Saturday, 11 January 2014

Travel tips - travelling with kids

In my last post I uploaded my newly consolidated "master packing list". There are a few things in it that I think are quite smart, so I thought I'd share them here.

In no particular order, here are some things you might like to think of next time you're travelling, in particular travelling with kids.


  1. My kids are currently under 1 and almost three, so I haven't yet too many tips for older kids.
  2. I fly mainly in Europe, so I have no idea about the current procedures for security when flying in the US.

Packing for the plane- I always try to arrange my hand luggage in separate inner bags for when it will be needed. I like lightweight totes - simple fabric shopping bags or similar work well.  Anything that is very lightweight and can be squashed inside your main hand luggage bag will work.

  • First off, everything you'll need to show at security should be easily accessible. All liquids (toiletries etc) and all baby food or drink bottles. (When I've flown lately I've been able to take bottles of water "for the baby"). And any computers or tablets need to be easy to get out. Try to pack as much of this as you can into one lightweight tote that you can easily pull out at the security checkpoint.
  • After that, you need to think what you want access to during the flight. 
    • What do you want in your seat? Pack everything you want to access while sitting in your seat in one bag. The perfect bag for this is something that can stand near your feet without collapsing and you can reach into to access whatever you need, preferably one handed without being able to see it (i.e. if the tray table is down, or you have a child on your knee). Water bottle. Books to read, children's toys, snacks, drinks. Lip balm and/or moisturiser, hand cream. Wallet or purse if you're on a flight where you have to pay for food or you want to buy duty-free. A pen if you might have to fill in any paperwork. Any pillow, neck pillow or blanket you have with you.
    • What do you need to get out for toilet trips? Pack everything for toilet trips (eg nappy change items, or your own toothbrush/facecloth/clean underwear) in another lightweight tote or a small toiletries bag, and place this in the overhead locker so you can easily get it down without having to lift down your whole carry on bag (either inside a zip you can reach, or sit it separately next to your larger bag).
  • I always carry a water bottle with me, especially on long haul flights. I empty it before going through security, then fill it once past security. If there's nowhere to fill it before you get on the plane, ask the flight attendant politely to fill it for you. They are normally very happy to do so - it's that many less glasses of water they will have to carry around later. Don't forget to pull it out of your bag as you go through security, so you can show them that it is empty. (It you're travelling with a baby, you can sometimes now get away with taking it through full).
Packing cubes
  • I always pack my stuff inside packing cubes or packing bags. You will understand the value of this the first time you are asked to open your luggage at security somewhere. Opening up to a whole lot of small bags is much better than spilling out your underwear. And during the trip, it helps me to keep my things organised and to be able to find what I'm after. 
  • Each member of my family has their own bags, in different colours, materials or designs. So we know where our stuff is. If you travel a lot you can probably figure out the best arrangement for you, and soon you will know that "t'shirts are in the blue cube" and "socks are in the green stuff sack", for example. We have packing bags and cubes that I've made, simple drawstring bags bought from an outdoor shop, and more expensive ones from Eagle Creek and Sea to Summit.
Safe copies of documents
  • We have scanned copies of our documents stored in a safe place online (I realise some will think this is not possible. We are happy that they are as safe as they need to be). This way, if anything happens to our originals, we can still get hold of them, even if our bags are missing.
Contact information in case of emergency
  • I have my husband's phone number written onto the photo on the lock screen of my phone. So if anything happens to me and the only thing that find on me at the time is my phone, they'll know who to contact.
Writing postcards home
  • It's always nice to get some real mail these days. If you're thinking of sending postcards, take a look at the various apps available online, where you can have one of your own photographs printed with your message on the back, delivered by the local post service. It may be cheaper to use the service in the country you are sending to. And this way, you can often import the address from your contacts, and save having to look them up and write them out!
Electrical and electronic stuff
  • If not travelling especially light, I like to pack a power board from my home country. That way, I put one adapter into the local socket, plug in the power board, and can plug in all my chargers and appliances; without needing an adapter for each item. It also comes in handy when there are very few power points in a room, or when the power points are in inconvenient places.
  • Noise reduction headphones are fabulous on long haul flights. They just are.
  • If travelling in any one country for a long period, think about getting local sim cards, so you can ring between travel companions without incurring international roaming charges. If you still need to be contactable on your normal number, take an old phone to put the local sim into.
  • Other items that can be very useful to have tucked into a corner of your bag include:
    • Resealable plastic bags: various unforeseeable uses, over and above the standard "my shampoo bottle cracked and is leaking everywhere" type event.
    • Rubber bands and safety pins.
    • Some sort of small scissors/knife: if nothing else they'll help you get the labels off new clothes. Remember to put this in your check in luggage.
    • A pen: It's nearly always useful to have a pen in your hand luggage, even in this day and age of electronic communication.
Kid's toys: there are loads of blog posts out there about travelling with kids, and how to keep them occupied. I may add to them if I get around to it in the next few weeks. But here are a few of my tips.
  • Toy tethers. I have made, but you can also buy, ribbons that can be used to attached toys: attach them to children, attach them to a pram or stroller, attach them to a car seat, attach them to the back of an aeroplane seat. Mine have poppers on one or two ends. The end that doesn't have a loop made with poppers sometimes has a crocodile clip, or a carabiner or similar. For the plane I will be putting a safety pin in the end of one, so I can pin it to the seat if I can't find anything else to attach it to.
  • Baby links are great. They work as toys in and of themselves, and can be used for older kids to do sorting or counting. Then they can be used to attach other toys.
  • Some toys for babies/toddlers that can provide a lot of entertainment value for the space they take up include: play silks, balloon balls, a small set of stacking cups, and "indestructibles" baby books. 
  • Games like Bananagrams provide entertainment for adults, and children (over 3) can use the tiles for making words, or sorting letters.
  • Magnetic toys are great for travelling (items with magnets on them that stick to each other or to a metallic tray). BUT remember that magnets are REALLY dangerous if swallowed, so avoid them if you have younger children who could possibly get hold of them.
That's all I can think of now. I'm sure many more suggestions will come to me in the next few months as we pack and then head off on our travels. We'll have to see if I get around to writing them up to share.

