My no brainer list of must have travel essentials for holidaying with children!

Without a doubt the question I am asked most is ‘how do you make traveling with children look so easy?’

I am not going to pretend to you that it is a walk in the park.  We all have our days, we all have our moments.  I still remember the reality check of our first family vacation and the sudden realisation that things were ‘different’ now.  Call me crazy but I wouldn’t swap back to those lazy beach days, and genuinely love the beautiful chaos of travelling as a family of four.

With that said, there is a small but non negotiable list of travelling essentials which I ALWAYS pack for our trips.  These items are guaranteed to make holiday life easier!

Each store in linked for easy shopping…

CoziGo – The CoziGo is a dual purpose cover which can be used on both airline basinets and prams.  It provides 97% light blockage, so that babies and toddlers can fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer.  The fabric is UPV50+ keeping children safe from the sun, and is 100% air permeable to allow air to flow freely through the cover.   The design is a universal fit meaning it works on all strollers and most airline bassinets.  This is a simple and far more effective (and much safer!) solution to draping blankets over a pram.  I love that I can not only use this during travel but also on my pram at home.

Plane Pal & Packing Pal – Pane Pal have two incredible products; the Plane Pal and the Packing Pal.  Both products massively enhance your travel experience whether in a plane, car, camper van or bus.  The Plane Pal is a custom designed inflatable cushion which fills the space between your own seat and the seat in front of you.  This creates a bed like arrangement making sleep time so much more inviting.  We have one each for Ari and Chloe, and when they let me I sneak my legs up on it too!  The Packing Pals are mesh packing shells which help you to effectively pack and organise your suitcase.  I use a system of packing tops in one, bottoms in another and so on.  They com with a separate bag for shoes and another for dirty laundry.

Very Busy Bag – The perfect take anywhere entertainment for busy and time poor parents.  The Very Busy Bag is vital for keeping children entertained during travel.  It can be used on planes, car trips, trains, buses, in hotel rooms, you name it!  Each bag is filled with age and gender appropriate toys, activities and games for little ones to enjoy whilst on the move.  There is so much variety in these bags, Ari and Chloe’s kept them entertained for three weeks in Europe!  There are straps on the back of the bag so that older children can carry it themselves. My favourite thing about it is that the Very Busy Bag provides screen free time!

Bubba Bump Baby Bag – After lots of trial and error I have found the perfect solution for hand luggage when traveling with little ones.  A back pack is hands down the way to store all of your essentials.  This way you hands can be free to manage children, negotiate customs and all the other busy parts of airport travel.  The Bubba Bump Baby is the baby bag I chose to use not only when traveling but also at home, which means I don’t have to purchase addition items.  Its also great to use for day trips, once we have arrived at our destination.  This bag is luxurious, stylish, and many pockets are perfectly positioned to store all of those quick grab items like dummies, bottles and comforters.

Nordic Naturals – Staying healthy whilst travelling is key to the success of all holidays because no one wants to be sick on a trip!  Nordic Naturals is made from purified Cod Liver Oil, which benefits multiple body systems including brain, eye, heart, bone and joint health.   It also aids in overall energy and  vitality, which is so important on busy holidays.  Nordics Naturals have products to suit both adults and children, lots of which are naturally flavoured to test delicious.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to receive my exclusive discount codes PDF which includes some of the brans listed above.

Now that you have all of your travelling essentials its time to book your next family holiday.

Enjoy!

Thank you to the wonderful brands mentioned above for sponsoring this blog post so that I can share our favourite products with you. My opinion is of course and always is my own.

