Six* Things To Pack for Sensitive Young Travellers

I like to think my previous posts on games for sensitive young children have conjured images of the type of thing you’d get if you crossed McGyver and Mary Poppins and then threw the result unexpectedly onto a train platform at the border of Thailand and Malaysia for an indefinite period of time with nothing but a small handful of cash, a shopper docket, and two restless preschoolers.

Lawn bowls, the red-tile-and-scrunched-up-shopping-docket version. Hat tip to Great-Granddad for introducing us to the game.

In case they haven’t – it looks a lot like Æ playing shopper-docket tile bowls.

But as we now know, I also like to pack stuff.  This is everything we’ve used to help sensitive children cope with travelling away from home, plus brief pointers on how we’ve used them. If you’re actually Mary Poppins or McGyver (or an approximation thereof) feel free to add ideas I’ve missed.

Babies to Toddlers (and, for some items, Up)

These guys can’t reason or grapple with things on their own, but they are small enough to be coddled, and possibly also distracted. Here’s our list of equipment for the littlest of sensitive travellers:


What beats the comfort of a carrier? (If you have an answer, I don’t want to hear it – my knees are still aching.) The most successful way I know of to keep a young child calm in a disconcerting situation is to hold them. An ergonomic carrier lets you do that for so long you won’t notice your knees throbbing til the end of your holiday.

Stroller with cover

Some kids, especially slightly older (heavier) ones, might make do with a stroller. In my experience, the chance of this increases with the addition of a mesh cover which provides a see-through veil between the child and the world. Especially good at cutting down on the attention of strangers, who will probably assume the child is asleep or trying to get there.

Sun glasses and hat

For kids who are ready to get a step closer to the world (or if carrying and pushing by stroller are both unfeasible) a set of sunnies and a wide-brimmed hat can provide a useful distancing effect. Bonus: they keep the sun off.

Petronas Twin Towers, KL, Malaysia.

P uses his hat as a shield from intrusive maternal photography in KL, Malaysia.

Anything that helps with settling for sleep

There are as many ways to settle young travellers down to sleep as there are children who refuse to be settled by them. In my experience, it can be a good idea to reach backwards into the past and bring out any tricks they’ve just grown out of. That swaddle you packed away last month? Yeah, that kind of thing.

Favourite book or toy

There’s a conundrum here, because the favourite toy/book will probably be the most comforting, but also the most traumatic to lose. A second-favourite might be the right compromise. Your call.

Familiar foods

Far be it from me to suggest you plan a holiday menu which requires a supply chain worthy of the US military. That said, a handful of snacks from home can be a nice comfort for the first few days. Check quarantine restrictions, and probably don’t make it dried noodles in the car. Formula-fed babies are worth special consideration here.

Appropriate clothing

We like to use layers so we can make fine adjustments, and at the same time create that bohemian look you get when you try and wear a sun dress with snow boots and a tied-up headscarf. Comfortable, worn-in shoes are a must. Take care choosing fabrics, especially with items they’re not used to, such as mittens.

List of Games/Ideas

I bought this tin at a National Geographic store for my husband one Christmas, because I can be facetious like that. But you could make your own and, like, not gift it facetiously.

Fifty ways to keep kids entertained tin box.

Inside are fifty cards, each listing a different idea. For babies and toddlers, this is just a grab-bag of suggestions, but two preschool-aged children I know get a kick from drawing a card at random in a sort of meta-game which adds to the set. Feel free to include any equipment-free travel games I may have written about in the past.

Toddlers, Preschoolers and Up

Older children can start to grapple with culture shock more independently, and can also be trusted not to try and swallow an ear plug. They can make use of their imagination and their ability to draw and write, and engage socially. Obviously it’s still good to dress them appropriately and help them sleep, but we’ve also found it useful to take:


A set of binoculars has a distancing effect, especially if you use them the wrong way around. They can allow kids to introduce themselves to new locations in small doses from behind train windows, within restaurants, or through bushes.

T using her binoculars to search for worms and lizards at the wedding ceremony (A's feet in background).

This foreign grass is reassuringly distant.

Digital cameras

Use an old one picked up from the charity shop or a ruggedised one which is waterproof, shock-proof, sand-proof, snow-proof – or in other words toddler-proof – and has large buttons.

Like binoculars, digital cameras have a distancing as well as distracting effect, but unlike binoculars, they can help a child process their experiences at the end of each day. They can also help quell the paparazzi, by allowing the child in question to be behind the camera rather than in front of it.


Music soothes, but all by themselves earphones can mute a noisy scene. Also they can save bystanders from the infliction of irritating game music when it’s time to retreat to a device.

Costume or character props

P or T might be easily overwhelmed in new places, but you know who isn’t? Captain Barnacles. Batman. James Bond. You’d be amazed what you can do with pipe cleaners and a healthy curiosity as to how many people would follow the hashtag #liveroleplayyourvacation.

Some of the equipment listed in this post can double as character props (binoculars, cameras, notebooks, hats and sunglasses, favourite or unusual clothing).

Space Ninja and Ballerina Ninja fear nothing.

Space Ninja and Ballerina Ninja fear nothing.


Since this is the internet and there’s a good chance you’re a blogger, I probably don’t need to tell you how much less scary life gets when your first thought isn’t, “What’s happening and whatever can I do?” but, “What’s happening and how can I blog it?”

Journals and notebooks can also be used to draw pictures of comforting places, write desperate pleas to go back to the hotel room, or compose haikus about the feelings associated with being overwhelmed.

Sharing bag (for making friends)

Badges, stickers, or other small gifts can help break the ice with local kids, boosting confidence. Alternatively, portable toys like balls or marbles can be used for a variety of group games.

Cake and friendship at Otonashi Shinsui Park, near Oji Station, Tokyo.

Food also works.

As always, I love new ideas (or dire warnings of tricks gone wrong). Go ahead and add whatever you can think of to the comments.

*Or thereabouts. I didn’t end up counting.

Six Things To Pack for Sensitive Young Travellers (to ease culture shock) | Journeys of the Fabulist

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