How to pack for a long journey with children

Our trip lasted for 71 days, across 5 countries with a wide range of climates : chilly summits, heavy rains, dry deserts, rainy cities and sunny beaches. We planned on living in hotels, houses and a motor-home. I needed to pack for two adults and two children, aged 2 and 6, keeping in mind that we would only have four arms and two backs to carry everything !

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LUGGAGE

– bags :

Our choice was to travel as light as possible. We decided to take 2 Eastpack bags with 2 wheels and telescopic handles (80 litres) and a small buggy. Also, two back-packs, one medium and one small.

For the buggy, I had a choice between the Volo (approx. 5kg) or the Triumph from Mac Laren (approx 6.5kg). I took the Triumph because it was lighter and more practical. It reclines for nap time and offers a better protection against rain and sun.

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The bags were big containers with no compartments which gives more flexibility. I divided our clothes and belongings into Muji garment cases of various sizes. One for each traveler + one for the toys + one for the camping gear + one for the electronic devices. For toiletries, we used one big pouch from Eagle Creek and one small case for the children. It allowed us to pack and unpack quickly without creating too much of a mess. It was also really helpful when we were in separate rooms, as we each had our own gear easy to carry from one place to another. Having two toiletry kits is also very convenient if you are not in the same room for a couple of nights or if you only need a quick wash and don’t want to take everything out of your bag.

And last, but not the least, the Ergo baby carrier . Light and adjustable to carry our baby on our backs, hip or front. Very useful for the treks, but also to rock our daughter to sleep in planes. I did not take the rain cover as our daughter had an overall suit that would protect her from the wind and rain.

Usually, my husband would pull both wheeled bags and carry a back-pack while I would push the buggy, carry the bag-pack and give a hand to our son.

– clothes and other belongings :

I thought we packed light. We only had a large Muji filet per person which I thought was quite an achievement for such a long journey. Now I know that we had twice the quantity of clothes we needed !
I planned for extreme weather as we were traveling in different season, from early spring to late autumn depending on the hemisphere. We were lucky and never had pouring rain nor bitter cold. In the end, the temperatures were always between 10 and 35 degrees Celsius, meaning T-shirts and light trousers were ok for every occasion.

If I were to do it again, I would pack lighter and leave some space to add souvenirs or appropriate gear we could have found during the trip : a new bathing suit in Australia, a nice wool jumper in New-Zealand, new toys in Japan, a shirt in Hawaii etc…

As we stayed in very safe and Occidental type countries, we could find anything anytime : tooth brush, baby-formula, nappies, etc. Other needs were easily met, except for some baby food in Japan and in some very remote places in Australia and New-Zealand.

– Toys :

I think it was really important to take as many toys as possible (two Medium compartments from Muji) as the children were sometimes a bit disoriented and home sick. But remember toys can be fragile and heavy. In the end, we lost many toys along the way and we were glad that none of them were irreplaceable.

For our son :
I asked him to choose 5 cars and planes (not his favourite ones though!), a couple of books, (I recommend you select one story about an adventure around the world. We read Robinson Crusoe and it was a total success), some cards, a diary and crayons. He also took his own camera, a small brain game and a ball to play outside.

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For our daughter :
I took some “little people” from her collection and a couple of accessories to go with. A pouch with plastic animals, one cuddly toy, her tiny baby and her blanket from home. For the bath and the beach, some nesting cups, a couple of small shovels and rake, some bubbles to blow.

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Her three favourite books, in pocket edition, would gave us the opportunity to maintain a routine around bed time, wherever we were.

On the way, in airports, museums souvenirs shops or market places, we regularly let them choose some small toys to take along and some new books. This would keep them busy and happy, reward their patience, and give them a way to remember specific places.

In Hawaii, we met parents that gave us the beach and pool stuff they had bought for their children because they were living the next day. We did the same when we left.

CHECKING-IN

In terms of weight, the allowance varies depending on the company you are flying with (and your airline frequent flyer status). We took 15 flights, with many different companies, national or low cost, all with different rules. We also experienced how the rules evolve depending on who you are dealing with at the check-in desk. Some people were very comprehensive and helpful, some were just applying the rules with no empathy whatsoever.

As we had 4 tickets every time we were flying, the total weight allowed was around 80 kilos, but each bag had to be less than 23 to 20 kilos depending on the carrier.

