Inspired by The Sanguine’s post I would like to share my experiences travelling with kids. Ok, I only have one daughter but I hope my tips and tricks could help other parents with young kids who love to travel. This is a long post, so get ready to scroll down.
For some background information: my husband and I travelled a lot before G, our daughter was born in 2001. After we became parents we haven’t stopped travelling. We don’t travel as much as before though. This is our annual travel pattern now: summer holiday 2 weeks in Europe or 4 to 5 weeks to far destinations (Asia, mostly Indonesia where I come from), 2 – 3 city trips to neighbouring countries like Belgium, Germany, Luxemburg or exploring another cities in The Netherlands. So far as a family (the three of us) we have been to Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Spain, France, Italy, Swiss, Belgium, Germany and Luxemburg.
G is now 12 years old. I was wondering how to share my experiences travelling with kids as a toddler has other needs than 5 year old child. So I decided to split my tips & tricks according to age groups. Before I do that below are two general tips parents with travel plans should do, no matter how old their kids are:
- Book the accommodation and transportation on time. Most airlines have special fares for babies and toddlers (only 70% up to 75% off adult fare) and children up to 12 years. Several hotels/resorts also offer ajoining rooms and baby sitting service. Most important is to inform whether the accommodation you are interested in is suitable for your children, for example: resorts on a rock are beautiful for sunset but they could be dangerous for children. Or the location of the hotel is in a dodgy area you won’t let your kids visit.
- Families travelling with an airplane should be present at the airport on time. Why? When you are late, you’d be in a hurry, then you’d get reckless even moody perhaps. Kids can sense this negative vibe easily, trust me. My husband and I prefer to arrive too early on the airport, checking in would be a breeze. We then have time to relax or doing some window shopping before boarding.
Travelling with babies and toddlers (0 – 3 years)
Travelling with this age group is a matter of logistics. Basically they do as they always do at home: sleep, eat, drink and cry. Always take the following in your bag: 2 – 3 extra diapers just in case, a mini towel, wet wipes, liquid soap, water, formula, medicine, biscuits and toys.
- Fly vacation: For long haul flight I used to book evening flights if it was possible. After eating dinner, baby G fell asleep in her babycot. Keep in mind by taking off and landing babies and toddlers cry much because they have pain in their ears. Just hold them tight, there is no need to try to distract them, they keep crying anyway and you’d get frustrated. Do not even pay attention to angry looking passengers as this will pass soon. Due to fly protocol you must hold your babies/toddler on your lap during taking off or landing.
- Road trip: Do not push yourself; 6 – 8 hours drive a day is max.
- Stroller is only handy when you are sure your destination has special path for it. If not, don’t take it. As this only slows you down because of its extra weight. We travelled from Jakarta to Bali by car when G was only 11 months old. The route was Jakarta, Yogya, Surabaya, Malang (Bromo), Bali. My husband carried G on his back climbing up Bromo for the sunrise. She was ok and did not feel uncomfortable with that.
In the picture below my husband and G are loading our groceries in Lyon, France during our road trip to South France. G was 2,5 years old then.
Travelling with pre school and first grader (3 – 5 years)
I experienced this as a difficult period as they start to express themselves verbally. At this stage children tend to say no to everything, throw tantrum and ask the endless “Are we there yet?” question. Keep your calm and stay cool. Take many toys and coloring prints. When they are done with drawing or playing, reward them with sweets/biscuits or anything you find acceptable for your kids. Giving them constant attention is the key. Be flexible with your plan but yet do not let the kids control the holiday.
Involve them in the surroundings, make them aware you are travelling right now. I asked G to start collect something as a souvenir. She collected sand she kept in a jar.
This stage is ideal to introduce local (street)food. Don’t limit yourself by eating junkfood or familiar dishes only just because it’s convenient for you and especially your kids. You’d be surprised how children’s tastebuds develop. G discovered in Playa d’Aro, Spain that she found shrimps tasty. She was three at that moment. We teach her to try new food/drink first before deciding whether she likes it or not.
Travelling with children age 6 – 8 years
Travelling started to be more fun with children from this age group. Why? They have learned at school about things, animals, history. Kids at this stage are able to enjoy more. I began exploring more museums and historical sites when G was 6. Dutch school teacher asks the pupils to share their holiday in front of the class. G started to collect more souvenirs than sand only. She took hotel’s brochures, restaurants cards or airline’s cosmetic pouches to show to her classmates.
To avoid that G got bored, I combined leisure (playing on the beach) with exploring the place (visiting must sees spots, nature), food and culture.
Travelling with big kids age 9 – 12 years
Things get easier with children at this stage. When G turned 10 I asked her to pack her bag herself at least two days before departing. I would check it to be sure she had everything. By doing this I teach her to travel light.
For the summer vacation my husband and I told her our destination 4 months before. She would browse the information on the web herself. She also may contribute to travel plans, what we should do. So far she’s fallen in love with Ubud, Bali and Barcelona, Spain. She’d love to visit Greece but is still afraid of rally as long as the crises is still going on there.
You can ask your kids to learn simple words in the language of the destination such as: thank you, please, good morning/day/afternoon/evening, how much, where is etc. Let them order food and drink themselves allowing them to experience the feel.
Or ask them to find a spot on the map. G loves to look for the shortest route when taking the metro during our citytrips. Lately she’s been reading travelblogs, tripadvisor and fashionblogs. Some information she read is good to know for us.
G exploring the ancient wall in Gerona, Spain with her dad.
In front of an Egyptian sarcophagus of a child in Neues Museum, Berlin, Germany. She thought this was a mini bath tube.
G in chilly Antwerpen at 8 degree Celsius below zero! She complained why we needed to travel for a weekend getaway while it was freezing cold. I soothed her by saying “One day you’d laugh about this”. I hope by saying this she understood that travelling is a process not only reaching the end destination.
With our Dutch family and friends during our 4 weeks epic Indonesian trip exploring Java Bali by land (car and train) and by air and boat. This is an amazing view from top of Gumang Hill in Karangasem, Bali. After a steep climbing of an hour, seeing this and Lombok island on the background is undescribable.
The kids in front of Tanah Lot’s gate, Bali.
G and her reward, super delicious Italian gelato after she bravely did the tour along The Louvre and Musée d’Orsay in Paris without one single complain! She even enjoyed it. This was the deal because we went to Euro Disney the previous day, fair enough, right?
G has been stricken by travelbug the past two years. On her bucket list: Hawaii (She is Hawaii Five O and Lilo and Stich fan), Greece (due to Mamamia the movie), West and East Coast USA, India (cool and colourful), Australia (its nature), South America (her adult cousin just got back from a mini sabattical in Chile, Argentina & Brazil) and Wakatobi Islands (East Indonesia).
My last tip for parents with young kids: Do not overthink, just do it! Arrange everything, pack your bag and go. Kids get bored and whine the whole time? They are just kids, not a battery doll with an on and off mode.