We started travelling with our eldest child when she was barely 7 months old, when I went on an overseas shoot in Melbourne (and the wife and daughter tagged along). Back then, it was because we had no reliable help and having been through a series of child-losses, we were very risk averse when it comes to their safety. We were worried to leave them behind, fearing they might become instant orphans if anything untoward should happen to us.
As we traverse the world with our children, from Seattle to Bali, Tokyo to New York, we come to realize that there are many unexpected benefits parents can reap from travelling with kids.
Benefits of Travelling with Children
1. Builds Stronger Families: The family is a single unit, physically and emotionally. Apart from the obvious forming of new experiences together as a family, travelling affirms family bonds and fills up the children’s emotional tanks by creating shared memories that would be remembered fondly and talked about for years to come.
2. Builds Mindfulness: On regular days, our minds are preoccupied with work, errands and other obligations. Children are not any freer – their schedules are filled with homework, enrichment and other peer activities. It is only during family vacations that our minds can be fully present to interact, play and laugh together as a family. From there, parents can observe our children’s quirkiness and idiosyncrasies (if any) and use teachable moments to reinforce the desired set of values and behaviors. It also enables us parents to get to know our kids better when everyone’s in a more relaxed mood!
3. Builds Resilience: Travelling breaks routines and jolts us out from our comfort zones. The landscape is different, time zone is different, language may be foreign and even food may not be to our kids’ liking. The mind prepares itself for new experiences, new sensations when we are on vacations. We meet and interact with people whose culture and lifestyles may be different from ours. All these build resilience in our children. It trains them to be more adaptable and provides real life opportunities on how to function in a totally unfamiliar environment. Travelling goes a long way in equipping our children with emotional intelligence from young, how to respond to new people and unpredictable situations.
4. Instills Responsibility: Before each trip, we would task our daughter to draft a simple packing list. Children can also gradually take on more responsibilities such as packing their own luggage, being accountable for their own personal possessions, helping to keep an eye on their siblings in public places and even managing time as the timekeeper for the family while on vacations.
5. Instills Cultural Awareness: The world is becoming increasingly globalised. Travelling together as a family is a good way for parents to role model cultural sensitivity. Children can see and assimilate how parents respond and respect other cultural beliefs and practices. The more we travel with our children, the more they are exposed to diverse cultures and this helps develop a keen sense of cultural awareness and respect for the world around them.
Overcoming Challenges of Travelling with Young Children
We acknowledge there are challenges (and inconveniences aplenty) when travelling with children (especially very young ones). But with advanced planning, we can still enjoy a good holiday together, even with young kids in tow. Here are some of our personal experiences:
1. Food For Babies and Toddlers: We try to pack smaller tins of infant milk formula powder from home in our hand-carry bags. Once our kids turned 2, we ditched the infant formula and buy fresh milk from local supermarkets after we land. As for solids, we are not picky, usually substituting rice and porridge with bread or cereals. No sterilizers for milk bottles? No problem. I’ve improvised one before using the ice bucket from the hotel room. Necessity breeds creativity!
2. Bulky Weight: Weight is a potential turn off. From strollers to luggage, it’s amazing how much more stuff we need to lug along when we travel with children! For nearby destinations, we usually substitute strollers with the trusty Ergo baby carrier but if we are flying at ungodly hours, we try to bring a very lightweight stroller so the child can sleep in it. For diapers, we bring just enough for the first leg and buy the rest from the country we are visiting. For infant seats or car seats, we rent from the car rental companies. There are some countries (like Australia) with online companies offering baby equipment and toy rental services for tourists. We have used it once when we were in Gold Coast and found it really useful.
3. Child-friendly Itinerary: Our children (and us) are only young once. In all our vacations, we will try to include at least one (if not more) child-friendly places/attractions per day (think parks, playgrounds, zoos, theme parks and even museums!). We also favor accommodations that welcome families and have sound child-minding facilities (aka Kids Club)! Bearing in mind that with children, we usually space out the activities, take it easy and not try to be overly ambitious to check off a whole list of ‘to dos’ on the trip.
4. Medical Attention: Children’s immunity tends to be lower than ours, making them more susceptible to falling ill while travelling. We usually bring along their usual fever, cough, cold and diarrhea medications. Angie would also pack a whole battery of essential oils to boost their immunity. I would personally ensure we buy a good travel insurance which will take care of the family’s medical bills should we need to visit a doctor while overseas.
5. Alternative Couple Time: This is the sacrifice parents have to make when we bring children along on holidays. To compensate, we try to sneak in couple time where we can slip away for a short 1-2 hours when the children are in Kids’ Club. When Dana was younger, we tried to time our couple massage session (in Bangkok) during her nap time when she was fast asleep in the pram (next to our massage table). In Bali, we also hired a nanny once from the hotel (at our own cost) so we can enjoy a romantic anniversary dinner.
I asked Dana over dinner one day, ‘Do you like to travel with Mommy and Daddy?’ She replied with a resounding, ‘Yes!’.
I probed, ‘Why’?
‘Because I get to see new places and experience new things with my family!’ she replied.
That alone makes all the hassles of travelling with her and Buddy worthwhile.
Here’s to more opportunities to travel around the world with our kids!
This article first appeared on Yahoo Singapore Parenting in Nov 2015.