Ours were a little overweight (around 24 kg each). As a result, we had to negotiate every time we checked-in. If we were do to it again, we would make sure our bags are never heavier than 22 kg.

Some members of the staff did not even mention the overweight as we had only two bags for 4 seats, some asked for money or gave us the possibility to unload and check-in a third bag. This is why I strongly recommend you also take a medium size back-pack (50 litres). In several occasions, we took 4 or 5 kilos out of our main bags and stuffed it in the back-pack at checked-in. Another useful trick is to keep in one of the back-pack pockets another tiny bag (ultra light, folded in its own pocket). In the situation where you need to check-in the big 50 litres backpack, you can load your tiny light one with the stuff you need for your flight : food, toys, nappies, ipad…

Regarding the buggy : most of the airline companies allowed us to keep the buggy until we boarded the planes. It can be helpful but it means that you might have to wait at destination without knowing when (or where) the buggy will be handed back to you. It sometimes is taken back to the airplane door, sometimes placed on the baggage carrier belt with all the other luggage, some other times it is placed at the “over-sized” item counter. Finding out where and when can be a waste of time. So make sure you ask a member of the staff instead of waiting at the wrong place and if your child is not too tired already, you might check the buggy in and let the child walk or use the baby carrier instead.

ON BOARD

Children food :

I don’t like traveling without any food for the children as I don’t want to rely on the meals served on board : there might be nothing available (some low cost carriers don’t serve anything, some other companies serve only what was pre-ordered), the timing might be wrong or the children might just not like the menu. As a hungry child can become really miserable and cause a lot of stress, I tend to always pack a fresh snack and some puree in pouches (Ella’s kitchen type). But in some countries, like New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii, the quarantine is very strongly enforced, which means you will have to throw away any fresh food before you go through customs. I asked several times what “fresh food” meant to them as I wasn’t sure my purees and organic meals would be a problem. The short answer is: any manufactured food which is properly sealed can go through customs. Any opened pouch or fresh fruit is to be disposed of.

Another problem might occur with security services. First, they will ask you to put the baby food in a tray which means that you will have to open your bags, load and unload, again and again. In some places (London for instance), they will even ask you to open the pouches and bottles and take a sip in front of them, in order to prove that you are carrying proper baby food and no other illegal substances. The result is that your pouch is wasted if your child does not eat it soon after it has been opened.

With that in mind, I usually put these “goodies” in my small back-pack :

– a couple of pouches of fruit purees;
– two meals in a pouch;
– two apples;
– some pretzels or light snack;
– some water (each child has her/his own water bottle);
– the right quantity of formula milk for 3 bottles + a bottle filled with the right amount of water;
– some sweets as a reward for good behaviour.

I would fit all of this in an insulated lunch-box, to be able to take everything out at once, for security checks.

Entertainment :

We had two ipads, one “big” and one “mini”, and our two iPhones, each loaded with our children’s favourite TV programs and documentaries about the places we were going to visit. Many downloaded apps (scrabble, puzzles, flash cards, flight simulators, etc) so the children could vary the activities and keep entertained during long flights. Before the longest flights or commutes, we would load new movies or apps. To go with those “virtual” activities, I had a small pouch with tiny plastic animals for our daughter and we would play for hours, just taking them all out and then back in the pouch, naming them or inventing stories.

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For our 6 year old son, die cast cars and planes would do the trick. Of course, crayons and paper were very handy too and books helped us keeping the bedtime routine.

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A piece of advice : don’t give the children any electronic device before the plane is up in the sky. As the staff will ask you to shut it down a couple of minutes before take off, your children may get upset to be interrupted and start screaming to get the screen back. Instead, keep them busy with reading the safety instruction or with some of the tiny toys I mentioned earlier.

Baby Carrier :

I always had the baby-carrier in my cabin back-pack.

We created a specific routine for our baby to fall asleep on a plane. I would wait for the meal to be served and taken away and when all the passenger would start watching a movie or prepare for sleep, I would put the baby on my back, in her ergo baby carrier and start rocking her, standing up in the aisle. I would also sing “Old mac Donald” as many times as needed, in a very soft voice. It would put her to sleep in minutes and she would usually not wake up before the plane landed.

