This is a slightly long post because it lists down in comprehensive details some of the important issues we take into consideration when we travel with our children.
We believe in travelling as a family, even though the children may be young, because we get to experience the world together and create new core memories. So despite the massive amount of planning and packing involved in bringing kids along, we still enjoyed every moment of it. From Seattle to Scandinavia, from Taiwan to Thailand, from roller coasters to glacier trekking, every trip was worth it because they are only young once…. and so are we.
So here’s sharing our tips on what to prepare and plan as you travel with your kids to make the journey safe, enjoyable and memorable.
I’ve broken down the post into two segments – Before Travel and During. Here are some important ground work and issues to consider before you even pay for the trip right through to before you even leave for the airport.
Choosing a Travel Agent: If you choose to go with a packaged /organised tour, it’s important to choose a reliable travel agent who understands your needs as a family travelling with young kids. We travelled with EU Holidays to Scandinavia and were impressed by the company’s commitment to make our travel as a family of 4 as comfortable as possible. We had requested for an infant and child meals (on board the airline) as well as an extra bed (for Dana) and a baby cot (for Buddy) in the hotels. All these requests were duly fulfilled. The hotels they arranged were of reputable class and are always clean and cosy. For our family of 2 adults, 1 child and 1 infant, they have arranged to house us in family or triple-share rooms which were spacious enough to fit an extra bed and cot. We were very satisfied too that for this trip, the travel agent picked a premium airline (Qatar Airways) and we were given complimentary use of the SATs Premier Lounge prior to departure.
During the trip, our two Singaporean tour managers were exceptionally helpful with our kids and in fact, because Angie was suffering from a strained knee, they often offered to help carry Buddy and tried to keep a look out for our family by reserving tables and seats for us at every leg of the tour. Another bonus of travelling with an organised tour group is the extended help from fellow tour mates who have thankfully taken a liking to our kids (kids always draw people!). We are appreciative that they help to entertain the kids when our hands are full (e.g. when collecting luggage from the bus and checking into hotels etc.). The tour members also helped one another take family photos at tourist attractions.
Our wonderful tour leader and tour mates…
Buying Travel Insurance: Never leave home for a holiday without travel insurance. It gives us the peace of mind should when we need to seek help for any medical or travel contingencies that arise during our trips. From our travel experiences, we have sought medical attention for unforeseen allergies and vomiting by the children as well as a recent knee-strain which Angie experienced. (Tip: Some travel insurances allow you to claim medical expenses up to 5 or more days after arriving in Singapore while some offers allow claims up to 3 days. Do check the finer details in the insurance policies before deciding. Should your family travel often, even across the causeway to Malaysia, you may find it more economical to purchase a whole-family, whole-year plan like we did.) On our Scandinavia trip, one of our tour mates was pick-pocketed at the Little Mermaid Statue in Copenhagen, Denmark. Thankfully, part of the monetary losses can be claimed with his travel insurance.
Choosing an Airline: Choose a reputable airline that would suit your budget and travel needs. For short haul trips, the absence of inflight entertainment and snacks may not be critical hence we sometimes travel on budget airlines to regional destinations like KL, Bangkok, Bali and even Taipei but but for longer haul trips, inflight entertainment and meals are essential to keep the restless kids occupied so they may be worth the extra top-ups. Should you choose to travel with budget airline, do factor possibility of flight delays in your planning. We were stranded at Bangkok International Airport for 6 hours (without any prior notice, much to our frustration) when our budget airline plane was delayed.
So far, for long-haul flights, we appreciated the services of Qatar, Emirates and of course, Singapore Airlines. These airlines not only provide a selection of baby /children foods, their inflight entertainment is top-notch. We always keep the extra supply of baby food and snacks provided when we disembark from the plane as we may need to feed the hungry kids right after touch-down, while waiting at the immigration and before we arrive at the hotel.
During our recent Scandinavia trip, we interacted with the crew on Qatar airlines and found them to be very friendly, warm and attentive to our children despite their hectic duties.
Flight Timing: If you are doing a long-haul DIY Free and Easy trip with very young children, it would help to choose a flight that generally coincides with your children’s sleeping patterns. It is also wiser to choose a flight where the long journey can be ‘broken-up’ properly so that the children (and parents) are not confined to the plane for too long. E.g. During our recent travel to Scandinavia, the Qatar airlines flight was divided into 2 legs: 7 hours from Singapore to Doha (for transit), followed by 6 hours from Doha to Stockholm, Sweden. These were very comfortable flight duration.
Hiring a Good Driver-Guides: For DIY trips, it may be worthwhile to engage reliable driver-guides which come recommended by friends who have used their services. They can pick you up from the airport, send you to the hotels and bring you on sightseeing tours in the comfort of their vehicles (usually taxis or MPVs). This minimizes the inconveniences of travelling with young children by having your transport arrangements all taken care of. We have used drivers in Taiwan and Bali and can recommend them to our readers. For Japan, we used goodwill guides and they have made all the difference. Read about our Japan Goodwill Guides experience in this post.
