Preparing Children (and parents!) for Travel
There’s no doubt about it, travelling with children can be a stressful experience, but this shouldn’t put you off travel all together; with some expectation management and careful planning, you can still make travel a truly rewarding experience for both you and your children.
Being an expatriate in particular, travel really is part and parcel of the package and somewhat of a necessity. Not only do you deal with the challenges of isolation from your family and home support unit, you have to climb proverbial mountains to get back to them. Remember what you were setting out to achieve in the first place and every moment, good or bad is all part of the overseas experience.
How we do it
I cannot pretend to have everything down pat – believe me I have moments where I am sure I am just as stressed and frazzled as the next parent standing in the check-in queue – but after a few years of experience and working as a team with my husband, we have learned how to be prepared, cope with the stress and actually enjoy ourselves.
If you lower your expectations you might be pleasantly surprised by what you get! So what things should you look out for?
- Just as we can’t understand why a two-year old finds an empty bottle so fascinating, don’t expect them to be utterly wowed by the wonders of 4,000 year old monuments. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expose then to these things, but accommodate their requirements (which are immensely basic – food, sleep, attention) to enjoy your experience.
- You will find everything moves at a much slower pace when children and infants are in tow, but view this as a good thing, an opportunity to take in the culture from a perspective you might not consider and not just rush through it (though I must admit I never thought I would gain quite so much experience in international restrooms).
- Look for different things that you can both appreciate – animals are always a sure winner to invoke curiosity from the very young – and my two are also fascinated by things like pretty flowers, murals painted on walls. Children love pointing out what is different from traffic signals to sign posts – everything you show them is building their perspective of the world, just be prepared to give some quick, politically correct explanations at times!
- Don’t expect young children to be grateful for the fact you have taken them out of their comfort zone and thrown them in to something new; they don’t care that you may have paid for them to have an upgrade or driven four hours out of your way to show them one of the Wonders of the World. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue to fulfill your travel wishes but keep it fun for them as well.
- You are not doomed to a future of entertainment parks and resort kids clubs. City travel can be just as rewarding and manageable.
- Try not to worry too much about what other people must be thinking of you and your children. The flight in particular can be an incredibly stressful experience for everyone involved, and undoubtedly at some point your child will have an incurable public tantrum to make you look like an utter parenting failure and unable to control your children; but take stock, what are the chances you will ever need to see these people again? You will probably laugh about it later, pencil it in as bad experience and work out what was the trigger to set it off so maybe you will do things differently next time.
- Always try to avoid the parenting blame game. It can be so easy to do when travelling together, particularly if one of you is usually at home with the kids all the time while the other is working. Travel and holidays are often the only time the other parent gets to spend long periods with the kids (and each other!) so go easy on them; they might not know all the ins and outs of your normal routine so be flexible, and set your expectations with each other as parents up front, perhaps allocate responsibilities.
- It’s incredibly important to be prepared and plan ahead when travelling with children, but try to keep a flexible schedule for your day and don’t overly plan every event. Arranging activities around meal and nap times is essential but allow room to go with the flow as well. Work out whats on your ‘must achieve’ list then everything else you experience around this is a bonus.