Moving is a major life event. If you’re getting ready to move with kids to the Riviera Maya, pin this checklist to your fridge while you pack!
In no particular order, my top ten items to bring in your luggage:
1. Waterproof Kids Shoes
Amphibian style shoes are the best shoes for in/out of the water, sand, concrete sidewalks, playground equipment, jungle terrain, newly dug roads, and even by the pool. Yes, flip flops are easier for on and off, but adventurous kids rarely sit down and let you change shoes between activities. The amphibian style shoes stay on their feet all day. They are durable, washable, and cushion their feet against the concrete (and there is a lot of concrete here). The best part is, they don’t smell. After all that playing and splashing, they somehow do not smell bad. Other shoes did not stand up to the stink test for us! You will pay less to buy them in the US and bring them in your luggage, rather than import them from a department store. They are lightweight and you can stuff smaller items inside them for optimal packing.
2. Breastfeeding Supplies
If you are pumping, bring your breast pump and accessories. Pumps are expensive to repair and replace, so pack with care. I pack mine in my diaper bag between diapers. It is harder to find here, but it is possible to get nursing pads, breast milk storage bags, creams, and supplements at some select stores. You will pay a premium for them here. I packed my own disposable nursing pads by the hundreds. I tried to calculate how many more I would need before Baby A was weaned (and boy was I wrong, as he still clings to nursing). I found a small box at the local grocery store, and it cost about the same as one of the huge boxes I purchased at Target before we moved.
3. English Books and Workbooks
English children’s story books are challenging to find here. There are some Spanish children’s books, but books in general are not widely available like they are in the US. Sure, you probably want your kids to learn Spanish, but forcing them to read books they cannot understand yet will only result in frustration and a distaste for reading. While they’re still learning Spanish, comfort them with their favorite books or bring books that are written in both languages. We found baby books that we read to our oldest in English that are now available in both English and Spanish together in the same book. Now she reads them to the baby, and they are both learning Spanish, happily. You could also ask visitors to bring books for the kids when they come to see you. Workbooks can be found in Spanish at some larger department stores, but workbooks in English will need to be packed in your luggage.
4. Towels, Sheets, Clothing, and Swimsuits
Once you’ve been here a few weeks, you will be wishing you had more basics and less fancy wardrobe pieces. The sweat is real. You might change your clothes a couple of times a day, and kids get dirty easier with sand, dirt, and Agua Frescas…(fresh juice waters) yum. My kids have been chugging the fresh juice, and there it goes down the front of the shirt nearly every time. Back in the states we could pre-treat the laundry with stain remover, and it would come out in the wash, but the washer/dryer combos that are so popular here just bake in the stains and are hard on clothes in general. Clothing of decent quality is pricey here compared to the US. Even the stores that typically sell inexpensive clothing in the US (Carters, Old Navy, etc) have at least a 20% markup for importation fees at those same stores here. Cotton sheets are expensive and difficult to find. You’d be better off to buy the cheapest cotton sheets in the US and bring them in your luggage because it will be better quality than the most expensive sheets here made of synthetics. Sheets here are commonly made of a polyester blend, which are quite hot in this tropical climate. You probably won’t need any comforters; although, I recommend cotton throw blankets for chilly nights. Towels are pricey here too. I recommend bringing a beach towel for each child, and maybe consider a set of nice bath towels for the family. We found decent options at Sams Club in Playa Del Carmen, but of course we paid a premium for them, and when I tried to buy more matching towels later they were gone.
5. Sippy Cups and Kids Tableware
If you have a no-leak, durable sippy cup you like, you better pack it (and buy an extra to pack just in case). If you like cheap, character printed melamine, you’ll be happy with the kids dishes you find here. If you prefer more durable dishes for your kids, you will want to pack them. Durable doesn’t always mean more expensive. We found adorable kids silverware by shopping at Sur La Table over the holidays. They have rust-proof, kid-sized forks and spoons in the “cocktail” or serving ware section where you can buy individual pieces for around $2 each. We also packed a small set of our favorite kid plates from the brand Green Toys. They are durable hard plastic, and have already lasted a few years of dishwasher wear in the US before we brought them here. I am so glad we did, but I wish we had packed more of them. Metal rusts fast in this humid climate, so do not bring metal kids dishes or toys!
Certain toys cannot be found here. Forget second-hand or buy/sale/trade boards. They haven’t caught on yet. If you have a special toy that your kids play with every day, you should find a way to pack it in your luggage. My kids really miss their train set, and I nearly lost my mind during the first month when we were here without toys. I would not recommend selling all the toys before you move.
7. Musical instruments
I am not talking about keyboards and guitars. Can you imagine moving to another country with big instruments? My husband is a musician and it pained him to sell all his gear, but our kids love music too. You can easily pack a small xylophone, kazoo, or tambourine. There are lots of drums and maracas here, but they aren’t made to withstand wear and tear. My kids can bust open a handmade maraca in about ten seconds flat. Stupidly, I bought several before I realized it was not a good toy for them. A little, heart-shaped Kalimba has traveled with us to every home. It’s fun and easy to play (and repair). What’s a Kalimba? Here’s a quick video of some cute kids (mine) and some very bad kalimba playing (me).