Tokyo, Japan

Itinerary
3 nights in total (2 full days)

Background Information
We travelled to Tokyo in February on our return from a snowboarding trip in Hakuba.  Travelling were two adults and two children (aged 1 and 2.)  We had already stayed in Tokyo for one very brief night on the way to the snow were we stayed close to Tokyo Station.
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Airport Transfers
The best way to travel to and from the airport is by either train or limo bus and we chose the latter. The limo bus travels directly to and from the airport to Shinjuku Station, and we found that this was by far the best option when travelling with young children and a million suitcases.  Taxis in Japan can be expensive and the distance from the airport to the main city centre is big so it just isn’t economical, however if you get to Shinjuku Train Station or Bus Terminal cabs to nearby accommodation are then inexpensive.  Also located in the Bus Terminal a baggage locker where you can put your luggage if you have a late check in/early check out time, and a really helpful information centre.
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Accommodation
We chose to stay in an Air BnB apartment as we found hotels to be quite expensive for there size.  We were able to get a two bedroom place for the same price if not cheaper then a small hotel room.  Our apartment was located in Yoyogi which is one stop from Shibuya and two stops from Shinjuku on the train.  Yoyogi offers that authentic Tokyo feel without being too busy.  We were situated in the perfect position just 100m from our local station, and surrounded by restaurants, convenience stores, pharmacies etc.  The apartment was spacious, modern, clean and more then we could have hoped for especially for the price.
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Day One – Disneyland
Seeing as we were travelling with our little ones we decided our first day in Tokyo would be spent at Disneyland.  Getting there was easy with a quick 40 minute trip on the subway (sounds long but when you are exploring another country it goes by in a flash.)  When the train pulled up at the Disneyland station we made a quick dash to the ticket booth to beat the hundred or so people behind us doing the same thing (no queue for tickets for us thank you very much!)  I hadn’t been to Disneyland since I was 7 and that was in Paris, I was amazed at its beauty.  Cinderella’s Castle was of course magnificent and all of the grounds were impeccably maintained.  Micky and Minnie were at the front gates ready to great everyone and of course the whole place just felt like magic!  The queue for rides took us by surprise though…. we were there on a ‘quiet’ Saturday, however we were looking at 80 minutes for the main attractions and 30 minutes for something like the carousel!  With that said there is so much to do at Disneyland that you don’t have to queue for, so we settled on three rides and then spent our time exploring attractions like Minnie Mouse’s House, Toontown, Westernland and Adventureland.  There is an abundance of food choices within the complex but not a lot at all for vegetarians, I would recommend Camp Woodchuck Kitchen and their vegetarian curry.  All of the children were walking around with little animated popcorn buckets, depending on the area of Disneyland you could get a different cartoon theme.  We bought Ari a Dumbo one and it made for the perfect snack/entertainment while waiting for rides.  They had a ‘Frozen’ parade on which was beautiful and ran really regularly throughout the day.  Our children were a bit too young to stay for the night time parade but I bet it would be spectacular.  One thing to note is to dress warm because as soon as the sun starts to go down the temperature gets so cold.  I would definitely recommend a visit to Tokyo Disney if you are travelling with children, it would just make their trip… Ari woke up the next morning asking to go back to Mickey’s house, so that was enough to make me SOLD!
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Day Two – Exploring
We were up early and headed straight for the famous Shibuya crossing, thought to be the busiest in the world.  We then did a huge walk through Shibuya onto Harajuku which was a really nice area full of designer shops and Harajuku girls.  It is also home to some well known cat and hedgehog cafes.  We continued walking onto Shinjuku Gyeon National Park which was heaven for any parent in Tokyo!  Finally somewhere that we could be let Ari out of the pram to run and stretch his legs!  The gardens were so beautifully maintained and we even saw a Cherry Blossom Tree in flower.  There was a cafe there selling takeaway sushi so a picnic on the lawn worked perfectly for us.  From there we headed to the closest station and grabbed a train to Tokyo Sky Tree.  TST is the world’s tallest tower at 634 meters.  The area has dozens of shops (loads of Japanese cartoon ones in particular,) restaurants, even an aquarium which was full of incredible fish, jellyfish, a seal and penguins.  You can also pay to go to the very top of the tower.
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Hot Tips

