Monday, March 05, 2012

you can travel with children

Boarding a plane tomorrow with River age 5 and Sol age 2 prompted this post. Each year we are fortunate to spend our winters in Byron Bay. Pete and I have been doing this since we met seven years ago. This year River, Sol and I are making a trip early in the year to spend a week with our friend Ruth and her twin babes who are just 5 months young.

When our first babe arrived we continued to make road trips for short-ish distances and fly for longer distances, and didn't stop when second babe arrived. Having children doesn't mean staying home. I can’t understand why it would. Sure flying the family first class to Cuba isn't within our budget but there are plenty of great trips to take that don't require stacks of cash.

There are some simple ways to make travelling fun for everyone. Here are some tips that work for us, some may sound obvious but can be easy to overlook.

  1. Be realistic. If your children are babies and toddlers a trip to Europe to eat in fine restaurants is not in my opinion a realistic expectation. Plan a trip that is age appropriate. That goes for the ratio of distance travelled to time available and activities when you get there.
  2. The same rules - don't let them get overtired, hungry or thirsty - apply equally on the road as they do at home. Where possible stick to the eating, sleeping pattern you have at home. Be a bit flexible though, a missed nap here and there might not make a difference or a couple of late nights, but reducing the amount of sleep everyday could be a recipe for tears and tantrums - yours and theirs!
  3. Underschedule rather than overschedule. Rather than visiting 10 places, be they countries or tourist attractions in the space of a week, do less. You will enjoy it more. This is especially relevant if you are a city slicker who is used to go, go, go. For some people slowing down is a learned way of being and travel is the ideal time to practice.
  4. Car and plane travel with children is made all the more enjoyable if you are well equipped with appropriate entertainment and snacks. On the road I'm an old fashioned believer in endless games of 'I spy', telling stories, singing and audio books. For generations families took road trips without DVD's and I'm keeping it that way in my family. If your electronic games are part of your child's life then they will undoubtedly be their entertainment of choice while traveling. Again, be realistic about the distance you are going to cover depending on the age of your children. Plan for regular stops, some short some long. Cheesy but true, it is about the journey not just the destination. My nan used to make a 'showbag' for my brother and I when we were children and going on a plane to visit relatives interstate. We loved these showbags filled with colouring books, pencils, some snacks and small toys. They were not costly to put together but they were items we hadn't seen before so the novelty factor was high and the love they were put together with was felt and appreciated. Mini photo albums filled with photos of family and friends have been great entertainment for our boys on car trips, they don't need to be read and the boys enjoy showing each other the pictures.
  5. I am still working on mastering the art of packing but I definitely recommend taking less than you think you will need. That goes for clothes, shoes, toys, baby equipment. I think it is good for children and adults to improvise, to make do. If you pack every item you have at home you may as well stay at home! I take great satisfaction in being able to travel with children for a week just with one small carry on backpack each. A sarong or two is an essential item, it works as a curtain, sun shade, towel, picnic mat. Another must pack item is a medicine kit with bandaids, children's paracetamol, any homeopathic remedies, essential oils you may use or other medicines. Last year when we went to NSW River woke with an earache in the night from flying and swimming and I had to knock on the neighbours door to borrow some pain relief, we were lucky they had some as we were in a small town and it was late. It would have been a long night or a long drive otherwise.
This list is a beginning. If you want to read tips and ideas from others:

See what Lonely Planet has to say about traveling with children.
My Little Nomads is an informative and entertaining blog written by a Canadian dad who since his early retirement from working as an Assistant Vice President at a Fortune 500 company has time and money to travel with his family and share his travel stories and tips.

The most important thing to do is go! If you'd like to know more about my experiences traveling with children ask away. And if you have tips to share please do.

I look forward this week to sharing more about one of my favorite destinations, Byron Bay.

(excuse that number 1 below - formatting gone haywire won't let me delete).

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