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Next week, our family will be starting our worldschooling adventure in Mexico—and I can’t wait! With only a few days left before our departure, I am deep in the final logistics stage of preparation. On my to-do list: putting our mail on hold, setting up our housesitter, cleaning out the fridge, and of course, PACKING.
This will be the third time that our family has visited Mexico City (the second with kids in tow), and as I’ve had more experience traveling abroad, I’ve gotten better at figuring out what what we need to make daily life in another country work.
Since we won’t really be on vacation while we’re there—my husband will be working from home, and I’ll keep up all of my normal domestic duties—my packing list isn’t really like one that you might use, say, for a trip to the beach. Instead, I’ve got a few slightly quirky things that I’m bringing to help us keep up our normal routines and make the most of this incredible learning opportunity.
Are you curious to know what they are? Well, here you go:
1. Digital cookbooks, a monthly meal plan, and my knives (stashed in an oven mitt)
While we’re in Mexico, we’ll be staying at an apartment that we rented through Airbnb, and one of its major advantages is that it comes with a full kitchen. Although I hope to eat at least some meals out to give myself a break, in large part, I’ll be keeping up my job as family chef.
Cooking and eating at home will solve three issues: first, eating at a restaurant with a toddler is a nightmare—can I get an amen? So we'll be staying home for the most part, although I hope to visit at least one of the restaurants in Mexico City that has a playspace and babysitters for the kids. Since babysitters aren’t really “a thing” in Mexico, this is a major boon for adults--and I'd love to have at least one "proper" date night conversation with my husband while we're in Mexico! In addition, by eating mostly at home, we’re able to keep tighter control of our budget. Since Mexico City is a fairly expensive city (prices are about the equivalent of DC), eating out adds up really quickly. The less money we spend on eating out, the more money I’ll have to spend on books and day trips…so you see where my priorities lie. Third and finally, cooking at home gives me peace of mind. Our family has some complicated food allergies and I would hate to have to rush my toddler to the hospital because of an inadvertent reaction.
However, because this isn’t my first time traveling abroad, I know that if I want to keep us enjoying home-cooked meals, I need to do a little planning in advance. To that end, I’ve downloaded digital copies of my favorite simple cookbooks (Danielle Walker’s Meals Made Simple, and Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday, and More Mexican Everyday) and made a monthly meal plan that will use all of the wonderful ingredients that we’ll have access to. Since many of those ingredients will require significant prep, I’m also packing my knives. I’ve traveled with my chef’s knife and my paring knife before, and I usually just keep them in my checked baggage in an oven mitt. They can’t cut through the thick fabric of the mitt and with a little tape over the opening, they’re protected from falling out. In the past, I’ve found that rental apartments often have really basic kitchen equipment, and so although my knives aren’t particularly fancy, I do prefer to bring them with me. Using quality tools really cuts down on my food prep time and helps me to be more efficient in the kitchen—which is so important, especially since I'm usually cooking while holding a toddler!
The one kitchen item that I didn’t pack, but wish that I could: my slow cooker. I love it so much, but alas, its 20-lb. weight makes it an impractical traveling companion.
2. My beloved wireless bluetooth speaker
I’ve written before on how valuable my $25 bluetooth speakeris to our family—we use it to listen to Spanish-language music, children’s audiobooks in Spanish, and classical music for our family dinners—and so it’s coming to Mexico with us (for the second time!). While we’re there, I’ll also use it to stream Mexican radio, which I like to listen to while I’m cooking, since it keeps me up-to-date on the local news.
3. Indestrucibles in Spanish
These little books are perfect for traveling with toddlers! Made out of a special lightweight and waterproof fabric, they can't be destroyed by little hands, so they are perfect for my 21-month-old. The company just released their first Indestructibles in Spanish, which I picked up to include in our carry-on. Let’s hope it keeps my little guy entertained on our flights!
4. Printed maps of our new neighborhood
My older son is obsessed with maps, so I thought that buying him a map of Mexico City and making him our family’s official “navigator” would be the perfect way to learn a bit of geography and orienteering during our trip. However, for some reason, the map that I really wanted is only available for $80—not happening! Luckily, after a bit of searching, I found these free, printable maps of Mexico City. Once I laminate them, I’ll be able to chart out our adventures with a simple wet erase pen—and then let him lead us through the city!
5. Tiny polos and khakis
What’s so quirky about these? Well, let me explain…
As an INTJ mom, one of my personal weaknesses is tuning into and caring about my surroundings--so decorating, for example, is not my strong suit. While I’ve worked hard to care more about the state of my home—largely thanks to Mystie Winckler’s wonderful blog, Simply Convivial—I still can’t get myself to care very much about the clothes that my kids wear. After all, I have two messy, active boys and a limited clothing budget, so sweatpants and t-shirts are their daily uniform. While here in America, I can get away with dressing them like that, in Mexico, they might be seen as overly sloppy. Where we’re going, parents tend to dress their young children more formally, and I don’t want my boys to be seen as inappropriately dressed. So, because part of being a good visitor to another country is to try to adopt that place’s cultural norms(within reason), I’ll be “dressing up” my boys for the trip. Luckily, Old Navy had a big sale on polos and khakis last week, so we’re stocked (and now they have great church clothes for when we return).
6. A mostly-empty suitcase
Although I’m pretty sure that we’re going to look like a traveling circus when we arrive at the airport—with suitcases, car seats, strollers, and a Pack-and-Play in tow—I am planning to bring a mostly-empty suitcase on the plane. Why would I do such a thing? Well, to fill it with books, of course! Although our family has enjoyed many wonderful Spanish language books from our local library—our favorites are listed in my resource library—now that my older son is getting ready to read, I want to have our home stocked with books that will entice him to read in both of his native languages (and particularly Spanish). Books are generally quite expensive in Mexico, so I don’t know exactly how many we’ll be able to buy, but I’m doing my best to scope out a bookstore that carries used copies of children’s literature.
7. A roll of aluminum foil and Scotch Tape
At home, our boys sleep with sound machines and blackout curtains—and without those two things, they’re up with the dawn. Since we don’t know exactly what the curtain situation will be like in our Airbnb rental, I’m stashing a roll of aluminum foil and Scotch Tape in my suitcase. With a little ingenuity, we’ll be able to block out all of that pesky morning light from their bedrooms in our apartment, at least for the first night—and that will help us get the extra sleep we need as we adjust to a new living situation.
What quirky or unexpected things have you packed for your family’s adventures—international or otherwise?