Travel packing lists

I'm busy preparing for a long trip, for two adults and two small children, involving long-haul flights, time staying with friends and family, and a long road trip with tenting accommodation in camp grounds. It is occupying about 98% of my brain processing power at the moment (not least because it's cold here, and I am LONGING for some sunshine!).

I have been trying to consolidate a really good packing list. One that will be an efficient basis for many trips in the future, be they long or short haul, involving plains, trains or automobiles, and staying in homes, hotels or tents. Yes, this has taken me many more hours than is reasonable, and my husband has been making references to "one pair socks, cotton, golf pattern, blue". (See the Big Bang Theory episode where Sheldon is putting RFID tags on his socks.)

But I now have a starting point! This is an conglomeration of my own old packing lists, the list that came with the iPhone/iPad app called "Packing Pro" and some lists I found in various places on the internet. I'd love to give credit to all my other sources, but unfortunately I didn't think that far ahead and I didn't  note down where I looked. I hope there's enough of me in this that no-one feels I have stretched the limits of plagiarism.

So here it is: my basic packing list. I would never take all of this on any one trip, and I'm sure to find some other things to pack that aren't here. But hopefully with this in my iPad, I can now start to feel that I have some sort of overview of what we have to fit in our cases for this trip.

There are two files here. One is a .xlsx, to be opened in Microsoft Excel or similar. One is .csv, and this will also work in Excel etc, but is provided here more for anyone who wants to import it directly into Packing Pro.

I'll try to write up some of my travel tips relating to this list in another post.

The Excel version of my packing list is here.

The Comma separated version of my packing list is here.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Simple paper wreaths for toddlers

Today we made Christmas wreaths. This is a really simple paper activity that is great for children just learning how to use scissors. It also results in a pretty decoration that doesn't jar my unfortunate  perfectionist tendencies!

My two year old got his first pair of scissors a few months ago, and he loved them. For weeks our home was strewn with recycling-bin-confetti. So as the leaves all turned for autumn, I helped him make this autumn wreath that we blutacked to his door:

Then we made this flower to stick over his little brother's cot:

Now it's winter and the Christmas decorations are out, I decided to make a Christmas wreath to replace it. 

And for once I remembered to take some pictures of the process! This is how we made them.