  1. Tokyo has two rail systems being the normal above ground train and the underground subway.
  2. The first trip or two through the station, onto platforms and trains can be tricky so allow plenty of time.  After that you’ll be fine and have the hang of it.
  3. If you are debating whether or not to take a pram, take one!  It will be annoying and you’ll have to carry it up and down a lot of stairs but in my opinion there are situations where you will want to have your child ‘trapped’ (for want of a better word) in a pram for safety if nothing else.  Also you’ll walk ALOT and children just cant do that.
  4. If your baby is young and light forget the above and just take a carrier (I carried Chloe for the whole trip.)
  5. Download a translator app like Google Translate.  This will be so helpful and can even be used offline.
  6. Download the Japan Travel app.  This is an absolute life saver for railway and subway travel!  You can put in your current position and destination and it will tell you the lines to take, times and even the platform that the train departs from.
  7. The Japanese public transport system is amazing!  The trains run frequently, on time and the trains and stations are immaculate.  Don’t be afraid to ask station staff or other passengers for help.  They might not speak English but they will do their best. If you have the above mentioned app you will find it easier as everything is written in Japanese and English.
  8. The Japanese don’t walk around and eat or drink, and there is no one eating, drinking or talking on the cell phone in the train.
  9. Stand on the right side on escalators so that fellow travellers can pass you.
  10. The Japanese people will MAKE your holiday they are polite, courteous and friendly.
  11. I wish we went to see a Sumo wrestling fight!!
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Restaurant Recommendations
We didn’t eat out much in Tokyo because we were always on the go we ate a lot of interesting Japanese food from supermarkets and convenience stores but here are a few of my suggestions based on where we did go:
800 Degrees – Not Japanese food but this place does some seriously amazing design your own pizza!
Tokyo Sky Tree – Ok this isn’t a restaurant but its a place full of so many amazing restaurants!  There are some delicious bento boxes and green tea ice creams to be had!
Alice in Magical Land –  This place was out of this world.  Based entirely on the Alice in Wonderland novel… from the cocktails, to the menu, the décor and the cute costumes the waitresses wear… something you will never see at home on the Sunshine Coast!
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Tokyo Wrap Up
I am the eternal optimist when it comes to travelling but I am going to be honest and tell you that we found Tokyo to be a difficult city to travel with kids. This was our experience it may not have been yours or it might not be yours in the future. Was it worth it… yes of course and I am so glad that we went! Our children are Sunshine Coast babies who aren’t used to cities with queues and having to be in prams all day. I am so glad that we explored this amazing city and spent time with its beautiful people and I think that next time it will be easier for us as the children will be older. The highlight of Tokyo for me was for sure it’s gorgeous people.
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Small-Signature-Nat

*Disclaimer: At times this website contains posts where items and experiences have been sponsored, gifted or blog posts have been paid for in return for advertisement/promotion.  Where this applies it will be clearly stated at the bottom of the blog post. Natalie Sullivan and www.thissweetlofeofmine.blog only endorses brands/items that her family uses, loves and highly recommends. To read the full disclaimer see here

Hakuba, Japan

Hakuba, Hakuba, Hakuba… Oh my… I could have stayed there forever.

Background Info
My husband and I love to snowboard.  Ryan started to learn a few years before me, then right after our wedding six years ago I decided I would give it a try… I was hooked!  Don’t get me wrong there were many tears, deep breathes and even some marital arguments but there was something so exhilarating about strapping on that board!  Over the six years prior to our Japanese vacation we enjoyed eight trips over three countries.  Japan was a holiday that we had put off for many years, especially since having children, as we simply thought it would be ‘too hard’… we were wrong!

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Itinerary
Traveling as 2 adults, a 2 year old (two and eight months exactly) and a 12 month old.
14 nights in total – 1 Tokyo, 10 Hakuba, 3 Tokyo.

Getting there
We flew Brisbane to Tokyo in under 9 hours. Once at Narita airport we opted to take a mini van style taxi to our accommodation in the city, this is only economical because we were in a larger group as we were travelling there with friends. Other options for getting into Tokyo city would have been the direct limousine bus or direct train (both easy to find and organise at the airport.)  Our first night was basically a transit night as our plane landed in the evening.  We opted to stay somewhere close to Tokyo Station, because that is where the bullet train to Hakuba would depart from the following day.  We chose the Marunouchi Hotel because of it’s proximity to the station (directly opposite.) The rooms were small but just what we needed, there was a yummy breakfast and cute little amenity packs for the children.

