Top 5 Tips for Travelling with Children
Heading off abroad into the unknown when you are a young unmarried singleton is a rite of passage for many people. Learning about life elsewhere, finding your strengths (and weaknesses), expanding your horizons and testing your limitations are all part of that heady experience of travelling alone. Sadly though, we all have to grow up and for those that settle down and have children, liberating days of being able to sling a spare pair of undies, a toothbrush and a passport into your backpack and be off, can feel like a dim and distant memory!
However, it doesn’t have to mean the end to you wandering around the planet. With a little bit of extra planning, the right kit, some common sense and good humour, you can still have an amazing adventure with your kids in tow. Their excitement and amazement can be infectious and their perspective refreshingly simple – they might just teach you another way to see the world.
We operate in three destinations – Mongolia, Bhutan and Burma – so our advice is tailored for our guests in those countries, but most of it is perfectly sensible wherever you are going. Here are our top tips for travelling abroad with children:
1. Planning & Preparation
Wherever you are going to, your trip will be a whole lot easier if you do a little bit of planning and preparation before you head off. Use the local library to find books that you can share with your children about your destination – the people, the culture, the food, the weather – so that they have some understanding of where they are going. Why not try out some new recipes at home so the cuisine is familiar. Show them pictures of the places they are going to visit and talk through your itinerary. You want them to be curious and excited about their holiday, not overwhelmed by strangeness and surprise when they arrive.
2. Kit & Caboodle
So you know that one rucksack just isn’t going to cut it on this trip, but travelling as a family doesn’t have to mean being weighed down by copious amounts of luggage. You really don’t need as much as you think! Light-weight jersey t-shirts, shorts and leggings can be hand-washed easily and dry quickly, so don’t pack an outfit for the children for every day of your holiday. As our Karina says,“there are children the world over, so why not try out what the locals use – nappies, food, games etc…” A fold-up travel cot is always handy – it means that every night you know where your littlest one is going to sleep. Take high-factor sunscreen and a travel potty.
3. On the Road
Roads and pavements don’t always measure up to those at home, so leave your pushchair behind. Invest in a sling or a baby-carrier which are less bulky, leave your hands free and keep your children close. Similarly, a car-seat is an extra thing to carry around – all our operators will provide one on request. Windy mountain roads can make even the hardiest traveller feel a little queasy, so pack some travel sickness pills for the children. It is an idea to have thought up some travel games to play on long journeys – the AA has some good suggestions on their website. Consider taking a small zip-lock bag for each child, filled with crayons, paper, playing cards, small books, tissues and snacks to help keep them amused.
4. Out & About
In our three destinations – Mongolia, Bhutan and Burma – the locals will welcome visitors with children and are very tolerant, but there are a few things you can do to make sure things run smoothly. A smile goes a long way, so even if your kids are shy, encourage them to make eye contact and smile at the people they meet. You could also teach them a few words of the local lingo before you travel – just a few words like ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – which would be warmly appreciated!
Make sure you check whether children are admitted to any religious sites you might want to visit, and dress them – and yourself – appropriately. Letting them run riot is not to be encouraged anywhere – unless you are in a remote spot where they won’t bother anyone, in which case let them off the lead! Be mindful of noise and anti-social behaviour – remind them they are guests in someone else’s country. And be aware of local customs – it is considered offensive to touch someone’s head or to point with one’s feet or index finger in many southeast Asian countries.
5. Safe & Sound
It goes without saying that you should have health insurance for your family, but also make sure that your kids are up to date with their childhood disease inoculations, as chickenpox, measles and mumps can be more prevalent in some parts of the world. Obviously you also need to make sure you have any other vaccinations that are advised for the countries you are travelling to. Be extra vigilant about hygiene while you are away in order to cut down the risk of you or the kids coming down with stomach bugs. Take some rehydration salts just in case. Wash your hands – and the kids hands – before eating and after visiting the loo. It might be wise to take some sanitiser with you as soap and water may not always be there when you need it.
As a general rule, avoid drinking the water anywhere you do not know it to be safe – and don’t brush your teeth in it or accept ice in your drink either. A steri-pen is invaluable if you don’t know the standard of water cleanliness – and check you are buying bottled water from a reputable source where the lids are sealed correctly. Eating out can also be fraught with difficulty when you have children to feed, but it doesn’t pay to get too het up about it. As a general rule try and eat where the locals eat and avoid street food. Encourage the kids to try everything, but don’t be disheartened if they turn their noses up. Green vegetables are green vegetables wherever you are! Take plenty of snacks with you from home, buy fruit from markets and you’ll find familiar things like juice, yoghurt and sliced bread in some minimarts.
Karina and James have taken their children all over the world. Karina’s final bit of advice is: “Kids open doors, so travel with an open mind and travel slowly. Enjoy the simple things even if you have them back home too. Our boys loved playing in streams and rivers, with friendly cats and dogs. You shouldn’t feel pressured to drag them away to see the sights all the time. Get them meeting local kids of same age, get them involved with cooking the meals or dressing up. There will be times when you need to make life easy for all the family, so have some treats handy – you know your kids best. You need a good guide to bring things alive, some animals to visit and activities to look forward to. Have some quiet time each day and don’t try to do everything, go SLOWLY and enjoy the experience all together!”