Ten things I learned travelling with kids

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Photo: Westend61

Over the Easter break, I went travelling with my four-year-old nephew and one-year-old niece. (And their parents, obviously.) I thought it’d be a wonderful chance for some family time, and it was, but in many respects it was a handy reminder that there’s plenty of upside in the fact that I can still travel solo. Because parenting is always harder than I realise, and parenting while travelling is harder still.

And yes, I know that I’ve written before about how much I’d like to be a father. Yeah, um, about that. Let’s just say that while I’m sure that dandling my own child on my knee would be brilliant in lots of ways, I now realise that having young children would make one of my favourite activities a far trickier proposition.

 

1) Kids have different interests from grown ups.

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Whether I’m travelling or not, my first agenda item each morning is the same: finding a half-decent cup of coffee. When I’m overseas, I’ll settle for any drinking receptacle that contains any variety of caffeine – I’ve even been known to settle for Mountain Dew on occasion, and let me tell you, actual dew licked directly off a mountainside would taste better.

But sitting down for a lengthy chat over a hot beverage is an energetic four-year-old’s version of hell, only instead of demons roasting you over a flame, it’s grownups saying “mmm” a lot as they read guidebooks.

Even when you're actually moving around, visiting temples, museums and other cultural sites are equally dull for kids – and look, I can understand that, I really can. In fact, I clearly remember being frustrated by my parents’ interminable delays when I was a kid. In reality, I probably never waited more than three or four minutes, but at the time, it seemed like an eternity, plus a few extra decades just to really twist the knife.

I am now one of the people inflicting that on my bored nephew and niece, and I’d feel terrible about that except that sometimes I really need a coffee, and hey, they’re only kids.

 

2) There are a lot of toy stores

By contrast, my nephew’s agenda has the same item at the top every day. We tried to find different toy shops to visit so that we, at least, had a bit of variety, but he was perfectly satisfied by the slightly different configurations of Ninja Turtles and Lego and Ninja Turtles Lego that appeared in every single shop. Until he was no longer satisfied with merely browsing, and turned his mind to adding to his collection. And let’s just say that the message that we’re living in a time of austerity budgets has not yet been accepted by my nephew.

 

3) There is also a lot to be said about toys

One of the things I really love about spending time with young children is that if they like you, they’re extremely eager for you to share in the excitement they have about things like; oh, let’s say, toys. Entertaining a child requires the grown-up to be able to sustain protracted conversations about things like the Star Wars canon – a subject which, I’m glad to say, I’m relatively well-versed in, especially since my nephew isn’t yet old enough to watch the movies. I haven’t yet introduced him to Jar-Jar Binks, though, because I don’t want to ruin it for him.

 

4) Getting around is s-l-o-w

One of the really difficult things about travelling with kids is travelling with kids. Long plane rides with limited sleep are my idea of a nightmare, but somehow parents endure this, probably because they think they’re going to get at least an hour or two of blessed relaxation at some point during the holiday that lies ahead of them.

But it’s not just the plane trip that poses challenges – while getting from an airport to one’s accommodation is simple for grownups, it can be a major hassle with young children. Will you get a cab? Does it have child seats? Will all of you plus your luggage fit? Probably not in a standard cab. So, will you get a maxi taxi or a hire car? How do you organise that in a foreign language, anyway?

Let’s say you get a train instead. What if it’s so crowded that you can’t sit down and your kids are howling or wriggling and there are lot of stairs and you have heaps of bags to lug and a portable cot and a stroller and everybody in the train carriage is clearly resentful of your presence? Even getting from A to B can be far harder for parents than I ever realised.

 

5) But young children are fast

My nephew may not go on to represent Australia in an Olympic sprinting contest, but from my perspective, he can do one hundred metres in the blink of an eye. Or, if I’m slightly more honest, while my eyes are momentarily elsewhere. He has very little fear of the world yet, so if he sees something interesting over yonder, bang – he’s there.

Combine that with the fact that he finds just about everything extremely interesting, and you have a kid who not only needs to be watched like a hawk, but regularly sprinted after. Still, chasing him was the most exercise I’ve had in years, and it turns out that when I’m fuelled by terror at something awful happening to him, I’m surprisingly quick across the ground myself.

 

6) I am scary

There’s no way around this one: my one-year-old niece finds me terrifying. My all-time record for holding her without her bursting into loud sobs is around thirty seconds, and I think that for 29 of those seconds, she didn’t realise I was holding her. I hope things will improve when she starts talking, but until then, she’s being held by some kind of Godzilla demon.

 

7) Tablets make great babysitters

What did parents do before the advent of smartphones and tablets, honestly? A little dose of Peppa Pig can transform a restless child almost into a statue. It’s altogether too effective, really – it makes you worry about whether it’s somehow harming the child. Interactive games (which are also available from the Peppa Corporation, fortunately), seem a slightly better option. But I’ve learned that sometimes, the only thing worse than a child staring at a screen is a child not scaring at a screen – and by a considerable margin, too.

