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Why We’re Taking Our Kids to South Africa

This is an inspiring article on traveling to South Africa as a family!

Next Tuesday, Jesse, our friend and my manager (Brian), and our three kids will be getting on a plane with me to go to South Africa.

To say that I am excited would be an understatement. Honestly, I am ECSTATIC!

I left part of my heart in South Africa when I traveled there for the first time earlier this year and I’ve been hoping and dreaming about getting back there ASAP ever since I came home. I love the people, I love the food, I love the climate, I love the culture, I love the local team from Take Action that is serving and ministering there.

Why We're Taking Our Kids to South Africa

So, as soon as I got home, we started talking and praying and thinking about the possibility of our family going together to South Africa. I wanted to introduce Jesse and the kids to the beautiful country and people there.

Because the truth is, I could talk and talk until I was blue in the face about how amazing my trip was and how it had forever impacted me, but I knew that the only way they’d really get to understand why I fell so madly in love with South Africa was for them to actually walk on the soil, meet the people in person, and have firsthand knowledge of South Africa.

Why We're Taking Our Kids to South Africa

So we started talking about dates. We started seriously considering it. And we began looking into the costs and what a trip like this would entail.

We had some honest conversations with our kids about it because we knew it would be a big deal for them. It would require some major stepping outside their comfort zone and it would mean facing their fears of long flights.

While they are all apprehensive about the trip, we feel like the timing is right and this is going to be a life-changing trip for us and our kids. We’re leaving on Tuesday, September 29 and will be returning on Tuesday, October 6.

We’ll mostly be in the Pretoria area and yes, we are going to get to SEE THE CLASSROOMS THAT YOU ALL HELPED BUILD!!! {I’m not sure, but I might just be a wee bit excited about that part of this trip. ;)}

Why We're Taking Our Kids to South Africa

Many of you have asked for more details as to why we’re going as a family and why we’re taking our kids and I wanted to try to fill them in for you by sharing three of the reasons we decided to travel to South Africa with our kids…

#1. We Want to Challenge Our Kids to Step Outside Their Comfort Zone

I would be lying if I said our kids aren’t scared about the trip. They have a lot of fears going in — just like I did when I got on the plane earlier this year for that 18-hour flight.

They are scared of being in an airplane that long (gratefully, we’re taking a different route this time and the flight is only 15 hours instead of 18 hours!). They are scared of flying over water for so long.

They wonder what they people will be like. They worry they won’t understand what people are saying. They wonder if they will feel out of place or awkward.

We’ve been able to have a lot of great conversations as a result. We’ve talked about what to do when you can’t understand someone’s accent or don’t know what they mean when they use a certain word. We’ve talked about how to respond if something makes you feel awkward.

We’ve also worked hard to eliminate as many fears as possible: showing them pictures of South Africa and the people we’ll be meeting, talking about my experiences there, talking about the things I especially loved, having them watch YouTube videos of what international flights are like, and planning the trip in a way that we’re balancing out the hard stuff (like seeing poverty) with fun stuff (like going on an Elephant Interaction Trip — how cool does that sound??).

While I am quite certain there are going to be awkward moments for all of us, we are excited for our kids to have the opportunity to jump outside their comfort zones and face their fears. I think this trip will be something that will forever change them as individuals.

Why We're Taking Our Kids to South Africa

#2. We Want Our Kids to Experience a Different Culture

One of our greatest hopes is that our children don’t grow up being stuck in an Americanized bubble.

We can show them pictures of other cultures. We can read books about other cultures. We can watch movies about other cultures. We can even meet people from different cultures here in the U.S.

But I think there’s nothing that can quite help you break free from the American bubble then just actually stepping onto another continent, walking alongside the people there, and experiencing their life firsthand.

We don’t want our kids to think inside a box. There is so, so much we can learn from other cultures.

We want them to see that there is a very big world out there — of needs, of ideas, of different ways of doing things. Our hope is that this trip will help to expand their horizon and broaden their perspective on life.

Why We're Taking Our Kids to South Africa

#3. We Want to Inspire Our Kids to Be Givers

This is our biggest hope with this trip.

The first time Jesse and I traveled outside of the U.S., it was to go to the Dominican Republic. We came home from that trip forever changed.

We saw how money could make such a big difference — and how far a little bit of our money could be stretched there. We were inspired to dream big dreams and pray big prayers. Most importantly, we recognized that by continuing to live simply, it would allow us to give more generously.

Our greatest desire is to raise kids who are world-changers. We don’t want our kids to be content with the status quo. We want them to realize that their lives can make a big impact.

When I came back from South Africa, Jesse and I committed to pay for the operating expenses for the Take Action ministry in South Africa. It’s been such a blessing for us to give in this tangible way.

We want to make this giving real to our kids. We don’t want our giving to just be something that Mom and Dad do, but we want our kids to catch a vision for how their money and resources can make a difference, too.

Have you ever traveled internationally — especially with kids? I’d love to hear your tips and suggestions for us as we prepare for this trip. We would also so appreciate your prayers, especially that my kids would have peace, not fear, going into next week.

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  • Heather says:

    My husband traveled to South Korea with our 3 kids by himself when they were 13, 11 and 9 to pick up our little toddler. MP3 players loaded with music were a big help for the long plane rides (ours were also near 15 hrs) and snacks 🙂 Each of them had old digital cameras that they enjoyed using too. Looking back we did very little to prepare them for cultural differences etc but it sounds like you’ve done a great job at that! Be prepared for airplane sickness…it’s just reality. We just encouraged the kids to sleep when they felt tired and then tried to get them on local time as quickly as possible. One of the most challenging things my hubby had in country was finding meals at times so I’d say make sure you have plenty of foods they recognize and love with you in case you are in a spot where you have to wait longer for a meal 🙂 Blessings! I think it will be a wonderful experience!

  • Laura says:

    Hi Crystal,
    You probably already have people assisting you with these types of details but just in case . . . South Africa recently enacted a policy about people traveling with minors, even their own minors! Please pay close attention to these requirements.

