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Tag Archive: South Africa as a Family

Why We Would Spend Money to Go to South Africa With Our Kids

Welcome to my two-week series all about our recent family trip to South Africa. I’m recounting some of our favorite experiences, lessons we learned, travel tips, and some of the most memorable stories and takeaways. To read all of the posts in this series, click here.

Thinking of traveling abroad with your kids? Read this for encouragement and perspective!

Many people have asked us why we would spend the money to take our whole family to South Africa. It’s a very valid question — especially when I have a blog called December212012.info. 🙂

Well, first off, when you stay with friends and they are kind enough to graciously provide your food and transportation and you get a great deal on plane tickets, it’s not at all as expensive as people would assume.

But, at the same time, it is definitely not cheap, so why would we spend the money on a trip halfway around the world? For starters, I wrote a post on three reasons we take our kids to South Africa here. Those reasons were a big driving force behind why we took our kids to South Africa a second time.

There were three other reasons, too:

1. We’ve chosen to prioritize life-changing experiences in our budget.

In January of 2015, I boarded an 18-hour flight to South Africa with my friends, Lisa-Jo and Joy. The trip itself was SO far outside my comfort zone (I had never been on a plane for more than 5 hours and had never really traveled internationally) and I had no idea what to expect.

On that trip, I fell madly in love with the people of South Africa, I discovered that I love traveling and experiencing new cultures, I found out that I’m a lot more extroverted than I realized I was, I made dear friends, I learned so much from people whose lives are very different than mine, and our family found a calling and passion to come alongside and support the amazing work that is doing.

Since that trip, South Africa has become like a second home to me. It’s why I’ve been there four times in the past four years. And it’s why every time I go, it never feels like enough.

Our heartbeat for so much of why we do what we do — why I blog, why we produce products, why we seek to be strategic with the business and wise with our personal funds — is so we can give generously to the needs in South Africa and elsewhere.

I am forever changed. Our family is forever changed. Because of what we’ve learned and experienced in South Africa.

And that’s why we prioritize making this trip as often as we can.

2. We want to be motivated to remember our “why”.

The South Africans have taught us what true giving looks like — even when you have almost nothing to give.

They have taught us what warm hospitality looks like — giving up your time and vacation days and your bedroom and sleep to host us!

They have taught us what contentment and joy looks like — even when you live without power and water in a tiny shack.

They have shown us what faith looks like — when you believe God can do big things despite having almost zero resources.

And they have given us incredible purpose. To live beneath our means so we can give generously. To be strategic and wise stewards of our time and money and opportunities in order to be able to help out as many people as possible.

Being with these people reminds us of what really matters in life. And it gives us fresh perspective and deeper empathy and a greater understanding of how to love others well.

3. We want to do more than just give money.

Our family invests a significant portion of our income every month to help fund . And while money is very important, we want the team there to know that we are with them in the work they are doing.

While we aren’t called to live in South Africa right now, traveling there regularly to be with our friends there, to celebrate their progress, hear of their struggles, see the work first-hand, and just hang out with them and spend time together is so valuable.

More than anything, people who are sacrificing so much need to know that they aren’t alone. That there are people who care deeply about the work they are doing. That they have friends who are praying and celebrating — even if they live thousands of miles away.

I think it’s easy to forget this. To think that people just need financial support. But as our friends in South Africa have taught us: relationships are so much more valuable than financial support ever could be.

Let me tell you, going to South Africa for the second time with our kids was really incredible!

Our first trip to South Africa as a family was good but still pretty overwhelming for the kids. They struggled with the time change, the jet lag, the new foods, the different schedules, the language barriers… everything was so foreign to them and it was rough on many days of the trip.

This time around, there were still the unknowns and variables and challenges that come along with international travel, but all three kids handled it like champs. Every day, we went to new places and they got to meet and hang out with new people from a variety of backgrounds.

I saw them walk into these situations with confidence and grace. Instead of sitting on the sidelines and playing it safe, they jumped in and played full out.

And it was so beautiful to witness. Once again, they demonstrated that you don’t have to speak the same language fluently to communicate love.

One of our heart’s desires is to raise kids who realize there is a big, big world out there and there is so much we can learn from everyone in it — no matter what language they speak or background they come from. Traveling outside our “American bubble” is one way we’re seeking to begin nurturing this understanding in them.

(By the way, the kids are begging that we not only go back to South Africa next year, but can we please visit another continent next year, too? Even my child who is very scared to fly commented and said, “Well, now that I got that 18-hour flight over with, I think I can fly just about anywhere. So please can we travel more??” As you can imagine, that put a great big smile on my face! 😉)

I don’t know what the future holds for our kids. I don’t know if we’ll be able to reach our family’s crazy goal of traveling to all 7 continents by the time Kathrynne is 18. But I do know that the money we invested to take this trip to South Africa was every bit worth it.

