Our plane touched down last night close to ten. We gathered the four children, and three carry ons and collected our one check in, and hopped in our van. After six days of driving nearly 1,000 miles in Honduras’ rough roads, the United States’ interstate felt like pure luxury.
Ever since our oldest was born in Honduras, we like to go back to visit friends and familiar places every couple years or so. Dental work is also a fraction of the price down there, and good clinics with skilled dentists and up to date equipment aren’t as hard to find as some may think. We knew we had a fair amount of work to be done, and when credit card points covered our fare down, we jumped at the opportunity to head down again.
There were several things that made this trip so much more pleasant for me as a mom of four, and I thought I would share them in case you have an itch in your feet but dread about traveling internationally with children.
1) Start early
I started packing two days before our departure, wanting to insure that clothes we were taking wouldn’t be dirty or lost when I needed to pack them. I was blown away at how relaxed this made the day before our trip feel, especially since I needed to leave our house company ready while we were gone. Generally we pack very light, but since I didn’t think we would have time to do laundry anywhere, I packed an outfit a day. I was still able to get everything in our check in and two carry on suitcases plus my diaper bag. Folding Mari Kondo style made everything very visible and accessible.
2) Be flexible
Our life has been entirely crazy this last season, with Daniel working full time and studying full time at night. We were so very ready for some time together to rest, reconnect and make memories. Our first flight was delayed three times due to mechanical issues, causing us to miss our connecting flight in Miami by a long shot. The only option was for us to wait 24+ plus hours for the next flight, and while that could have been a massive stress point, we rolled with it.
The airlines provided us with ample vouchers for supper, hotel, breakfast and lunch. Our hotel was amazing: a beautiful suite, lovely pool and hot tub, and breakfast. We ate like kings at the airport and had a huge spread of sushi that we would never have purchased otherwise. While missing our first day and a speaking engagement in Honduras was an inconvenience, we were able to see this delay as a paid for mini vacation straight from God. Perspective makes a huge difference, not just for ourselves, but also for our children. They watch us in a million little moments, and when we show them that being flexible and calm when things go far from our plans pays off big time.
3) Pack smart
While I am a sucker for my leather Urban Southern mini market tote, I left it behind and grabbed my trusty canvas diaper bag with a zippered top and lots of pockets. Zippers are a life saver when needing to haul around a lot of things internationally, but not wanting to risk things falling out.
I had all the girl clothes in one carry on, and Weston’s and mine in the other. I had a bag for dirty laundry, and stowing dirty stuff in there right away made it very easy to know what was still available. I also took a zippered plastic bag to put wet swimming clothes into.
Having four heads of girl hair to do daily, I used my handy little 31 hair bag to store and organize our hair stuff and small things like vitamins. I picked up teeny tiny ziplock bags to have my daily vitamins and hair pins clearly organized and handy at a seconds notice.
In my diaper bag I kept several diapers, baby wipes, a few thin children’s books, two polly pockets, Lake’s tiny doll, perfume and cosmetics, phone charger and ear buds for flight, and snacks.
When traveling with small children, remember that diapers are expensive internationally, and I always prefer to take too many than not enough and be stuck with poor quality or overpriced diapers. Traveler’s stomach can create the need for lots of diapers (charcoal and papaya enzymes can help).
Baby wipes are a life saver, from sticky hands to dirty faces to countless other wiping needs, or moments when you just need to clean up a bit from a dusty walk but a shower isn’t an option. I opted for a ziplock instead of the plastic case so it would slide easily into any small space. I kept these in the outside pocket of my bag, ever handy, ever close. I also kept a small bag of cosmetics and lotion handy, so I could freshen up quickly.
For flight times, we did a lot of people watching, but I was ever so grateful I had tucked in our two Polly Pockets as the tiny houses and itsy people kept Lakelyn captivated for hours. The books went almost entirely unused until the last day, but I was grateful for them when we had a long wait in the car.
I also stuck a fair amount of snacks in, and was quite grateful I did. I hate paying the inflated prices of airport food, and especially in our long wait to get our missed flight reconnected for the next day, the children were hungry. I pulled out granola bars, goldfish crackers, beef jerky, trail mix and pumpkin seeds at varying parts of our journey. It helped to give them only two options at a time, and save some snacks for later parts of the journey. Trail mix and goldfish crackers do crumble and make a mess, so next time I’d leave them out.
Always take a water bottle or child’s cup along, which you can fill once you are past security. Remember to empty it every time before you go through security or they will make you leave it behind. But having water available for children can be a really big help.
Understanding the emotional toll of traveling with little ones means giving them extra grace. I took Alannah and Lakelyn’s special blankets and was so very grateful I did, even though they did add bulk to our luggage. In each place we stayed as well as on long waits at the airport, they had this familiar cozy blanket to cuddle with and help them calm down. I also stuck in three bath towels, which were very needed our last two nights as we stayed on the beach and had minimal/no hotel towels.
4) Cultural appreciation
Our first full day there was spent doing dental work, and the next connecting with dear friends. After that, we covered a LOT of ground in our amazing rental car, and ended up visiting with more old friends or acquaintances at the clinic and where Daniel grew up. A big part of Central American culture is community based, and that means TIME.
Several times when I felt pressured by the long drive ahead, Daniel wisely sat back and relaxed and visited. Once, the hosts literally went out and killed the rooster in the yard, and then prepared chicken soup, rice and tortillas. It took SO long, and I felt impatient, but bit my tongue and just tried to embrace it. They were poor, but ever so hospitable, and shared what little they had. In retrospect, when I felt like hurrying, I would have missed important moments and lessons I needed. Being culturally sensitive and stepping back and looking at the moment from a more eternal perspective constantly reminded me to slow down and enjoy the gift of the moment.
We dove head first into some of the foods we had been wishing for- baleadas, roasted corn, fresh fruit, tortillas and the list goes on and on. Our typical American fare goes on hold when we are down there and we make the most of the delightful things this country offers.
Sometimes accommodations may not be up to your specs. One night, our beds had sheets that were sandy when we got on them. The shower was a bare pipe running out of the wall and we wore shoes into the bathroom. But it had AC and was feet away from the waves and was hands down a far better beach experience than the massively overpriced American approved hotels down the beach. If I wanted a perfect hotel, I can get one in the States. But we wanted relaxed beach memories for the kids, so we sacrificed comfort and a bit of personal expectations. And the moments we experienced here in this little village were epic. I wouldn’t trade them for a four star hotel any day.
5) Smart Transportation
On our previous trips, we have always used public buss transportation. Last trip we bussed with three children and backpacks, and my camera was stolen at some point during our travels. It was extremely stressful and chaotic- smashing children and baggage onto worn out bus seats and trying to make all the right connections and keep everyone together.
Daniel did a bit of math before we left this time and discovered that a rental car was really quite efficient and so we booked our first reservation with an international rental car. We rode in a comfortable, air conditioned and very economic but powerful SUV. We had a safe place to keep luggage at each stop, there was even third row seating which allowed plenty of space for the children. While driving in another country would not be a good option for everyone, Honduras is Daniel’s second home, and driving there was entirely normal and fun for him. We will definitely be renting a vehicle on our next trip. But, as you may know, always keep tabs on your credit card billings after that, as credit card fraud is not uncommon in places like this. My in laws had someone use their card after a vehicle rental to purchase airline tickets.
6) Embrace the season
On our way home yesterday, we flew over Roatan Honduras where Daniel and I honeymooned 12 years ago. This trip was about as different as possible from that one, with looking after children and making quick potty stops and teaching the children how to greet people in Spanish.
At the airport we heard the flight for Roatan announced and we sighed and pretended for a second we were going there. But Daniel smiled and said, “Someday, just you and me…” I nodded, remembering leisurely sauntering down the sandy roads of the island, snorkeling over the coral reef, swinging in the hammock looking over the sunset, all hand in hand.
But right now, we are in another season, and we could easily miss the joys of this one if we were pining for the last. This is the amazing man I married, now an incredible daddy to our children. Seasons come and go, we are gonna stick together through them all.
7) Learn for next time
I remembered the phone and camera chargers and the sunblock but forgot the bug repellent. We are all bearing the marks of that one.
Our last evening in Honduras was spent at the edge of the waves. The local soccer team did a bit of practice on the shore, the goalie diving again and again for the ball- sometimes catching and sometimes missing. More than once he had to wade out into the waves to retrieve the ball. Behind him the sky streaked pinks and oranges. He seemed entirely oblivious to the epic beauty around him, involving him.
But I looked on, and everything was quiet except the lapping of the waves and the kicking of the ball. He was unaware, but I saw it. I saw these moments of beauty may not always seem beautiful to us. Traveling with children is nitty gritty at times and takes intentionality. But we feel like the life experiences and memories we provide as well as the world perspective of experiencing other cultures is priceless for these little people.
So take the plunge. Choose to invest in your little ones. Step out of your comfort zone and experience the world and diverse cultures with your children. It isn’t cheap and it isn’t easy.
I was reminded again that the stress isn’t worth losing the beauty of the moment. That the pivotal childhood memories are being made here and now. Sometimes we catch the great moments. Sometimes we miss them. But what matters is that we are willing to try. To create opportunities. And always remember that God sees beauty in it all.
What are your tried and true favorite hacks to making travel easier with little ones?