How To Travel Across the World & Do Missions Trips with Kids

We've taken 5 kids all the way to Kenya and back TWICE - here's what we've learned. 

Ok so sharing this with you all is like sweet water to my soul. I've talked with you about my love for Africa and missions long before I was able to walk it out. Now we have been doing it, as a family for 4 years!! Can you believe that!? I can't!

Long before we went we started studying all the different countries in Africa that we thought we would go to. There are so many countries in Africa, 54 to be exact. No I have not studied them all, but I keep working towards learning more all the time, and there is nothing like learning on the ground right with the people.

Over the summer we took one of our longest stays, 3 weeks. For those who do not know we started going over when Zion was only 5 months old, yes she went too, and Luke the year before. We have been going to Nairobi, Kenya these past 4 years and it has been the best community to learn from and grow our African family with. I could go on and on about all this but that's not the point of this blog post, so I will try to stay focused. But I will say, this one little thing, Africa is a beautiful place full of thousands of languages and hundreds of cultures/ landscapes and learning about this beautiful land is breath taking.

Ok, so what and how in the holy world do we go all the way to Africa with our five kids on short term mission trips??!!

First let me say that if we,  Luke and I with our 5 kids and a team we are in charge of, can go all the way to Africa so can you, or to Europe, Asia etc. It is possible and yes it will be hard and stretch you and your kids, that's kinda the whole point. You see if you have the wrong perspective, I can give you a list, you can even go on a trip, it won't matter. Our perspective is everything. So when you go on a missions trip, yes have the mind set of giving but first and foremost have the mind set of learning, growing, stretching, changing even. Welcome in common sense and rebuke all fear. Leave fear at the door, don't bring it with you. Let Holy Spirit do His job and warn you if there needs to be a warning, He will. The perspective is that yes you will encounter problems and you will learn to over come them.

Ok here is our list:

1)How do you fly with kids?

It starts at home. Whining and screaming are not effective forms of communication they should not be at home or on a plane. We have an open communication rule in our house we are allowed to express ourselves and even be very upset, but first we need to calm down and talk. Not that there are never melt downs but because it is our practice as a family to grow at getting better and better at expressing ourselves to one another but trying to take a few deep breaths and talk, when we are on a plane the same habits are exercised.

I also pack a lunch box and back pack for each kid and Luke and I.
In the lunch box are healthy snacks, sweet treats, and gum.
In the back packs are:
  • Journals and crayons.
  • iPads: for Christmas and or birthdays instead of us and grandparents getting the kids a bunch of little things that they throw away or break I send out an email/or text and express that we are all pitching in together to get an iPad. Also, at birthday parties everyone always asks what they can get your kids. If you are saving up for one thing for your kids let your friends know I am 100% sure they would rather spend their money on helping get something that your kid can learn from and travel with than a toy they will throw away.
  • Color book or activity book.
  • Play dough or silly putty (in a zip lock in case they lose the lip and such) Dollar Store
  • One small toy
  • A book ( appropriate based on their age)
  • Chapstick
2) Plane Ticket Travel Hack - How we've flown our whole family to Kenya TWICE for free!

My kids favorite is getting all set up for the long plane ride with all their goodies. Even my mom and dad and sister came with us!

This is a tip that most of you probably have heard before but may not be actively utilizing. What we do is we have gotten two credit cards with really good point systems for redeeming points towards plane tickets. We use one credit card for personal use and one for business use. We run ALL of our expenses through these credit cards. I'm talking every bill, every trip to the grocery store, all gas, every single thing we spend. The only things we don't use for the credit card are things like our mortgage which you can't use a credit card for. We also use this with our business and run all business expenses through our credit card.

What happens over time is you rack up a ton of credit card points from all the expenses. We keep paying down the cards every month, and this is the area where most people have fear. They think that if they use a credit card so much they will end up in debt. Reality is- if you don't manage your budget you will end up in debt. But if you can take an extra step of responsibility, you end up with this amazing benefit of all these credit card points. It may take a few months to get used to, but basically you are just adding in an extra step to pay down your credit card. I mean if you really want to be disciplined just pay your card off every week or even a few times a week! This will make sure you don't over spend, and you end up racking up all the credit card points.

If you have a small business you get double the use because you can also rack up points off your business expenses. We have both our personal and small business credit cards with Wells Fargo, and we are able to transfer all of our business points over to our personal point system with our personal card. The personal card has a better rate of redemption of points for airfare, so we always transfer over all the business points to personal points. Wells Fargo at the time had the best option for us as far as amount of points we would get towards airfare and options for both personal and business. There may be better options out there with other banks- do some research and see what you can find!

