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How to Travel with Kids: Planning

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Traveling with your young ones can be a hassle. So, how does one do it? Here are some useful tips from an expat mom living in Penang.

Where to go

Sure, some spots are by design super kid friendly.  There are massive ball pits or your bed looks like a Cinderella castle.  However, when planning your international travel with your little ones, I urge you to think beyond Disney, and find something the whole family can enjoy.  You may need to redefine Kid Friendly.  Consider the age of your travel buddy.  Under 2, and you can go pretty much anywhere without concern for their attention span, but with much more concern for safety in your planning.  A junk boat cruise in Halong Bay would be fine with an immobile 3-month-old, but a constant anxiety situation for a running, climbing 18-month old.  Older children will benefit from something interesting they can learn about and interact with.  I find it easiest to stay at the action whenever possible, minimizing transportation and maximizing flexibility.

Enjoy the anticipation

With a slightly older child the planning stage can become an educational experience.  We had decided to travel to Lankayan Island, a marine sanctuary for sea turtles.  For weeks before the trip, we read books and watched videos on sea turtles with our 2-year-old.  He stepped onto that island with an excitement similar to Christmas Eve that was realized when the first little turtle hatchlings pushed up through the sand and made their way towards the sea.

Follow a road already traveled

Chances are, wherever you are thinking of going, someone with kids has been there and written about it.  Google family travel blogs or find tips on Trip Advisor about itineraries, destinations, etc.  These resources fill in the blanks for travel with children where Lonely Planet may be lacking.

When to go

If you are lucky enough to be traveling with your children before school age, you have the added benefit of not being restricted by school holidays.  Take advantage of this and do not travel during school holidays when everything is guaranteed to be more expensive and booked up.  Likewise, research the school schedule for where you are headed.  Southern Mexico may be an idyllic location to hike through ruins and lounge on the beach, but landing in Cancun during spring break with your 2 and 4-year-old would not be any parent’s idea of fun.  Understand when the high times are, and try to skirt them just slightly so you are able to take advantage of great weather without the crowds.  For instance, Bali is very busy over December and January, when most Australians holiday.  Explore February or November instead.

How much to plan

When I traveled alone, and even as a couple, I would often land in a location and only then set out to find transportation, accommodation, and a good meal.  While I try to maintain some level of flexibility in our schedule and allow for spontaneous outings, I now plan on a much grander scale.  Some trips, I have spreadsheets with each day, night, meal and transfer inked into its appropriate square.  Others, I stick with the minimum: lodging and transport, maybe a few outings I’d like to explore.  Find a level you are comfortable with, but do make sure you have settled where you will go and how you will get there upon touchdown.  This alleviates so much stress.

Plan to do nothing

No matter what your level of planning, do put in some downtime.  With napping children, this happens naturally, and an afternoon siesta at the hotel is already a given.  Once your kids get bigger, understand they still require that time to be “at home” in the hotel, either playing at the pool or driving hot wheels over the coffee table. You’ll appreciate this too, and everyone will be energized for late afternoon markets, beach time, or dinner out.

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When to come home

Come home early, one full day before you have to go back to school or work, or at least a half day if you are doing a long weekend trip.  Trust me, that day of domestic normalcy will feel like a holiday in itself.  Routine is a vacation from vacation.


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