    Granted, it’s probably easier to arrive via plane from the US versus drive over the border from Mozambique, where I live, but some people have had problems if their documents weren’t exactly perfect. My understanding is that certain paperwork is required even when the children are traveling with both parents. Bless you on your trip, I think it’s wonderful you are traveling with your children!

    • Marie says:

      I completely agree!! We live internationally and need GOBS of forms (translated birth certificates, permissions, etc) to get out of our international location to go back to the US. Please make sure you know exactly what you need!

    • We had to order specific birth certificates for our kids because I guess the ones we had weren’t exactly as they needed. Thanks so much for mentioning this because we just BARELY happened to see that this had been changed last month and would have been in big trouble had we not found out about it. It doesn’t seem as publicized as I would have expected it to be.

    • Tracy Timberlake says:

      This is correct. You need full, unabridged birth certificates for each child under the age of 16 and a signed affidavit of permission from the other parent if traveling alone with the children (as well as passports, visa etc). Our Department of Home Affairs has instituted this policy to try reduce the amount of children illegally trafficked through our borders, a noble intention, but it has unfortunately caused some problems.

  • Dawn Fong says:

    We have flown internationally with our kids and have lived overseas for one year. My kids were younger than yours are when we traveled, but I think a few thoughts still apply. 1) Don’t let people freak YOU out about traveling internationally with your kids. Many will think you’re crazy for doing so and won’t hesitate to tell you such. 😉 Don’t let those comments tempt you to dread the trip or merely “get through it.” 2) On a related note, prepare yourself to embrace the whole of the trip with the kids, including anything that may go less “perfectly” than you’d like, as part of the adventure. I was initially dreading flying internationally with small kids (mine were 2,3 and then 3,4 on the way home), but my husband encouraged me to embrace it all as part of the journey – and he was SO right. I think having the right mindset as the parent counts for A LOT. 3) I’m not sure how it will be in the S. African culture, but be prepared to talk to your kids about how it’s ok to say that they don’t want to be touched, pose for a picture, etc. by those they don’t know in the places you’ll be. I think it’s easy to feel, as the parent, that you just need to go with it b/c that’s “how it is” in other cultures. However, while we need to be gracious as guests within the culture, I think our kids still need us to help them know they can still say, “no” in certain situations. I hope that makes sense.

    What an exciting trip! I think it’s amazing to watch a child’s mind be absolutely blown (and their world blown wide open) by such a trip! What a gift to your children (and for you all)! Blessings to you as you prepare to leave.

  • Linda Ziulkowski says:


    You will know that all the Z’s are more than ecstatic as well that you are going together as a family. You know we all have a part of our hearts in Africa as well. We will be praying for you, and know God has some very special experiences and life-changes in store for you.

    Love you all,

  • Diane says:

    So exciting for all of you! I think traveling as a family will be great for your kids and probably easier than waiting till they’re older and traveling with a church group, or however they end up traveling. I think it’s a good reminder for all of us. Sometimes I wonder why we choose to be so frugal and how to balance giving and being generous with our own kids (it’s so much easier for me to give to others and then be frugal with our own family and I don’t know if that’s always right either). But we do try to show our kids living generously and there truly is so much joy in giving.

  • Perel says:

    Hi Crystal! I am so happy for you guys and the kids! I still remember the first time I visited a third world country ( Haiti!) As a kid, it DID change me forever. So here r some tips that maybe helpful:
    1- pack OTC medicine for things like diarrhea fever allergic reactions for the kids ( and fir u guys) Gd forbids but the last thing u want is looking up a 24 hr pharmacy in Pretoria at 4 am..I remember when we landed in Israel my little one was very uncomfortable with fever at 4 am and i had no clue where to even find fever reducing medicine…so yeah pack whatever things u may need if Gd forbids things don’t go perfectly health wise
    2- I remember as a kid feelif empowered if I were able to find out things myself for the trip,I would have my own map of the area..which made me feel empowered , somehow it made me feel like ” if I get lost i ll find my way back to the hotel” I! But yeah, if ahead of time they can get acquainted with the map of the area where the hotel is etc it *may * help calm an anxious child s heart.

    Sending towards you and your family prayers for strength inspiration and a positively memorable trip, keep up the good work Crystal!

  • Susan says:

    Crystal, I agree 100% with Dawn Fong’s comment. Don’t be afraid to take your kids on this trip, and don’t let anyone discourage you or them. Embrace this wonderful opportunity you have.

    My now-15-yo has traveled overseas, as well is all over the US. She’s always done just fine with the travel, and I’ve never done much at all to prepare her other than to take snacks that she likes, in case she gets hungry, and some sort of entertainment, like an ipad with games and movies. That’s all she’s ever needed.

  • Alexis says:


    Just wanted to wish you all a fun and safe trip. I’m sure it is going to be such a wonderful experience for your family! Can’t wait to see pictures!

  • Elizabeth says:

    Hi Crystal! I think it’s so great you are taking your children with you and giving them such a great chance to experience another culture so early in their lives.
    My parents took my sister and I on our first international trip when we were 7 and 9 respectively. We were used to long roadtrips multiple times a year (12 hours or longer), so I think that helped my sister and I know what to pack to keep ourselves occupied on the plane. We like puzzles, so we had little puzzle books, a box of crayons, regular books to read, and a few snacks we knew we liked in case the airplane food wasn’t doing it for us. The same kind of stuff we would take in the car!
    One thing I do remember being odd was how the security in the airports outside of the US all have guns, openly, and I was a little scared about that. They were bigger than the ones I was used to seeing on the military base we grew up on and around. I don’t know if it’s similar in Africa, but it might be something to discuss with your children beforehand, or at least discuss the differences in airport security if you expect any.
    Enjoy the trip, and I’ll be sure to pray for safe travels, open minds and open hearts!