The following day we headed to the station to buy tickets for the bullet train to Hakuba. (You don’t need to book your tickets in advance, it’s fine to turn up on the day and buy one.) Tokyo Station is extremely busy so it is important to allow plenty of time to get from the ticket booth to your platform.  The bullet train is a high speed train travelling at over 300km an hour to Nagano. It took under an hour and a half to arrive at the station and then we had to get an hour bus to Hakuba. So hotel door to door the travel time totalled about 4 and half hours with all the extra stops and waiting times etc.

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The Hakuba Mountains
The Hakuba Valley is made up of eleven, 11 different ski resorts with over 200 trails, 5 gondolas, 138 lifts, great back country and amazing off piste action.   We only made it to 3 of the mountains!  There is a reason why its called #japow with over 11 metres of annual snowfall! Hakuba really is fantastic for everyone from kids, to beginners, to experts and we just loved it!

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Accommodation
There are so many accommodation options in Hakuba and the surrounding area that we seriously spent hours upon hours deciding where to stay. Hostels, chalets, hotels, self contained apartments, Air BnB places…  we found accommodation to be on the higher side in terms of price, but that’s most likely because we were trying to tick alot of boxes.

We finally settled on Gakuto Villas which are two bedroom, self contained apartments located in the Wadano Mori district of Hakuba.  There are 12 free standing double storey villas in total, all Western style but with Japanese detailing.  The villas are 100m2 and feature two bathrooms, a kitchen, living room and space from one car.  They sleep 6 people in total which could easily be done and of course this would have made it more cost affective.  Oh and did I mention the huge dreamy windows and heated flooring!  This place was seriously amazing, and everything from the cleanliness to how pleasant the staff were was top notch.  Gakuto were kind enough to drive us pretty much everywhere so there was no need to hire a car and in the couple of occasions that we visited more distant mountains we grabbed a cab. Gakuto also made all of our dinner reservations and had some great recommendations.  Their location is just perfect… within 10 minutes walk to a the Sakka chair lift, Rhythm, Happo Kids Club, Evergreen Center, local food shops, restaurants and much more. From our initial booking to checkout we honestly couldn’t have been more impressed.

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Childcare
Of the 9 full days that we were at Hakuba the children attended care for 8 of those (about 3 were half days.)  There weren’t many options for our 12 month old, as a lot of the places won’t take children until they are 18 months.  One choice was an villa babysitter which really was quite expensive I thought. Our other option was the Happo Kids Club, so we went with that and I couldn’t have been happier.  Both Ari and Chloe loved it and the ratio of children to carers was fantastic.  Though most of the ladies only spoke Japanese there was always one person there who spoke English.  Most of the days I made the children a packed lunch but you could also opt to have food included.  There was a good variety of toys for different ages as well as a room for sleeping.  I wrote down both children’s routines for sleep and eating etc. the they were followed perfectly.

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Evergreen Outdoor Center (Ski School/Childcare)
We enrolled Ari at the Evergeen International Ski School for lessons in their ‘Yeti Club.’  He was suppose to be three but I am sorry I faked his age (opps!)  The Yeti Club involved indoor and outdoor play as well as structured ski lessons.  They have two locations being Happo and Iwatake, and I personally preferred the Iwatake center, it was a lot quieter and he got more one on one attention.  He did three lessons in total and by the end of that had earned his ‘Yuki White Belt’ and was moving along on his skis.  On the days where Ari had ski lessons at Iwatake the manager approved Chloe to go to the day care with him.  I was told they are able to do this on quiet days so if you are wanting to put your child in an Evergreen Center but they aren’t quite 18 months it is worth asking.  All of the staff there speak English, lunch is provided and the staff even took Chloe outside to watch Ari’s lessons which I thought was lovely.  Evergreen does work out more expensive then the Happo Kids Club but seeing as my babies were in care for 8 days I wanted to mix it up.