8. Insect Repellent
Yep. They have it here, they do. The question is, are you ok with putting Deet on your kids all the time? (Because you will need toxic levels of Deet to keep the mosquitoes at bay.) The “Family Safe” OFF that you find here is too low of a concentration of Deet to repel these little beasts. Mosquitoes in the Quintana Roo area are smaller and faster than the big floaters that we find in the US. These bugs will bite you before you ever see them, and they will leave you wondering if they are actually invisible. They hang out in places like bathrooms, laundry rooms, and kitchens where there is more moisture, and tourist traps like souvenir shops and crowded restaurants. We even have a corner outside in our yard where the kids pile up their toys, and for some reason the mosquitoes love it, which is enough to send this overprotective mama into a bug spraying fury, quite often.
We use Picaridin at 20% concentration, available in sprays or lotions from the US. The lotion travels better and doesn’t irritate lungs. We use a natural peppermint spray during the day or when inside, and the stronger stuff outside and at night, like when we go to dinner.
You will still get bites. Sadly, there is no total solution for mosquitoes. If your kids get bit, don’t let it ruin your day. The object of the game is to keep them from getting a lot of bites, and thereby lessening the chance of contracting a mosquito borne disease.
If all else fails and all you can find is a can of Deet while you’re out, use it because it’s probably better to spray your kids’ legs and feet with something strong, than to use nothing at all. Whatever you do, don’t forget the repellent!
Let’s talk about personal safety for a minute. If you’re concerned with recent travel bans or media scares about our beautiful state, please do your own research using facts and statistics which are easily found online (versus the over dramatic media). Do be aware of “false news” on social media as well. I have seen a lot of stories about Mexico that are not factual, fueled by gossip and negativity (or they are just using shocking headlines to reel in the clicks). I must disclaim here that I am no security expert, but we would not have moved to Quintana Roo if it were unsafe. Period. That being said, I am a big supporter of the “look out for yourself” mentality. We guarded ourselves in the states, and we do it here too. You will find petty theft and burglary to be higher here than many places in the US, so it is smart to secure your belongings in all situations.
Your Home: if you are concerned with safety like I am, you will want to bring a loud entry alarm to warn of intrusion, and cameras to keep track of things. We brought these from the US. Our cameras have motion sensors, microphones, and lights. We can tell the intruder he is on camera and police are coming. You may also want to bring smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. I prefer the battery-only kind because they can be moved around. While most modern buildings here are made of concrete and steel, fires can still break out. Construction practices are not the same here—for instance, our electrical panel had to be redone twice in one month for having cracked breakers (and it was a brand new house). Things rust quickly here, and corrosion is an issue. Detectors are possible to find here; although, they may not be in stock or available at a reasonable price. For some reason, the CO monitors seem to be very expensive. We brought our own, and I am planning to get two more the next time we visit the states.
Your Bags: Shed the designer bags mommies because they will only make you a target for theft. We use durable, but drab bags to secure our belongings. The bags blend in with the stroller, the car floor, etc. They are not easily seen, and they slouch into small spaces quickly. The less time you spend fussing over getting your children and belongings into the car, the less time anyone has to pick you as a target. (a footnote: the shiny black designer bag you see in the top photo did NOT come with us to Mexico. It was intentionally left in the states during a planned layover, as were all other “valuables”. My personal bag that doubles for diaper bag is a durable nylon messenger bag with a handy wide strap that can zip shorter or longer in one second flat. It is perfect for Q. Roo.)
Your Person: get yourself a few little personal alarms that attach to your keys, bag, or stroller. They have a pull tab that you can yank on quickly if someone tries to grab you. They emit a high frequency, piercing siren that will let everyone around know if there is trouble.
When preparing for your safety here in Quintana Roo, think: FAST, DRAB, SMART.
10. Medicines, Contacts, Glasses
When you move to a place like Quintana Roo, you need time to find certain things such as medicines and first aid items that you would normally have on hand back at home.
Take for example Baby A. He has a sensitive respiratory system and suffered from recurring Croup for the first year of life. We came to Mexico with about 1 tablespoon of his medicine, and sure enough he came down with Croup the second week we were here. Luckily, that tablespoon was enough to keep him out of the emergency room. I went to the pharmacy the next day and brought my old bottle. Even though the clerk did not speak any English, she was able to look it up online and translate to the Mexican equivalent. I was lucky they had it!
Most medicines are available here, and in some cases you may be happier with the process and what you find here versus other countries. However, the time it takes to actually find what you need could be a major inconvenience. If your kids have regular or life-saving medicines, especially prescriptions, you should bring enough with you to get by for a few months until you are able to source everything you would normally have on hand.
The same goes with contacts and glasses. In the states it is possible to walk into a popular spectacles store like Lenscrafters, and get a new pair of glasses in 2 hours. Here that will take 7-12 days on average. My kids recently broke my glasses, and it was faster for my husband to get them fixed in the states on a recent trip than to get a new pair here. So in summary, bring an extra pair of glasses and plenty of contacts if you normally wear them! You don’t want to be blind while you’re trying to find your way around town.
Kids band-aids are something else you should consider buying in bulk when you visit home. They just are not as popular here! When we went home for the holidays, I stuffed one of the kids’ suitcases with Mickey Mouse band-aids I purchased on sale at Target for $.50 a box… shameless, I know, but I don’t anticipate running out any time soon!
And that’s it for my top 10 list of Things You Better Bring to Quintana Roo When you Move (With Kids)! I would love to hear from you if you’re planning to move or if you recently moved here. Did I miss anything?