While I am busy getting myself and my family halfway around the world, I have asked a few friends to guest post for me. First up, Nancy from Heissatopia. Being prone to moving to far-away lands with small (and ridiculously cute) children in tow, Nancy is beyond qualified to tell you all about traveling with them. Step aside, rookies.
My husband is currently doing a field study program in Ghana, and though he has a well-planned itinerary for his entire trip he wrote home a few days ago and said, "True to third-world form, nothing went as planned today."
I will admit that life in a first-world country does seem to spoil people, comparatively speaking, but I think we could safely pare the sentence down to read, "true to...form, nothing went as planned today," and it would still maintain its veracity. Life throws you curveballs anywhere you live and it's your job to be ready to swing well enough to hit them.
While we were living in Egypt I came across an article in The Economist that suggested that people who live abroad approach life more creatively. I looked around our apartment and noticed the mosquito netting we had rigged above our beds, the homemade air conditioner we had attempted to construct, the tire on our jogging stroller that didn't quite match the others, the couches we'd nailed back together several times because they kept collapsing, the "railing" we'd added to our daughter's bed, the duck tape we'd used to prevent the bathroom door from latching all the way so you wouldn't get trapped inside...
I think you get the picture. We made a lot of creative fixes around our home because "proper" supplies were unobtainable, either because we didn't know where to find them or because they simply weren't available. Instead we improvised.
You've probably heard the adage "less is more," and that's my rule for packing, whether it's a weekend getaway or a trip across the Atlantic. Anything you forget can be improvised.
It's been harder to live up to this maxim after having children because children require so. much. stuff.
Still, I try to do my best.
I use cloth diapers a home, full time. They're wonderful because they are easy to use in a variety of situations. They are part burp cloth, part handkerchief, part bib, part sun bonnet, part diaper, part baby wipe, part washcloth. Name a job and it's likely they do it. They are certainly a daily staple of mine and make my diaper bag much lighter than it would be otherwise.
The only downside is that they necessitate washing, so when I go on an extended trip and know I won't have access to a washing machine I switch to disposables.
Still, being comfortable with cloth diapers was once a life-saver for me. A couple of summers ago we were traveling around Israel with our recently fully potty-trained daughter. When we were on our way to Nazareth she suddenly got violently ill. In the middle of an art gallery. It was classy.
She was feverish, vomiting, and miserable, and we were in Ceasarea (Maritima), which, in case you're not up to date on your Israeli geography, is in the middle of nowhere. We had no choice but to drive on and by the time we got to Nazareth it was late afternoon. I sent my husband out to find a fever-reducer, which he did, and then I started preparing our daughter for a nap. She was so sick that I didn't think she'd be able to stay dry while she slept—sickness can take a fully-potty trained child to a fully-diapered child in no time flat. We had no diapers and no time to go out hunting for any since this baby desperately needed a nap. So I pulled out a dirty t-shirt of mine, folded it into a makeshift diaper, slapped on a diaper cover we had serendipitously packed and we were good to go. That's what we did until she was better enough to sleep and stay dry; we used the shower to wash them out and let them air dry.
Problem solved...and I further developed my creativity—my ability to handle one of life's curveballs without having an emotional breakdown or forking out a million dollars.
Obviously not everything can be improvised and when you're traveling with children many things are actually essential. Here are a few things I can't live without:
a few toys (we take 10 small toys; it's an easy number to remember)
outfits that are highly interchangeable (think a top that could match with three bottoms or vise versa)
toothbrush and paste
baby wipes and/or hand sanitizer
crayons or pencils and a notebook
diapers (if necessary)
Most of the things that I think of as essential are to entertain children or to help children feel like they have a little bit of home with them or are hygienically necessary. Sometimes we'll bring a stroller or backpack to carry the child in, though that sometimes is more of a hassle than anything else. Sometimes we'll bring a few stories so that we can read instead of trying to make up stories when our brains are fried. Other than that I can't think of anything to add to the list unless you're planning on swimming.
I know people worry about traveling with kids; they're worried that they'll act up and won't appreciate what they're seeing and sometimes that's true. Sometimes it's my child screaming in her stroller at the Acropolis, or where have you; sometimes it's my child who loses her stomach in an art gallery; sometimes it's my child who wets her pants and has to walk around in them for the rest of the day because I didn't put an extra outfit in the diaper bag; sometimes it's my child screaming in the car/plane/bus/boat/train. Sometimes it's embarrassing.
Being a parent is embarrassing, anyway, so I figure I may as well go out and embrace the world.
My children have (hopefully) developed an appreciation for cultures other than their own, have been places many people will only ever dream of visiting, and have learned that screaming in public will earn them either disproving looks or lots of candy depending on where in the world we are.
If venturing into the world helps adults be more creative, as The Economist suggests (if you haven't read the article, go ahead and do it; it's short), it will likely do the same for children.
So if you're not headed for Europe, like Tamsin (lucky girl), there's still the world outside your door. Do something bold, do something daring—leave your hand sanitizer (or other security item) at home, go for a walk, and see what happens. If you're lucky, maybe nothing will go as planned. That's what we call an adventure.