Counting your Costs…Properly: Life is precious and safety is paramount. While deciding on tour activities during the trip, avoid being penny wise and pound foolish. If a slightly more expensive option means a safer experience for the entire family, then go for it. It’s not worth sacrificing safety to save a couple of dollars. We recounted some harrowing past experiences from some of the most scariest moments in our travels in this post.
Medication: We usually pack the following basic medication for travel as the first point of administering medical help. We usually consult our family doctors before the trip to check if any vaccination is required. It will help also to bring the doctor’s prescriptions should you think you need to replenish certain medication from the pharmacy while overseas.
For Allergies: Zrytec and Piriton.
For Fever: Panadol and Brufen.
Others: Creams for insect bites, diaper rash, medication for diarrhea and vomiting. We were advised by friends to include probiotics as well for our next trip as kids’ tummies take longer to adapt to the water and food in foreign countries.
To administer these medications, we bring along clean syringes (w/o needles) in zip-loc bags. This prevents spillage when we need to administer medication during travel. It is also very useful to pack along a digital thermometer for the trip for obvious reasons especially going to less-developed countries or to rural areas.
Hand-Carry Luggage: For our recent Scandinavia trip, these went into our hand-carry luggage (which should not exceed 7kg):
Moisturizer, Sun-block and Lip-gloss for the kids and ourselves as the climate was very dry
One extra set of Clothes for the adults and one set of P.Js each for the kids
Light Jacket for Daddy, Shawl for Mommy and Pullovers for the kids
Ample supply of Tissues and Wet Wipes (we like the CloverSoft Brand, thick and moist and made of recycled pulp!)
Young Living Essential Oils (namely, Thieves – for kids’ immunity, R.C. – for colds and nose congestion, Panaway – for joint pains, Peppermint – for motion sickness and migraines/ headaches)
Kids’ Drinking Bottles
Milk Powder and Milk Bottles for Buddy
Passports and Cameras
Dana’s Travel Journal and Headphone (this Lil Gadgets headphone is good for children)
Milk Powder and Drinking Water On Board Plane: Plan well and take what you need. Airlines and immigration officials generally allow baby food and water that are placed inside your diaper bags. But do be prepared for the immigration officers to open up the bottle to smell the liquid or even ask you to take a sip, which we have encountered. Just know that they are just trying to uphold the strict safety requirement for all our sake due to terrorism threats.
For milk powder, immigration do allow parents to check-in or bring on board unopened tins / sachets of milk powder. Preferably labeled. (Tip: Sometimes pediatric clinics do have sample formula milk to be given. These smaller tins are really helpful for travelling. Do check if they have the brand your child uses. )
Zip it!: My wife, Angie uses the itinerary as a guide, pre-selects and pre-packs each day’s clothing chronologically using large IKEA zip-loc bags which she then labels by date. This cuts the fumbling we have to go through to search for various pieces of matching clothing from the luggage. It’s a lot of pre-trip effort but definitely worth it as we can just pull out each day’s zip-loc bag when we want a shower or change of clothes. This trip to Scandinavia, we had to pack cold wear as the temperature is cold in the mornings so we dedicated one luggage just for storing the Winter wear and outer jackets so they are easily accessible. If you are planning to bring a food scissors, remember to pack it into your check-in luggage or be prepared to have it thrown away at the immigration.
Planning the OOTD for our two week Scandinavia trip was an incredible feat which I’ve happily delegated to the wife…
Extend it: In addition to a travel converter for my electronic devices, I always bring along an extension cord, where I can hook up many electronic devices to charge with just one single electrical point. This speeds up the charging and helps me focus on minding the kids. For countries that require the use of our own kettle (e.g. Europe and certain parts of USA), the extension cord helps greatly too as I can also use it to boil hot water for the family’s use.
Change Local Currency: Although it may be more convenient to pay using credit cards, it is wise to change some local currency for use. These can come in handy for paying local bus, train or taxi fares, tipping or buying snacks at convenience stores etc. Some public facilities like washrooms may require coins, like those in large parts of Europe. Using cash may also lessen the risk of your credit card being misused.
Diapers: If you can, check to see if the country you are visiting sells the brand of diapers your children use so you can purchase them there. That would save a lot of space in packing. Alternatively, just buy their local brand if your trip allows time for it.
Stroller or Baby Carrier: While baby carriers ease the travelling load, it transfers the child’s weight to the parents. It is fine if you your trip does not involve a lot of walking (e.g. Bali or Taiwan where the use of personal drivers are common. In fact, we use to Ergo Dana as an infant whenever we travel) but if substantial climbing or walking is involved in that trip, a lightweight stroller will ease the strain on the parents. A stroller is also handy if your child needs to nap while travelling on the go. For our Scandinavian trip, we relied entirely on the trusty BabyZen YoYo+ Stroller which was a breeze to handle, so lightweight yet so sturdy even on cobbled-stone terrains. It was a god-sent as we were spared from carrying a 13kg toddler whenever he’s tired or cranky. We could even fold it into the size of a hand-carry luggage and chuck it into the overhead compartment of the plane. Amazing!! A detailed review of the stroller will follow soon.
It’s hard not to be wowed by this ultimate travel stroller – BabyZen Yoyo + !