1. A selection of green papers and light card, and one small sheet of red. (You could do this with just one or two greens, we used one of each green I found in our stash).
2. One sheet heavier paper or light card for the background. Ours was white A3.
3. Scissors for adults and if they're old enough, for the child/children. We have a plastic pair for 2 year olds that only (barely) cut paper.
4. A pencil and something to draw circles in different sizes. We used kitchen mixing bowls.
5. Glue or other adhesive. I happened to have a scrapbooking tape runner, but glue should work fine.

1. Draw a ring, one larger circle with a smaller circle inside, on your background heavy paper/light card.
2. Cut out the ring.

3. Get your child to cut the green paper/s into small pieces. Ours were around 2-3cms across. Any shape is fine; random is better than regular for this. It may help smaller children if you cut strips of paper and let them cut the strips into pieces. Children who can't use scissors could tear up the paper.

4. Put adhesive on the ring, and let the child stick their paper pieces on randomly.
I put small amounts of adhesive on at a time, letting them stick a few pieces on, before applying more adhesive.
Slowly fill in any gaps they have left until none of the background is visible.

5. Cut the red paper or card into even smaller pieces. I aimed for less than 2cm across.
6. Apply adhesive and get your child to stick on the red "berries".

That's it! Simple paper wreaths for Christmas.

One of these is stuck to his door, the other is going in the post to Grandma. :)

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Entertainment for a rainy day

1 bathtub
Some finger paint
1 child

Put all together and enjoy.

Optional extras:
Some plastic tubs from the recycling
A paint brush
A sponge paint roller
Some teaspoons
A facecloth or rag (for the child who has paint all over, but gets distressed if it gets on his fingers!)

Our clean up consisted of some dish washing detergent, and a dish sponge/scourer.

After washing off the bathtub, the tools and the child, we run the bath with some baby oil in it, to counteract the drying effect of the dish detergent on his skin.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Baby carrier bag

Baby-Carrier Bag: Pattern/Tutorial

I've seen through the stats page for this blog that quite a few people seem to have found their way here through searching something like "baby carrier storage bag". I put into my review about my Onya carrier that one of the first things I did was make a bag for it, so I thought I'd write up how I made mine. It's very simple, but it works for us.

Ours has a draw string closing:

 And two handles, one on either end.

We just fold in the straps and the sides of the carrier, roll it up and stuff it into the bag.

To make a bag just like this, you will need:

One rectangle of fabric: 44 cm wide by 65 cm long. I used something in a light upholstery weight.
Webbing or ribbon: 2 pieces @ 24cm (could easily be replaced by tubes of the same fabric as the bag).
Cord or elastic: approximately 120 cm
One of these doodads, that is apparently called a "cord lock".

Thread, sewing machine, bodkin or safety pin.


  1. Fold your fabric in half, wrong sides together and right sides out, short end to short end (folding the long edge in half), so you have a shape 44 cm x 32,5cm. Sew a seam along each side, 1/2 cm from the edge. You should have a very basic pocket with a fold along the bottom and a seam on each side, right side out. Make sure the edges are neat: if frayed, trim them neatly.
  2. Turn it inside out, so it is now wrong side out. Make sure you push the seams out fully, so the fold on each side is right on the sewing line. Sew another seam along each edge, 1 1/2 cm from the edge.
  3. Take a look at one bottom corner. Using a pin, mark the fold along the bottom edge of your pocket 15 cm from the corner. Mark 15 cm up the side seam. Push those two pins together and pin carefully, lining up the side seam with the bottom fold. Push out the rest of the fabric to the sides, so you have a neat right angle with your seam splitting it in half. Mark 5 cm along the seam from the corner. If you have correctly matched the seam and the bottom fold, it should be 5cm from this point out to the edge of the fabric on either side. Sew along this 10cm seam, at right angles to the side seam.  Release all pins and marks. Do the same on the other corner. (You can find lots of pictures and better instructions for this point if you google "sew box corners").
  4. Fold one top edge in half, seam to seam so you find the middle, and mark with a pin. Unfold. Measure down approximately 1 1/2 cm from the edge at that mid point and mark this spot (tailor's pencil, small tacked thread in contrast colour, just pin it - you choose). Measure down another 1 1/2 cm and mark this point. Sew a button hole between the two points you just marked. So you have a button hole in the middle of one side, centred about 2 - 2 1/2 cm from the loose edge.
  5. Fold down the top of the bag all around. Fold first 1/2 cm, then fold again another 1 1/2 cm. Top stitch along the edge, a couple of mm from the edge. 
  6. Take a piece of webbing approximately 24cm long and fold in one end twice. In total, you are folding in about 4cm, so the first fold will be about 1,9cm and the second about 2,1cm. Pin. Fold the other end the same. Carefully pin the webbing along the side seam. The bottom end should sit around 1mm from the box corner seam. Lay the webbing flat against the side seam then pull the top end back towards the bottom of the bag a couple of mm, so that it has a little slack to fit your fingers under and doesn't sit too tight against the bag when it is stuffed full. Sew the webbing to the bag. I sewed a square around the folded end, and a cross across the middle of this square. Do the same on the other end with another piece of webbing.
  7. Thread your cord through the seam you sewed around the top of the bag, using a bodkin or safety pin. Enter and exit through the buttonhole. Thread your cord lock onto your cord, and tie big knots in the ends of your cord so the cord lock can't slide off.
You're finished!