  • Megan says:

    Hi Crystal – I have to admit that I felt so sad when I saw the title of your post because I realized you must have been getting a lot of “you’re taking your kids WHERE?!” emails and comments. As someone who teaches African politics (and has spent a good deal of time in East Africa), I know how safe and welcoming nearly all African countries are for visitors, yet so many stereotypes persist. Good for you and Jesse for defying American convention and offering your children an incredible gift! I know that they will come away from the experience with a love of travel and that they will learn so much from their new South African friends. It might be fun to encourage them to jot down their thoughts and impressions in a small journal – it will help them process and be something they’ll treasure as adults. May God bless you all and your time abroad!

    • I LOVE the journal idea! And oh my goodness! Aren’t Africans some of the friendliest, warmest, most genuine people ever?? I want to write a blog post sometime on how much I learn from how welcome, open, and authentic they are!

      • Kelly S says:

        You could have them take glue sticks or sticky tabs so they can glue food labels, plane tickets, etc. into the journal, too! (And photos when you get back home and can print them, too!)

  • Alishia says:

    We are taking our girls on their THIRD trip to SA this December. My husband is from there, so we go to visit family. We haven’t been able to work in a service trip yet, but maybe when the youngest is a bit older. This will actually be her first trip, but my eldest daughter’s third. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to send me an email. I’ll help in any way I can. Are you flying the ATL direct route?

    • Yes, we’re doing the ATL direct route via Delta. We were so, so happy to have jumped on a really great rate while it was available! Is that the route you’ve done? Did you find that food, etc. was decent? I’m trying to decide how many snacks I should bring food the kids on the plane and couldn’t really find out much info about the food. I flew SA airlines last time, so I’m imagining Delta will be somewhat different.

      • Krista says:

        We live in South Africa & just recently returned from visiting family in the States. We also travelled Delta, via Atlanta. As far as the food, I would say that, overall, Delta’s food is better than other airlines I’ve travelled with. But, definitely have a few snacks on hand for the mid-flight hours when most people are asleep. They will offer snacks throughout the flight, but not as often as kids tummies may like… Also, you should be able to pre-book children’s meals for your kids, via the Delta website. We did this for our daughter, and the meals were definitely more suited to her tastes than the regular meals would have been. The in-flight entertainment also goes a long way to keep kids entertained… Hope you enjoy your trip!

      • Need A Nap2 says:

        (Sorry so long!)
        I flew Delta in January. There was a “dinner” meal** a little while after we took off. Then there was an overnight snack – just a bun with a little lunchmeat and cheese. Sometime (closer to breakfast maybe or at the same time) there was a bag with a banana and something else (little cookie or cracker?). Then there was a breakfast meal. I can’t remember, but I think there was a lunch. I was hungry for dinner when we arrived, dinner definitely wasn’t served on the plane.

        I had trouble with the first 2 meals b/c I didn’t know where the light was. It’s on the entertainment screen. 🙂 So bringing a flashlight is helpful!

        I would “scout” out empty seats before takeoff, you might be able to rearrange your family around these empty seats thus giving every one more room. It’s helpful to be next to an empty seat, you can set your stuff in it or put the tray down to hold food/drinks. When flying it’s helpful to bring an empty water bottle but on the int’l flight they were always going around handing out water bottles so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. You might bring cups with a lid for your kids to pour their drinks into, I always worry about spilling my drink from those little airline cups. Don’t forget you can ask for the whole can of a drink.

        We all need to move around some, so encourage your kids to get up and walk the aisles a little. You might look up exercises you can do from your seat or in the “galley” area. I don’t know how you want to handle your kids going to the bathroom, that’s an area I worry about with such a long flight.

        I think having a change of pajama type clothes and brushing your teeth (getting ready for bed) are helpful. There is the airline blanket, but I took a soft plush throw/blanket. I always get cold on the long flights. I don’t know about kids but my feet swelled up so it’s helpful to have adjustable shoes (slippers might be nice for your kids). I took a stadium-type cushion to sit on, I’m not sure it was that helpful but it seemed to make a little bit of a difference. I would plan for each child to have a backpack or personal bag with all of the “toys” they’re planning on using and each of their own snacks so they can get what they need/want when they need to.

        I’d recommend all of your kids have headphones/earbuds that they like. Some of the kids’ headphones have a volume limit and that might be a problem b/c of all of the airplane noise so you might buy an adult kind or a kids’ version that doesn’t have that volume limit.

        Have everyone’s passport and ticket info close by and easy to reach b/c you’ll be accessing it a lot. Have pictures on your phone of everyone’s documents in case something happens, you might also e-mail them to someone in the states. I prefer to travel with hard copies of airline tickets (just print whatever the airline sends you) instead of relying on scanning a cell phone b/c I’ve seen several people have trouble getting the scan to work correctly. Remember to check-in as early as possible, less hassle later. You might cover your suitcases in plastic wrap to avoid theft (we didn’t and didn’t have a problem but it is a consideration). Pack different outfits for each family member in each suitcase as a backup in case some luggage arrives but not all.

        It would probably be a pain but you might get up earlier than usual to adjust to SA time and to help everyone be really tired and ready to sleep on the plane. I think the earlier you fall asleep helps you to wake up earlier and adjust so when you get off the plane you’re ready to sleep again. But lots of people (including Lisa-Jo) advise to let your child sleep and be awake when they want on the plane and then adjust on their own after you arrive. Crystal, you said Dramamine helped you last time so you might try that with your kids too (there’s a child Dramamine that is grape flavored).

        For a trip with our kids, we borrowed digital audio books from the library that can be loaded to an iPod and they each took turns listening.

        We took our youngest to Uganda when she was 11 months old. She had a double ear infection and strep throat, the dr thought we were crazy to take our child to Africa! We kept other people away from her for the first 24 hours while the medicine was taking effect. She was fine on the whole trip and we still call her our “world traveler”. (She did poop all over me on the last flight into Uganda and that was a very big mess but we survived.)

