We set off on our first overseas family holiday – to Sicily – with our 1-year-old and 3-year-old kids a few weeks back. I still have bad memories of working out what to pack for a previous holiday to Tuscany – my first ever trip with a baby (when I packed everything including the kitchen sink and got lumped with an excess luggage charge as a result) – so I tried to pack a bit more carefully this time around.
I’m pleased to report we didn’t go over our luggage weight limit this time, and managed to include our own child car seat in our allowance too (which saved a fortune – the cost to hire a car seat in-resort was coming out at around £100).
We finally bought one of those luggage scale things and managed to pack everything into two cases from Tripp’s Holiday 5 collection (I can’t recommend these enough – they’re the Mary Poppins handbags of the suitcase world – and they’re massively reduced at the moment). I’ll spare you the itemised versions of our wardrobes and all the usuals, but these are all the toddler-friendly things that made our holiday with two young children a whole lot easier. We were on a short-haul flight (3 hours) and stayed in a self-catering villa with a swimming pool for a week, so there may be some things on this list you could leave at home if you were going all-inclusive or staying at a resort that was specifically tailored to families.
What to pack for… the plane and airport
1. Portable DVD players. These were, without doubt, our best pre-holiday purchase. Possibly ever. It took a while to work out the best ones to buy but we settled on the LOGIK L9DUALM13 Dual Screen version and they kept the kids entertained throughout the flight and beyond (when it comes to air travel, any qualms about screen time go out the window in this family). Leave them on charge the night before you go.
2. DVDs and headphones. Whatever you do, don’t forget to pack some DVDs – preferably new ones so they’ll hold their attention for longer – and children’s headphones. Throw in a headphone splitter and if one of the DVD players dies or runs out of batteries you’ve still got options.
3. Activity books. We packed a few sticker books as well as Spot The Lot, which has become a bit of a travel favourite with the 3-year-old. Published by Lonely Planet, it’s full of holiday-related things to keep an eye out for, tick off and colour in while you’re on holiday.
4. A decent cabin bag. You can pack the contents of your hand luggage brilliantly, but if you can’t get to any of it because your bag is crap, you’re out of luck. Try a PacaPod baby changing bag if you have a baby in nappies (read my review of the Jasper luxury leather bag here), or Tripp’s Holiday Holdall, which is in the sale at £12 (from £50) and makes a great weekend bag, too.
And don’t forget…
5. Nappies, wipes and a travel mat, 6. food and snacks with minimal sugar (to prevent on-plane hypers – been there, got the t-shirt), 7. empty water bottles to re-fill, 8. passports, etickets and any essential paperwork, 9. a light change of clothes for food/wee-related accidents (the kids’, not yours – hopefully), 10. snuggly travel blankets if it’s a red-eye flight (these come with a little travel pillow and were a big hit with my two).
What to pack for… getting around
11. A buggy or stroller. We’ve been road-testing the Nitro LX from Joie Baby and have zero complaints about this travel-friendly stroller. It’s lightweight, umbrella folds, lies flat and looks pretty, so there’s not a lot to not like about it. On sale around the £85 mark in various shops, it’s a fair price if you want to invest in something that can withstand being bumped around in transit, and it’s overtaken our bulkier double buggy as the go-to stroller for quick trips to the shops or the park back at home.
12. A buggy shade. A wraparound UV fabric shade is handy if your stroller doesn’t offer a great level of shade from the sun. It just means you don’t have to worry about whether they’re covered up enough if they drop off (and end up making them hot by using a blanket for shade) or wake them by attempting to lather on suncream while they’re mid-snooze.
13. A car seat. We ended up taking one of our toddler car seats from home, and paying to hire a second one from the car hire company. It halved the cost and meant we weren’t lugging two seats around the airport. If you’ve got a child aged around 4 upwards (or 15kg+), Trunki’s BoostApak will be worth a look. We’ve used ours for emergency lifts when my eldest has been picked up by someone new from preschool, and it’s a clever bit of kit – it converts from a rucksack with storage space into a child booster seat, and fits hand luggage dimensions, so it’s ideal for taking on holiday.
14. A travel highchair. These portable fabric highchairs are so small you can keep them in your bag and use them in an emergency when you’re eating out. There are a few on the market but we used this chair harness by Gro when we found a little place serving up fresh arancini – big rice-and-meat balls the kids loved – on a daytrip to Ortigia.
15. A baby carrier. There’ll be a period of time in between getting off the plane and actually getting hold of your buggy again – usually from oversized baggage – where you’ll be left with free-range (and probably tired) kids. If you’ve got a child young enough to go in a carrier, pack it in your hand luggage and it’ll be a life-saver. If not, toddler reins might be an idea – I found these handy for the youngest when my husband had gone off to get the bags and both kids decided to go a bit feral.
And make sure you’ve got…
16. Details of where you’re going, 17. window shades if you’re hiring a car, 18. driver’s licence, 19. Sat Nav, 20. travel sickness pills if you need them.
