Travelling with little ones: what to pack

When it came to packing for our trip to South Africa, I did a lot of research on Pinterest about packing light and what to pack for my two young boys (N is 3 and 4 months, and W is 20 months).  I found some great blogs and websites that helped a lot, but most of them were from the US (where I guess people take a lot more domestic long haul flights) and weren’t entirely relevant to me as a UK mum.

So I thought it might be helpful if I gave some details about what I packed, in the hope that it will help another stressed-out, pre-holiday mum!

Overall, we packed reasonably light, thanks to the copious lists and outfit coordinations I made in the weeks running up to our departure. (I drove J totally crazy with this over-organisation, leading him to leave me totally in charge of all packing.  Is there such a thing as a Mumzilla or a Wifezilla??!!  If so, I definitely came under that category.)

Clothes-wise, I limited J and I to 6 tops and 5 bottoms each.  We were then allowed 3 pairs of shoes, 10 pairs of pants, swimsuits, carefully selected accessories and pared down toiletries (I spent a fortune on miniatures in Boots!). For the boys, I packed 7 complete outfits each, with each outfit put in a ziplock bag with their initials on.  This was a bit of a faff to organise but it was totally worth it as they could just pull a bag out of the suitcase each day and we didn’t spend precious holiday time hunting down a pair of pants or a favourite t-shirt.  They had 3 pairs of shoes each  – sandals, trainers and slip-on pumps.  You probably only need 2 pairs for a standard holiday but we were going to a wedding so the pumps were a slightly smarter option.

Other useful things in our suitcases included:

  • Totseat – a fabric highchair that fits pretty much any dining chair and folds away into a compact bag.
  • 4 non-bio washing liquid capsules for those essential loads of washing I needed to do along the way
  • A torch – South Africa suffers from load shedding power outages and it gets really dark!
  • A couple of quick drying travel towels – versatile on the beach, around the pool, as an improvised sunshade in the car, the list goes on!
  • Lonely Planet guide book and socket adapter

Then it came to how many toys to pack, possibly the hardest part of the whole process!  I found a second-hand Trunki on eBay and decided that this would be the only baggage space allowed for toys so I had to think compact!  After much deliberation and a bit of forward planning, I settled on the following: IMG_1306

  • Blankets x 2.  These fab Skip Hop travel blankets were a gift from a friend and are perfect for travelling.
  • Cozy slipper socks.  We put the boys in their PJs before getting on the flight in the hope that they would sleep (pah!).
  • Headphones x 2.  These were bought on Amazon and were only £7 each.
  • Bedtime story books x 4.  These were too big for our Trunki so went in J’s hand baggage.
  • Doodle folders x 2.  I make these myself (shameless plug!) and each contains 8 crayons and a small colouring pad.  I took a large box of spare crayons in our suitcase so we had plenty.

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  • I also bought a cheap pack of mixed A5 paper and card from Hobbycraft so the boys could draw their own pictures.
  • Sticker books x 2.  One each and both on the theme of travel or airports.
  • Packs of stickers x 6.  I saved a few of these for our time in SA and the flight home.  N is mad about stickers and was happy for a really long time decorating his Trunki and making sticker pictures.
  • Toy planes x 3.  These are a set of 3 from ELC that join together with magnets.  We’ve had them a couple of years but they’re still firm favourites!
  • A small box of Lego.  I got out my glue-gun and stuck two small base boards to the lid of a plastic storage box.  The boys could then play with it on the plane without it all slip sliding off the tray table!

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  • A pack of dinosaur Top Trumps.  Picked up for £0.50 in a charity shop!
  • N’s binoculars.  Perfect for animal and plane spotting.
  • Magazines x 2.  Yet more stickers and quiet activities, plus a free gift!
  • Lacing cards.  Again, we already had these and I just hid them for a few weeks.
  • Flashcards x 2.  We had a large box of flashcards from ELC and I took two packs (animals and colours), punched holes in them and joined them with a shoe lace so we didn’t lose any.
  • Jigsaws x 2.  Planes jigsaw was picked up for £0.99 at a charity shop and the Peppa Pig one was £2 from Home Bargains.
  • Car roll.  I made this just before we went away and N loves it. It has pockets for 4 cars and rolls up really small.

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  • Mini board books x 5.  W is all about books at the moment so we took a selection of In the Night Garden, Mr Men and Thomas books.
  • A small ball
  • Busy Airport book.  We’ve had this a while but both boys love it and it helped them understand what was going on at the airport.
  • Happyland figures x 6.  These were bought from eBay for pennies.

We took the Trunki as N’s hand baggage but it is not the easiest thing to get into on a plane, so we also filled a smaller bag for each of them that could go into our hand baggage and be pulled out quickly in case of toddler meltdown!  Their favourite teddies could also go into these bags.

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And just to prove that all of this can fit into the Trunki, here’s the proof! IMG_1316

I think the most important tip to take from all of this is that we didn’t spend a lot of money at all.  Some of the items we already had and simply hid them from the boys for a few weeks before we flew so that they were still interesting.  Other items were picked up for pennies at charity shops, Home Bargains (love this shop) or on eBay.

And the second tip is that you won’t need as much stuff as you think.  You will pick things up on your travels. If you’re lucky your accommodation might provide some toys (we stayed in a fab holiday home with a kids’ room packed with activities and toys).  And if you’re not this lucky, I discovered that most large cities have a baby exchange – a place that loans anything from pushchairs to boxes of toys for the length of your trip.  Amazing!

And on the subject of pushchairs, we checked ours in for the duration of our two connecting flights.  Most big airports have pushchairs you can borrow – definitely Birmingham and Paris Charles de Gaulle offer these.  But I also wanted to take a baby sling for W in case he was tired.  I invested in a Boba Air as it is really lightweight and folds into its own pouch which will then slip into your hand baggage.  It came in really handy both at the airport and in South Africa.

W was on my lap for the flight so did not have a full hand baggage allowance but I was allowed to take a small change bag for him.  As the nappy clutch was in my bag, I took our Skip Hop Zoo lunch bag filled with snacks and the boys’ sippy cups.  This bag clipped onto either mine or J’s hand baggage so didn’t give us anything more to carry.

A really quick mention about my hand baggage – I found a fab checklist at Outift Posts.  (This site also has some great ideas of clothes to pack for different types of holiday.)  I included pretty much everything on her list and added my nappy clutch, sudocrem and some Calpol sachets.

Phew, so that’s it, my comprehensive packing guide for a holiday with wee ones!  I really hope you’ve found it helpful!

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