        **I was traveling with someone and we had planned to grab some food closer to our gate but there was almost nothing near our gate in Atlanta so you might plan for that problem, i.e. if you want to feed your kids dinner in Atlanta then stop in a more populated area of the airport at a place you want to get food from. 🙂

      • Alishia says:

        Yes, that is the exact route we took on our last trip, 4 years ago. Despite being so, so long, it was a great flight. About an hour into the flight, they start with dinner. Kids are served first and are treated like little royals. 🙂 It’s a chance to get them settled in and eating so parents can actually eat a bit when the full food service comes. They service drinks and snacks every few hours, so I wouldn’t worry about bringing too many snacks (I didn’t bring any), unless your kids are particular. The in-flight entertainment was great, and there were plenty of kid appropriate options to watch. I brought several small “presents” to open, but honestly, didn’t even need half of them. I ended up carting them back to the US with me. My daughter was 9 at the time, and was fine between eating, watching movies, and sleeping.

        One splurge we did make that I highly recommend is buying a Delta day pass for the lounge. It really helped, especially on the return flight, to have a quiet place to rest, get a drink and snacks, and SHOWER!! I think it was $100 for our family, and it was absolutely worth it. Our daughter even crashed on the floor with her pillow pet and slept for a few hours. Much more peaceful then the terminal.

        Good luck! Have a great trip!

  • Lana says:

    I have done a lot of international traveling — any flight over 8 hours always is difficult for me. Pipe cleaners are a light thing to travel with that is fun. I do think travel pushes us outside our comfort zone, but it also means that North America is never quite comfortable either. I joke that American malls are like waking up in a science fiction move. I hope your kids connect with some of the local — think it’s those connections that have enlarged my heart.

  • Susan says:

    I first flew internationally – Germany so only about 9/10 hours – when my oldest was 9 months and I wanted her to meet her great grandma and vice versa, and our last trip was probably when my kids were 7 and 9. So here are some of my tips

    1. Don’t set the bar too high. Be prepared for anything but if you are able to let things go and just go with the flow, I think things will go smoother. My oldest daughter one year almost got hit by a trolly, would only eat french fries, developed a fear of airplane toliets and wouldn’t go poop, but she lived through it and we can look back on those memories and be glad we went.

    2. Stock up on some new little presents to give the kids throughout the flight. Truthfully, I used to let them get McDonals kids meals at the airport because the toy with the meal kept them occupied for a while. Maybe buy them each a new book, then a little something that each child especially likes – i.e. a coloring book and small set of crayons/colored pencils.

    3. snacks for the planes. And lollypops are good for the ears. And maybe check and see if you can preorder kids meals for them, especially if they are super picky eaters.

    4. invest in a portable dvd/tablet/kids electronic gaming system. You might not let your kids watch a lot of tv, but sometimes rules need to be bent/broken for these types of trips.

    5. Natural sleep aids – rescue remedy, lavender, melatonin, etc. I use melatonin and its also safe for kids. But you probably need to know beforehand how it will interact with your kids. Also good idea to invest in sleep masks so the kids can cover their eyes and have nice darkness if they are able to sleep.

    6. Befriend the pilots. Our kids have gotten to go into the cockpit before the flight, and when they were smaller, the flight attendants had goodie type bags for them (puzzle, flight wings, etc.).

    7. As horrible as it feels at the time, it is best in the long run to shock yourself into the other time zone. If you arrive in the morning, try and stay up for as long as possible. My kids luckily never really had bad jet lag, and the one time my daughter did, it was really only for one day.

    • Beth says:

      I echo Susan’s comments! We live internationally and travel back to the States every year. Great tips! We like to hit Starbucks and McDonald’s at airports because, oddly, in our part of the world they are the cheapest places to get filling, familiar food. On crazy long trips I would recommend leaning towards too much comfort food (read: American) than not enough. Read Susan’s #1 comment every day if need be :). Also check the flight services. Some flights have great single person media selections. And then another we got stuck watching a film with the rest of the cabin that I would NOT want my kids watching.

      • Thanks for these great ideas!

        Gratefully, we’re flying Delta which has single person media selections. I’ve heard some of the international flights show some pretty non-family-friendly selections sometimes! 🙁

  • Kelly Cox says:

    Blessings and prayers to you. I went to Kenya for a mission trip several years ago and it was amazing what the Lord showed me on that trip. I went to be a blessing and ended up the one getting the blessing!

    Praying God’s best and that He uses all of you in mighty ways!

  • Andrea says:

    How exciting! “Go with the flow” was my gal (7yrs) & my motto when I flew to Scotland with her (alone) this summer. My travel tips: wet wipes; motion sick bags (take them all from the plane – my gal was motion sick so much during our time away, I was so happy I had wet wipes and sick bags in my purse always); gravol chewable & suppositories, Dramamine (sick babies need to sleep!) juice gummies (for ears); nuts; dried prunes; favorite snacks (I even packed a 2 day supply of a favorite cereal and a package of organic Mac & cheese! And I always save a favorite treat for the flight home! Something my gal loves!) 2 complete changes of clothes for each child (we were lucky this time but we have flown many times domestically and our luggage has been lost); extra blankets, pashminas (is it just me or are planes getting colder?)
    Have a very happy birthday! And as a dear friend always says to me: “make good memories”! Can’t wait to hear all about it. Blessings to you & your crew!!

  • Hanneke says:

    Exciting! My one tip is to pack spare clothes for ALL of you in a ziplock bag! On our last flight this year a kid in front of my husband decided to put back her chair (without warning) during mealtime, this resulted in him spilling tea all overhimself. Thankfully we had spare clothing!

  • Anna says:

    We live overseas and have flown with our small kids many times. I never look forward to the flights but they usually go much more smoothly that I think they will.

    I pack lots of snacks and even some special treats that we don’t usually have to make the trip more fun.

    I love Color Wonder coloring stuff for traveling with small kids, but I imagine that your kids would do great with colored pencils as well. I have also packed things like busy bags, small cars and playmats, travel games, and a couple tiny stuffed animals. Now though our two older boys usually just use the computers on the plane or an android tablet to watch videos and play games. No they don’t get that much screen time usually, but we figure one day won’t hurt them and our boys actually look forward to the plane rides.

    We encourage the kids to sleep whenever they are tired and just work on the time difference when we arrive.