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Eating
Being that our accommodation was self contained we ate breakfast in each day, this was fab for saving money!  There is a great supermarket in Hakuba were you can find everything you need.  The Japanese love their packet noodles so a couple of nights we went local and enjoyed those in our villa.

There are so many options in terms of dining, however if you have a specific restaurant in mind that you wish to visit make sure that you book in advance.  You can get all kinds of food in Hakuba from all over the world, and in all different kinds of settings.  Be aware that most places don’t have highchairs or children’s menus.  Our children are not very fussy eaters but we always took a few snacks out to dinner with us just in case there was nothing available that they like… or when in doubt I just meant with the crispy chicken and rice!  Also my husband and I are vegetarian which we found a little challenging in Japan as whole but we always managed to find something for us.

Here are a few of my favourite restaurant recommendations from our trip:
Penke Bar – Cute bar/restaurant with delicious food, yummy Chu Hi (Japan’s favourite alcoholic drinks) and great style… this place was my favourite!  A great mix of international food and so many choices for vegetarians.  Love love loved it!
Sharaku – More of a fine dining style but really well priced compared to Australian fine dining.  Western styling seating with tables and chairs and they have highchairs!! There were some really interesting dishes there with a mix of Japanese and more Western flare,  a favourite of mine was the Agedashi Camembert.
Tom Sawyer – Low key restaurant with Western style Japanese seating.  Some interesting dishes to try (for our non vegetarian friends) like liver and crispy cartilage!
Taco Taco – Located in Echoland this is a great choice if you are wanting a break from Japanese food.
Rabbit Hole – Situated at the bottom of a busy hotel, this place is more of a bar come restaurant with some really yummy pub style food.  Choices for vegetarians and meat eaters too!  Oh and one highchair yay!
Root Cafe – This is a great vegetarian café at the base of Happo One right next to the Evergreen Centre.  Perfect for a quick coffee or hot chocolate after dropping the kids off.

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Mamas Onsen Experience
Highland Onsen – Hot Springs.  I decided to keep the babies in day care for one morning but to take some time off of the slopes to enjoy this traditional Japanese experience.  Highly recommended by our accommodation and I am so glad!  This place has the most amazing view and I enjoyed a completely relaxing yet hilarious experience.    An Onsen is a way of bathing, naked, in a hot spring, all together (though men and women are separate!)  The water feels lovely and is full of minerals which are suppose to be extremely good for you.  I went with a female friend but if you don’t fancy that you can hire a private onsen where you can wear swimwear.

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Advice for families travelling to Hakuba
– If you have washing facilities at your accommodation pack light, you don’t want to lug around unnecessary baggage.
– If it is your first time in Hakuba try to stay within walking distance to childcare and the slopes, it will make your morning drop offs easier.
– If you are looking for nappies/diapers and other baby products head to the pharmacy, they don’t sell them in the normal supermarket in Hakuba.
– Rhythm are great for hiring kids (and adults) snow gear and equipment
– If you are searching for children’s snow gear in Australia I recommend Kathmandu for thermals and gloves etc. but keep your eyes peeled for 50% off sales as its pricey!
– Make sure you buy good quality children’s gloves and don’t let them touch the snow without earing them… trust me they don’t like it!
– Enjoy the heated toilet seats and tell your kids not to press too many buttons or they will get a surprise spray up there bum!!
– Relax and enjoy your trip!  We honestly thought that this trip to Hakuba with children would be so much harder then it was.  It is really well set out and organised, and public transport in Japan is extremely convenient.

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Until Next Time
I could honestly talk about this vacation forever, and when it came time to leave I was already plotting our return.  Hakuba we will be back time and time again!

Small-Signature-Nat

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*Disclaimer: At times this website contains posts where items and experiences have been sponsored, gifted or blog posts have been paid for in return for advertisement/promotion.  Where this applies it will be clearly stated at the bottom of the blog post. Natalie Sullivan and www.thissweetlofeofmine.blog only endorses brands/items that her family uses, loves and highly recommends. To read the full disclaimer see here