Nowadays, social media, especially parenting groups are full of posts from moms worrying about traveling with their kids. I have an 11 and an 8-year-old and over the last decade, our family, has together traveled across 10 countries and 18 cities through Europe, Middle-East and South-East Asia. From long-distance flights, cruise, speed train, ferries to self-drive through countries, we have done it all. While I am not claiming that we have cracked the code, every trip has taught us something new.
A child who is not hungry, uncomfortably dressed or tired is an absolute pleasure to travel with. So here are my tips to ensure a happy family vacation.
1. Food: One big worry for every parent is Food. And it’s tougher to manage if your kids are vegetarian like mine are. I remember running to the pediatrician with my then 18-month-old after returning from a short trip to Singapore because all she had eaten through the trip was milk, bread and fruits. Only to be laughed at. Personally, I have ruined few vacations, fretting over food, before realizing that I am attaching too much importance to it.
There are only 2 worst case scenarios in this situation. A. The child goes hungry. B. The child eats more junk and less healthy food.
So, my hack – Get them used to staples like milk, fruits, yogurt, potatoes and bread. I am yet to see a breakfast buffet, restaurant or super-market from Thailand to Russia where these products are not available. A child that eats these products can never go hungry. And if he is a non-vegetarian add eggs and chicken. Universally available and nutritious. So worst case scenario A taken care off.
As for worst-case scenario B, is it really a “concern”? Or rather, is it really a concern worth worrying over on a holiday? I mean you are out for max 15-20 days or less in a year and even if the kid does pile on the cookies, ice-creams, chips and the pizza (of course I am presuming it’s an indulgence that is not going overboard) will it adversely affect his/her health? After all, you have another 350 days to compensate for the “bender”. Isn’t vacation all about relaxing and spending some quality family time rather than running after kids?
P.S 1: We have managed to find Indian restaurants from the northern most part of Scotland to the beaches of Hua Hin and back lanes of Valencia. Just be ready to spend more because Indian food outside India is considered exotic and is more expensive. If you and your kids are extremely finicky about food, simply book an apartment rather than a hotel room and cook in.
P.S 2: Don’t let them miss meals or go hungry, even if they want to. A kid that skips meal will be hungry in a few hours and will get cranky. God forbid if you are on the road or in a tour (like visiting a museum) where either food is not available or not allowed. Also, making frequent stops for food is not only irritating but also eats up on time that can be otherwise spent exploring.
P.S 3: Carry a few light snacks like cookies, fruits or dry fruits in your purse. They don’t take much space, are easy to carry and can come to your rescue with a crying, hungry kid.
2. Clothes: Getting this right is important. But once again, let’s work backwards and imagine the worst-case scenario. You get it wrong. It won’t be the end of the world. Hop in to the next mall you see. Or be adventurous and visit local street markets. We over packed on sweaters, thermals and jackets when we traveled to Russia but were greeted with some excellent weather and had to unnecessarily lug the weight around. Next trip to Spain we packed light and were congratulating ourselves on a wise decision till we reached Barcelona. Unexpected rains and my daughter was freezing. 20 Euros and a thick jacket later, the smile was back.
P.S 1: I download weather apps and check weather forecasts few weeks prior to the departure date. Checking with friends who live in that part of the world or have recently visited helps.
P.S 2: Traveling light makes travel effortless especially if you are traveling with kids. Or covering multi-city/country, intend to rent a car or fly budget between cities. Cars have limited space for luggage and you might even have to fit in a car seat. Budget airlines charge for every kilo. Sometimes the air fare is cheaper than the cost of luggage on airlines like easyjet (for travel within UK and Europe). Keep a small budget aside to buy clothes locally, if required. I know a lot of people who shop before traveling. Shopping from India is not as much fun as to shop in a new city. And it’s a myth, that abroad, clothes cost more. They don’t. Every city has multiple shopping options from beach or flea markets for the budget traveler to branded stores for those willing to splurge. In Bali, I picked up colorful beach wear for peanuts from the local street market, used it and then just discarded it there.