    Anyway, that’s a few things that work for us. I imagine you’ll figure out what works well for you. 🙂 Safe travels!

    • Anna says:

      Oh I thought of one more thing. You might have already thought of this after your last trip.

      If you want to bring paper books to read on the long airplane flights, bringing a book light that clips to the top of the book is a great way to be able to read without turning on the overhead lights. It is actually quite helpful to have a book light or small flashlight along with kids too, as (at least my kids) seem to be really good at losing things under the seats.

      Anyway that is what I used to do before I started using an ereader.

  • Debi says:

    Good for you!! That’s awesome! We took our 7 kids to Mexico on a Mission trip a few years back, it was an enriching and moving experience for all of us.

  • Amanda says:

    We haven’t yet, but we hope to go back to Africa with our kidddos when they are bigger- (1 and 3 right now) either to visit or live! My only stipulation is that I don’t want to give birth anywhere but home :))

  • Rachel says:

    I am so excited for you and your family, Crystal! Two years ago we travelled to Taiwan with our two daughters who were then 2 and 4 years old. We had a great time. I am always impressed with how kids are usually more flexible than us grow-ups with cross cultural experiences!
    Some tips that helped us:
    – Keep a sense of humor! There are always unexpected things and challenges while traveling, especially internationally. Of course, some of those are hard to laugh about at the time, but keeping a flexible attitude with a sense of humor goes a long way :).
    – Bring along some small surprises, such as books and activities from the dollar store or Target/Walmart. These simple things helped keep the trip fun and the girls entertained in those tougher moments.
    – Pack lots of favorite snacks, especially some with protein – both for the flight and also for those jet-lag early mornings/late nights!
    – Melatonin really helped us and the girls sleep, especially on flights and during those 2 am jet-lagged wake ups.

  • Dawn says:

    How exciting, and what a wonderful opportunity for your kids to travel so far, so young! As a frequent international flyer, I recommend taking a stash of familiar medicines, particularly for upset stomach and fever. It’s hard to navigate unfamiliar pharmacies, even though I’ve found them well stocked in major cities. My last few international flights have had fantastic movie selections (Avengers, Harry Potter, lots of animated films), so the private screens may be something to talk up:)

  • Tara H says:

    My husband, along with our Pastor, will be flying out Sunday night headed to South Africa. 🙂 He works for Delta and I told him about your 15 hour flight. He’s very curious about how that is. 😉
    I’ll be praying for you and your family as y’all travel!

    • How fun! How long will they be there? We’re taking the direct flight from ATL to SA. It’s about 15 hours and 40 minutes total, I think. But we’re rounding down. 😉

      • Tara H says:

        They’re leaving the 27th and not coming back until October 9. They’re flying from Atlanta to Johannesburg. We have a missionary friend who lives in Pietermaritzburg, and they’re going to help him with a revival. They’re also spending a couple days in Krueger. 🙂 He’s been once before. I think his flight is 17 hours. They fly standby so we pray hard for first class! Lol

      • Tara H says:

        They will be there until October 9. They are flying to Johannesburg. We have a missionary friend who lives in Pietermaritzburg, and they will be helping him with a revival. While there they will be going door to door sharing the gospel as well. They are also spending a few days in Kruger national park.

  • Cheryl S says:

    We took our 9 yr old daughter to Russia to meet her new 8 yr old sister. Absolutely invaluable experience. Kids don’t need much language to have fun together. Simple cheap things like glow sticks, little bouncy balls, stickers, color pencils and paper can break the ice. Earlier this year, we took both girls to Ukraine to see the teenage boy we had hosted and wanted to adopt. Again, an invaluable experience for all the kids. We even got a side trip in to Paris at little extra cost. The kids learned how to communicate with people, see sights we don’t have in the US, how life is in other countries, and gained new appreciation for their life and family. I think its awesome you are taking the whole family. Safe travels!

  • Michelle says:

    We just went to Ecuador with out five children for a short term missions trip!!! Yay for you guys!! It is a life-changing experience!!!

  • Andrea says:

    best of luck! I have always dreamed of taking our family on a mission trip to either Central America, Haiti or Africa. Thank you so much for letting us live vicariously through your blog!

  • Kelly S says:

    I am excited for you and hope you have a wonderful time!

    Another reason you are taking your kids (I think) – so they can be a part of the “mutual encouragement of believers” (Romans 1:12). This is the best reason for international travel/short-term mission trips for Christians, in my opinion.

    I think many people have had great tips above. Not sure if anyone mentioned just being prepared for the return home as being hard. I’m sure you encountered how disorienting it is to come back from ANYWHERE, and in particular a country with very different culture and economics!

  • Esther says:

    We have traveled frequently and internationally with our children since they were infants. They are now 6 and 9. We were in N. Africa with them briefly a few years ago. My kids travel great for the most part. They pack their own entertainment in their backpacks but sometimes between naps and in-flight entertainment they don’t even open up their backpacks! The drink service is their favorite part of the flight. They love to order their own sprite or juice since we don’t drink those at home. Most important for us is I make them go to the bathroom as soon as we get on the plane, before we take off, and again right before we land. Have fun!

  • Casandra says:

    Hi, I have been following you on fb, and guess what, I live in South Africa, in Pretoria! You are so welcome to contact me while you are here if you need anything.
    Safe travels

  • Danae says:

    My parents took my brother and I to Africa when we were 4th and 3rd grade, respectively. The reasons you mentioned for taking your kids were some of their reasons as well. We visited missionaries, saw incredible things (both hard and wonderful) and that trip impacted me for a lifetime. We were in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and a few other places for two weeks. I don’t have any travel tips, but I will say that I am forever thankful my parents sacrificed their finances and their own physical comfort to take my brother and I on such an adventure. It made me see God in a whole new way and also see my parents in a new light. Since then I’ve traveled internationally two other times, (once solo for a business trip) and I think the lack of fear is due in part to seeing my parents step out on faith. Now that I’m a young parent (30 is young, right? 🙂 ) of two little ones, I appreciate the sacrifice they made even more. So excited for your family and for your sweet kids!!