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Some passengers traveling with babies use a car seat. I never tried it, even though we added a car seat to our luggage along the trip. We checked it in, and chose to have a regular seat on the plane for our daughter. She never complained, appreciated the freedom of movement she would not have had with a car seat, slept easily every time and we did not have to struggle to adjust a car seat onto the plane seat. I think it also give a little more space to whoever is sitting next to the baby. I would probably have considered a car seat for a younger baby, that would have not been able to sit on her/his own.

If you have any question, leave us a message and I will be happy to help.

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Summing up

Summing up the big adventure :

– 15 flights
– 72 days
– 71 nights
– 17 hotels
– 2 houses
– 1 apartment
– 10 cars
– 1 motorhome
– many trains, shuttles and subways of all kind
– 4 helicopters
– 1 ferry
– 1 ferry-chain
– 3 boats
– 6 kayaks
– more or less 216 meals in restaurants and cafes
– approximatively 50 000 kilometres
– and so many good memories…

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Coming back

After 3 flights and 27 hours of travel, we landed in Paris 3 weeks ago.

It was weird, but also very pleasant to be suddenly immersed in a well known environment that was actually feeling exotic again ! This gave us part of the answer to a question we had in mind for a long time : How does it feel to go back to a normal life and routine after such a long, rich and exciting journey ?

Of course, we were very happy to see family and friends. The children had missed their grand-parents a lot and seeing them reunited was deeply moving. We were also very glad to have access to a kitchen and a fridge full of French goodness. Alvar and Austine were excited to be back into their own little world again : their books, toys, games, scooters and bikes,

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playing with a plane instead of taking another long flight.

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Personally, I needed a break from packing and queuing at airport security counters and Ben was ready for action after 3 months away from the office.

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Being 24/24 – 7/7 together in either the same room, the same car, or the same plane can sometimes be really oppressing. We were therefore very glad to have some time alone, the parents without the children, the children without their parents, the wife without the husband, the brother without the sister and vice-versa.

Physically, it took us nearly a week to recover from the last stretch. Austine was jet-lagged for a while, and we are still struggling to put her to bed at a reasonable time at night. Our backs suffered from lifting suitcases, carrying backpacks and our 12kg baby girl. It was nice to “unload”.

Regarding the routine, it hasn’t struck us yet as we are still in between places. As some of you may know, we are about to move to Seattle. Ben went first, and is now completing his first week as an immigrant to the “US of A”. We will be following August 15th. In the meantime, we are packing our stuff (yet again!) and sending it all by boat.

This means there was a lot of paperwork waiting for us when we got back. This was a not so good part of “coming home”. Dealing with the American visa, the leak in our toilets, the moving company, or the pile of invoices waiting to be paid, together with an emergency trip to Ikea to buy a bunk-bed for the children was somewhat of a shock after all the freedom we experienced.

When you come back, it is quite difficult to speak about such a journey. It has been such a long adventure, you can’t possibly talk about every place you’ve seen, every anecdote you’ve encountered on the way. Also, you don’t want to insist too much on how lucky you were to live such an adventure when your relatives and the rest of the world were working hard and enduring a very long and depressing winter. So you briefly sum up your discoveries in a few words, which is quite a shame when you think about all the exceptional and the magnificent places we have seen. Anyway, words are too small to describe the world, the feelings, the experience. So I hope the pictures will help us share and remember every minute of this special time in our life. There are thousands of them, that I need to edit and print in a book. A project for the gloomy winter, when we will remember how lucky we were to spend 11 weeks together on the other side of this gorgeous planet.

To those who followed our adventure, thank you very much for your attention and comments. We will be continuing the blog throughout the summer, until we get to Seattle and after, to keep in touch with friends, family and relatives.

“The big adventure” continues,  and will let you know about our life in the Pacific Northwest.

But for now, it is all about enjoying the French summer !

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Hawai’i – Big Island

As we are flying from Honolulu to Seattle, I finally take some time to write about our exotic and relaxing stay in Hawai’i. Out of the eight islands, we picked Big Island because it was less crowded than Maui or Oahu, because it was the youngest of all islands and it offered a rare opportunity to discover an active volcano.

This tiny portion of land, lost in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (11 hours from Sydney and nearly 6 hours from mainland USA) “hosts” no less than 5 volcanoes. Some are extinct, some dormant and expected to erupt anytime soon, and one of them, Kilauea, has been active and erupting non-stop since 1984.

Because of all this volcanic activity, the West Coast of the island looks like the surface of the moon.The ground is covered in ancient lava flows that are not yet eroded because of the lack of water, whereas on the North and East coast, dense tropical forest, waterfalls and lush fields are watered daily by heavy rains.

