s passport number and expiry on it, and keep it in your wallet. It is a much easier thing to reference and much quicker than opening individual passports
15. Accept the fact that meltdowns will happen. They are kids and they are out of their familiar routine. I remember when the boys were three and we were coming back from Hawaii. It was a day return flight, they were tired and cranky, and our luggage took what seemed like forever to come out of the carousel. The boys went a bit bezerk. Do you best to distract them and calm them down, but don’t do nothing. There are other people around – it is not about what they think of you as a parent, it’s about common courtesy and consideration for others.
16. Line up a home grocery delivery to coincide with your arrival at home. That way you won’t have to scramble up to the shops as soon as you get home to get bread, milk, eggs and other basics.
17. Last of all, have fun! These are treasured family memories.