  • Heather says:

    Hello Crystal! We’ve lived aboard for 3 years in the Middle East and frequently take long international flights. My daughter is only 5 but is a flying expert now and has visited of 25 countries. My biggest piece of advice is be honest about expectations and don’t let people get in your head about fears. My biggest goal for our time aboard is for my child to become a global citizen. I think your reasons are so wonderful in why you are taking them and you are making great strides to creating world changers. Go mama!!

  • Moniqur says:

    Hi Crystal

    I LIVE in Pretoria 🙂
    Let me know if you need help or advice on anything. I think there’s a 24-hour chemist and emergency ward at Wilgers hospital and pretty much any other hospital – just in case you need one.

    Welcome and I hope you love your stay here!


  • Kristen Golson says:

    We traveled to SA for the first time with the kids when they were probably about your kids’ ages (1-5 yr old and 2-7 yr olds). Now (5 yrs later) we live here, so we have done this trip multiple times. One thing we did was to have something small they could give to the kids they met. At the time silly bands were a thing in the states, so they collected them and we took them with us to give out to the kids. They loved the giving aspect of it, and the kids loved getting them!

    As for the flight, their first international flight was not great with delays and missed flights, etc. But they rolled with it, and now it’s a favorite story to tell! If any of your kids get motion sick, or get sick when they are exhausted, then take dramamine to give them. We had one get sick on both flights – probably a result of extreme exhaustion, but now we give it as a precaution. Also, each child had their own small carry-on bag that fits under their seat. That way they have their own “stuff” when they want it. We also warned them that flying is mostly about waiting! 🙂 Lastly, I found a zippered container that held all the passports and boarding passes. It was a small thing, but extremely helpful! They hold them through the security line, then hand them back to me. I’m sure these are things you’ve already thought of. I just asked my kids what advice they would give, and they said to be patient, and to remember that everything in Africa takes twice as long to do as in America! 🙂

    You will have a wonderful trip, and your kids’ lives will be forever changed! So sorry that you are fielding questions about why you are taking them – we constantly tell our children that they are regularly experiencing things that not a lot of other kids get to!

  • Rebecca says:

    What a fantastic opportunity for your family! We took our kids (then aged 10, 8 and 5) on their first international trip from New Zealand to the US and Europe last year. They coped really well with long flights – better than long road trips! I was over-prepared with things to do. Honestly, the kids were super happy with inflight entertainment. Sleep was an issue for our 10 year old, so easy days when we arrived at a destination were important. I took gum to help their ears on descent. Like you, we used YouTube to show the kids what flights would be like. Sounds like you’re doing a great job preparing them for cultural differences. Kids always blow me away with their adaptability, and they have a way of making potentially stressful situations more relaxed (sometimes)! I have the best memories of a short time spent in South Africa years ago – awesome destination for this type of trip. Have fun!

  • Cynthia Denio says:

    What a great experience this will be for your family!
    Last summer, we took our 4 children (ages 10, 8, 6 & 4) and traveled to Ethiopia where we spent 6 weeks helping with some ministries there. It was such a wonderful time for our family…a time that we now reference almost daily.
    For the flight there, I wish we had oriented our kids to where the bathroom was and encouraged them to use it early in the flight. We had an overnight flight, and 2 of our kids (who NEVER have “accidents” at home) had accidents on the plane. The whole first time on a plane thing was overwhelming and that little detail got missed. =) Every thing else about the flying experience was great.
    I hope you have a great time. The time spent in another culture was life changing for our family and I hope is for your’s as well.

  • Jill says:

    We’ve been with our kids to the continent of Africa twice.

    1. Don’t let the naysayers bring you down! You are giving your children a wonderful gift.

    2. Got a kid that get motion sick? Bring something for that! Know where your air sickness bags are located…

    3. Stock up your e-readers with lots of great books.

    4. Take advantage of media options on the plane. And take advantage of your portable devices too!

    5. Pack some familiar snacks in your checked baggage. Granola bars, beef jerkey, things that don’t mind getting squished 🙂

    6. Fake it til you make it. There were plenty of times on our trips when I was worried (uneccesarily!) and didn’t want to pass that feeling on to my kids! I really did just have to fake my attitude until I believed it. It helped me and my kids.

    7. Money – my kids were facinated with the coins in other countries. Bring some back or get some ahead of time. It was a fun toy for my crew.

    8. Pick up a little language before you go! Just something as simple as hello, thank you, nice to meet you in Afrikaans or a local language will give the kids something to look forward to trying.

    My kids regularly talk about our trips and how “when we go back to…we are going to do this and this and this” and “remember when….that was so fun!” I am always amazed at how much they have taken away from our trips. It sounds like you are doing a good job preparing your crew, so I pray they (and you!) will bring back many new and exciting memories from your time in SA!

    • SUCH great suggestions in this post — thank you!

      I especially LOVED this: “Fake it ’til you make it. There were plenty of times on our trips when I was worried (unnecessarily!) and didn’t want to pass that feeling on to my kids! I really did just have to fake my attitude until I believed it. It helped me and my kids.”

  • Victoria says:

    So excited for you and your family. I am sure this will be a memorable trip that will impact many including your family of 5 for years to come in powerful ways.

  • Mary says:

    Hi Crystal. I think this great that you are able to do this with your kids. Good luck and have a safe and fun time!

  • April says:

    Mom of three here (ages 6, 8, and 9); my kids have been to four countries (other than our home country, US) so far; we’ve got Iceland and Cuba planned for next year and will be making the long flight from the east coast to Hawaii this December. You’ve gotten lots of good advice in these comments, but here’s what works for us:

    – If your kids are scared to fly and can be swayed by logic, talk to them about how safe flying is. My 9 year old son loves statistics and we had him research the safety of flying vs. driving somewhere and report back to the family about what he found. There are kid-safe websites where you can find this information.
    -I make sure to pack some snacks (often things the kids don’t usually have, like candy and other treats) and an empty water bottle for each child, which we fill as soon as we get through security.
    -Other “comfort’ items I pack include cushy socks for each child, a small (small enough to fit into the backpack which each of them carries) blanket, a neck pillow for sleeping, and noise-cancelling headphones (we have 2 sets that we share between the 5 of us).
    -A tablet computer or iPad with their favorite movies on it goes a long way – last time we flew internationally the airline allowed those to be used during both takeoff and landing!
    -My kids also love to read, and we have a tradition where we let them buy a book to take on a long flight with them. They love to go and pick our their book (usually we’re book borrowers), and it gets held by mommy until we get on the plane so it’s a treat they really look forward to!