In fact, I’d say that the return on our investment has been pretty near priceless!

What I Pack in My Backpack for International Trips

Welcome to my two-week series all about our recent family trip to South Africa. I’m recounting some of our favorite experiences, lessons we learned, travel tips, and some of the most memorable stories and takeaways. To read all of the posts in this series, click here.

This post contains affiliate links and we may be compensated when you make a purchase by clicking through our links. Read our disclosure policy here.

I shared a peek into my backpack on before we left for South Africa and so many of you asked if I could give links to the products and post more details. So, here is the much-requested post with all the details on what I pack in my backpack for international trips.

First off, you want to find a sturdy backpack that is specifically designed for the wear and tear of travel.

After a lot of research, I bought on Amazon and I absolutely love it. It’s the perfect size to be able to carry everything I need to carry — and it has a very protective pouch for my laptop. It’s also not too large or bulky and fits under the seat of every plane I’ve been on.

In the largest zippered section, I usually bring:

  • my books I’m reading or plan to read on the plane (yes, I’m weird and travel with real books — I just can’t bring myself to switch to a device for reading!) some magazines I’ve gotten for free (I leave these on the plane after I read them)
  • socks (in case my feet get cold on the long flight)
  • (I sometimes bring , too, depending upon the flight)
  • If you are not bringing a carry-on with you on the plane, I would also recommend including a complete change of clothes + basic toiletries in your backpack (I’ll share what I put in my bathroom/toiletries bag in a post in a few days) so that you can brush your teeth/wash your face on the plane + change your clothes, if need be. In addition, if your luggage gets lost, at least you’ll have some basic things until they find or replace your luggage.

In the next zippered section, I pack:

  • My wallet & passport (I also usually stick my phone here — it’s not pictured since I was using it to take these photos!)
  • Snacks (you never know when you’ll get hungry or if the food will be good on the plane or not)
  • An eye mask for better sleeping

In the top pouch, I pack my earbuds and adaptors for the plane, if needed (Some of the South African Airways flights have two-pronged headphone jacks and you need an adaptor for them.)

I absolutely LOVE and have had them for a few years and used them incessantly! They are so lightweight but so high quality and do a great job at noise-cancelling.

In the top zippered pouch, I keep my sunglasses. This is a really sturdy pouch and can’t be crushed — which is great for something like sunglasses or a small camera.

In the side pouches, I pack phone chargers.

In the front zippered pouch, I pack:

  • Wet wipes + antibacterial wipes (these are so handy for lots of things — including wiping down your tray and space on the plane right when you board + to use as toilet paper if you’re going to a location where there might not be toilet paper in most bathrooms)
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Listerine Strips — these are the BEST and I always bring them when I travel
  • Lotion
  • A pen/pencils
  • Lip balm
  • Tissues
  • I had the medicine bag in another bag on this trip, but if I wasn’t traveling with others, I would also pack basic medicines in this pouch — sleeping meds, Dramamine, stomach meds, essential oils, ibuprofen, etc.

In another side pouch, I pack a bag of tea bags. Since I don’t drink coffee anymore and there isn’t always decaf tea readily available, I like to have these on hand to make my own (I ask the flight attendant for a cup of hot water and cream).

I pack my in another side pouch because I have found that rinsing out my sinuses once a day has made such a difference for my allergies and is one of the reasons I’m no longer on allergy medication! (And yes, I totally bring bottled water or get some on the plane and rinse out my nose in the airplane bathroom!)

And then my computer and computer cord goes in the computer pouch.

I love that this backpack has a luggage handle pass-through, too!

And there you have it — everything I packed in my backpack for our trip to South Africa (which is pretty much what I usually pack on any international trip!)

What else would YOU pack in your backpack for an international trip? Am I missing anything that you think is a necessity? I’d love to hear!

If you enjoy posts on international travel, be sure to also check out the following posts I’ve written on the topic:

Planning a long trip? This list of carry-on backpack essentials is really helpful for international flights!

5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before We Went to South Africa

As I told you a few days ago, I’m going to spend the most of the next two weeks here sharing all about . There are so many beautiful stories to share from our time there, but I wanted to start this series from the very top — by sharing some practical lessons I learned on this trip when it comes specifically to international travel.

I’ve done some international travel in the past few years (this was my fourth trip to South Africa in four years + I also took a trip to Rome and Israel) and, each time, I learn new tricks and tips for international travel. If you are a seasoned pro at international travel, these tips will likely be ones that are incredibly obvious and no-brainer to you.

