Travelling can be risky at the best of times but takes on a whole new dimension when a child is involved, but that shouldn’t stop you from travelling. Rachael Green-Roche offers advice and tips on how to travel with children.
Whilst you’ll never again have the chance to throw a bikini, your passport and your wash bag into a rucksack and head out of the door with hardly a backward glance, having a family does not necessarily condemn the seasoned traveller to a life of donkey rides on the beach and kids clubs on the Costas (though they certainly have their place in the family holiday spectrum). Travelling with children certainly takes more thought, planning, cash and certainly more patience, than travelling solo or with other adults, but its not impossible. As the parent of a very well travelled not-quite-two year old and a lover of pastures new, these are some of my top tips
Think about your destination – there is probably no point planning to climb to Anahpurnha Base Camp if you have three kids under 5. I’m sure it’s possible, but it’s probably best left for those with slightly more stamina. And Masochists.
Consider the age and number of children you’re travelling with when deciding on a destination – a not yet mobile baby will quite likely enjoy sitting in their push chair all day taking in the sites. However, an active toddler will probably have less patience for cultural endeavour and will let you know loudly and repeatedly. If that’s the case the beach at Langkawi might be a better choice of destination than the streets of Tokyo.
When flying, always if possible, ask for a bassinet seat and board the aircraft as early as you can. Even if you don’t use the bassinet (my daughter was never a fan) the extra leg room will prove invaluable for the rigours and literal ups and downs of travelling with small children. You’ll be most likely travelling with a lot more hand luggage than you might have done in the past (gone are the days of strolling on board carrying your book and passport) and it also means you’ll be able to stow it near you. The last thing you need is to be running up and down the plane for nappies, snacks, toys, books…
Consider the timings. Whilst it’s not always possible, if you can try and time your travel so that it’s as stress free as possible. We’ve found that travelling long haul through the night is far easier as generally your kids will get a bit of shut eye and this cuts down on the amount of time you’re attempting to actively contain and entertain them. The same goes for long journeys by rail or road too. Failing this, if your child is old enough, many parents report portable DVD players to be a travelling with kids must have.
Get on local time. Always a good idea when you travel and even more important if you’re travelling with children. If you’re planning to be in a place more than a few days (any less and you may not consider it worth it) try and get yourself and your children into their routines based on where you are.
Ask questions. Ask around about where you’re going. Friends that have been there, search the net, read books (I’m a fan of Lonely Planet but each to their own). Unlike travelling with just adults, things like the availabilty of formula, cots and cartoons now matter. Find out where the best hotels and accomadations for families are. If you have older children or more than one, find out if renting an apartment might be a more practical solution than a hotel. If your child is still in nappies or drinks formula, are they easily available where you are going? If not you need to make sure you have ample supplies with you.
Be realistic. Consider not only your own parenting philosophy, but also your attitude to travel. If before you had kids you were more a Hilton than a hostel type of traveller, that’s probably not going to suddenly change now you’ve got kids. But by the same token if you’re the more adventurous type you don’t suddenly have to confine yourself to the big name chains (which will often cost a lot more too). Sound research before you book; asking around for personal recommendations and making sure you’re well prepared before you travel means that you should still be able to find accomodation to suit your budget and your tastes.
But don’t be afraid. Whilst there are certainly some places that are probably off the list, at least until your children are older, you’ll most likely fare better than you think. Babies for example are actually pretty good travel companions as they are portable, easily entertained and don’t add that much to the cost of your travel bill (if they are under 2 they don’t need seats on planes and the fares are far lower than for an older child). Kids are also very resilient, open minded and interested. They will get you involved in things and talking to people you might not otherwise.
Get Insured. This should be a given for anyone travelling anywhere, at any age, but is doubly important when travelling with kids. They have a tendency to put things in their mouths, fall over and generally don’t act with the same level of caution that an adult would (in theory at least!) and medical care abroad can be very, very expensive.
Get ready to be judged. Unless you are in a family friendly resort in Benidorm complete with Kids Club, cabaret and babysitting service (and possibly even then) be ready to expect that someone will be unhappy with your choice of destination, mode of transportation, where you’re staying and how you and your kids conduct yourselves on your travels. Whether they are family and friends before you go or complete strangers when you get there, I was given a stern telling off by a middle aged woman in Hoi An, Vietnam for bringing my daughter to a ‘third world country’. She shut up when I pointed out that we lived in the country at the time. Unless they are offering you constructive and useful advice, ignore them. And if you can get your kids to stare at them like the Midwich Cuckoos, it will thoroughly freak them out and entertain you no end.
Be flexible – Don’t try and plan too much (a tired, cranky or bored child is not a fun companion) and be prepared to make alterations to your plans if you think an activity or excursion is ultimately not suitable. If the budget runs to it, this is where private rather than group excursions are often a good idea. You have more freedom over timings, changes in destinations and stops!
Things to take.
I never travel without these things, but it is by no means an exhaustive list!
- Dettol or Milton wipes (ideal for wiping down less than pristine high chairs, bottles and hands)
- Milton Tablets – if you still sterilize then these are invaluable, but even if you’re not they can be very handy.
- A favourite book or toy. If your child has a toy or book they hate to be parted with, take it with you. But try not to lose it on the Tokyo Subway. Scouring the toy shops for a replacement Sophie Le Girafe is not how you want to spend your holiday.
- Nappies, food, formula that will last you for at least the first day you are there whilst you figure out where the shops are. There are however, companies that will send everything you need to your destination for you so that its there when you get there, but they’re not cheap and there s always the risk your delivery might be delayed or never arrive, if you’re off the beaten track.
- A cot sheet. Those provided are not always of the standard you as a parent might be happy with.
- Plenty of clothes. Children attract dirt with an almost preternatural ability. Be prepared for at least 2-3 changes a day (the plus side of this is that the efficiency of your packing will increase massively).
- A lightweight stroller. An umbrella folding stroller if your child is not yet walking or is unable to walk for long periods of time is essential. Something like a McLaren is ideal. Travelling is not necessarily the time for you to be dragging a very heavy, expensive travel system. Airlines will invariably break or lose them (I have experienced both), they are cumbersome to fold and unfold and are generally unnecessary and impractical.
- Get a sling or backpack carrier. Depending on the age of your child these can be a lot more practical for a days sightseeing than a buggy or stroller
Whilst travelling with children is slightly harder work, it is also immensely rewarding. Introducing your children, no matter what age, to new experiences and cultures makes them more adaptable, open minded and easy going and of course there are the endless educational benefits for everyone. You often have to look harder to find activities to suit all of you and as a result open yourself up to experiences you might never have had otherwise.
Rachael Green-Roche and her husband Oliver are proud parents to gorgeous Isabella and are currently expecting their second child. Rachael lives in Kuala Lumpur, she is an avid history fan and has taught History in the UK, Doha and Vietnam. She has a collection of shoes and handbags that any woman would kill for!
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