    Have a wonderful trip!

  • Jennifer says:

    I would travel internationally with my child, but not to South Africa. It seems like it would be a turbulent country and I would not want to risk it. That being said, since you have been there before, I’m sure you know what’s best for your family.

    • Megan says:

      It’s important to research any location before visiting and South Africa is certainly a very safe one for visitors. It’s developed with good infrastructure, safe-to-drink tap water in most parts, and lots of facilities. The political system is democratic and stable; it is far from turbulent. Many countries people don’t think of as dangerous like Jamaica or Aruba can actually pose a number of risks because of the high numbers of tourists which in turn breeds crime targeting tourists. You need to have your wits about you wherever you go, for sure, but we don’t have to worry about our favorite blogger or her family on this trip 🙂

  • Becky says:

    So excited for you and your family! We had the opportunity to travel in Italy for almost 7 weeks this spring with our elementary school aged children. It was life-changing for us and for them. In addition to meeting new people and learning about the world and other cultures, our children also picked up an expanded sense of adventure. Now, when our son hears about a new place, he asks, “Can we go there?” On the practical side, you may already do this, but we loved using packing cubes (we used eBags) and shared suitcases. We tried to pack as lightly as possible. Each family member had a different color for easy identification. If we had a long plane ride or long train ride, we came to expect our children would need a laid-back day to recover. It can be tempting to try to see everything, but we found it’s better to try to pace ourselves and be present. Also, we always had the best luck when we made sure our children’s bellies were full before any prolonged activities or tours. And, yes, I agree with the person who suggested taking common OTC medications – fever relievers, Miralax, cough drops, lactaid, etc. – whatever your family might need. Have a wonderful and blessed trip!

  • Need A Nap2 says:

    I forgot, you might buy some of the South African foods again so your kids can try them before you go. 🙂 That should help, knowing they’ll have some food that they like before they go. Show them your old posts, the types of food, etc.

    I think you can take fresh fruit/vegetable on the plane, that might help on the way there to be able to eat an apple or carrot sticks when the kids are hungry. You might research what you can bring into the country so you’ll know if you need to throw anything away. (We knew a couple that drove down to the US from Canada and had to throw away their apples at the border.)

  • Need A Nap2 says:

    I’ve been reading several articles lately that suggest bringing a treat for the flight attendants. That might be nice, and some kids have drawn pictures for the flight attendants too. One article suggested a normal amount of manners and kindness toward the flight attendants goes a LONG way. 🙂

  • Addy says:

    Our grandchildren have lived in Africa (a couple were born there) and have traveled internationally several times. It is amazing how adaptable children are and language/culture seems not to be a barrier to them finding new friends. So excited for your family and look forward to seeing lots of pics!

  • Megan says:

    So, in response to your birthday wish, I’m coming out of the shadows:) I’m so excited for your kids to experience how all the things we surround ourselves with don’t solve all problems. One of the biggest take-aways I had from traveling to a third world country is that while they are very poor, there wasn’t an issue with homelessness because they all helped each other out. The kids were happy and resourceful, making a jump rope out of vines. And the biggest gift we can all give each other is the gift of friendship and interaction.

  • Susan says:

    I read through a few of these but not all so sorry if these are repeat suggestions. I’ve been traveling between the US and Asia several times with kids ever since my oldest was born 8 years ago. My best piece of advice for flying is to leave extra time. I know it’s already a long trip and you aren’t always excited about leaving your house even an extra half hour earlier than you would if you were by yourself, but it always takes so much stress off to know if we need to make extra bathroom breaks or the line at security (or Starbucks) is longer than usual it doesn’t matter.
    My other suggestion is always remember they are watching you. If you’re stressed or nervous they will be. If you’re relaxed and just going with the flow they will be too. So try to be flexible. If something happens have fun with it. It will end up being a great memory/story. My kids always love telling their crazy stories of living in a different country.
    If you have picky eaters remember on the plane you can go online up to a day or so before you leave to request special meals and most airlines offer a kids meal option. It’s not always much better, but sometimes it helps.
    Kids are usually much easier to travel with than you expect. They are pretty resilient and don’t always see things the way we do as adults so are able to connect with kids their age easier than we are able. This is such a great opportunity for your family. I pray all goes smooth and proves to be encouraging.

  • Jamie says:

    I LOVE this and will pray for your family and the trip.

  • Cris says:

    Because of your kids ages I wouldn’t worry terribly about settling during the flight as they will have their individual screens to watch movies, although the fight is super long. I was super paranoid when we travelled with my one year old back home to Brazil and he still did great (we were sore from holding him for about 5 h each while he slept!). Went again with just him when he was 3 and that was actually more challenging at the airports since I had no help but still he slept great. There are great suggestions here! One I want to repeat is bringing reusable cups or bottles to put their drinks in as the seat space is tiny and when you have the tray down with an open cut it’s very easy for kids to knock it down. I asked them to put my son’s drink straight into his bottle or poured it myself. Blankets from home help too and travel pillows even though the airline provides those, the more the better. My son sleeps with many blankets so having 2 was good for him when we went just last month again. Way easier trip with him being 6 so really really, relax because your kids will be just fine! And they will come home so changed you just never know what kind of impact this could have in their lives or career choices! I think this is an amazing opportunity for your family!!

