Travelling with children is complicated as anyone who has travelled anywhere with babies or toddlers already knows. Navigating narrow shop and cafe entrances with prams for the first time is a good lesson in what it must be like for physically disabled people who face these challenges on a daily basis. The need to bring extra bags, clothes, feeding and sleeping items, transportation and equipment is also no small undertaking. When the kids were that little we liked Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast as a destination given we could get a car with baby seats to pick us up from the airport and drive us straight to self-contained low-rise yet relatively new accommodation with a playground at the beach, an aquarium, marina and main esplanade with shops, cafes and supermarket all in close proximity to each other eliminating the need to hire a car.
With older children, travel has become less fraught physically but still brings other issues. It’s been a very cold end to winter so now is a good time to book Christmas or other holidays and give yourself something to look forward to. If you’re lucky enough to be travelling overseas anytime soon, I did want to share some of my travel tips before they became distant memories.
So in no particular order here goes. Seat selection: it is worth taking the time to allocate and/or pay to allocate your seats well in advance on long haul flights. If, like the majority of people, you can’t afford to travel business class then make sure you get the seats you want in the same row right next to each other so some of you can stretch out and sleep (although unless you drug your kids and yourselves, I don’t think there’s much sleep to be had when flying overnight). If your children are over 12, you can be split up as a family as we were on our return flight (middle seats in the centre rows) which was not ideal. As much as you get the views and perhaps aren’t disturbed as much in a window seat, aisle seats can be more comfortable/practical if you’re someone who likes to stretch their legs or needs to use the bathroom more frequently. If you do have younger children, keep in mind that airlines generally allocate the first row behind the bulkhead in the middle of the plane to families with babies and toddlers. If these haven’t been allocated (or there are no babies/toddlers on the flight) – you can try your luck and ask if you can be seated there before boarding the plane if you have extenuating circumstances.
If you have children under 8 and are travelling beyond Asia to somewhere further flung like Europe or the States, I would definitely recommend a stopover to break up the trip. While this eats into your holiday time, I don’t think the stress of trying to do multiple trips back to back with young children is worth it. Airport hotels are also a good idea if you just need to do an overnight stay and it’s worth paying more for the convenience of being right at the airport or as close to it as you can be.
Some American Express Platinum Card holders are entitled to two lounge passes per year but again, if you can afford it and your layover is more than 2 – 3 hours, I also think it’s worth the expense of buying airport lounge passes (often now run by third parties) to have a calm and quiet place to escape to where you can all sit down and relax for a period of time and get something to eat and drink. Standard airport waiting areas can be pretty soul-less places and if you’re exhausted from travelling, any additional comfort you can get while in transit can make a big difference in terms of the whole travel experience.
In terms of packing, if you can fit all your luggage into carry-on you’re doing very well and it means you don’t have the hassle of having to wait after you get off the plane for your stowed luggage to come out. Business travellers do this all the time but are generally staying locally for only a few days. You may want to pack your toiletries (in a plastic bag in case of spillage) in your carry-on luggage and a change of clothes in case you get separated from your stowed luggage but this is pretty rare these days. Suitcases with wheels are the way to go or larger back backs with a daypack that can be attached and carried with ease. We get the kids to take their own small suitcases as carry-ons and pack their kids backpacks flat in our stowed luggage which can be later used by our children if going to the beach or day trips. At least one light drink bottle is also a good idea to lessen the amount of bottled water that needs to be bought. Kindles are also great for downloading books rather than packing heavy books and a microfibre camping/travel towel or lightweight Turkish towel may also come in handy, as well as a shawl or wrap of some kind if you’re a woman. Just be mindful to check your luggage allowance for individual items and remember that you can’t as passengers collectively add your luggage allowance together. Also try to keep your visa(s) and passports together and I found a Kathmandu zip up shoulder bag with net pockets and other extras more practical to use as much as it wasn’t such a stylish look. Mr R and I bought North Face daypacks in Vietnam many years ago and we took these on as hand luggage finding them useful when doing our day tripping around the islands to carry towels, bathers and food. If going to a hot climate like Greece, you won’t need jeans and I found that one set of bathers and pyjamas was enough.
In terms of first aid, I had gone to our GP to get additional drugs for vomiting and diarrhoea (charming topics I know) as well as a general antibiotic but had failed to pack them in my hand luggage, which I will do from here on in given I came down with a bug while in flight. While this time around we didn’t need drugs for vomiting, we did collectively use the other drugs we had on our trip so this is well worth doing especially if you are travelling to a second world country but even if travelling to a first world place. Taking some panadol, nurofen, antiseptic cream and bandaids are also a good idea but most other things can be bought if you need them like sunscreen, insect spray, sunburn cream etc. Obviously if you are on medication, you need to bring that and possibly your scripts as well. Don’t forget too to pack glasses, contact lenses, sunglasses, hats and elastic bands if you also need them.
I’ve heard hand sanitizer is better than using wipes but I took both as much as I dislike the alcohol and environmental impacts. Tissues, ear plugs and eye masks are also handy as well as barley sugar and chewing gum if you get sore ears due to air pressure. You can also buy a product called ear planes which some people swear by to lessen sore ears.
Whether you use drugs for sleep or travel sickness is a personal decision and I make no judgements. I have in the past taken pressure bands for wrists and travelcalm (ginger) tablets as well as Bach Rescue Remedy spray and tiger balm to calm my children down. I also like drinking ginger ale as ginger is a natural anti-nausea remedy. Mr Rosanna and I also always take Kwells as none of us in our family are good on ferries and boats depending on how rough the water is. You can buy phenergan over the counter at the pharmacy and use smaller doses for travel sickness and larger doses for sedation for kids bearing in mind that some parents find the side effects have resulted in hyperactive children instead. I also know some people who are quite happy to take sleeping tablets or valium to knock themselves out (Mr R also thinks a glass of scotch will do the same thing!) but this is for older people only. We brought neck pillows with us but they can be cumbersome to carry. Some families keep their kids up the night before they travel so that they will sleep on the plane. Devices for older kids are also a necessary evil for most parents as well as plenty of food and drink to help keep them all amused.
Mr R and I didn’t get an international drivers licence as most car rentals will accept a country licence although we were refused service at one of the larger car hire places in Paros. It is also an experience to drive on the other side of the road seated on the other side of the car as we did in Greece although quad bikes are also an option if you don’t have kids and are up for a bit of open air adventure. We took out RACV travel insurance but there are specific travel insurance companies like Cover-More®. We also used a Global Currency Card (or travel money card) from our bank and ordered pre-paid international Sim cards from Sim Corner for our mobile phones as well as bought a Korjo travel adaptor to re-charge our many devices.
These tips are completely subjective and based on my own experience as a traveller – I hope that some of them may be useful to you as well. The weather isn’t doing it for me at the moment so it’s nice to contemplate our next holiday destination as well as re-live some of our recent overseas travel experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly.