Traveling is such a privilege, and our family is so very grateful to have a chance to do it. But long term travel is also quite challenging at times, and small spaces can make things really difficult. During our trip, we have spent time in an apartment, where we had the luxury of two toilets, a kitchen, and bedrooms. But we've also spent time in riads and hotel rooms where we all four cram into a tiny space for weeks at a time. That can be VERY challenging! But I found some tips and tricks that have helped keep me calm(er). Here are a few tips that helped us all stay sane while in close quarters.
Bring the right things. (Check out my comprehensive list of essential items below.)
Be kind to yourself. (Even the calmest of people can lose their cool when cooped up too long! It's okay to hide in the bathroom if needed or to go for a walk.)
Come up with a daily routine. It can be simple, but it helps the kids adjust to the new setting.
Have a bag ready to take to every meal. (Be on the lookout for another post describing the best items to include in this!)
Make reservations at hotels or inns that include breakfast. Always opt for adding on the breakfast (if you are traveling with kids; if I were traveling with adults, I might skip this and opt for cafés instead).
Make peace with the fact that you will miss some amazing sights and opportunities. It's more important for everyone to enjoy what you're doing than for you to try to do all the things in each location.
Best items to bring:
Your normal nightlight - We have the Hatch nightlight and noisemaker, which I love dearly. It is programmable, and it can do a variety of sounds and light colors. You can do different programs for different days, and you can do multiple parts of the program (so, for instance, you could have a blue light for sleep time, and yellow light for quiet play in the room, and then a green light for wake up time). It has an app, and it's easy to adjust the brightness and the volume level. Staying in a hotel near a night club? Turn that thing right up. This light was not cheap (I think we paid about $60), but we've had ours for more than four years, and it has been great in all locations. Just make sure you bring your plug adapter for other countries! We have one that we leave connected to our nightlight so that we don't forget it when moving from place to place.
A noisemaker - Even if you don't usually use a noisemaker, it's good to have one for hotels. I have a travel one that I absolutely love (and it is tiny and light!). In a pinch, there are also apps that work well for this. (Note that I travel with this IN ADDITION to the Hatch nightlight. In loud places, I have put it close to my pillow to block out some of the other sounds.)
A plug-in nightlight for the bathroom area - We plug nightlights in the bathroom when possible and right outside of it when there is no plug in the bathroom. This is a huge help not just for little kids but for everyone when navigating a small space (especially when the light switch is outside of the door for the bathroom!).
Small blankets for the kids - We brought crocheted blankets that each girl got when she was a baby. They have been perfect for making it feel a bit more like home, and we take them when we travel here as well. (They don't use them that much at home, but they have been very helpful while we're away.)
Stuffed animals per child - This was probably the hardest thing for my children to select before coming on our "big trip." I allowed each of them four animals (with some guidelines about size), which was more than I wanted to permit but WAY less than they thought they needed. When we go on our smaller trips, I allow them no more than two, and I'm careful to keep track of what comes with us so that we don't lose anything. (Some people take a photo before they leave/ right after they arrive. Not a bad plan!)
A small bag of toys - My girls are actually crazy about paper designs (cut out characters from coloring books or ones they have drawn and cut out themselves), so their small bag is often filled with more paper "toys" than real toys, but regardless, they have a small zipper bag (the size of a lunch bag) that they can fill and take on each trip.
A headphone splitter - This is an essential item for our family. I wish we had brought two splitters. The girls use them to share audio activities or a tablet activity (we have the Kids' Kindle Fire for them), and we use them at night to watch a show after they've gone to bed.
Hotel room picnic - Eating every meal at a restaurant is not only expensive, it's also absolutely exhausting with kids. And most places outside of the US (at least where I've been), it often takes a very long time to get food (which I loved before I had kids but find very challenging now). So, the hotel room picnic is perfect. We pick up fruit, cheese, bread, smoked fish, and a special treat, and then we spread out a towel on the floor at the hotel. This is especially great for dinner. We'll let the kids shower, watch something, and then have the picnic before going through our normal bedtime routine. This is a great option especially when you're hoping to help the kids get to bed early to get some extra sleep.
Swimming - If your kids are like mine, it is WORTH IT to pick a place with a pool for at least part of your travel time. For us, we either had to sacrifice staying at a riad in the heart of the medina (which is a great part of the Moroccan travel experience) or we had to pay more (or both), so we only did pools some of the time, but it was very helpful when at a place with no pool to look toward the next location that would have a pool.
Bath time - My girls LOVE baths, and that is something they really miss since we don't have a tub most of the time when traveling, so that's a great perk of a hotel room for them! I let them put some of their little toys in the bath, and they will stay in there until the water gets chilly, playing and pretending.
Audiobooks - These have been a life saver for me. Our library uses the Libby app, which works great overseas as well, and audiobooks are a perfect hotel activity. My six year old especially loves them, and she'll pop in her headphones to listen to one for a long time. It's a great quiet activity that makes her really happy.
Podcasts - My girls (especially our six year old) will listen to podcasts all day long. So easy access to podcasts (that are already downloaded to avoid internet issues) is a big plus and can help on slow days stuck inside the hotel room.
Movie time - It's always a good idea to have access to a movie! We have a few downloaded on both the Kindle Fire that they use and also on the iPad. That access has gotten us through some tough situations, especially ones where we are unexpectedly stuck somewhere and/ or I need uninterrupted work time to complete a time-sensitive task.
Leap Start Go - We love the Leap Start Go pen so much that we actually have two of them, one for each kid (which is not something our family normally does). We brought about twelve of the LeapStart books with us (I brought several of them that they had not seen and have given them as gifts a couple of times since we've been here), and they get good use. We have a travel case that holds one of the pens and all of the books. When traveling around Morocco, we left a lot of things at our apartment in Agadir to save space and weight (in country travel limits are no joke! We could only have 20 kg in our checked bags, and that was after paying extra to add more weight!), but I was VERY thankful that I had the Leap Start Go with us. My four year old used it on taxi rides and plane rides, and it was very helpful in the hotel as well.
A travel pack of art supplies (markers, crayons, kid scissors, pencils, stencils) - My children cannot live without art supplies. We have a travel pack of some kids' stencils, so I filled that with tracing paper, plain paper, and a few other things. I also filled one of our small travel cubes with markers, pencils, and two pairs of scissors. However, this stuff can get out of control quickly, so I would set guidelines about when and where they could do their crafts. (It still drove me a little crazy, but it makes them happy and keeps them occupied.)
Order "extras" at meal times early - If you want something extra, be sure to order it early on in the meal process. For example, we love the mint tea here in Morocco, but instead of ordering it at the end of the meal when the kids are already getting restless, we make sure that we order it prior to ordering the food. That way, if we need to make a quick exit, we're not stuck waiting for it. (And we have definitely gone up to the bar to pay before while rushing the kids out the door instead of waiting to get the check at the table. Better to make a quick exit than to have a meltdown... But meltdowns do happen, too, and that is okay!)
Include lots of treats - The best restaurant we found in the city we visited last before coming back to Agadir included both juice (the juice is all fresh-squeezed in Morocco, and it is one of the most delicious things on earth!) AND ice cream for the kids. They loved it, and we had a chance to relax. Ahhhh.