Sunday, June 9, 2013

Travelling with kids.

I love to travel and tour with the kids. Ok, Ok.. I love exploring new destinations, meeting new people, discovering new cultures, eating new foods and seeing incredible new sights with the kids. I DO NOT love long haul flights with the kids. I DO NOT love short flights with the kids or... car trips, trains, jeepney rides, pedicabs, even escalators with the kids (picture a 3 year old rolling all the way down an escalator at Nadi airport and landing on her face at the bottom). Gondolas and ropeways we love. Cruising we love even more.. actually I think my littlies love cruising even more than I do! All these modes of transport can be a necessary and amazing part of travel to and touring/exploring a destination... BUT sometimes difficult with young children. There is a total of 6 of us -  Mum and Dad, 2 teenagers and 2 preppies. Travel with the older two was relatively easy. We started when they were 6 and 8. Then the twins came along... Once the younger two were 12 months old we were off. At the beginning it was alright  - sleep/eat/poop/sleep, and they're quite portable asleep in a pram. Things started to get a little more interesting however around 2, and then downright hellish at 4! Now, at almost 6, their stamina is improving, the tantrums are all but gone, it's easier to keep them entertained and so travel is becoming more hassle-free again (thank goodness!). Especially since we are down to 4 again, as the older teenagers are now at an age they just aren't that interested in travelling with the oldies and have full, busy lives of their own. (Cheaper too.. those adult airfares for teenagers are a killer!!) We've definitely had our moments. You know you've had it tough when a stewardess gives you a cuddle at the end of a flight... or a tour guide puts their arm around you and tells you you're super mum. But you know what? It was SO AMAZINGLY worth it. As soon as you get where you are going everything melts away and is forgotten (like childbirth itself). I get a real kick out of hearing my 5 year-olds talk to each other "remember the little monkeys in the Philippines?"... "I loved those Pandas in Hong Kong"... "Bula!".. Puts a smile on my face every time. Even I will admit, some stuff they won't remember in the long run. But I still think they have become more worldly and learnt so much even at a subconscious level. I believe they are more confident and more aware of their place in the WORLD. They can also say hello, thank you and goodbye in like 6 languages -not bad for littlies!

Here's my top tips for travelling, especially with kids...

1: Be prepared. Obvious and a must. Take a little kit with colouring pencils/pens/paper or if older a Nintendo DS or similiar/Ipad/ a book whatever interests your child. We're capable as adults of entertaining ourselves, but don't expect children to sit still for a long flight/train trip etc with nothing to entertain them. Budget airlines in particular don't have much to keep them happy. It's great to bring brand new things if you can, as it can hold their attention longer. Maybe wrap up a couple of cheap trinkets/toys and surprise them with little distractions along the way. Also, pack Panadol, suncreen, travel sickness tablets from home. They may not be easy or cheap to get at your destination.

2: Relax the rules. Your routine will be so out-of-whack anyway no doubt (if it's not you're doing it wrong!), there's no real point in sticking to strict bedtimes and diets when on a holiday or extended trip. You'll only make yourself and the kids miserable trying. Especially if you've crossed datelines etc. I'm not saying keep them up all night so they're impossible the next day, but relax a bit and enjoy. Similarly, I'm a vege fanatic at home, and lollies are always a no-no. However I'm sure I'm not the first mum waving a bag of lollies at a young child pleading with them to sit still/stop crying on a long flight. Also, in a land full of strange and wondrous foods, I'm just happy when they get something safe and reasonably nutritious in and are full. I always hope they'll  try something local and unusual for the experience. Just keep in mind... depending on what country you are exploring, fresh fruit and vegetables/salads may not be the wisest choice ie What pesticides are used in that country? What's the quality of the water used to wash them? You get the idea...

3: If you believe in immunisations (I do) make sure you are up to date. Also, be aware there may be immunisations recommended for a particular country that aren't required here eg Typhoid, Cholera etc. If you are a conscientious objector, and that's your business, just keep in mind deciding not to vaccinate for say Diptheria in our country carries a certain risk that may be a completely different ball game in another country. Remember, some vaccinations take weeks to work. It's advisable to book in with a GP or specialised travel clinic 6-8 weeks before your trip.

4: Remember that you need more than 6 months left on passports to enter most country's, and that children's passports are issued for 5 years only, not ten like adults. I actually know of someone who was unable to board a flight at the airport and travel for a holiday to Fiji, because her child's passport only had 4 months left on it. Check it.

5: Take out travel insurance. If you can't afford travel insurance.... you can't afford to travel I say. Especially with kids. If you are 18 and backpacking it's one thing (although still incredibly risky), but taking your precious children and not having travel insurance is irresponsible and downright foolish. There I've said it - bit stern wasn't it??? I'm not talking about a lost suitcase or stolen Ipad, although getting them replaced is great too! I'm talking about you or you child developing a serious illness, or being involved in an terrible accident. At best you might be in a country that's capable of providing top notch care (thats the most important thing), that you will be out-of-pocket thousands for (no Medicare O/S!). Worst case scenario is you are in a developing country with poor or very little medical care available, and needing desperately to fly your child back to Australia for treatment. To be medevaced home with equipment and attending nurse/physicians costs tens of thousands- could you afford it?. Do you want a holiday to cost you your house? Not as bad as the alternative though, which doesn't bear thinking about! That is rare however. Most cases involve a hospital stay, and then an uncomfortable commercial flight home... but it has happened. Are you willing to take the risk?

6: Be realistic. I am the first person to encourage you to take your kids with you as you travel the world if you can, even though I'm like everyone else and can be rattled by a simple trip to the local supermarket! But... however wonderful trekking by foot through the malaria-ridden jungles of Borneo, or taking on the 7 day journey on the Trans-Siberian railway sounds to me, it just MAY be a little to much to expect of your children. On my own, I'm like a woman possessed in a new country, and believe sleeping is for the plane home. When I take the kids, I skip countries with certain travel warnings, plan shorter days, and book shorter tours. I may base myself at one or two places, and take trips from there, instead of  travelling all over. You make compromises. It's worth missing out on a few things to share the ones you do see with your offspring. I'm not saying you can't go anywhere without the kids! Go on that trip solo to the Kokoda Track if you want. I travelled to Borneo last year without the kids, and loved it. Sleeping off a hangover or a dodgy meal is certainly easier.. that's for sure!

7. Check current travel advice and register your trip with Smart Traveller. Do not rely on your travel agent to warn you about political unrest etc in a country you're intending to travel to. Realistically, they aren't about to dissuade you from booking a trip when their livelihood depends on it at the end of the day. I'd like to think a good Travel Agent would discuss certain aspects of your trip and give you some guidance though... but do your own research. Also, registering your trip means if there is an outbreak of political unrest or a natural disaster of some sort, the relevant government agencies know where you are and can act accordingly if necessary. Don't rely on the neighbour or Aunty Sheryl to let everyone know...

8. Most importantly.. Spend quality time, make memories and ENJOY!

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