But I wanted to share these with those of you who might not be seasoned travelers and might be planning an international trip in the future. There were things I wish someone had told me these things ahead of time and (for the most part) had to discover the hard way:

1. Check Your Seat Assignments on the Airline’s Website

We flew through South African Airways this time and had booked through a third-party website because the prices were much cheaper to do so. However, we didn’t realize that the seats we chose on that website wouldn’t transfer over to South African Airways and that we actually needed to get on the SAA website to book our seats.

We accidentally discovered this about two days before our flights — when we happened to get online and check something and saw that we had no assigned seats! Gratefully, we were able to choose seats that were decent even though it was so close to the departure date, but had we waited until we showed up at the airport, we could have ended up with really bad seats that weren’t together — because our flight there ended up being 100% booked.

So lesson learned: Always double check your seat assignments on the actual airline’s site as soon as you book and then maybe double-check again the week of your flight. (Yes, I’m one of those weird people that typically double and triple checks things, just to be sure!)

2. Find Out if There is a Weight Limit for Carry-ons (Before You Pack!)

This was probably my biggest mistake of the trip. The thought never crossed my mind to check if there was a weight limit for carry-ons.

I guess this is a really common thing for international flights, but I think that SAA hadn’t either enforced this or had this policy the first time I flew to South Africa. Then, we flew Delta the last two times to South Africa and they don’t have weight limits for carry-ons. When we fly domestically, we almost always fly American Airlines, which also doesn’t have weight limits for carry-ons.

So, believe it or not, I’d never encountered a situation where an airline had a weight limit for carry-ons. Which meant that I never thought to check on this ahead of time.

I was so thrilled at how “well” I had packed and how I had easily fit everything into my backpack and carry-on for this trip. Everyone had packed the same: one backpack and one carry-on. I thought we were being so smart and efficient. Ahem.

Then we got up to the check-in counter and I saw all of the signs about the weight limit for carry-ons and knew that my grand plan wasn’t going to work so well! They had to weigh every single backpack and carry-on suitcase and Jesse and my carry-on were way over the limit.

However, the good news is that we got a free checked bag per person since we were traveling internationally and we had only planned to check one bag (see more on that below). Since we were able to check up to five bags for free and only Jesse’s carry-on and my carry-on were over the weight limit, we didn’t have to pay anything extra. I did, however, rearrange a few things and pull out an extra outfit — just in case I needed it while on the plane or something (remember, I’m the girl with the mantra of, “Always be prepared.” :))

3. Don’t Put Valuables in Your Checked Luggage

I made another very newbie sort of mistake here: we brought a big suitcase full of gifts for the team in South Africa and the bag included two brand-new laptops and wireless security cameras that one of them had ordered and shipped to our house for us to bring as that was less expensive than having it shipped to South Africa.

In past trips, we’d had multiple items stolen from our carry-on luggage on the flights — mostly small, brand-new items that we had purchased in South Africa. Because of this and because I thought it made more practical sense, our big suitcase had all of the gifts in it, including the laptops and wireless security cameras.

Well, when we showed up in South Africa, the big suitcase wasn’t there. It didn’t come out with the rest of the luggage. It wasn’t in the oversized luggage. It wasn’t anywhere. We went and talked to the customer service counter and they looked, too, and couldn’t find it.

We’re not sure where it was, but no one could locate it until three days later! And I was pretty sick that they we had put all those valuables in it.

More on this story below, but the short of it that they did finally locate it and everything was still in it (gratefully!), but from now on, I am going to do the best I can to make sure that any valuables are in our carry-on luggage (which will also be under weight limit!) and we’ll keep a very close eye on them throughout the flight to make sure nothing is stolen in flight.

4. Don’t Assume That Your In-Seat TV Will Work

Our flight to South Africa was 18 hours long. I’ve done this (or a similar flight) 8 times now and I can tell you that that is a LOT of hours to be confined to an economy seat on an plane! 🙂

I try to sleep at least 7-8 of those hours, I usually read for at least 3-4 hours, and then I typically watch at least one or two movies to help pass the time.

This time around, on our first flight, my in-seat TV had all sorts of issues and only worked for a tiny bit of the flight. I asked the flight attendants to reset it twice and it would work for a little bit and then stop working. I finally gave up on trying to make it work.

Next time around when I have a long international flight, I’ll prepare for this possibility by making sure my phone is stocked with some great podcasts to listen to and some things to read or watch, just as a backup.

