5 rules of traveling with kids

5 rules of traveling with kids

You're not in control. But you can learn to make everyone's travel experience -- particularly yours -- a whole lot easier
Travel with kids
More destructive than customs agents. And harder to please.

The June holidays are here, a fact that fills parents with both excitement and a certain amount of dread.

Many children will be heading off to destinations near and far with their mums and dads who, if they did not take their children on holiday, would probably not know what else to do with them.

Traveling with children, especially young ones, is no mean feat.

How do you explain to a little one who is going stir crazy on a long flight that, no, the windows cannot open; throwing a tantrum will not make us get there any quicker; that, yes, you need to be quiet because lots of other people on the flight are asleep; and that, no, we can’t call grandma?

It does get easier from about the age of six, when the little ones are more able to go to the loo on their own, eat at restaurants, sit (relatively) still on a flight if plied with enough computer games and movies, and generally start to have a little bit of common sense; or enough that you don't feel like smacking them.

Here are some hard truths about traveling with your squirmy tykes.

1. The younger the child, the bigger the suitcase

Most airlines won't let you check your kids in with your luggage. While older children can be expected to adapt to the journey and their destination, young children are happiest with what they already know.

So the favorite stuffed giraffe that takes up a third of the suitcase is brought along, as is an entire library of "Dr Seuss and Eric Carle" books and, not to mention, the space-consuming nappies, wet wipes and milk bottles needed for the really young ones.

When you’re done packing for your offspring, you might have space for your own things. 

It’s OK, you didn’t really need shoes.

2. The younger the child, the harder it is to get over jet lag

Very young children cannot force themselves to go to bed or wake up just because local time says it’s the right to do so.

Kids will sleep when they’re tired and be up when they’re not.

So your young child may be raring to go at 3 a.m., just when your dose of melatonin has kicked in, and of course promptly fall fast asleep when you arrive at Disneyland.

Babies who haven’t yet regulated their sleep pattern fall outside this, so in this respect traveling with infants is easier than traveling with young children, although you may be curious as to what wonders of Tokyo/San Francisco/Paris/the Maldives can be appreciated by a little one whose world has barely extended beyond his mother’s breast.

3. Travel to a destination that serves French fries

Eating with kidsUnless your kid has an abnormally educated palate, hold off on that culinary tour of India. Do not attempt to travel to a place where there isn't kid-friendly food.

This seemingly small detail is essential for a successful holiday with young children. French fries, nuggets, pizza and the like will save your holiday.

If you're the type of traveler for whom the most worthy destinations are places where there isn't a basket of fries to be found, then you have some compromising to do.

While sampling local cheese, wild curries and exotic meats may be exciting for you, all a young child wants is some fried, fast food or at the very least, a bowl mac and cheese.

4. You can’t have too much inflight entertainment for young children

If you wonder why parents of young kids travel with five pieces of luggage, it’s because three of those five bulging bags are filled with toys, books, games and gadgets lest junior gets bored for more than a second and all hell breaks loose.

The extra bags are filled with several changes of clothes (for when junior throws up all over himself), a mountain of wet wipes (to clean junior and everything within a five-metre radius), children’s drugs (we’re not using them to get the kids to fall asleep, promise) and a bottle of whiskey for mum and dad hastily bought at duty free.

5. Strollers are as much a bane as a boon

strollersSkip your morning workout and push a fully loaded stroller across the beach instead. Being able to strap a child into a stroller and load it with stuff that would otherwise be on your back is huge relief for an exhausted parent.

But when on the road other considerations come into play that sometimes thwart this:
1. It is not humanly possible for one adult to push a luggage trolley laden with four suitcases (remember the stuffed giraffe) and a stroller at the same time (yes it’s okay to balance your child on top of the suitcases)

2. While airline staff swear on their life your stroller would be waiting for you when you got off the plane, it is often found at the baggage carousel, a good 15-minute walk away

3. Your exotic destination is likely to be non-stroller friendly so your buggy sits folded up in your hotel room for most of the trip.

So you end up only going as far as your young child can walk (to the nearest restaurant that serves French fries and back); or as far as you can carry them in your strap-on carrier (yes the Wat-of-500-steep-steps is too much); or you spend most of your holiday by the hotel’s baby pool.

Despite all of the above, traveling with young children is great fun and terrific bonding time for busy parents; but it is hard work.

So make it easier by choosing travel options that the more intrepid of us would recoil at (that's right, no backpacking around India), but the young one would love (Club Med, theme parks, all-in-one resorts win).

Either take them globetrotting now -- or just wait till they’re a little older.

Elaine Ee writes about Singapore, the city she lives in, covering the arts, events, personalities and social issues. Her stories have appeared in Time Out SingaporeTatler HomesFood & Travel and Jetstar Asia. She’s also an editor at publichouse.sg, a Singapore community-driven website run by socially conscious denizens. When she’s not at her laptop, she practises Bikram yoga, spends time with her three kids and makes it a point to keep trying something new. 

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