1. Train them to sleep anywhere: This is more of a pre-preparation. Most advice focuses on creating the ideal sleeping environment. While helpful, it doesn’t allow your child the benefit of one of the biggest gifts you can give them for their whole lives—being able to sleep anywhere. This is usually easier if you breastfeed and co-sleep. For handy tips see The African Guide to Co-sleeping.
2. Relax: Children are great stress detectors and if you are stressing about the trip it is more than likely they will too. On the other hand, if you are relaxed and excited about the trip they will pick up on that and it will make the trip more enjoyable for all.
3. Write a packing list: Many of the things you will need for your journey you use day-to-day. Write a comprehensive list to ensure that you do not forget anything.
4. Strategic packing: From about the age of three, children can help to pack their own things (my daughter will even remind me if I have forgotten something); however, pack all the critical things when children are asleep to avoid the, “but I want to play with that NOW!”
5. Better to have more: Food. Many meltdowns can be avoided if children are rested and fed (and so are you). Always pack more food than you need and never assume that you will be able to get any en route. As a rule of thumb, I carry about a three-day supply for a day trip.
6. Establish a rhythm as soon as you arrive: Ideally this should be close to the rhythm you have at home. It gives the children (and you) an anchor from which your ship can safely drift.
7. Remember the 80/20 rule: Countries that have more specialized facilities for children are 80% easier to travel around in terms of logistics but only 20% in terms of friendliness and accommodating children. Countries that have less to offer by the way of specialized facilities for children are 80% friendlier and accommodating of children but offer only 20% in ease of logistics.
8. Slow down: The journey is always so much more pleasant if you travel at children’s speed. So it may mean driving or taking a train instead of flying. Make a long list of everything that you would like to do on your travels and then strike off most of it, allowing yourself just one thing a day. Not only is that achievable but it stops you from rushing around and having grumpy children as a result. Don’t forget to give even the youngest children choices about what they might like to do—they could take you on adventures that you would not have chosen yourself.
9. Befriend the cooks: The first people I make friends with wherever I am staying is the waiting and kitchen staff. Ask to meet the cook. If you have made a personal connection, it is much easier to get meals made to your specifications and at the time you require them. Self-catering is usually easiest with younger children but not always possible.
10. Sea, sand, sleep: If nowhere else, go to the seaside. The world’s biggest sandpit always makes for a fun holiday. It is educational and an easy way for children to spend most of their time outdoors. If it is hot and you have a child whom you are potty training, it is a surefire way to make it all go that much faster. There are so many types of beaches, which mean a lifetime of varied escapes.