5. Be Persistent When It Comes to Customer Service

This isn’t something I wished I had known before we left for South Africa as much as it is a continuation of something I’ve been working on in my my life and that is: . I had a lot of reatopportunities to practice this on our trip!

When our bag was lost, we filed a claim with the customer service rep at the SAA desk in South Africa. They acted like this was enough, that we didn’t need to do anything else, and they’d keep us posted.

But after we didn’t hear anything from for 24 hours, we decided to email their customer service with specific details on our bag and the contents. They said they would check on it again and that our claim was in the system and we would be notified when they found anything about the bag. But again, we didn’t hear any updates for hours.

So, even Jesse thought I was being a little bit too aggressive, I said we needed to call them and try again with a different customer service representative. Well, guess what? Because of that phone call, a customer service rep got on the ball and sent emails out about our bag to multiple department, and within 12 hours, they had located the bag! We’re still not sure what happened, but we were SO grateful that it was finally located — and that all of the contents were still there!

Yes, it felt sort of like we were badgering them or being impatient to keep ing them, but I don’t know that our bag would have gotten found had we not been persistent and kept ing them until we found someone who seemed to really take it seriously.

Be gracious, but don’t be afraid to be persistent if it seems like you’re not getting the help you need.

A few more tips and suggestions gleaned from this trip:

Have a Chill Day Before and After Your Flight Day: This time around, we decided to fly to DC and spend 24 hours there and then fly to South Africa. On the way home, we spent 24 hours in DC before flying home. I felt like this made the trip as a whole more relaxing and helped us transition better on both ends. We would definitely do this again if it worked out and the price was significantly cheaper.

Wash & Moisturize Your Face on the Plane: When you’re on a long flight, I recommend washing your face and moisturizing it in the airplane bathroom before you go to sleep on the plane. Then, a few hours before the plane lands, wash and moisturize your face again and do your makeup. You’ll feel more awake and your skin won’t feel dry and parched! Plus, it makes you feel a little less grungy when you land!

Have Everyone in Be Charge of Their Own Luggage: Since our kids are 13, 11, and 9, we had them be completely in charge of their own luggage this time around. They packed their bags, with a little oversight from me, and then they were in charge of lugging them everywhere we went. This made it so easy — and it kept things organized and simple. We just always made sure that everyone had a backpack and carry-on bag + our checked bag and we were good to go.

By the way, I had everyone pack a travel blanket, travel pillow, eye mask, hand sanitizer, tissues, baby wipes, head phones, snacks, lotion, lip gloss, and a few activities for the plane in their backpack. That way, they didn’t have to ask me for anything other than nausea/sleeping meds on the flight. It really helped everyone be self-sufficient and have what they needed.

What are your best tips for long international flights? I’d love to hear!

Tomorrow, I’ll be sharing all the details on what I pack in my backpack for international trips.

If you enjoy posts on international travel, be sure to also check out the following posts I’ve written on the topic:

The Best Birthday Present A Girl Could Ever Hope For

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

As you all know, I celebrated my birthday while we were in South Africa. It was one of the most memorable birthdays ever… and for a number of different reasons!

The day before we left for South Africa, our Monday Group planned a surprise Birthday Party for me complete with streamers, cake, candles, a birthday banner, balloons, a specially-decorated birthday seat, flowers, and brand-new grown-up coloring books. And then they ended the night by praying over our family before our South Africa trip.

It meant SO much to me that they’d go to all that effort for me and our family. The best part was that when we walked in and I saw all the decorations, I was feeling terrible that it was someone’s birthday and I didn’t know whose it was.

I thought I must have missed a text or something… And then they all hollered “Happy Birthday” to me as I rounded the corner and I realized that it was MY birthday this week!!

I guess that’s what happens when you turn 34. You start forgetting things right and left — including your own birthday!

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

The next day, we boarded a plane for the 15-hour flight to South Africa. It was not the calmest of flights — and we arrived in South Africa feeling tired and ready for bed.

But that night and the next morning were hard. As I blogged about before

  • I lost my really important bag with my medicine, supplements, glasses, and s at the airport. (They never found it and we can’t figure how or where it disappeared.)
  • I had been up for a few hours in the middle of the night with very cranky, jet-lagged kids.
  • I had tried to blow dry my hair and burned up the motor my blow dryer + flipped the breaker to a bunch of outlets.
  • I was tired, couldn’t see (because of not having s), and my head was throbbing because I didn’t have my allergy meds.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

had prepared this beautiful breakfast spread for us.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

And they gave me this amazing print of South Africa that is now is a special place in our room.

