Travel with kids doesn’t come easy. While there are some reasons why many parents choose not to travel when children are young, there are many why you should raise your little ones with oodles of wanderlust. For starters, nothing teaches them better than family travel. When we had our daughter in 2008, we took a decision to grow her as a world traveler who experienced the world first hand and not through videos and books. We decided to expose her to one new country, one new culture each year.
Our wanderlust began when she was 3 months old. Right from getting hit by a giant wave trying to hike to a hidden lake on high tide in Goa, to landing upright in the middle of the Grand Canyon Nation Park on a cold afternoon with nothing but a thin sweater, we’ve made lots of mistakes. Yet, each of that mistake came bundled with incredible experiences. From seeing a young lion make its first kill to journeying on the tallest motor-able road, these 8 years have given her memories & experiences that she will carry for life.
Here are some the lessons we learned over these years. While this not an exhaustive vacation checklist for kids, some of them will be useful for young parents who want to take this path.
Life Lesson 1: Get Them Started Early
According to doctors the first five years of a child’s life are periods of incredible growth. Physical and emotional experiences in this period directly reflect on their learning ability and brain growth for the rest of their life. The younger they are, the easier it is to get them started and the lesser they fear to experience something new.
Life Lesson 2: Plan for the Unexpected
When you travel with a young kid, be prepared to face the unexpected. For example, food can be a big challenge when you are on an international travel with kids. Carrying a backup supply of their favorites always come in handy. Packets of Maggi have been our savior for years. Do your research on the weather and always be prepared for the worst. Carrying additional warm wear when you travel to the cold country doesn’t hurt. We learned it the hard way after getting stuck in the in the center of the Grand Canyon National Park on a day where the temperatures dipped to 3 – 4 degrees. While it was one of the best family vacations we’ve had in the last couple of years, getting frozen wasn’t on my daughter list of things to do. We knew it will be cold, but didn’t expect it to dip so much. Always carry your child’s basic medication for a sudden fever, cold or a cough; trying something new while you traveling isn’t smart.
Most airlines are very efficient with baggage handling, but what can happen, will happen. We once got a bag 2 days late on a 5-day vacation! Imagine asking your child to wear the same set of clothes for 2 days while you had sparkling clean clothes! Buying wasn’t an option since we were camping in a remote Swiss village. Splitting their basic needs across your bags might be a good packing tip for traveling with toddler or kids. Children’s travel sickness can be a nightmare too! We’ve spent a lot of time cleaning cabs after she’s had a bad day. Carrying a travel sickness bag or just a plastic cover in our hands bag/back pack.
There are no foolproof methods, but it doesn’t cost you to be prepared!
Life Lesson 3: Stop to Smell the Roses
Take it easy on building itineraries. Kids have their basic needs, they need their nap time, they need their potty time, and they need their doing nothing time! Be prepared to let things flow according to your child’s mood. Allow them time jump into water puddles, roll over grass fields or just sit there doing nothing. Chasing doves in front of Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral or lounging on the laws of Champs de Mars around Tour Eiffel may be equally engaging for them as you would love to spend time inside the cathedral or going on the top of the Eiffel Tower. Once we even had to redo our hotel booking because the little miss wanted to spend more time meandering a tiny village, listening to the sweet sounds of cow bells than spend the extra day in a busy city. Giving them space & freedom to choose what they feel like doing during a vacation gets them to like traveling.
Life Lesson 4: Expose Them to the Diversity of Our Planet
Choosing the same city, same beach, and same resort might be the easiest thing to do but it is not what kids often look for. The best places to travel with kids are often not the most popular destinations. Yet, there is no dearth of choices in this beautiful planet we live.
Mix it up, if you plan to visit a first world city one year, plan for a remote national reserve the next year. If you plan to cover beaches in the summer, cover the hill stations in the winter. Kids should learn the difference between drugged animals in the Singapore night safari and real wildlife in the middle of the forest. Expose them to the local culture, take them outside the hotels to local villages and give them a taste of the region. Remember children are more adaptable than adults, they learn more than you’d ever imagine.
Life Lesson 5: Trips with Kids aren’t Cheap, Build a Kitty
Travel will only get more expensive with each year. While money can’t buy happiness, you still need to fuel your wanderlust. A week’s travel, stay & safari in Masai Mara National Park from India could easily set you back by anything from Rs. 300,000/- during offseason to Rs. 500,000/- during peak season. Should you take your child to see the natural wonder, yes! But that’s a lot of money no matter which spectrum of the society you belong to. What has worked for us is considering travel as something as essential as a car or a house. Just like how we fund our cars & houses loans we set apart a percentage of our monthly incomes for a recurring deposit earmarked for travel. We time it in a way that it matures just when the credit card bills for the vacation hits us.
Life Lesson 6: Say No to Digital
There is no worse way than spending your vacation watching television or checking emails. Go un-digital, keep your pads, phone & televisions out of reach. In families where both parents work and children spend more time with grandparents or at daycare, vacations are the best time to re-connect. When we keep those digital devices away, suddenly there is so much more to talk. I’ve found my daughter opening up more to us when she doesn’t have to choose between catching up with her cartoon and catching up with us!
While there is zillion other reasons, these are some of the most valuable lessons we’ve learned over these years. Do you have other lessons that you want to share? Do share your comments.
PS: Pushing the limits doesn’t mean irresponsibility. While traveling with young children always practice precaution & take your pediatrician’s /an expert’s opinion when necessary.