 

8) Try distraction instead of confrontation

I did gain one insight from the trip that may well come in useful if I’m ever a parent myself. Rather than confronting my nephew, I learned that it’s sometimes better to try and be lateral. So instead of saying “no, we can’t go into that lolly shop”, it’s better to instead say “bet I can beat you in a race to that pole over there”. Five seconds later, he’s forgotten about the shop.

Of course, this is simple stuff for parents, and they often have to simply confront a child when they’re doing something they’re not allowed to. But for an uncle, it was quite a neat trick. Maybe that’s why I remember playing lots of fun games with my own lovely uncles and aunts – they were cleverly trying to get me to do stuff.

 

9) Kids need routine

Especially involving baths, pyjamas and bed. My nephew and niece just had to be back where we were staying by 6, or the whole schedule would get out of whack. By 9, they were asleep and their parents were available for dinner, if we could find a place where we could bring sleeping children. This means that bars, clubs, and pretty much anywhere smoky or raucous was out. I was very grateful that, post-dinner, I could bid parents and kids farewell and head out to some bar or karaoke joint.

 

10) Having young kids limits your choice of holiday

When kids are incapable of independent movement, it’s not so hard – you can push them in a pram or stroller, or wear them with a Baby Bjorn. But as soon as they’re capable of independent movement, things get far more difficult. As a result, the kind of holiday where you stay in one place and chill out at the beach/by the pool/etc is probably fine, but anything more ambitious is hard. Like, really hard. Just like having children is.

So ultimately I learned that if I want to backpack around Nepal or go on safari in Kenya or learn surfing in the Maldives or anything that isn’t sitting in a resort with excellent facilities for children, I’d better call my travel agent now.

15 comments

  • Nightmare. Barry's advice, leave the kiddies with relatives. Bon voyage.

    Commenter
    Barry
    Date and time
    May 16, 2014, 8:34AM
    • Dom I can't help you with all of the other issues, but I have the perfect solution for number 3, specifically Star Wars and Jar Jar Binks. Machete Order. http://static.nomachetejuggling.com/machete_order.html

      You're welcome.

      Commenter
      Hurrow
      Date and time
      May 16, 2014, 9:24AM
      • I travelled with my then one year old in October last year to several countries in Europe. It was quite easy actually. My daughter adapted to a massive zone change better than my husband and I did. We were still able to go out to dinner and most of the time she would be passed out in the pram next to us. I could see most other plane passengers roll their eyes when they saw us board. But by the end of the flight most were saying how pleasant she'd been. She slept per her schedule and when she was awake, she was happy to wave at people and play with her toys in the plane bassinette. Parents travelling just need to go with the flow and be flexible and know that on holidays sometimes kids schedules don't work.

        Commenter
        MsA
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        May 16, 2014, 11:57AM
        • Just wait till she's three. Traveling with one or less is actually quite easy as they mostly sleep and if you're still feeding can be easily be satisfied and they can't run anywhere...yet. Just wait till two/three when they can run and don't want to sit still or keep their belts on during take off. If you teach them manners by the time they are five it's easy again. Good luck.

          Commenter
          Just Wait
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          May 16, 2014, 2:32PM
        • Just wait - we've done another 3 trips since our one to Europe and she is still an good little travel companion. We've done interstate trips to Sydney and Hobart and have also been to Hong Kong. Even though she is now mobile and talkative the unique experience entertains her enough to keep her happy for flights and been out and about.

          Commenter
          MsA
          Location
          M
          Date and time
          May 16, 2014, 3:54PM
      • Tomorrow we take our 10 month old daughter to China to meet her cousin and other relo's, and I have been dreading this day since we booked it. She is a great kid (of course), but attention span is not any child's best feature and we will be THOSE parents with the noisy kid on the plane.
        Constant and varied distraction is our preference and plan of attack, so fingers crossed it gets us all the way!

        Commenter
        Davey G
        Location
        Too Far North
        Date and time
        May 16, 2014, 12:02PM
        • Dom, would have been nice if you could have stayed in with the kids and let the parents go out to a bar or karaoke joint. After all, you can do that any time, but they probably would have loved the opportunity.

          Commenter
          trinch
          Date and time
          May 16, 2014, 12:30PM
          • I disagree with #10, whilst you may not go trekking or on a safari, having a child hasn't stopped us travelling with our son from when he was 6 months old, both around Australia and abroad. We been around Europe, Asia and USA, and never had a problem on any flights, even when we've been on the move every couple of days.

            Commenter
            Happy Traveller
            Location
            Melbourne
            Date and time
            May 16, 2014, 12:44PM
            • Leave your kids at home or if they are also flying with their parents, teach them manners and what is acceptable behaviour on board the plane. Screaming, running up and down the aisle, banging the seat in front and throwing food around is unacceptable.

              Commenter
              Kiwiradar
              Location
              Sydney
              Date and time
              May 16, 2014, 12:45PM
              • Thank you, Kiwiradar, but we already know. We know because your type makes the same complaint on every single article about children travelling. WE GET IT.

                Commenter
                Funny How
                Date and time
                May 16, 2014, 2:42PM

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