But as you can probably tell from the photo above, I wasn’t feeling well. I was tired, my allergies were acting up, my head was throbbing, and I was feeling stressed about not having my medicine or s. I can’t see enough to really function without s and I will have throbbing headaches from allergies without my meds.

So I knew it was going to be a really, really bad week if I couldn’t find replacement s or medicine. I had soaked my s from the day before in solution overnight and knew I could probably get one or two more day’s use out of them, but beyond that, I knew I was going to be in trouble.

And then our kids were having a very hard time waking up. They had bad attitudes, they were crabby, and they plain just didn’t want to get going.

We finally all got out the door and then Silas threw up.

It felt like it was starting off to be the worst birthday ever. I had so looked forward to being in South Africa. We’d been planning this trip for months. I’d been giddy with excitement about bringing my family here. But honestly, I was trying so hard to choose joy, but wondering if maybe we’d made a big mistake in coming to South Africa.

I decided that instead of being frustrated over things I couldn’t change or fix, I instead was just going to trust God and rest that He was going before me in this. And it was beautiful to see how the day ended up being so much better than I could have ever imagined!

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

Our first stop was to visit this wood-working shop. I was utterly blown away. Like I wanted to squeal and cry all at once.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

You see, when I was in South Africa in January, we had many discussions about the possibilities of helping the locals learn more marketable skills (most can’t think of jobs outside of being domestic workers or security guards or gardeners).

It was just a dream in January, now they have a real live work-working workshop, suppliers, trainees, and customers!!

And they have big, big visions of how this small operation might someday be a big scale operation making a huge difference in the lives of this very needy community!!

The Birthday Gift a Girl Could Ever Hope For

As I wrote when we were in South Africa:

This is Peet. He is spear-heading the new wood-working shop. I wanted to stay and talk to him all day long!

I was so inspired and challenged by his passion, compassion, and vision. This wood-working shop is located in a very poor area of South Africa (Hammanskraal) and the long-term goal is to train and equip young entrepreneurs and provide a desperately-needed source of income for this community.

I wish you could have met Peet! He not only wants to teach South Africans craftsmanship, but he wants to help them develop a strong work ethic, a commitment to excellence, and an entrepreneurial spirit — three things that are not commonly taught or exemplified to the young people in this area.

As we left the shop, Peet handed me this beautiful tray that he had made especially for me. I was touched beyond words and cannot wait to display this new piece of South Africa in our home. It will serve as a constant reminder to me to pray for Peet and his family for God to richly bless their self-sacrificial efforts to make an impact in this community.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

Next, we drove to Reagoboka — where a crowd of children had been waiting for quite a long while to greet us.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

And I got to see the first on-the-ground glimpse at the two-room classroom that YOU ALL HELPED TO BUILD.

Again, I was blown away. Again, I didn’t know whether to cry or squeal. I had goosebumps and was overcome with emotion.

Because folks, it’s utterly humbling to think that God would use me — the girl who never went to college, the girl who was shy and insecure, the girl who still struggles with anxiety, the girl who is often a hot mess — to be a part of making this classroom possible.

There aren’t adequate words to describe how humbling and exhilarating it feels. As I wrote when we were in South Africa:

Each of you who bought a copy of Make Over Your Mornings the day it launched helped pay for the bricks and the concrete and the local labor and the classroom supplies to build this brand-new two-room classroom!!! And we got to unveil it to the teachers and children this week.

It. Was. Amazing!!! To think that all of us together are having a little part in making a BIG difference in this community of very vulnerable children — it’s surreal, humbling, and goose-bump-inducing.

THANK YOU for partnering with me to be the hands and feet of Jesus on this project!!! I wish you could have been there to share in the excitement and see and hear the gratitude they expressed to us.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

And then there were no words to describe how beautiful it was to see my husband and kids falling in love with everyone in South Africa, too.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

Be still my heart.

My boy, Silas, was very nervous about this trip. He doesn’t do new or change or different very well. He’s shy. He introverted. And he would usually prefer to be right next to his mama when we’re in unfamiliar situations.

So when I looked over and saw this, my mama heart just about broke in two.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

These boys put their arms around Silas, held hands with him, and embraced him — like they knew he was awkward and shy and they wanted to make sure he felt welcome and one of them. It was beyond beautiful.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

Seeing my kids face their fears, jump outside their comfort zone, and love beyond language barriers was one of the greatest gifts I could ever have been given as a mom.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

And just as I suspected, they fell madly in love with these kids — just like I had in January!

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

Brian, my manager and friend (who came with us on this trip) fell in love with these kids, too! As I knew he would!

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

After spending time with the kids — singing and dancing and hearing them share some special songs, it was time to get the classrooms ready to unveil to them.

