We do love driving and exploring new places as a family. My two children, Paige and Ethan, are pretty good with travelling in the car. They know that the trip usually ends up at a place they enjoy and a reward for being good at the end. For longer trips it includes a sleep in the car and hours of playing eye-spy, with the same answers over and over again.
It’s not always plain sailing (or driving), and we have had our share of tears, vomit and dirty nappies. Ethan has yet to fly, however Paige has made a few plane trips, which have also included vomit. Poor Paige, she suffers from motion sickness like I do. Oh the joys of travelling with kids!
Travelling with kids
On each trip, I have learnt what to pack, what to leave at home and how to keep the family happy as possible on our adventures. What I pack will, of course, depend on where we are going to, and will no doubt change as the kids get older. For now, these are my top 10 items to pack when travelling with kids around the country. Do you have any other essential items on your packing list?
1. Car seats
We take car safety seriously and always ensure the kids are buckled up. I’m also part of a local campaign called CarseatFullstop, which educates parents on the use of car seats. The kids use booster seats with head support which not only provide protection in an accident, they are also super comfy to sit in too. Knowing the kids are strapped in, and not bouncing around the back seat, also makes the trip more relaxing for the driver.
In South Africa, it is illegal to travel in a car with a child under 3 years old not strapped into an approved child safety seat. Every person in a car needs to be safely restrained with a car safety belt or appropriate child restraint. Road accidents happen, and increase during peak and holiday times.
Stay safe and always buckle your children in with a car seat, until at least the age of 11 years. If you are visiting the country, please speak to your car hire agent about renting a car seat or enquire with a local baby equipment hire company.
2. Car window shade
Sunny South Africa does get hot and we want to keep the kids cool and happy in the back. A car window shade keeps the back seat cooler and keeps the sun out of their eyes. It can also prevent sunburn, especially on longer trips.
We have tried all sorts, and we now use Magic Mesh. My advice, is to use a product that your child can’t pull off the window, does not interfere with the driver’s vision, and provides adequate cover. Please don’t use a towel or blanket, as they block the driver’s and your child’s vision out the window.
3. Maps and Travel Books
My kids love having their own brochures and maps for the road. I’m always sure to pick up extra copies at information centres, so they have material to look at and even try give dad some directions.
Pick travel books, colouring activities and sticker books which are age-appropriate and have a similar theme to your trip. For older children, let them choose a a travel journal, or encourage them to send postcards to family and friends.
No matter the age, we all like our toys. Whether it’s dad and his bike, the teenager with their tablet, or the toddler with his truck, holidays are more fun when we have the items we like to play with.
I have a go-bag ready for the kids filled with colouring books and crayons, toy phones, foldable track and cars, and of course their favourite soft toys for bedtime.
On game drives, I pack along their kids binoculars and ‘ranger’ badges. You may also want to buy a toy at your destination, as a keepsake or gift.
Our iPad has been a favourite distraction when it comes to keeping kids entertained and relaxed after a day of travelling. I download a few shows from ShowMax to watch offline, and it gives mom and dad a few minutes of peace to unpack the car, make dinner or put our feet up.
We don’t use the iPad in the car however, because Paige gets sick and we prefer to keep it for when we really need it as a distraction. Even though we are on holiday, a little screen time doesn’t hurt and usually keeps everyone happy. Obviously, you need to limit it as your see fit and which is age-appropriate.
6. Travel itinerary
We have yet to have a lie in with the kids, and early mornings on holiday are a given. The kids want to get up and moving, so I find it’s best to be ready and have a plan for the day. This helps me decide what to pack and field the multitude of questions from the kids – “what are we doing today, where are we going, what are we going to see, are we going to see a lion? …” We do still like to go off the beaten track and can change plans along the way, but at least we have some direction to start.
Research the available activities beforehand to see if they are age-appropriate and fit your budget. Activities can get pricey when paying for a family or you may not have time to do them all, so discuss with the kids which activities they would like to do. Find out their opening and closing times, and plan accordingly.
Skip the queues at popular attractions by booking online, and often benefit from online discounts. Popular restaurants and tasting venues also get busy during peak seasons, so I recommend booking a table in advance.
Whether you have a written itinerary or keep it in your head, it pays to be prepared with kids.
What’s padkos? It’s the Afrikaans word for food taken to eat on a journey. Pad = road and kos = food. Pack water bottles, healthy snacks and a few treats as well. I take a lunch box each for the kids, and fill it with snacks for the day. Once empty, that’s it until tomorrow.
Along with a roll/sandwich, I buy snack sized packs of Cheddars/biscuits/dried fruit/biltong and Smarties as a treat. I prefer water, but also include one box apple juice in case they want it. Pack what suits your family, and what keeps you full and hydrated.
8. Sun protection
Pack hats and sunscreen for the whole family. The South African sun is strong, and protect your kids’ skin by applying high factor sunscreen regularly. Many a holiday has been ruined by sunburn, so ensure you pack after-sun as well. If you plan on spending time on the beach, consider packing a sun canopy/umbrella for shade.
9. First aid/medication
If you have every had a medical emergency or just need to visit a pharmacy, but are hours away from town, you soon appreciate the value of packing a first aid kit. It may have been the painful 4 hours of driving on a gravel road with a bladder infection years back, or the fear of being stuck in the middle of nowhere with a sick kid, but I never now travel without medication.
First aid kits are available at pharmacies or online, and buy the largest kit you can fit in your bag, which is designed for outdoor/travel use. The kit should contain the usual bandages, burn kit, antiseptic creams, antihistamine, paracetamol, eye drops, and gloves etc.
I also include pediatric medicines for pain, flu and coughs. Citro soda sachets are also a must for bladder infections and heartburn. Check all the items have not expired, and replace/refill when needed. Most importantly, pack the kit where you can access it in an emergency.
10. Unabridged birth certificate
Planning on travelling across South African borders with your kids? If so, you must pack your child’s Unabridged Birth Certificate, showing the particulars of BOTH parents, along with their passport. If only travelling with one parent, the other parent will need to produce an affidavit confirming their parental consent to such travel.
This law is meant to curb child trafficking, and not meant to be a burden on legitimate travel (even though still a fuss for parents). Always make certified copies of travel documents (this can be done at the Police Station), and keep copies in a safe place at home and in your luggage. Even better, safe a copy online in the Cloud so you can access anywhere, in case of theft/loss of luggage. We have yet to cross the border with our kids, but since this law is relatively new and unknown to many parents, I thought it important to add to the list.
This is not a sponsored post. All images are my own.