What has happened with us is we've done this for years now, and we saved all the points to use towards airfare. So far we've gotten this much for free:

Flying Luke and Brittney to France in 2016 for our 9-year delayed honeymoon for FREE
Flying all 7 people in our family to Kenya round trip for FREE in 2016
Flying Luke and Brittney to the Caribbean in 2017 for our 10 year anniversary trip for FREE
Flying all 7 people in our family back to Kenya again round trip for FREE in 2017
Flying Luke and Brittney to Kenya in January of 2018 with overnight stops in Paris and London for FREE

So count that up: That's 20 round trip tickets to Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean, all for FREE.

Rack up those points!

3)How do you survive in a developing nation as an American?

Most Americans think that going to developing nations is dangerous, and way too dangerous for children. The reality is: that could be true, but only if you make dumb mistakes. Honestly it's just as dangerous if not more dangerous to go to bad neighborhoods in any major city in America. Shoot, going to the South Side of Chicago is far more dangerous than the worst slum in Nairobi! So why don't we freak out about going to any major city in America? Because we know to avoid those bad neighborhoods. It's the same thing when doing missions. If you don't be an idiot, you are going to be fine.

So how do you not be an idiot if you don't know anything about that city or area? The best way is to go with a trustworthy mission group, and to go with a leader who has been to that city/area before and is smart enough to make sure everything you do on your trip is safe. Honestly some mission trip leaders aren't that experienced or smart, and I would not recommend you take a trip with them especially with kids. Also some leaders are very extreme and want to do extreme missions. That can be awesome with the right team, but would absolutely be the wrong situation for kids.

So find a good organization and a good leader, and you should have a great trip. Obviously in a developing nation you will see extreme poverty, but these people are generally kind and safe, and if your leader has relationships with local leaders (which they should if they are a good leader) then the local leaders will make sure to only bring you into safe situations. The basic rule of thumb is don't go into bad neighborhoods and don't go anywhere after dark.

The other big fear that Americans have about doing missions is sickness. Everyone seems to think they will get Ebola and kill their kids, and they build up so much fear that they think going is way to dangerous. We hear it all the time from people, and honestly we dealt with the same fears for a while. Illness is a real threat depending on where you are going, so here's the things to consider:

  1. Vaccinations - Some countries will require certain vaccinations to get into the country. Other countries like Kenya do not require any vaccinations, but there are still vaccinations that you should get. We understand vaccinations are a big debate in America, that's a different topic all together. The reality is you probably will never come across measles in the USA, but you totally could in a developing country. We recommend you talk with your kid's pediatrician and tell them which country you are visiting, and vaccinate your kids according to how your doctor advises. 
  2. Malaria - Malaria is a sickness that is very common in parts developing nations that are warm and get a lot of rain. Malaria is transferred by being bitten by a mosquito that is carrying the illness and can be fatal if untreated. It's not something to mess around with. When we travel to Kenya we have our kids take malaria pills the whole time, which you can get prescribed from your pediatrician. The right pills should prevent malaria. In additional to the pills, if you are in an area where malaria is a possibility you should bring the strongest bug spray you can buy, the 100% deet stuff. This will keep the mosquito's at bay. There are some concerns about using high-deet bug spray on kids under age 2 - do your own research there and make a call. There are other bug sprays you can get. But we go for 100% deet on our kids (all over age 2 now) because we've never experienced any side affects from deet, and would rather deal with that than the chance of malaria. We also have our kids wear these little bug bracelets that keep bugs away. 
  3. What you eat - many illnesses are spread through food. You have to be super careful of what you eat and drink while in a developing nation. 
    1. We ONLY drink bottled water the entire time on a mission trip. You can't brush your teeth with tap water, you can't get tap water in your mouth while showering, you can't wash food with it- nothing. Tap water needs to be for washing hands only and nothing else. We've trained our kids and we monitor them like a hawk while in the bathroom to make sure they don't drink tap water.
    2. You can't eat any fruits or vegetables in which you eat the skin or have thin-skins that can absorb bad stuff. No apples, no pears, nothing like that. You can eat fruit and veggies with thick skin like bananas. We don't ever eat salad. We don't ever eat uncooked vegetables. We just don't risk it. 
    3. Don't ever eat food sold on the side of the road. Almost all of it is not cooked in a safe situation and often is washed in tap water. It could make you sick. 
    4. We try to pray and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit about food. He has often dropped little warnings in our spirit about some food, and we just avoid it. 
    5. We try to only eat meals with our hosts who understand that they need to prepare food for westerners with sensitive stomachs, or we eat at restaurants that have health standards. 
    6. The trickiest situation is when you do ministry and the locals cook you food and serve it to you. Often they spend the very little money they have to cook this food and make it a special meal for you. Not eating could be seen as rude or disrespectful. It's in a situation like this that Luke got mild food poisoning once, and honestly we don't know what to tell you. Pray and make the call for yourself! Just no matter what don't eat uncooked veggies if you can avoid it. 
    7. Pack some Imodium. It's an over the counter anti diarrhea medicine, and it will really help you out. You can look up dosages for kids too if they get diarrhea. Expect some mild stomach problems on nearly every trip, simply due to long airplane rides (which we think cause mild stomach problems) and the different spices and foods that your stomach isn't used to. Even if you don't get full blown food poisoning your stomach will still take some adjusting.
    8. Pack kids ibuprofen and acetaminophen. You may not need it, but if one of your kids runs a fever you will be glad you have it. 
While on your trip, love culture and love people. You are on a missions trip to experience something different than a western nation. Embrace the differences, and learn from them. Often mission trips are mostly about us being changed and very little about us bringing some change to that nation. Our hearts get changed to become more understanding, compassionate, appreciative, etc.