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We had brought a number of special items to outfit the classrooms (all that your contributions helped to pay for — including furnishings, school supplies, and more.)

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We all helped to get everything situated so that we could unveil the classrooms.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

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We took a before picture — this is the classroom that all of the kids had been squeezing into and taking turns using. I’d say the may have outgrown it just a bit. 🙂
The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

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These pictures don’t really need explaining do they?? I can’t begin to tell you how excited the teachers and kids were. It was SUCH an amazing experience!!

Truly, the best birthday gift a girl could ever wish for. I kept feeling like pinching myself thinking, “I can’t believe I’m really here! I can’t believe this is really happening!”
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Aren’t these classroom colors so fun??

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

We brought some fun toys and dress up clothes for the kids — which they had a blast trying out and trying on!

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

And then we all put our handprints on a poster board that they are going to paint and put up in the classrooms… so that we left a little piece of us back in South Africa! 🙂

The Best Birthday Gift a Girl Could Ever Wish For

That night, they had planned a beautiful party for me. And while the day started on such a bad note, by the end of it, there were no words to describe just how blessed and happy I felt. I think this picture speaks a thousand words.

It was worth all the effort to get to South Africa. It was worth the tiredness and the mishaps and the throw up and the cranky children.

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. And it truly was the best birthday a girl could have ever hoped for.

10 Things You Should Bring on Long Flights With Young Kids

This list of 10 items to bring when you travel with kids is a MUST-read from an experienced traveler! Some of these are probably things you've never thought of before!

As you all know, we recently flew to South Africa and back, with three kids in tow. We flew Delta from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa — a 15-hour flight each way!

The longest flight any of our kids had been on was a 5-hour flight, so I was a little concerned how they would do — especially since they were quite nervous about the flight.

As a result, I tried to do the best I could to prepare well for the flight. We learned a lot about flying with kids, and I wanted to share 10 things you should bring on long flights with kids. Or, at least 10 things we found were very helpful to have:

10 Items to Take With You on Long Flights

1) Backpacks for Each Person

We packed backpacks for each person with a change of clothes, Dramamine, socks, a neck pillow, a blanket, a few activities, snacks, headphones, and a few other items. This made it so nice for everyone to have what they needed with them. It also simplified things since every one was responsible for their own items.

2) Wet Wipes

One of my readers recommended this and it turned out that these were a lifesaver. We used them to wipe off our seatback trays, wipe down the video screens, wipe down dirty hands and mouths, and even to clean up a big bloody nose one child ended up having.

10 Things to Bring on Long Flights With Kids

3) Extra Clothes

We had all of the kids pack an extra pair of clothes and socks in their backpacks, just as a precaution. We ended up not needing the extra outfit for anyone (gratefully!), but I was so happy to have them just in case.

We also had everyone bring a sweatshirt and wear very comfy PJ-like clothes for the flights. You want to be as comfortable as possible when you’re going to be on a plane for that long!

I had the kids take off their shoes as soon as they were all situated in their seats and put on comfy socks. This helps your feet circulate better and is just more comfortable, too! I also brought slippers with rubber soles for me to wear and loved having these on during the flight.

4) Dramamine

It’s possible we may have stocked up a little too much on the Dramamine, but I didn’t want to take any chances seeing as I had thought I’d be just fine without Dramamine on my January trip to South Africa and quickly discovered I wasn’t quite so fine.

We discovered that Dramamine actually sort of hyped the girls up, unfortunately. But it was perfect for Silas. And Jesse and I took some for the middle part of the flight, too, so that we were able to sleep and our upset stomachs were quelled.

10 Things to Bring on Long Flights With Kids

5) Good Headphones

Good noise-canceling headphones were such a lifesaver. We brought a pair for each person and they were each a different color.

The kids not only loved having their own color-coded headphones, but they were great for listening to music and watching movies. Plus, they wore them to cancel out the noise so they could sleep.

6) Neck Pillows & Blankets

If you’re going to try to sleep on a plane, having a great pillow can make all the difference. and it’s the only thing that allowed me to get hours of good sleep on the plane.

You have to fuss with it a little bit to get it situated just right and I propped a blanket up on it to help give me a little extra support, but if you get it just right, it’s SO comfortable.

You’ll get a thin blanket when you board a long flight, but it’s still nice to bring your own — in case you are really cold or to serve as an extra pillow. I love especially.

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The girls being silly before our flight took off! 🙂

7) Eye Masks

Eye masks are another must. You never know what the people around you will be doing — they might have their light on for most of the night (as did the lady sitting next to Silas) or their TV or iPad might be shining right in your line of sight.

