Broken routines, stressful dinners, glares on the flight… You’d love a trip away but you’re convinced it’ll be a horror show with kids in tow – so why spend all that money? If this sounds familiar, it’s time to debunk some common myths.
Travelling with children – particularly babies and young kids – certainly has its challenges, but it’s also one of the most eye-opening adventures of family life, as long as you’re prepared.
Long-haul's a bad call
Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, that’s for sure. And just the thought of having to hush the baby or keep a writhing toddler still in the aeroplane seat for 10 or – gulp – up to 24 hours when, chances are, they simply will not sleep, is enough to make most parents retreat into a dark chasm of despair.
But the reality isn’t nearly that bad. Babies are often coaxed into a sleepy state by the drone of the plane’s air regulator. True, flying with young kids of a certain age – let’s say roughly between one and two years old – can be a constant trial, but once they are old enough to appreciate in-flight entertainment, two thirds of the battle is won. The trick is to understand what you’re getting yourself into and plan ahead.
Top tips: Take a night flight if you can, when your kids are at their sleepiest and the cabin lights will be dimmed, and tag-team with a flying partner so each of you gets some respite if the kids are playing up. Run your children ragged in the airport before boarding, and always overestimate the amount of carry-on clothes, nappies and snacks you think you’ll need.
It'll be too hot – or cold – for little ones
Nobody wants to see their children wilt under a scorching sun, or shiver in an Arctic gale. But kids are more resilient than we think. Extremes of weather are just another point of fascination for fledgling travellers – be that the sultry 24/7 heat of Thailand, or the theatre of ice and snow in Lapland.
The tropics, in particular, are guaranteed to fulfil the wildest dreams of clothing-averse young ones. That daily struggle to get your kids dressed? Gone.
Top tips: In the tropics, hot nights call for air-con so your little ones can sleep easy. Pack cooling spray for sizzling days out. In freezing climates, bring portable hand heaters and insulating underclothes made of quality fabrics such as merino wool (widely available for kids, and even babies).
Beach is always best
All kids love wallowing in sand, right? Sand castles feed the imagination for hours on end, and chasing shallow surf is a game that knows no bounds.
Unfortunately, sand gets everywhere (ears, nose, nappy… you name it!); the salty stuff can be excruciating for grazes or baby eczema; the sun can be relentless, and kids get bored surprisingly quickly. The point is, try as you might, it’s not always possible to predict what’s going to float your kids’ boat.
Top tips: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes, and that applies to your children too. Pick destinations that have plenty to see and do around the beach and easy transport for day trips. Pebble beaches can also be great for stone-skimming – just pack sturdy jelly shoes.
Fussy eaters won't touch a thing
Children aren’t known for their sophisticated palates, but it's a myth that they'll wither away if their familiar favourites aren’t available. Removed from their routines, you may find your children are more open to new foods. And trust us: every culture will have something that your child loves.
Spicy curry might be a no-no in India, for instance, but potato- or cheese-stuffed dosas could make them drool. The tropics will tempt them with seasonal fruit and freshly whizzed juices that’ll make their eyes pop. Local markets and hands-on, child-friendly cooking classes can also inspire tiny tummies.
Top tips: Pack a stash of snacks from back home to temper the new food experiences. Try using the one-bite taste-test rule. If all else fails, every country has a staple plain enough to satisfy the pickiest of eaters. Don’t beat yourself up if all they want to do is eat bread, rice or chips for the entire trip. Life’s too short.
Kids and fancy establishments don't mix
Every parent will tell you there is nothing more embarrassing than watching your kids run amok when you’ve forked out for a sophisticated restaurant or hotel. In fact, many would argue that kids have no place in such fancy venues.
This view will always hold true with some establishments – and their clientele – but an increasing number of luxury businesses are catering for family travellers in new and interesting ways. Be that through the introduction of baby-sitting services and children’s spa facilities in swanky resorts, or because of the rise of more intimate luxury guesthouses and experiences.
Top tips: Redefine how you think about luxury. Businesses that champion personalised service (such as family-run boutique hotels) and private experiences (such as guided tours) are your new best friends, because they share one key principle: it’s all about you.
Road trips bore kids to tears
Trapped inside a tin can, with kids bouncing off the walls and whining ‘are we there yet?’. This not-so-pretty picture might be prophetic if you plan to cover several thousand kilometres of empty road in a week (wave goodbye to that Route 66 trip), but you just need to readjust your expectations. Small countries, for example, often make excellent road-tripping terrain for little ones.
Top tips: Consider European countries such as Montenegro, where distances are short, scenery is staggering and interesting stops are plentiful. Small, sleepy babies can make excellent road-trip companions; just coincide your driving time with their day-time sleeps. Got older kids? No problem – it’s all about engaging their imagination. Snacks always help, too.
Parents can wave goodbye to the night
The thought of spending your evening sitting in a darkened hotel room, talking in hushed tones and contemplating how on earth you’re going to get a bite to eat while your baby drifts off at 7pm is grim. But while travelling with babies and toddlers makes night-time exploration harder, it doesn’t have to mean you lose the evening completely.
Darkened skies can offer a whole new perspective on a destination and if kids can be encouraged to embrace a late-afternoon siesta, you might just find they’re fresher and eager to get out after dark.
Top tips: Choose accommodation carefully. A balcony with a view could provide a private oasis for evening relaxation near your sleeping baby. Look for small hotels with a garden, on-site restaurant or hip roof terrace – pack a decent baby monitor and these can all be convivial places for you to spend the evening if your kids need to hit the pillow.
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