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Big Island has only a few natural beaches, some made of white sand, and most others of black sand. These places are little gems where we spent great moments with the children. It was the first time in our trip that we could swim in warm and welcoming waters. No jellyfish, no sharks, no crocodiles, no strong and freezing austral currents. Finally !

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We took a couple of videos at Kua Bay so you can share the moment. (video will come later… still editing)

We were staying in a very nice resort on the West coast, an artificial oasis surrounded by petrified lava fields.

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Even the beach was man-made, with sand imported from Australia. This did not seem to be a problem for the Hanu turtles, a local endangered species that we met regularly on the shore or in the water.

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AlvarconcheApart from enjoying the pool and beaches, we took our fourth helicopter tour to visit the island and fly over Kilauea. Tatata helicoAlvar helicodash

This spectacular flight took us right above a secondary crater (a Puu) where the eruption has been taking place for the last 30 years. The magma fills up the crater and lava flows towards the sea. The eruption has destroyed a entire village, that has been partially rebuilt since, and destroyed again in 2011. Segments of roads and some trees are still visible in some places. Everywhere else, nothing but a patchwork of rock fusion.

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These apocalyptic views were another eloquent illustration of nature’s power. We felt small and fragile when flying in our light helicopter over this 2,000 degrees furnace emanating directly from the center of the Earth. What a great geography lesson for Alvar ! More memorable than the already very exciting classroom volcano eruption made of baking soda and vinegar 😉

After 9 weeks of adventure, we are now approaching the end of our trip. If we initially planned to go to New-York, we recently changed our minds and decided to stop by Seattle so we all can have a look to the place we will soon call home. Alvar will meet with his future classmates and teachers at the French American School of Puget Sound, we will all take a tour of the area, visit a few houses and hopefully find the one we need for the next couple of years.

Seattle will be our last stop before coming home to Paris. We are all excited to be just a few days away from seeing family and friends again, indulging in homemade cuisine and putting a halt to the routine of packing and unpacking. We are already nostalgic when thinking back on all the wonderful moments we shared in such beautiful places. Now that we are certain Alvar and Austine are great little adventurers, we will definitely do it again, whenever the opportunity arises. We just need a little time to think about the itinerary.

So long Australia !

Back in Sydney after a week in Western Australia and 36 hours in the red center.

We went to see the Pinnacles, driving from Perth to Cervantes, enjoying sand dunes, endless beaches and bush-lands on the way. We also shared the road with the famous road-trains (55 meter long trucks), porcupines, emus and kangaroos.

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For a change, after so many outdoors experiences, we visited the juvenile block of the Fremantle prison which was a rather creepy experience. Children from 8 to 17 were detained in those tiny cells (2.5m x 1.5m), until the 90’s.

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Last Thursday flew out of Perth to Alice Springs. After a night there, we hit the road for a 5 hour trip into the red center. As it was 6 in the morning when we left, the children were fast asleep at the back of the car until we got to “Rainbow Valley” and enjoyed a camp-style breakfast. Another 3 hours and we were right in the middle of Australia, facing this famous, mysterious rock : Uluru.

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Before heading out, we asked ourselves if it was worth two flights and a 6 hour drive to see, well, a big rock in the middle of nowhere. Seeing it from a distance and then, standing near the rock’s walls, we can say without a doubt that the trip is well worth it. There is definitely something special about this place, mysterious and powerful.pointing

The rock is like a magnet in this empty space. Temperature rises above 35 degrees, even in late Autumn. The sun is hitting hard on you, so you just instinctively want to protect yourself in the rock’s shade. You want to go closer and touch its surface as this block of material looks surreal in the middle of this emptiness. And once close, you can almost fell it live.

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The only sign of life was millions of flies (they were so many, in order to walk, we protected ourselves with Muji travel cases).

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After a night at the Ayers Rock Resort, where we gazed at the most starry sky we ever saw, we were all a little relieved to fly away from this sandy, almost hostile, furnace.

Tomorrow, we are flying back in time. Leaving Sydney around 8pm on Sunday, we will reach Honolulu at 8am the same day. One more day of fun !

Far West

A whole week without a post ! Western Australia is so remote that cell phone coverage is a scarce modern luxury. So here is a long post, to sum up our quick tour of gigantic South-West Australia.