What to pack for… the beach and pool
21. Floatsuits and armbands. My 3-year-old, who can’t swim, was able to spend most of his time in the pool thanks to his floatsuit. It’s essentially a sun-suit with UV protection plus a ring of buoyancy aids around the waist. They can be taken out gradually as kids get more confident swimming, and meant he didn’t have to be supported in the water and was happy to float and splash around. Ours is a Zoggs hand-me-down, but Konfidence do a good range, too.
22. Swim nappies. I took one pack of swim nappies for my 1-year-old, but because we were in a private villa she actually spent most of the time with her nappy off, so I probably could have taken fewer. Ditto all the cute little swimming costumes I packed for her – she spent most of the time swimming in a t-shirt.
23. Paddling pool. It may sound weird considering we had our own swimming pool, but it’s hard work keeping two non-swimmers afloat/alive in a proper pool, so taking a paddling pool meant they could play in the water without the constant threat of drowning. I chose the lightest one on Amazon for just over a fiver, and didn’t open or use it before the holiday so it’d stay neatly shrink-wrapped. I found some plastic pots and tubs in the kitchen of the villa for the kids to play with, put it in the shade and – hey presto, hours of fun. We left it at the villa for the next guests, mainly because it would have been a faff to pack down.
24. An inflatable lilo. Alright, so this isn’t exactly an essential, but we couldn’t decide if there’d be anything like this at the villa, so Larry The Lobster joined us. I had visions of lazing on him in the pool in the evenings (he has a drinks holder and everything) but sadly the children mistook him for a bouncy castle and he only lasted half the week. Still, he was fun while he lasted.
25. Waterproof swim and beach bags. We’ve already got a PaddlePak swim bag that’s come in handy during several Center Parcs breaks in the UK. So when Trunki sent us this large dolphin version to try out in Sicily, we duly stuffed him with swimming bits and took him down to the beach for a day out.
26. Sun hats. Pack loads of them. We always seem to lose one, another ends up in the pool or the sea and another gets nabbed by a sibling, so I shoved as many as I could find into our suitcase.
27. Jelly shoes or reef shoes. For the beach, rockpooling, paddling in the sea – you name it.
Don’t forget your…
28. Beach towels, 29. sun-cream, 30. after sun, 31. flip flops, 32. a UV tent if you have one and can fit it in your case, 33. sunglasses including baby ones.
What to pack for… sleeping
34. A cot sheet. I’ve stayed in a few places now where there’s been no baby bedding provided – probably as cots are often an added extra – so I always take one just in case.
35. A cot mosquito net. We always take ours to Italy, and this year – as my youngest refused to sleep with it over her cot – we used it as a makeshift mosquito net on our bedroom window. It worked a treat.
36. A travel Grobag. Both of my kids have grown up in these baby sleeping bags by Gro. We have one in a summer-weight tog that has an opening in the back so that you can keep your child in it while they’re strapped in to a car seat or buggy harness. In fact, we’ve got quite a few Gro products at home that I considered taking but ran out of space for. Top of my list would be the Gro Egg room thermometer, the Gro Clock – which saves my son getting up at the crack of dawn every morning – and the Gro Blind, which does the same thing (and which we would have taken if our villa didn’t already have shutters).
37. Baby monitor. We took ours from home – it just gave me a bit of peace of mind when we were sat out in the evenings, and as the kids shared a room we only needed the one.
38. Travel adaptors. As well as the usual ones we have a double adaptor with a night light, which was handy in the kids’ room.
Have you remembered…
39. Pull-ups, 40. dummies, 41. night light, 42. short sleeved vests or summer PJs, 43. favourite teddies or soothers and anything else from home that will help them to sleep in a new place.
What to pack for… everything else
44. Toys. We made a bit of a mistake by not taking many – alright, any – toys, possibly because I thought we’d just be swimming all day. In reality there were times when it was just too hot for them, or they were just plain bored and wanted to be inside, when I could have done with some toys from home. If you’re worried about fitting them in your suitcase, check if you’ve used up all your hand luggage allowance as you may well have some wiggle room there. We only took one piece of hand luggage per adult, so next time we’ll fill a Trunki with some toys from home and take it on the plane.
45. Nappies, wipes and pull-ups. I know – they still have these on holiday. But if I’ve got space I always try to squeeze in at least a few days’ worth, then stock up while we’re out there.
46. Clothes. As well as the usual T-shirts, shorts and dresses, I packed one ‘cold’ outfit each, plus a pair of long socks for the evening (for the mozzies, who seem to love my ankles). Also, depending on where you’re going you might want to pack some extra layers for visiting churches, temples or religious festivals. We spent an amazing day at the Festa di San Paolo in Palazzolo Acreide – the town’s saint’s day – and I was glad to be wearing something relatively demure.
47. Phone chargers. Because, let’s face it, you’ll be charging your phone right up until you leave for the airport so there’s a good chance you’ll end up leaving it next to your bed. Or is that just me?
Don’t leave home without…
48. regular medications plus Calpol and antihistamines (or a mini first aid box), 49. mozzie repellents, 50. a couple of washing tablets for hand washing if you get desperate.
Disclosure: Trunki, Gro, Joie Baby and Tripp kindly supplied us with some of the items in this post to test out on our holiday. As always, all views and opinions are my own.