We parents need to award a prize of some sorts to the people who invented the hand sterilizing goop/gel in a bottle. It seems to be mostly rubbing alcohol in some kind of gel, but is always there, requires no towel to dry and is kind of fun to use. Even when your kids are good at washing their hands, it can't hurt and besides, you may find that your dirty hands are still cleaner than the sink in some quaint place.
As for other items to bring along, here is some additional advice from a reader who was kind enough to send it in by e-mail:
“I think individually wrapped witch hazel towelettes (Dickinson's brand) are great. They clean up a face and hands before a meal, they wipe off possible poison oak if a child strays off the trail while hiking, they sub for toilet paper in a pinch. They are light and easy to carry during the day. Witch hazel is a mild, non-drying astringent.”
Don't laugh but a pair of scissors is one of the easiest ways to cut up food for a child in a restaurant or on the plane when a real knife is unavailable or inconvenient (bringing a sharp knife through airport security is not a good idea). In Chinese restaurants food is cut up in the kitchen, and there can be no knives on the table. If your kids' mouths are smaller than the chef thought when he chopped up the food, whip out the scissors, cut things up, and tuck them back into a backpack.
Noodles through South East Asia are almost always so long that our kids ended up with noodle goo on their faces when they tried to suck the whole length into their mouths only to have the end whiplash against their cheek. A few seconds of scissor work will reduce the noodles to kid-size. Scissors in a backpack are also far less threatening in any situation as compared to a knife, and safer too.
In Asia chopsticks rock, but for smaller kids they don't work well and not every place can conjure up a fork, so bring a fork if you or your kids may need one.
We especially relish (get it? Sorry.) disposable wooden chopsticks, as they do not require you to determine if the plastic ones at the previous place were washed more than once since the Ming Dynasty. In some places food is eaten with one's hands, again perhaps a dream come true for some kids, for others with dirty fingers a time to reacquaint oneself with Mr. Fork. Also, the utensils you bring from home might lack the more interesting germs available overseas as well.
Same for a drinking cup. A bottle you can repeatedly fill with (clean) water is good and cheaper than eighteen bottles of Evian purchased over a two week journey. Kids are whacked harder than grownups by unclean things and the usual safe things to drink (bottled sodas, beer [yeah, there'll be such sacrifices required]) may not be right for your kids. Freezing does not kill all bacteria, so if the water is unsafe to drink the ice is also unhealthy.
Same for unknown-source ice cream. If you wouldn't drink the local milk, don't eat the local ice cream. As for bottled drinks, we have never had a problem with brands we knew, such as Coke. We have had a nasty turn or two with unknown local brands. Bottles need to be properly washed and sterilized between uses, while canned drinks bypass this extra chance for bacteria. Wipe the tops with that sterilizing hand gel.
Crackers or whatever your children like can fill in when service is slow, when only spicy (or fishy or whatever) things are on the menu, or generically when there is nothing on the menu they like and you are required to eat lunch in Le Exotic CafÃƒÆ’Ã†'Ãƒâ€š© so Mom and Dad can experience local foods, preceded by a trip to Le Fast Food so the kids get fed too (this two-tiered meals system by the way can spare you “discussing” where to eat.)
Such discussions usually in our family begin with a patient, nurturing lecture about the need to try new things abroad, the magic of foreign travel, blah, blah and quickly move to an endgame of “Because I said so!” If you feel guilty about not exposing your kids to things different at ever turn, clip this line out and pack it with you:
The two-tiered eating method also might spare you spending a lot of money in a good restaurant on food your children may not appreciate and/or finish.
Bring along some bottled water. The restaurant may not have any, or you may not feel it is clean enough, or it may not arrive at the table unopened (ask!) and thus you cannot be sure whether it is real bottled water, or an empty bottle the waiter just filled from the kitchen tap. Not everywhere, even if the water is safe, may have drinks your children will like, or sodas without caffeine so they are not up all night.
The water you bring along may help save the day, and is obviously cheaper than Cokes off the menu.
You might also be interested in what looks like a really useful series of travel books called Eat Smart (see our review here). There are five volumes so far—Mexico, Indonesia, Poland, Turkey and Brazil—giving you all sorts of advice on what to eat, what stuff in the market is called and even recipes to duplicate a new favorite once you get home.
They might also be of value to help you avoid foods that you might not like, or which might be unhealthful to you because of an allergy, for example.