 

We arrived in Perth a week ago. This town made a strange impression on us. It sometimes feelt like the people here are still early settlers (the city was founded in 1829). Many young people and backpackers. A lot of asian migrants. There is a “central business district” with tall  buildings and a few luxury stores which highly contrast with the rest of the place. Nightlife may be rockin’, but we wouldn’t know going to bed at 9:30 on a late night (the untold joys of parenting)!

We took possession of our motorhome last Wednesday, and headed towards Bunbury, a small seaside town.

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We spent our first night on a beach parking lot, met some wild kangaroos at dusk and woke up enjoying a desert beach with a soft pink sky.

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Beautiful.

The excursion of the day was an encounter with the bottlenose dolphins. The cruise was rather boring and observed the mammals for an hour. Needless to say this did not quite meet our expectations.

We then took the enormous motorhome to another small town by the sea, Busselton. This place is “famous” for its very long jetty (1,7 km, the longest in the southern hemisphere) above shallow water and its marine observatory.

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We celebrated Anzac day (a day to comemorate the efforts of Australian and New-Zealander soldiers) in a local campground. We had just been told that free-camping wasn’t allowed in the town or anywhere else in the area. This made us quite unhappy as we had planned to avoid the commercial campgrounds as much as possible. Even though we appreciate the need to preserve nature and support the tourism industry, it was upsetting to be forced to promiscuity in a region where there is nothing but space.

In the morning, we visited the underwater observatory and took the road to visit beaches near Margaret River. The shore was superb, no one on the sand but dozens of surfers on giant waves.

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A few beaches later and following the visit of an enormous cave, we felt we had enough and decided to go South, to see the famous Karri trees in the d’Entrecasteaux National Park. After 3 hours on the only highway, we made it to Walpole, near Nornalup. Forest everywhere, red earth, gigantic trees (an average 40 metres high), dusty and bumpy roads (not suitables for 6 berths Motorhomes) leading to wild austral beaches. Once again, we felt lost in the immensity of the Australian territory. We spent the night at the Nornalup campground, next to a gorgeous inlet inhabited by pelicans and kangaroos. A fire kept us all warm and happy and gave the children a chance to feel what a proper camping experience should be.

Unfortunately, at 3 in the morning we woke up at the sound of heavy rain drops on the roof of our mansion on wheels. The rain kept pouring until mid-morning, giving everything a gloomy feel. We went to a treetop walk, then to Mandalay beach, before deciding to take the camper van back to Perth and change our plans.

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We had enough of the giant trees, the sun wasn’t showing up and the prospect of spending an evening in the mud tipped the scales. We arrived in Perth late at night, found a hotel and all went to bed in a comfortable and dry environment.

The next morning, the challenge was to find a car wash that could accomodate a 3.4 meter high truck, in order for Ben to clean the incriminating traces of our off-road safari to Mandalay beach. The rental agreement specified that we were not allowed to use the motorhome on any other surface but asphalt (yet the majority of natural parks and pristine beaches in WA are accessible via unpaved roads). As a result, our immaculate white motorhome was covered with a thin layer of red dust – proof if there is any of our off-road excursions. 5 car washes later, the problem was solved.

We took the monster back to its owner and felt much lighter and free with the “tiny” SUV we rented for the rest of our stay.

Our plans for now are to enjoy a little time in Perth (we visited two museums today and the brain food was welcomed after all this time immersed in nature) and to go for day trips in the North and on the coast, before taking our flight to Ayers Rock on Thursday.

This is probable due to the fact that we saw so many natural wonders already but felt the South-Western area did not have much to offer in comparison with what we experienced in Northern Australia or in New Zealand. As for the motorhome, it was more a burden than anything else as we could not immerse ourselves in natural settings as we had hoped.

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The National Parks were not as well equiped as the ones we visited in the USA some years ago and were not suitable for this type of vehicule. Also, it felt we were spending far too much time “housekeeping” everytime we wanted to move around. To sum up, if we were to do it again, we would rent a 4WD, with a big trunk and a cooler and would spend the nights in the lodges or motels on the way. But no regrets, as it gave Alvar the opportunity to experiment this mode of transportation he dreamt of for months.

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Tomorrow, depending on the mood, we will either go to Pinnacles to see unusual limestone formations in a desert or to Fremantle to visit the only World Heritage building on the West Coast : a prison !