Know your own weaknesses and be prepared for them and be prepared to face them. Seeing extreme poverty for the first time can be heart wrenching. Dealing with the lack of first world amenities can stress some out. The thick smell of diesel exhaust will get to you sometimes. Having to go to the bathroom in a hole in the ground isn't easy. But it's worth all the hassle to experience the beauty of another culture.

And with the mention of going to the bathroom - ALWAYS carry toilet paper with you wherever you go. Luke always brings a backpack with him whenever we travel in country. In the backpack he always takes a roll of toilet paper and seals it in a gallon size zip lock bag to keep it neat and prevent it from shredding all over the backpack. He also always brings hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, sun screen, bug spray, water, and snacks. It's common in Africa that most toilets outside of hotels and restaurants are just holes in the ground. Sometimes they are a tiled hole in the ground that flushes, but still a hole in the ground. Most of the time there is no toilet paper available, so you DEFINITELY want some with you. Also often there isn't a sink around, so the sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer are a must.

Ask locals what helpful tips they would give. Ask missionaries for their advice. Do research. Get yourself prepared!

4)How do you do ministry with your kids?

Your kids can learn anything that you are willing to let them be apart of. When we taught on the prophetic our kids got up in front of a crowd of people and gave the words that they felt the Lord was saying, even Zion. When we preached our kids listened, and then prayed over people with us and they can preach too. You can share the gospel and talk about Jesus at any age. When we went to the schools and orphanages it was simply just fun. My kids get visitors all the time at their school so it was fun to be the visitor. Sometimes just giving a fun day improves the quality of life. In America we do it all the time and we totally take it out of the equation when we do missions. There was so much laughter and giggles and fun.  

5)How do you pack?

We always pack light, bringing the essentials but not extra.

For Luke and I we carry these neck passport holders that are life savers for flying. Your phone can even fit in it. He takes half the passports and I take the other half. You also put all your tickets and drivers license in there. They just make it easier to manage your passports and tickets (which don't fit in your pockets) and keep track of all the kids at the same time.

Know where you are going. Like the exact area. For example, Africa is a continent, each country is very different and in each area there are very different circumstances. A city just two hours away from another is going to be totally different, in climate, people, places to stay,  bugs, water ect.  and you will have different needs being a person not from that area. Know thy self. lol

For my kids I pack light and wash clothes if we need to. Now in some areas washing may be hard, so pack soap to wash clothes in and do your own if need be. I pack more soap, hand sanitizer, bug spray, snacks etc. than I do clothes.

In country I take our kids backpack's and repack them based on their travel in country needs. They are responsible for their own back packs.

Luke and I both carry a back pack with needs based on the country/ area that we are in.

6)How do you over come your own fear and bad mindsets?

The only way to over come this is to GO,  LEARN!  Take that first step and then the next. I have studied lots of things and that is good and gives me some perspective and knowledge. Yet there is nothing that compares to living it out, even if on a small scale,  and getting a real perspective from a hands on point of view, that will bring real change in your mindsets and perspective.

We will write more lessons learned soon. What are your travel hacks and go to's?

L and B 


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