Nearly 15 years ago, my older brother Josh and I embarked on a 3-month backpacking trip through South East Asia and Mediterranean Europe; we had plenty of adventures over those weeks. This month, traveling together for the first time since those Birkenstock-wearing, hitch-hiking days, we reunited in a developing country – but on this trip, we had our spouses and children along for the experience.
I have plenty of travel experience under my belt, which is why I noticed early on that this trip felt different. For the first time, I was seeing a foreign country through the eyes of my children, and in a sense, anew.
Our little ones are at a perfect age for traveling. Noah is our avid reader, happy to spend an entire flight with his nose in a chapter book. Mateo is our happy-go-lucky free-spirit, happy to skip along holding my hand. And little Clara is still content in a Snugli and completely portable, as she sleeps anywhere cradled in-arms.
Although we’re not quite ready to embark on a round-the-world adventure like our friends Ryan & Stephanie with their four kids, we do hope to keep traveling with our three because we feel it is an important investment into their future. For one thing, it opens their young minds to sights, sounds, smells and experiences that can never be learned through schooling or a slew of Planet Earth DVD’s.
We Wimbushes aren’t really the type to book an all-inclusive vacation at a resort (although I understand the appeal) as we like to closely experience the culture of a foreign country and introduce it to our children. During this trip we bartered for handmade wares at the bustling city market, selected our daily avocados and bananas alongside the locals at the produce stand, and stood in line for goat tacos and cinnamon-sugar coated churros from the street carts.
Our reunion in Mexico, together also with my two sisters and their families, was so utterly fantastic, that I couldn’t not share a mere snapshot of our time with you. I kept my big camera handy and jotted a few notes down here and there from my favorite experiences, like yesterday’s story of finding magic in a small tortilla factory.
Although I was on a nearly-full digital vacation, I found I missed writing, and every so often, a nugget of useful information would nestle itself in a mental file folder labeled “Mexico”.
Hopefully, there’s enough of those nuggets assembled here and in the posts to come to give you some takeaway and encourage you to travel with your kids.
Traveling with kids in Mexico is an adventure that requires bravery, planning, bottled water, band-aids, bunches and bunches of bananas, and tons of baby gear.
On our backpacking trip so long ago, I remember sawing off the handle of my hairbrush just to lighten the weight of the backpack on my 5’3″, 110lb frame. Now, we shlep a pack n’ play, a car seat, a portable feeding seat, and miscellaneous items such as water wings, stuffed monkeys, and math workbooks on top of everything else.
Before we leave, there is the rush to pack, empty the fridge, arrange for kitty care, and locate the travel documents, to say nothing of the midnight oil burned to schedule two weeks’ worth of posts on the blog. Then there is the abominably early taxi ride to the airport, the dash through the cold morning air with only a hoodie for warmth, the hours of waiting and security checkpoints, and the cramped quarters on the flight.
Finally, tired and smelly, hungry and groggy, we arrive, and all of the stressful travel pays off with the first kiss of the sea breeze and the golden hue of the sun setting on the sand. An adventure awaits.
I’ve decided to break my posts up into smaller sections featuring plenty of images from the trip. In this introductory post, I’ll cover my general takeaway from our time and basic tips for traveling with kids in Mexico.
After I’ll write about feeding the family, what we ate, and what our baby-led solids girl, Clara, enjoyed. Finally, I’ll share about our accommodations and the quaint, relatively undiscovered beach town where we stayed.
Getting Around, or How to Move Your Many, Many Belongings
Our round-trip taxi service came recommended by friends and we would in turn endorse Jose Ramos Taxi Services. Based out of Sayulita, they picked us up at the Puerto Vallerta airport and drove us to the Mega superstore (Carretera a Tepic Km 144) , where we shopped for half an hour for our grocery staples.
Then they delivered us to our villa in Lo de Marcos, about an hour away. A week later, they picked us up and brought us to Sayulita, and a week after that, brought us to the airport. It worked out to about $180USD for everything; cheaper and less hassle than renting a car.
Our driver, Daniel, spoke English, drove quite safely, and only talked on his cell phone while driving a few times! My kids all had seat belts, we enjoyed the AC, and iced bottled water from a cooler in the suburban.