As normal, I forgot or didn't think to take progress photos, so I hope these written instructions make sense. It sounds way more complicated than it actually was, written down like this. 

This is just the quick pattern I came up with in which to store our baby carrier, and it works for us. Obviously, many other bag patterns would work to shove a baby carrier in.

Reversible tote with tie handles

I put together this tote for a present for a friend in hospital. I filled it with bits and pieces that would hopefully be fun for someone who was bed-bound, and let the bag be the wrapping and present in one!

It has patch pockets on both sides, so one inside and one outside pocket. It is fully reversible, just pull it inside-out depending on which side you want to show.

I made the handles four individual straps, so it can be tied to anything to hold it up.

I'm really happy with how it turned out.

More balloon balls

T's balloon ball has been quite popular with some visiting kids, so I decided to make some as gifts. My pentagon pattern worked quite well, but has to be hand sewed. I wasn't feeling that generous with my time so as to want to make too many more like that!

So I went back to some of the blogs where I had seen different balloon ball patterns, and gave three different ones a try. I made four balls from three different patterns.

As a disclaimer, I was being quick and slapdash about this project. I had a deadline, not a lot of free time, and needed to get them done. I didn't spend a lot of time getting my seam allowances accurate and lining up all the corners. Obviously, all these patterns will make nicer balls if you pay more attention than I did to what you're doing!

Warning: Always supervise small children playing with balloons, even if they are tucked into fabric balls, due to the risk of choking if they get any of the rubber in their mouths.

1. First there's this one from Stuff by Steph.

It has eight sides and an octagonal end piece. According to the pattern, you should put a buttonhole in one end piece, I just left one small side seam open. This did leave an opening that was visible, so you need to be really careful to tuck in the balloon end, so the child can't get at it.

This pattern was really fiddly. The end pieces are really small and the seams joining them to the sides are hard to get into. I had to hand-sew on the end pieces. But it made quite a nice little ball.

2. Next was this pattern from Purlbee.

I made two balls from this pattern, in slightly different sizes. (Sorry - I don't remember which of her "sizes" I picked, and in any case, I adjusted the size on my printer, so they don't match any of her sizes exactly).

This pattern was easier than the first, above, because I could machine sew all my seams. Not being particularly careful on this day, the ends don't quite meet up. This is sloppy sewing on my part, not the fault of the pattern. Especially because the pattern provides for covering the ends with small circles, which I didn't do (leaving my faults open for the world to see...). 

To make an entry point for the balloons, I made one side piece out of two, overlapping pieces, with small turn-under seams. (See the second picture of the ball with pink on it). I didn't get this quite right, so the opening gapes a little. Again - you need to be careful to tuck in the balloon carefully so the child doesn't pull it out.

3. The last was this pattern from Emma Jones.

This is a five-sided ball, with pentagon ends. I machine sewed the lot, which was interesting around the pentagons.

Again - being in a hurry, I was not very careful with my seam allowances. This ball showed my hap-hazardness most. Between wonky pentagons on the ends, and balloons that blow up pear-shaped not really round, this was one odd-shaped ball! But hopefully the recipient doesn't mind too much.

So. There were some extras for my nieces and nephews for christmas, light-weight, non-breakable and therefore cheap and easy to post. I haven't actually had any feedback, so I'm taking it that no news is good news!