Monday, July 8, 2013

That time we took two toddlers to Latin America.

You read that right. Two weeks ago, the Schmoopse and I loaded up a couple of duffle bags with diapers, onesies, swimsuits, and half of WinCo's snack section and headed to the airport. Armed with sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and a healthy dose of anxiety, we boarded the first of several planes that would eventually land our feet solidly on Costa Rican soil for a truly unforgettable vacation. The trip was a smashing success, and our little ones were very nearly perfect world travelers. Just in case you're lucky enough to be planning an international trip with babies in tow, here is how we did it.

Tip #1- Travel with a large and amazingly supportive extended family. Managing a trip this complicated on our own with the kiddos would probably have been possible, but not nearly as pleasant as it was with my fantastic family to help out every step of the way. PopPop and Nana dreamed up the idea of a family trip as our Christmas gift this last year, and without their generosity and thoughtfulness, a vacation of this scale would never have been a reality for our little family. As a person who did not leave the United States for the first time until I was 24 years old, it was hard for me to even believe that my two little ones would have an opportunity like this while they are so young.

On the airplane. You can thank the 8 hour overnight lay-over for our
disheveled appearance and Paddy's bloodshot eyes.
Our extended family members were incredibly helpful managing the logistics of two travelers with very short legs and even shorter attention spans. On the way there, my mom walked the airport for over an hour trying in vain to get Mister Baggins to fall asleep. (Don't blame her for being ultimately unsuccessful. Blame the Houston airport and it's ongoing construction in the one terminal that was accessible in the middle of the night.) MJ and Tia had left a few weeks earlier to backpack around Panama (where Tia served her mission) and Costa Rica, so they didn't travel down with us. Bug was OVER THE MOON to see her beloved Aunt Mim again, and Mim was kind enough to adhere to her pinky promise to sit next to her on the shuttle bus every time we moved, not to mention the countless hours she and the rest of my siblings spent entertaining her throughout the trip.

One of the three shuttle transfers we had during the trip.
Tip #2- Pack thoughtfully. Allow me a little bit of bragging room here: I am an excellent packer. Packing for four people traveling internationally over 10 days was the ultimate test of my skills, and (thankfully) I'd like to think I pulled through with flying colors. Here are a few tricks that served us well.
* Pack plenty of snacks. Particularly when the menu for meals is unpredictable, the kids were grateful for a familiar pack of fruit snacks or handful of goldfish crackers. I even packed a couple of packages of instant oatmeal, which both of my kids love. It was great to know that a filling meal was just a bottle of water and a microwave away if the Costa Rican cuisine got too exciting for the kids.
* If possible, buy diapers there. Luckily, MJ was able to do some recon work and assured me that legitimate looking diapers were easily available in Costa Rica. We packed plenty of diapers, including swim diapers, with us, but we were glad to not have to pack enough for the full ten days right off that bat. That's a lot of space!
* Pack complete outfits for the little ones in gallon-sized plastic baggies. Ok, go ahead and laugh a little at my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, but when you're done, consider the brilliance of it. Each outfit for the kids was contained in one flat little bag. In Bug's case, that meant a shirt, undershirt/tank, shorts, and panties all in one baggie. Baggins had the same set up, only with a onesie, t-shirt, and shorts in each baggie. We packed about 5 outfits for each kiddo, and it could not have been easier to grab a baggie in the morning and know that everything was in it without digging around for clean panties or onesies. Which brings us to--
* Plan to do laundry on the trip. The baggie situation came in really handy here, too, because it was super easy to tell which clothes were clean and which had been worn. Also, every mom knows that a waterproof container like a baggie is pretty priceless when keeping clothes that have experienced, ahem, shall we say diaper failure contained (smells included.)

Tip #3- As much as possible, keep to the schedule. With the notable exception of the aforementioned overnight layover, we did our best to keep the kids on a fairly consistent routine. I did a lot of research on accommodations, and in both places we stayed we had a house-like arrangement versus the standard hotel room scenario. This meant that nap time and normal bedtimes were easy enough to manage without one parent being forced to sit mindlessly in the hotel room missing out on all the fun.

Tip #4- Remember that family is forever. This seems sort of obvious, I guess, but it helped me to consciously remember that these very small people I was hauling all over Central America are my BABIES. They are not little hassles impeding me from having the relaxing vacation of my dreams, they are my babies. My number one priority in every situation (home or Costa Rica) is to be their mommy. The goal of the trip was not to see the gorgeous scenery and relax on the beach without distraction, but to enjoy the trip as a family. Keeping the littles happy, healthy, and safe was as much a part of the trip as eating rice and beans, and I didn't want it any other way.

Arenal Volcano in central Costa Rica. Why yes, that is steam coming out of the top of it.
Come back soon to hear more about the trip and to suffer through picture overload!

1 comment:

Brandi Johnson said...

Wow! Sounds like a great vacation for you guys, how fun! Such a cute fam, and I'm glad to hear you guys are doing so well!