Umiam Lake, Meghalaya Picture credit - Roop Jayanta Saikia
Travelling with kids? Is the very thought daunting? The first few times may be, when they are still babies or toddlers. Let me assure you that as they grow older, things get easier and better. Kids are extremely flexible and accommodating. And, travelling with children is fun and enriches you with meaningful life lessons.
Our daughter has been accompanying us on our travels the last 11 years and we have been exposed to various scenarios. There was a time when we would carry a 2 kg gas cylinder in our car so that she could get her timely meals. Left an experience midway since it went dark in the viewing theatre. Or, she thought 'poisonous' moths were all out to get her. Those days seem far away now. As she is gaining more travel experience, the challenges are getting easier to tackle. And these challenges have added meaning to our travels despite the ups and downs.
Travelling with children is not so different to travelling solo or with another adult. It just requires some pre-planning and adjustments on the part of the adults. Over the years, travelling with our daughter has taught us few basic prerequisites when travelling with a child. Today, I share with you those helpful tips and suggestions.
Take it slow
Travel can be exhausting; give your children and yourself time to adjust to the travelling time, the time difference between continents, the time to recover from jet-lag. Be sure to reach the airport or train station early. Allow time between checking in, security check, toilet breaks, snacking and so on. Slowing things down could be exactly what you and your family need.
Leave room for adjustment and sudden change in plan. A flexible, loose schedule will allow you to stress less and have a happier trip overall. Things might not go according to plan. Be prepared for the unexpected. After all, travel is an adventure.
I cannot reiterate this enough. Pack as little as possible. Just because your child is travelling with you, you do not have to over pack for every possible situation. You can always purchase what is missing at your destination. However, be prepared for changes in weather. In a country like Ireland, you might end up experiencing the four seasons in one single day. Read my post 'Travelling Light' for tips and suggestions.
Your flight or train bookings are of course, pre-booked. Ensure to pre-book your accommodation for the first or at least, two nights. When you arrive at your destination especially, after a long journey, you will want to directly go to your accommodation, get the luggage off your backs, refresh and allow your children some much needed rest.
We mostly use Airbnb during our travels. It has something for everyone, depending on your personal choice. Go with whatever accommodation suits you and your family best.
Explain the trip
Explain and discuss the trip details with your children. Ask for their suggestions and make an effort to include their interests into the itinerary. Knowing the details will give them more confidence and independence and, create less confusion.
Snacks, very important. From personal experience, our daughter does not eat mid-flight or mid journey, for that matter. That means we MUST feed her before and after the journey. Every kid has personal eating habits and most are more than ready to adjust. But small nibbles are needed now and then. Be prepared.
Safety and Security
Brand your child. You are travelling through busy, crowded transport hubs and new places with new set of rules everywhere. Place an identification tag with contact details around her wrist. You also need to have the following things (printed / written down) present with your child: Name of the child Names of the accompanying parents / adults Phone number Email address Local address Emergency contact name and other details A photocopy each of the passport and visa Some currency, a small amount Always be aware of where your child is. It should not happen that you were buying entrance tickets and she wandered off to explore the souvenir shop, unnoticed. Explain safety and security measures to your child. In fact, give a demonstration of how and whom to approach if she finds herself in a tough spot. Always have basic first-aid (band-aid, alcohol pads and a small antiseptic ointment) handy for the tiny scrapes and bruises.
This is critical for your own sanity. Must keep them entertained when travelling. This ensures that you have a great trip as opposed to a miserable one. Let them have their own travel backpack with items which, they consider essential. Travel size play-kits; Mikado, Uno, Sudoko. A book if they love reading. And, allowing electronics during downtimes. For us, it is during journeys; flight, train or road and once, back at the accommodation. But, you can decide as appropriate. Be a little lenient and keep them occupied for long periods of time and ensure your own peace and quiet.
Travel with basic medicines for the following:
Please check before your travel if additional documentation is needed from your physician for certain medications. In fact, it is sensible to have soft copies of the medical files, for each member of your travelling family, always with you during travels.
Ensure that they are made to feel responsible and capable. Assign tasks like keeping an eye on the luggage or a younger sibling while you are checking-in or filling out travel forms. Get them to carry what they can, even if it is just a tiny backpack. This will make your travel easier. Older kids should be able to handle all their luggage. When I say older, mine is eleven and has been handling hers independently for 2 years now. It is another matter that we, as a family, travel light. Contributing towards the success of a trip is their responsibility too.
Schedule some rest
This depends on the age of your child / children. Younger ones need their regular naps. Older kids can fire though a day but definitely need some downtime. With activities scheduled during trips, days can get long and tiring. So, ensure some rest during each day. It could be just anything; sitting by the lake for about 30 mins, a short nap in the park, reading by the brook, resting your feet midway up your hike or a deep sleep back at your lodging. Kids, rested and happy will make you enjoy your trip better.
Encourage them to explore and observe
Encourage them to create memories. To observe and notice things specific to that particular country; be it history, language, customs or food. Keeping a journal, collecting postcards and coins, doodling things of interest. These are treasures they can cherish later in life. Engage them in planning the day. Kids are so sharp and observant. So much smarter in understanding technology and certain other things which are beyond an adult brain. Our daughter is an asset to have around during travels; from reserving tickets at automated machines, understanding directions and guiding us through all our hiccups.
A day shall come when she would want to travel solo or with her friends. And, we look forward to that with mixed emotions.
Ensure that you have a no-objection certificate / child travel consent certificate if you are travelling as a single parent or a designated guardian. Also, have official proof of relationship and carry a couple of passport photographs. Most countries have children discounts. Be sure to always enquire and avail those.
Final word - Stay focussed on enjoying your vacation. Focus on things that makes your day easier and safer. Thank your kids at the end of each day for making it exciting and memorable. Never boring, not a single dull moment! Be positive! Be happy! And, most of all, become a kid yourself.
Keep moving, keep enjoying, keep travelling!