3. Medication: There are no hacks here. And no compromises. I don’t even want to imagine the worst-case scenario. Simply put. Prepare and pack. I have a list of must-takes and add-ons depending on the weather expected and location. Anti-allergic, crocin, anti-biotics that the kids are used to, I carry it all. There is no way I am stressing about my kid’s health in a foreign land with no known doctor around.
P.S: There is none. Just pack everything and then some more. Whether it’s the midges of Scotland or bugs of Thailand, it’s better to over-pack on the mosquito repellants, anti-bacterial wipes and hand sanitizers than to repent later.
4. Schedule: Believe me, food and clothes are less hassle than planning a schedule that doesn’t tire an infant or child. After many hits and trials, we have devised a schedule that works best with our kids.
a. We take night flights: And ensure kids sleep on the flight. That way when we reach our destination the kids are fresh and excited about being in a new place. We accidentally stumbled upon this trick. My son used to suffer from motion sickness and his pediatrician advised us to travel at night when the child is sleepy. Plus, he recommended a medicine that made him even more drowsy. As a result, my son would sleep off in the car instead of suffering from constant puking through the journey. I have adopted the same technique for all flights. (Also, night flights prove to be cheaper and help save the cost of spending an extra night in a hotel)
b. Plan ahead: In sharp contrast to our pre-kids’ days, when my husband and I used to travel at-the-drop of the hat, today vacations with our children are meticulously planned well in advance. Everything that we are very sure we want to do is pre-booked along with notes on how to reach, what to carry etc. So along with booking the Harry Potter tour at Warner Bros Studio, we also booked our return train tickets from Central London to Wartford and researched on shuttle service from Wartford junction to the studio. Pre-plan to relax later.
c. Location, Location, Location: Both kids were under 5 years of age, when we traveled to Hongkong. I chose a hotel next door to a luxury mall with a huge play area. In Dubai, we stayed at the Kempinski which is within the Mall of Emirates and we could just take a lift to Ski Dubai. In London, we booked an apartment in Covent Garden. The kids had no problem walking almost 10-12 km every day because at the end of the day we used to simply relax at the Apple Market or at the open cafes of Covent Garden a step away from the apartment. When you are around activities that interest kids especially at walkable distance they are happier and so are you.
d. Local transport and activities: Kids enjoy boats, ferries, trams, trains, double-decker buses more than we imagine. Often parents choose expensive taxis thinking this will be more comfortable but kids yearn for new adventures. Let them explore and enjoy new activities. Not only will you have fun together, it will be easier on the pocket.
e. Engage and Involve the kids. As the kids grew, we started involving them in everything. From packing to planning the itinerary. Though the final veto still stays with us. They can choose the clothes or a book or game that they want to carry (if it doesn’t occupy too much space or weight) While planning a visit to UK, my son made a Microsoft presentation to convince us to visit Manchester and tour Old Trafford (since he is a huge Manchester United fan). He worked out the costings and logistics and planned the itinerary. The more involved they are in planning the vacation, the more they enjoy it.
If there is something I have learnt from my travel, it’s that kids are more flexible and accommodating than adults. Seriously. They pick up the negativity from the adults. They whine when they overhear parents cribbing. The more you fret the worst it gets because your child pick up the vibes. I have seen children happily savour local dishes till they overhear their parents complain. Immediately the kids also change tack. So how you travel with them will set the benchmark for how they will travel with you. A parent with a positive attitude will find a happy-go-lucky little travel partner.
From culture to history, no book can teach what actual experience can. Family bonding, patience, self-confidence and ability to interact with people from all walks of life; traveling is one of the greatest teachers. So, go ahead and plan your next family vacation with zero stress!
This blog was first published by me on my own blogpage on Mycity4kids https://www.mycity4kids.com/parenting/article/why-traveling-with-kids-is-not-a-pain