Eye masks helped our kids be able to fall asleep and sleep more soundly. By the way, they usually give them to you for free on longer flights.

8) Snacks

We found the food to be fairly decent on the plane, but it was nice to have some extra snacks for one of the meals that was less than appetizing. Plus, it was a nice treat to enjoy when the flight was feeling especially long.

10 Things to Bring on Long Flights With Young Kids

9) A Sense of Humor

Do not try traveling with three kids on over 30 hours (total) on planes without a complete sense of humor. Laugh at everything you can laugh at — including yourself!

On the first flight, the last hour or so was grueling. The kids hadn’t slept much (more on that in a bit), everyone was so ready to be off the plane, and I was just tired of trying to redirect and correct bad attitudes.

I tried to come up with anything and everything we could to laugh about and distract ourselves from the fact that we had been on a plane for over 14 hours. And it helped make those last 60 or so minutes not drag by so slowly or painfully.

10) Lots of Patience & Empathy

You’re going to need lots of extra doses of patience to survive a long flight with kids. So pack as much as you can to bring with you. 🙂

I tried to get extra sleep ahead of time and come to the flights with very little expectations other than that we would make it to our final destination in one piece. I also went into the flights remembering that my kids were scared and anxious and that this would probably play into their attitudes… and it did.

So when they were reacting in an irritated way, I tried to remind myself that, yes, those attitudes were not good, but I needed to give extra grace to them because they were stepping way outside their comfort zone in this. So instead of correcting them as firmly as I may have in another situation, I tried to ask them questions like, “How are you doing?” “How are you feeling?” Because I knew that more than stern correction right then, they needed love, empathy, and reassurance.

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Since this was our first big trip with kids in tow, we learned a lot. Here are three of the most important lessons:

3 Things We Learned

1) We needed to set boundaries ahead of time. On our first 15-hour flight, we sort of had an anything goes attitude. I just wanted to survive and I was happy with our kids doing whatever it took to make it through with decent attitudes.

The problem was that I didn’t set any boundaries ahead of time: like on when they needed to have lights out and movies shut off. So because we didn’t have boundaries set in place, they just wanted to watch movies for hours. Which meant that they didn’t want to sleep. And this made for very grumpy kids.

On the way home, we set the boundaries ahead of time, reiterated them, and took away the headphones and we turned off all of the electronics during a long stretch of the nighttime. This worked SO mu

ch better and the kids actually ended up sleeping well and the flight went very smoothly.

2) Delta has different rules than South African airlines. I don’t know why I assumed that an international flight with Delta would be exactly like it was with South African airlines, but I did. And I quickly learned that wasn’t the case.

When I flew South African airlines in January, they had a “blackout” time during the night — I’m not sure what it was officially called, but for what felt like 10 hours, no one was allowed to turn on their overhead light, talk above a whisper, or do anything other than sleep, quietly get up to go to the bathroom, or watch a movie or read on a device.

I wrongly assumed it would be the same on Delta. So I assumed it would be no problem at all for our kids to fall asleep and stay asleep for at least 8-10 hours.

Instead, Delta had no such “blackout” time and many people had their overhead lights on all night — including one lady right next to Silas — and people were constantly up, talking, congregating around the restroom, and so forth.

It wasn’t incredibly loud, but it was quite distracting for my kids and kept them from being able to sleep as much — especially on the first flight since they were already so nervous.

3) Always double-check your seat when you leave. Oh how I wish we had done this! My bag with all my medicines, vitamins, supplements, my s, my glasses, and deodorant And it made the first few days of the trip especially hard as we had to try to track down replacements for the can’t-live-without items.

We know that I had the bag on the plane and we think I possibly left it under the seat. I didn’t double-check as thoroughly as I usually do (probably because I was just so ready to be off the plane!!) so we’ll never know.

(The airline checked multiple times and didn’t find it on the plane, so we’re not sure what happened to it. But had I checked thoroughly around my seat before deplaning, I may have found it and saved us a lot of headache in the beginning of the trip.)

10 Things to Take On Long Trips With Young Kids

What tips and tricks would you add to my list? Anything I forgot or any other questions you have about the plane rides? I’d be happy to try to answer them, if I can.

Our First Day in South Africa… not at all what I expected!

Our First Day in South Africa... Not What I Expected!

Someone snapped this photo on the first day of our trip to South Africa and it aptly depicts how I was feeling when I got up.

