As expats, we’ve done our fair share of travelling – many of us with kids in tow. While it can be challenging, it is well-worth it when you see them learning things they could never learn in a classroom. Tan Keng Yao, of The Straits Times, has travelled extensively with her son, BBC, and shares some tips on keeping everyone happy.
Travelling with a child comes with its fair share of challenges. For example, the kid’s need to go to the toilet is inversely related to the distance of the nearest toilet. Fact.
But we found it possible to circumvent some hassles encountered on the road with some planning.
And as for problems that cannot be resolved? Well, that’s when you will have a funny story to tell when you come back home.
Here are some of our experiences for keeping ourselves sane.
When BBC was still eating semi-solids, we fed him jar food and also mashed up some of our own food, such as plain rice and steamed broccoli, peas, carrots and fish, for him. Sometimes, we made instant oatmeal or cereal with fresh milk.
It is easier to find food for him now that he is older because some form of rice, noodles or bread can be found in most places.
Also, restaurants that cater to tourists will likely serve Western fare such as spaghetti or burgers.
And there is always the ubiquitous Asian eatery, which may not serve the most authentic forms of Asian food, but will do in a pinch.
We are often unable to see as many things as we want to in a day because it takes five times as long to get three people ready to leave in the morning when you throw a child in the mix. Mealtimes, too, take longer.
Also, BBC, who is five, hasn’t outgrown his naps and skipping one makes him act up. When possible, we return to the hotel in the middle of the day or look for somewhere like a cafe or a seat at a mall for a short rest. The trick is to keep plans fluid.
We plan activities according to what BBC can do for his age, but we also try to push the limit just a little. Little Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka may be a slightly strenuous climb, but we attempted it because we had done our research and found that the climb can be done by children. However, we had to pass up a hike in Horton Plains National Park in the same country because that trek is much more strenuous.
We have also taken him on adult activities such as walking tours or visits to the museum. To keep him from feeling bored or left out, we explain to him softly what the guide is talking about and, to stop him from disturbing other people, we remind him before each tour why he must be quiet. That, plus bribe him with chocolate milk.
Walking tour guides we met in many countries have also been very accommodating of BBC and often try to engage him as well. But we always ask beforehand whether children are permitted on the tours we take.
We also try to make stops at playgrounds or beaches for him to run around in and use up his excess energy because, as all parents know, when kids have too much energy and nowhere to expend it, it will be converted by the laws of Murphy into mischief of the highest order. Also, those places are where he tends to meet local children.
Stroller or baby carrier? When BBC was still young enough to ride a pram, we found that some places are more pram-friendly than others. Cities such as Amsterdam have wide sidewalks, low floors on trams and trains and train stations with lifts, which make it easy to get around using a pram.
Others, such as London, have tube stations with lifts that terminate mid-way, leaving you to grapple with a long flight of stairs. But London’s buses are pram- friendly and travel extensive routes, so if you want to use a stroller, take the bus.
Some cities may have narrow, crowded sidewalks and undulating streets, such as Hong Kong, which make pushing a pram difficult, in which case, it is easier to use a baby carrier.
Opt for a sturdy, backpack-style carrier which will distribute the child’s weight evenly between the shoulders and hips to make it easier for you to walk.
When planning a trip, do a Google search with the terms “(name of country), pram-friendly” and you will find plenty of websites offering advice.
Also, BBC occasionally wanted to get out of the pram to explore on his own, so we strapped a child harness with a lead around him, which gave him the freedom that he wanted, but prevented him from wandering off.
Check that the lodging welcomes children; some places cater only to adults or are unsuitable for children because of exposed staircases, for example. Renting an apartment or opting for a room with a kitchenette makes it easier to heat up milk or food.
We teach BBC how to say some basic phrases in the language of the country we are heading to, such as hello and thank you. This is good language exposure for him and also shows the locals we are interested in their culture.
Also, to keep BBC occupied, we give him a cheap, old digital camera and let him take photos of things that catch his fancy. It not only keeps him amused, but also heightens his awareness of his surroundings when looking for subjects to shoot.
Parenthood need not mean the end of travelling. Good luck and have fun.
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By Tan Keng Yao, The Straits Times, November 1, 2015