Health Concerns, or Keeping Your Tacos Down
Contaminated food, drink, insect bites and sunburn are a few health concerns you may encounter in Mexico. That said, I think the country gets a bad rap, and wish more people would factor in a) climate change, b) jet lag, c) lack of sleep, d) dehydration, or e) alcohol into the equation before blaming some poor Mexican taco maker for their case of Montezuma’s revenge.
Still, a small container of non-drowsy Gravol’s Natural Source Ginger Tablets were one of the most important items that made it into my toiletries bag. Since I enjoy eating the authentic local fare when I travel, it’s normal that I experience some mild nausea and upset stomach. It took a few days to adjust to the (delicious) local foods – for both my siblings and I – and the Gravol helped to maintain a feeling of normalcy. (I’ll write more later on what we ate and precautions we took.)
Traveling with kids in Mexico (an in any developing or third-world country) does require a small leap of faith as far as their health is concerned. You want to have a well-stocked First-Aid kit, a bottle of water on hand at all times, and sanitizer or wet wipes to keep little hands clean.
We ran the gamut on our trip: mild fever, cough and cold, upset tummy, sunburn, and one bee sting. All in all, though, I think we did pretty well. Honestly, I think the mild bug some of us experienced during our early days in Mexico came from something we picked up in transit (germs on airplanes? *Shudder*).
What to Pack or Keeping Everyone Clothed and Happy for Costal Mexico
Comfortable, quick-dry shorts and tank tops for the parents are good, preferably colors that don’t show spit-up and food stains. Of course a sundress or two, bathing suit and sandals, and a hoodie are all helpful for the evenings when the temperature cools down and the wind whips off the the water. I wore long pants and a hoodie for the early morning walks and kept quite cozy.
Dressing the kids is a cinch, with nothing more required than you would need at home for a week in the summer. Croc’s and sturdy sandals were all the footwear our children needed; let’s face it, they were barefoot eighty percent of the time.
We made space for a large sketchbook and a case of pencil crayons for the children in our luggage and they got plenty of use. In the afternoons, when the sun was the hottest, we often had an art lesson with all of the nieces and nephews.
Surfers, sandcastles, market sights – there was always plenty of fuel for the imaginations of our little artists on this trip.
For Clara, we used a Snugli or an umbrella stroller for our frequent daily walks: Sungli for the beach, stroller for the street. We also checked a car seat and a pack n’ play into over-sized luggage (neither which required an extra fee from the airline) and made good use of both on the trip.
The children each brought a special furry friend, a comfort for both the airplane ride and the fortnight of sleeping in strange beds. We also packed a couple of small favorite games – Spot It and Piratatak - both of which got a tremendous amount of use from all the children. Nothing passes the time at a restaurant like a little friendly competition between cousins.
Get out into the smaller towns. Bustling, hot cities are not much fun for children, or for parents who are constantly worried about a bus side-swiping their five-year old for that matter. In the villages, one can make friends with a gaggle of first-grade school girls or share two miles of beach with nothing but a mighty flock of pelicans.
Give responsibility in small measures. Children love to feel like they are helping, so give them the task of finding directions once in a while, or entrust them with a carry-on bag, even if it means they may walk away from it in North America’s busiest airport. Yes, we left our carry-on luggage with 2 laptops unattended for about half an hour. Oops.
Lift weights before you go. It is entirely possible that your littlest one may want to be held the entire first day upon arrival, just as an adjustment period. Strong arms also come in handy for lugging groceries and beach bags.
Heap grace on your children. Travel is wearisome for us all. It can also be totally boring, and they couldn’t care less about sights that may give us a thrill. Oh, and they get sick of having their photo taken. Put yourself in their dusty sandals at least once a day, and if you find yourself longing for ice cream, find the nearest paleta vendor and buy everyone a fruit pop.
Communicate with your spouse. Perhaps the most important tip of all. Remember you are a team: work like one, and all will go smoothly.
Oh, and try not to lose it with your husband in the Mexico City immigration line when he decides that the five family passports are better off in his back pocket than in your purse and then forgets to tell you. Yeah, that happened.
Do you travel with your children? Do you have plans for future family trips?