Read up: If you are travelling with older kids who can read and write, you can get them excited about the trip by getting them to borrow books and read up on the culture of the country before the trip. They may even watch videos about the customs of the country and learn some basic greeting words before the trip. It’s a great way to make the trip come alive and keep them involved. The National Library offers a good selection of printed and E-books on countries, stories on their customs and culture that can be borrowed for children of all ages to read.
Footwear: Never ever under-estimate the importance of a good pair of walking shoes when you go on holidays. One of our good friends once brought three pairs of shoes on her Japan holidays but none proved lasting nor comfortable. We saw how she ‘suffered’ during the trip as her feet was hurting from all the walking. She regretted not investing in a good pair of travelling shoes before she left for Japan.
For our family, we will plan in advance what to wear for the trip according to the climate, the season and nature of activities. There are abundant shoe choices but often overlooked is comfort and durability. For our recent trip to Scandinavia, we were very surprised by how comfortable yet resilient the Skechers shoes were! We are all familiar with Skechers for their sports and street shoes but for travel?
The Skechers we wore bore the brunt of the pounding demands from our two week Scandinavia vacation. We did plenty of walking on cobbled and uneven grounds, which are common in European cities. Yet our Skechers shoes provided the comfort and stability for the whole family. Angie in fact had a strain in her knee mid-flight and it was her Skechers shoes that provided her that much needed cushion and support for her to continue with the trip.
We were surprised to see snow several times on the trip (it was Summer!). On one of the days, when we had to trek through snow, ice and gravel to reach the ancient glacier, our Skechers shoes provided the whole family with protection against the harsh weather elements as well. The shoes kept our feet dry and warm and were extremely comfortable. We are thoroughly impressed with Skechers as a travelling shoes!
Till today, we are still wearing these stylish, comfortable and sturdy shoes right in Singapore after our trip and we know where to shop for travel shoes now! You can find out more about Skechers shopping experience from our pre-trip post here.
We used to have problems finding good shoes for travelling. So glad Skechers fits the entire family’s needs for this multi-terrain holiday!
Register with MFA:
One of the last things we do before we set off for our travels is to register our trip details via Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affair’s eRegister System at https://eregister.mfa.gov.sg. Your registration can help MFA and SG Overseas Missions contact you to render the necessary consular assistance during an emergency or crisis (e.g. natural disasters, civil unrest etc).
Now that you’ve planned for the trip, here’s what to do and look out for during the trip so that you and your children can have an enjoyable time. Leave those electronic devices in the luggage and plan for an engaging time during the trip with these tips:
Delegation: Its important to delegate duties during the trip. For me, as a Daddy, I would do all the hardware stuff (like charging things and packing electronic stuff) as well as giving medication (if needed) and cleaning the bottles and boiling water. Mommy does the nursing, bathing and packing. Our eldest has since taken the role of being responsible for her own luggage and caring for her little brother, entertaining him in the hotel room.
‘Sterilizing’ the Milk Bottles: Ok, how do we do this? Well, there are shops that sell sterilizing pills that are supposedly able to sterilize the bottles as you mix them in butI don’t think these come cheap. I can imagine we would need a lot of it to sustain baby’s drinking demands during the two week trip.
What I do for my eldest and now for Buddy is basically to use hot boiling water- the traditional way. Here’s how: Wash the used bottles and remove any milk sediments. Then used boiled water from kettle and pour into the ice-bucket / clean small pail, provided by hotel (or request for it). There, put the boiling water and bottles in, stir them around and you’re done. Alternatively, just pour the boiling water INTO the bottle itself, close it and shake it around and that should do the trick. Works for us.
Stick to the Guide: For our Primary school-going daughter, we told her to stay close to the local guides wherever we went. Local guides usually are full of stories of the history and culture and it’s great for children to hear first hand from these local guides. She loves it! It’s a great way to learn and appreciate the humanities while we travel.
Be the Guide: Sometimes, we would give the map of the place to Dana and engage her to guide us around. Very helpful especially when we tour museums, galleries and amusement parks. It’s an excellent way for them to take ownership of the day’s itinerary.
Capture it: We would issue our 8 year-old with a simple water and impact proof camera for her to roam around with us and take photos of interesting things and places she spotted. This makes the children more involved and it will cultivate interest in the places she has travelled to. However, we do this only in less crowded places where the risk of getting lost is minimal
Delay shopping…till the end: Ok, here’s for the Singaporean within us all – no trip is complete without shopping and especially to buy those obligatory souvenirs. Check with your tour guides on when and where to shop then, where possible, plan to do your shopping at the end so that you do not lug around extra shopping weight throughout the trip. Alternatively, buy smaller items in the earlier part of the trip and leave the larger ones, like food stuff, toys etc. to the end so you can consolidate them into one hand-carry or check in bag.
Singaporeans love to travel and travelling with the family adds another dimension of significance to the trip…if the trip is planned well. We hope these personal tips would offer your families many good travelling experiences. We are open for you to share more of your thoughts and tips on travelling with kids in our comments page. Have fun and happy travels!
A snapshot of us in Scandinavia (circa May 2016)…more posts to come!