The first time I travelled with my then 16-month old, I packed everything and the kitchen sink! At the time, it really seemed like I needed it all but four years and another child later, I would like to think I’ve become a bit smarter and less uptight.
My family does not trot the globe very much but we do take annual holidays. The accumulation of those experiences is in these lessons that I picked up when travelling with my relatively young children (ages six and two).
1. Always have a plan
I know savvier travellers will say that you need to be flexible when travelling with kids. But I like to plan ahead and leave room for the unexpected instead of having the whole family wait on me to pull a rabbit (a magical and spectacular one at that) out of the hat on the spot. So yes, I am one of those mothers who will buy zoo entrance tickets online and mark out bus routes. Flexibility for me is being able to kiss goodbye to those tickets if we can’t make it, or dropping by a farm on a day when nothing has been planned.
2. Let the kids take the lead
When my son became old enough, we started planning our holiday itineraries together. I wanted him to choose the places we would visit rather than for my husband and I to make the decisions, then have to hype it up to get him excited. One year, that meant saying ‘No thank you’ to free Universal Studio tickets because he couldn’t be convinced that it was more fun than the Night Safari. Whenever we visit the Singapore Zoo, we let him call the shots: He decides what animals we see first, when we stop for lunch, what shows to catch…after all, he reads the map better than we do! It makes the trip more memorable for him and it lightens my load.
3. Allow for compromise
Admittedly, most of our holiday plans revolve around what the kids like. But my husband and I always include something for ourselves too. In Perth, we squeezed in short visits to wineries, an outlet shopping centre, and the Fremantle market. Penang always sees us making a pilgrimage to a durian farm and stuffing our faces at hawker stalls between pool dips and beach play. We try to start the day off with something the kids would enjoy so there is no whingeing (or they can be ignored) when we go on one of our activities. After all, it is a family holiday.
4. Don’t try to do too much
My husband and I are the quintessential kiasu travellers. We like to pack our days and see and do as much as we can. But obviously, kids don’t take to this kind of arrangements too kindly. These days, we just cover one major attraction a day – with some extras, if time permits – and then call it quits before the kids get cranky. Sometimes we just spend all day at the beach or kill time in a park for hours. It keeps stress levels low for everyone.
5. Break rules and routines
In my son’s first year, I tiptoed around his schedule and diet even when we were on the road. The irony is that he was such an easy baby, I could have backpacked the world with him! While we have yet to attempt a massive time zone difference on holiday, we have learned that our kids are a lot more adaptable than we give them credit for. They have bounced on and off routines and schedules quite easily and without fuss. And both are still alive even after eating hawker fare and fast food while on holiday.
6. Expect less, appreciate more
Kids don’t really care about where they are going, how posh the hotel is or how foreign the destination is. You could even be eloping with kids for all it matters. There just needs to be fun to be had, and that can happen anywhere. As much as my kids loved the different experiences Perth offered, they have had just as much fun at a durian farm in Raub or on the beach in Port Dickson. It is us, adults, who need to take a leaf from their book and learn to have less expectations and more fascination. Case in point: While in Perth, we got lost trying to find a must-try burger joint and ended up in a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria with greasy vinyl flooring and sad-looking plastic tables. It was a miserable night but my son remembers the pizzas as the best, ever.
Travelling with young ones can be stressful – if you let it be. These six lessons may not be earth-shattering revelations by any count but since becoming aware of them, I have learnt to embrace our family holidays for what they really ought to be: Fun times, and creating fond memories.
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