  • Bonnie says:

    Can you make your trip longer so you have enough time to get over jet lag etc?
    Hubby and I are South African. We married Jan07 and went to Taiwan Feb07, had 2 kids there then moved to Australia June13 and had another kid last year. We had enough air travel for now visiting SA while living in Taiwan. We miss the boisterous, joyful, singing Africans, but The Lord has led us here. SA needs Jesus to change the way things are there. It would be awesome without the criminal element.There is no place like it! Be careful with bags and cell phones

  • Ali Buck says:

    Ironically we, as South Africans, did our first international flight with our kids from South Africa to the USA when they were 5 and 8, and none of us have stopped since. Its addictive and just so much fun to travel as a family. My kids are now grown up and the world is truely their playground. They are comfortable with anyone from anywhere, have lived all over the globe (including 5 years each at college and working in the States) and love everyone equally. They don’t see colour, language or culture – only people created equally in the image of God. Just what I wanted for them as a mother. Travel is exquisite in any form. International travel even better as it adds a whole new dimension to life. Congratulations on taking the first step….of many to come I’m sure.
    PS I grew up in Pretoria and I hope the purple jacaranda trees are still in bloom when you get there.

  • I went on a two week mission in the Pretoria area and we spoke at many places and ministered to people. I wonder if you could write a post about why you are going – not what your family will get out of it – but what you guys are going to do there? I’m sure you are doing a big work and I’d love to know how the local people will be blessed by your visit.

    • I’ll be blogging about our adventures while we’re there and afterward. It might seem like a small thing, but it’s a big thing to the people there — our biggest reason for going is that we’re going to support our local friends there by our physical presence, to rejoice in the progress they’ve made in the work they are doing, to see the work they are doing, to encourage them, to show them by our presence that we are *with* them in this.

      It’s lonely, oftentimes, when you are investing so much of your life into exhausting work that you often can’t see huge results from. We want to not only support them with our dollars and prayers, but with our physical presence, as they have told us that that is something that means more than words can express.

  • Yay, I’m so inspired you guys are going and that is definitely a place I’d love to visit! I’ve lived abroad and have travelled extensively internationally, prior to having kids.

    We’re waiting until they’re a little older before we do big international trips. They’re 5 and 7. That being said, we do travel down to Tijuana, Mexico quite a bit to help some orphanages down there. We donate clothes, toys, food, etc. and our kids play with the kids down there.

    I love how all you have to do is get a ball and the kids bond and have fun. They completely forget how they are different in every way. I love the conversations we are able to have with the kids and the questions they ask when we visit.

    I can’t wait to hear about your trip. It inspires me to get our family out of our comfort zone to serve and love more.

  • My husband & I just adopted from Ethiopia this year, so we made that trip together (non-stop flight was about 12 hours there, and 16 hours home!). But it was great to be able to send our 12 year old son with dad for the second trip to bring our daughter home. We knew nothing could replace stepping into another culture and getting a heart for the people. It was a great experience for our son! And the Ethiopian people were some of the sweetest and happiest people we’ve ever met — even though they were living with a lot less than any of us. You’ll do great and what a special opportunity for your kids.

  • Amy says:

    Hope you guys have a wonderful trip! We are missionaries here in South Africa (Port Elizabeth) and when we flew down here our 5 kids were just so excited about the new adventure the plane ride and airport wasn’t an issue at all. We have loved raising our kids here, it really has giving them an understanding of how life is for others outside our American bubble. Looking forward to reading your updates. The weather is beautiful right now, one day you will have to make it down to the garden route, it not only has some of the most amazing people (we work with the Xhosa) but the scenery is incredible. Just tell your kids after the long plane ride they can get a yummy Oreo Cadbury chocolate bar and Appletizer in the Joburg airport 🙂

    • Pauline says:

      Am so excited to have come across this – I’m originally from PE, now living in the UK, we haven’t been back in 14 years, but our daughter just recently went over for 2 weeks. Would love to know more about your work – we must make a trip back one of these years!!

      • Amy Coffey says:

        That’s so exciting! I hope she enjoys her time here. We mainly work in the townships, right now we are in Kwadwesi and Sowetto. Church work is our main focus but we also help with school tutoring as well as other things. We have plans to build a camp for teens to have an outlet from the townships, especially during school holidays, we are looking into the Kragga Kamma area for land. Hope you get to come back for a visit soon!

  • Alison says:

    Dear Crystal,

    Thank you for writing posts with titles like, “Why we’re taking our kids to South Africa” instead of, “Why you should take your kids on trips.” Your blog is full of positivity instead of telling people what to do. I stumbled across it when I was a newlywed several years ago, and I’m so thankful I did! I have learned so many valuable things from you and look up to you. You’re great! 🙂


    • Thank you so much for your kind encouragement! I know that what WE do is not necessary what YOU and YOUR FAMILY should do, so my hope is to give people a peek into our life and why we’re choosing/doing what we’re doing without saying “This is what you must do, too!”

      Because not everyone can or should do what we do. Just like our family can’t do and shouldn’t do everything another family does.

  • Hey Crystal

    I’m a friend of Lisa-Jo’s (we were at school together way back; she wrote the foreword for my book; and her baby sister is in the same class as my littlest son…). We live in Pretoria; know Pete and Wanda Rous, and have WiFi 🙂 If you need coffee / a chat / somewhere to drop the kids for a swim / a place to underwhelm if you feel overwhelmed / or anything – please give me a shout.

    Much love

  • Jackie Fairon says:

    When you come back to South Africa, please let me know. I live in Durban and I am so intrigued to follow your experiences as you travel. I am a Rotary Ann and have had a lot to do with adult education, teaching domestic workers to read in their Thursday afternoons off in Zululand. I’m getting old but want to offer my services giving Zulu (or any other) speakers conversation lessons. Trouble is, it’s so dangerous going out, I was mugged two months ago, and am lucky to be alive.
    I love everybody, but am specially blessed to have a lot of Zulu friends mostly from church. The thing I like is the way they seem to love and accept me, when we whites have such a history here of being anti-black and colonial minded.
    Anyway, that’s the story. May God bless you and your family richly this year and make all your dreams come true.
    Kind regards

  • I absolutely love this post! So many great points.

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