Recently we had the privilege of traveling to Ethiopia as a family. Our oldest daughter was born in Ethiopia and joined our family when she was 11 months old. We wanted to travel back to Ethiopia now that she’s older to give her her own experiences and memories of Ethiopia, as well as reconnect with her biological family.
We knew we’d need to thoroughly think through our trip, as we were bringing all of our kids (ages 7, 3, and 1). We gathered and implemented tips and tricks from all over, and here’s what made the trip great for us:
- Pack a suitcase full of food. I’m not kidding. We loaded up on packaged snacks at Costco and filled a small suitcase with all of the kids’ favorites. We weren’t sure if the kids would be adventurous eaters while we were in Ethiopia, so we brought along plenty of food to keep their tummies full just in case. We wanted to enjoy the trip and not waste our time having food battles, and this strategy solved that. When they’re older, we’ll embody the “eat the amazing food in this amazing country” strategy…but not right now.
- Pack extra toothbrushes. We needed to purify the water there before we could consume it, and I had a feeling the kids wouldn’t always remember to do that (especially at bedtime) and would absentmindedly stick their toothbrushes under the tap water. I purchased extra toothbrushes and we used every one. Once my husband even absentmindedly rinsed his toothbrush, so we were all grateful for the extras.
- Purchase an inexpensive, small cot for smaller children. We got this one by Regalo and it worked out great for our 3-year old. Traveling with the cot enabled us to cut down our costs and have more freedom in where we stayed. We didn’t have to look for adjoining rooms for our family or rooms with four beds. Instead, we stayed in rooms with a king bed and placed our baby in bed with us, our toddler in the small cot, and rented a roll-away bed for our oldest daughter. It worked perfectly, and the larger size of the king room enabled us to fit all of our children comfortably. Fun fact: we started the trip with a cot for our oldest daughter too so we could be entirely self-sufficient, but it broke the first night! I think it got bumped and banged too much on the airlines and busted the moment we sat on it!
- Have your children wear Child ID bracelets in case you get separated. We found these Vital ID bracelets on Amazon and they worked well. I liked that they had an interior pocket where all the important information was stored, so upon first glance, a stranger couldn’t discern my child’s name or information. The velcro helped provide a good fit for each child and allowed for easy removal at night when they wanted to be more comfortable sleeping. We wrote each of their names, birthdates, and citizenship in the bracelet, and included our cell numbers, the number of the US Embassy, and the names and numbers of each of the places we were staying. Thankfully, we never had to use the information, and they ended up just being cute bracelets the kids wore every day.
- On longer trips, try to keep one hotel as your home base. Travel around on excursions for a few days elsewhere, then return to that same hotel. This wasn’t something we planned on doing, but stumbled upon and loved. We stayed for four nights in the capital city, went away for four nights, then returned to the capital city to the same hotel for a couple nights. I asked to have our same room because I knew it worked for us but what I didn’t expect was the kids’ reaction. They walked in and sighed and danced and flopped on the bed and said they were “home.” I didn’t realize how much they needed familiarity in a new place, and although the hotel was new the first time, it was a familiar comfort the second time. I will absolutely do this again in the future.
- Bring an umbrella stroller if you have a small child. We tried to pack very light (except for the food suitcase – ha!) and debated about bringing an umbrella stroller. I’m so glad we did. It was a godsend in the airport when we needed to contain our littlest one, or when we needed to move through the airport quickly. It was also very helpful in restaurants that didn’t have high chairs. Our stroller made it with us for nearly the whole trip, but due to a time constraint on our layover between our last two flights we had to move on without waiting for it to get unloaded from the plane. We sorely missed it for the last bit of our trip.
- Short yourself on clothes and bring a bar of laundry soap. We tried to pack light, so we only brought about four outfits per person. I washed laundry a few times in the bathroom sink with my bar soap and it worked out just fine. Every place we stayed had laundry services available to us too so we could have used those if we didn’t want to wash our own. I thought it was kind of fun and satisfying to hand wash my own clothes, though.
- Don’t short yourself on clothes in your carry-on. We packed a clean outfit for each kid in a Ziplock bag in their carry-on. We did the same for ourselves. The ziplock part proved invaluable because we had an apple juice spill in the airplane that got all over my daughter and her backpack. We needed the spare outfit and thankfully it didn’t get soaked in the apple juice spill because it was in the Ziplock bag!
- We also packed the rest of our suitcase clothes in sets in Ziplock bags. Each bag contained a pair of pants, a shirt, underwear, and socks. This was a tip from a friend, and I loved it. When we wanted to quickly get ready in the morning, each kid just grabbed a bag from their suitcase and went to the bathroom to change. It was quick, easy, and organized.
- Regarding what medicine to pack, I recommend Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and an antidiarrheal for adults and kids. Additionally, I’d recommend a probiotic if possible and an immune booster like elderberry. You might also want to throw in a thermometer to check for fevers. We were healthy in-country, but got sick on the plane ride home.
- Bring your own headphones for the kids. We have some child-sized ones that fit comfortably and don’t fall off (I can’t say the same for the freebie airline ones). The kid headphones we have also cap the noise so it’s always at a safe level. I don’t know about you, but when the pilot interrupts the movie to speak, it is SO LOUD! I took comfort knowing my kids’ ears wouldn’t be bleeding because of it.
- Pack a few small, lightweight activities and games for the kids. For ideas for the younger ones, check out Kate’s post on Top Toddler Travel Toys. My kids especially enjoyed the water-reveal coloring pads.
- If you’re going to a place where you don’t speak the language, bring along some games that can break through the language barrier. We brought Spot It and were able to play it with my daughter’s family because we didn’t need to use any words. We had a ton of fun playing this with the adults as well as the younger cousins! We also brought along bubbles which all the children enjoyed. A simple memory game could also be played easily without using words.
I hope these considerations help you as you plan your next international trip. Leave a comment if you have another tip or trick that has helped your family, or leave me a comment on where you’re planning to go on your next trip. We’ve only been home a few months, but I’ve already got the travel bug again!