We just came back from our first family road trip in Japan and woah, was there much to learn about doing a self-drive with kids in tow! We have shared our noob parent learning points from this travel milestone on MaybeBaby, so do head over here if you’re preparing to go down this road (haha *snort*, pun fully intended).
We embarked on the trip confident that we were seasoned travellers – it wasn’t our first time travelling with both kids – and returned humbled by the realisation that every trip is an opportunity to learn how to be a better traveller – and a better parent.
So, how did the trip go? Let’s start with the things that went well:
- Choice of Destination
Other than the usual considerations like cost, safety, weather, availability of family-friendly accommodation and activities, etc. one of the more important factors we take into account when selecting a destination is the time zone. Japan is an hour ahead of Singapore, which means that we wouldn’t have to deal with bright-eyed, bushy-tailed babies in the wee hours of the morning (hang on, that sounds like the normal routine huh…) and return home with messed-up schedules a week later.
- Flight Duration
While both girls were generally well-behaved on the flight, we’ve learned from experience that 6 hours is probably the longest stretch that we can handle without going berserk. Selecting a flight itinerary with a connection midway over a longer direct flight can be a good thing. We were SO glad to spill out in Tokyo while on transit to Hokkaido to stretch our legs and let the kids run free.
- Flight Time
We decided to fly in the day because we figured that the kids would be too excited to sleep. Also, we wanted them well and truly tired out upon arrival so that they would sleep through the night in the hotel. On hindsight though, a red-eye flight for the return would have been better because we could have planned for activities in the day and let them sleep throughout the night flight.
- Shared Items
For parents who have children of all the same gender and are constantly bombarded with questions of “So when will you be trying for a boy / girl?” – this is when you can rejoice in having an all-boy or all-girl brood. With both our girls close in age and roughly the same size, they could share clothes, diapers and milk, which saved us from having to pack two types of these items. If one of them ran out of clean clothes, she could wear her sister’s.
That said, there are some instances where packing two sets of the same thing does come in useful (see point 7 below).
Now, the areas for improvement:
- Hotel Rooms are Danger Zones
Hotel rooms in Japanese cities are notoriously small. This translates into higher propensity for little hands to get to otherwise hard-to-reach places and for little feet to trip over items spread across the (tiny) floor. We were busy packing and didn’t notice Coco reaching for a mug of hot water, which we thought had been placed out of her reach. We were startled by a sudden anguished wail which morphed into loud sobbing and only realised that she had spilt hot water on herself when we felt her wet top because she was crying too hard to tell us what happened. Thankfully, the water had been standing for some time and wasn’t boiling hot. Thankfully.
As if that wasn’t traumatic enough, Claire emerged from the bathroom minutes later gleefully sprinting toward us with bin in hand, only to trip and cut her lip on the edge of the bin. Once again, wails of pain filled the room. Sigh. Fortunately, Baby Juggernaut got over her fright quickly enough and was up and about in no time – bloody mouth and all.
- Stick to Regular Brands for Toiletries
We thought it would be more convenient to bring along travel-sized toiletries instead of the usual big (value-for-money!) bottle of baby shampoo, body wash, etc. So we packed never-before-used samples and new travel-sized purchases from the pharmacy. The thing is, when Coco’s eczema flared up on the trip, we had no idea whether it was due to the dry weather, new foods or the unfamiliar toiletries brands.
- Bring More Than One Set of Toiletries
We had planned for the girls to share one set of toiletries, forgetting that they would be bathing and showering in different hotels rooms – Claire in my parents’ and Coco in ours. Claire was fine using my parents’ toiletries but it would have been wiser to have prepared two sets of kids’ toiletries instead of only one.
- Other Useful Stuff
Some other useful items that we brought along or bought along the way: cup noodles (for when it’s too much hassle to drag cranky kids out for dinner), mini rice-cooker-cum-thermal-flask if you intend to feed young kids porridge (dried meat floss is also a useful accompaniment to plain porridge if fresh ingredients are hard to get), instant baby food (e.g. cereal, rice porridge) for days when cooking or finding suitable cooked food is challenging, disposable utensils for eating on the go, (lots of) plastic bags, wet wipes and recyclable shopping bags (because supermarkets in Japan didn’t provide plastic bags.)
- Cargo Pants
I don’t know what possessed me to wear slim-fit capris with nary a pocket. I recall noting in one of my earlier entries how useful (or rather, necessary) cargo pants are with their multiple pockets and I seem to have forgotten my own advice!
Do not underestimate the usefulness of (many, many) pockets while on the go for storing clean tissue, snotty tissue, pacifiers, pacifier covers, half-eaten snacks, passports, boarding passes, attraction tickets, money. Because Mummy = Walking Storeroom.
10. Dryer Warning
Do NOT put plastic bibs into the dryer – like what these suaku parents did.
Phew. Throw in the ambitious attempt to be Parent-Chauffer-Navigator-Trip Planner-Tour Guide-Tourist rolled into one and it was one hectic trip alright. Thank goodness for my parents who came along and helped us with the girls.
We hope these tips will come in useful when planning for a trip with your little ones!