It had been a hard morning…

  • I lost my really important bag with my medicine, supplements, glasses, and s at the airport. (They never found it and we can’t figure how or where it disappeared.)
  • I had been up for a few hours in the middle of the night with very cranky, jet-lagged kids.
  • I had tried to blow dry my hair and burned up the motor my blow dryer + flipped the breaker to a bunch of outlets.
  • I was tired, couldn’t see (because of not having s), and my head was throbbing because I didn’t have my allergy meds.

We finally all got out the door to our first destination and then Silas threw up.

Honestly, I was trying so hard to choose joy, but wondering if maybe we’d made a big mistake in coming to South Africa. I was so excited to be here, but it felt like everything was falling apart at the seams.

I decided that instead of being frustrated over things I couldn’t change or fix, I instead was just going to trust God and rest that He was going before me in this. And it was beautiful to see how the day ended up being so much better than I could have ever imagined!

Our First Day in South Africa

This was our first stop of the day. This picture might not look like much to you, but I could barely hold back tears when I walked into this workshop.

You see, when I was in South Africa in January, we had many discussions about the possibilities of helping the locals learn more marketable skills (most can’t think of jobs outside of being domestic workers or security guards or gardeners).

It was just a dream in January, now they have a real live work-working workshop, suppliers, trainees, and customers!!

And they have big, big visions of how this small operation might someday be a big scale operation making a huge difference in the lives of this very needy community!!

(This photo was taken just moments after Silas threw up all over the floor of this new workshop. Poor little guy!! Gratefully, we had plenty of wipes on hand + the South African equivalent of Gatorade and it wasn’t long before he was feeling as good as new! We think the time change and new foods just made his stomach out of sorts.)

Our First Day in South Africa

This is Peet. He is spear-heading the new wood-working shop. I wanted to stay and talk to him all day long!

I was so inspired and challenged by his passion, compassion, and vision. This wood-working shop is located in a very poor area of South Africa (Hammanskraal) and the long-term goal is to train and equip young entrepreneurs and provide a desperately-needed source of income for this community.

I wish you could have met Pete! He not only wants to teach South Africans craftsmanship, but he wants to help them develop a strong work ethic, a commitment to excellence, and an entrepreneurial spirit — three things that are not commonly taught or exemplified to the young people in this area.

As we left the shop, Pete handed me this beautiful tray that he had made especially for me. I was touched beyond words and cannot wait to display this new piece of South Africa in our home. It will serve as a constant reminder to me to pray for Pete and his family for God to richly bless their self-sacrificial efforts to make an impact in this community.

Next we went to Reagoboka. I’ll write a separate post about this whole experience after I get home because I don’t have enough wi-fi or time here to upload all the photos and write everything out right now, but suffice it to say, it was an absolutely incredible experience.

Our First Day in South Africa

There are no words to adequately describe the emotion that this picture and standing here invokes.

In January, we visited this center and I saw how all of these children were being taught out of a tiny little classroom. (They would rotate classes — one class at a time — in order to accommodate all of the children with the little space they had.)

The local chief had given them land for a new building and they had building plans, but there was no money, since every penny (rand) that this center receives from government grants goes to provide food and basic necessities for these children and the running of the center.

Each of you who bought a copy of Make Over Your Mornings the day it launched helped pay for the bricks and the concrete and the local labor and the classroom supplies to build this brand-new two-room classroom!!! And we got to unveil it to the teachers and children this week.

It. Was. Amazing!!! To think that all of us together are having a little part in making a BIG difference in this community of very vulnerable children — it’s surreal, humbling, and goose-bump-inducing.

THANK YOU for partnering with me to be the hands and feet of Jesus on this project!!! I wish you could have been there to share in the excitement and see and hear the gratitude they expressed to us.

Also, y’all: I’m just so madly in love with this country that my heart just might burst. The needs are so great, but there is so much hope and so many amazing opportunities for us to make a difference!

Our First Day in South Africa

This photo was my favorite from the first day.

My boy, Silas, was very nervous about this trip. He doesn’t do new or change or different very well. He’s shy. He introverted. And he would usually prefer to be right next to his mama when we’re in unfamiliar situations.

So when I looked over and saw this, my mama heart just about broke in two. These boys put their arms around Silas, held hands with him, and embraced him — like they knew he was awkward and shy and they wanted to make sure he felt welcome and one of them. It was beyond beautiful.

By the way, Lisa-Jo’s parents, whom we were staying with that night, were so, so amazing to not only help me track down s from an eye doctor here, but also the meds I needed (that was an interesting experience — Googling, talking to the pharmacist at the drug store, and having our pharmacist and doctor friends here help us figure out what would be comparable to what). I am so grateful — and it was so amazing to see the different ways that God provided so that I could get what I needed so I could function well on this trip!