Traveling with your kids is a fantastic, first hand way to show them what goes on in the world around them. They grow and mature an amazing amount and develop a better understanding, appreciation and acceptance of other people and cultures.
There are a lot of things to consider, however, before taking off on long term travel and even more to think about when you've got little ones in tow. Here are my tips:
It's important to ensure that your child's immunisation schedule is up to date with your country's requirements and if you're visiting third world countries you will more than likely need some extra immunisations. The dosage is obviously different for children than for adults so this needs to be investigated with your GP. Some types of immunisations cannot be given to children under a certain age and some are also quite expensive, such as a Rabies shot that comes in three doses over a period of time. This may mean that you give your itinerary a second look.
Certain countries require proof of immunisation prior to entry such as Yellow Fever for entering certain African and South American countries or Meningococcal Disease for entering Saudi Arabia.
The costs certainly add up especially if you have more than one child but one cannot put a price on the protection that they provide for your children.
Depending on where you are traveling, other important immunisations to consider are Cholera, Typhoid, Malaria and Hepatitis A,B and C.
Will your chosen country have any medicine that you need? You may need to purchase a greater amount and carry it with you. This will require a signed letter from your GP stating exactly what kind of medicine you are carrying through customs and to whom it is prescribed. Also check that certain medicines are actually allowed to be taken into the country that you're considering.
A few first aid items for the obvious travel ailments like upset tummies and diarrhoea is essential. Food in another ocuntry can very easily disagree with a little one's digestive system for the first time.
A good first aid kit should contain at least the following items: thermometer, Panadol (or other medicine for reducing a fever), tweezers, elasticated bandage, adhesive bandages in various sizes, adhesive tape, bandaids, alcohol wipes, antiseptic solution, instant disposable cold packs, a mouthpiece for administering CPR and of course, a first aid manual.
3. Where's the ER?
Use a map and make yourself familiar with the locations of local hospitals. In some towns or cities you may have a choice of hospitals and some may have doctors that speak your own language. What is the emergency telephone number for an ambulance? Write it down, put it on your speed dial. You never know when you might need it in a hurry.
4. Kids Get Tired
Children tire easily and not just from the physical aspect of traveling, but also from the mental aspect. The constant changes in scenery, food and language can be exhausting for them and will send some children into bad behaviour as they don't yet know how to deal with their fears or anxiety.
It's important here to be able to read the signs, talk to your kids a lot about what's happening and what they can expect to see, how hot or cold the next place will be, what the people will look like, what kind of food they can expect, etc. Kids will deal with situations better when they know what to expect.
4. How To Minimise The Effects Of Jetlag
Depending on the time of your flight, you may want to consider saying no the the meal the flight attendants serve if you've just eaten a meal before boarding. Try to stick to your own timing as regards eating rather than scoffing everything on offer.
The change in day and night can knock a child around just as it does an adult. Providing stimulating and interactive activities at the right times and relaxing things such as a movie at other times should go a long way to ensuring the effects of jetlag are eased.
If on a long flight, get up out of your seat regularly and walk around and get your kids to do the same. Even just stand where you can and stretch your body. You may get some funny looks, but you'll fare batter than those that slouch in their seats for twelve hours and barely move.
5. Amusing The Kiddies
If you can afford an iPhone, iPad or and iPod, these can be uploaded with an enormous variety of games, activities, movies and educational tools for children of all ages. The multitude of games that we used to take along on our travels like draughts, scrabble, cards, crosswords, etc can now fit in your pocket! Don't forget the headphones so your child can beep beep all they like without disturbing the other passengers.
A small pencil case with some coloured pencils or felt pens and a colouring book or drawing book is a good idea. The key is to have a bit of a variety and hopefully not encounter the 'I'm boooored' only an hour after take off!
These same games and activities can be used at any time when you need a bit of peace such as in a restaurant, waiting for your luggage, standing in endless queues.
6. "I'm hungry...."
I'm sure I hear these two words a hundred times a day and sometimes I just want to feed my child a worm tablet! When you can, pack fresh fruit or washed and chopped vegetables like carrot or celery sticks. If you're in a third world country, be meticuloius about washing your food. Wipe it on a clean cloth or towel. Other basics like muesli bars or cracker biscuits may not be the healthiest snack but will probably tide them over until you can stop for a decent meal.
In some places in Asia where chopsticks are all that is provided, it is advisable to have a small fork for your child. Also a small pair of scissors can be handy for cutting up a child's food as somethimes a knife can also be hard to come by. (To read more about the delights of Asian food, particularly Vietnamese food, visit where nobody knows you)
Snacking from street vendors is usually ok for us grown ups but I would guess that most kids would turn up their noses at such fare so having something that they're guaranteed to eat will ease the pain of the hungry kid monster!
7. Handy Things To Pack
A child needs some comfort and familiarity so one favourite stuffed toy is a good idea. If you're lucky this should also make going to sleep in strange beds and new places a bit easier.
Whoever made liquid hand sanitiser is a super star! Pack a small bottle and add some sanitised wipes for scraping that spaghetti off little faces. Tissues and toilet paper will never go astray either.
Ziplock bags are great for keeping snacks fresh and can be rinsed and reused. Small plastic containers are handy for taking leftovers home from a restaurant that may not provide a doggy bag or may frown upon such a thing. Some restaurants actually don't allow it citing health issues!
Older kids can carry their own day pack with a water bottle, snacks, games, waterproof jacket/hat/gloves/towel or whtever else suits the climate that you're in.
Wherever you venture out to for the day, be sure to pack all you can from Tip #5. Sometimes you never know when that short day out is going to turn into a long one because you've found another view/museum/park/gallery/restaurant. The kids are still going to get tired.
Don't underestimate the importance of your personal safety and that of your children when in a foreign land. Even in harmless situations like a blonde kid in an out of the way Asian town attracting overwhelming attention, you can become distracted and ripe for a pick-pocket.
Always keep your wits about you and be aware of your immediate surroundings. Know where the police station is and know the relevant emergency telephone numbers.
Don't carry huge amounts of cash on you, especially in countries where a trip to the ATM makes you a millionaire. Withdraw smaller amounts or store it in various places on your person rather than all in one wallet or bag.
If your child is of walking age, an excellent idea is to have them wear an under the clothing, flat style bag containing information such as their name, date of birth, your telephone number, hotel address, blood type, allergies, etc. This could become essential information in the event of an accident or that you become seperated from your child in a crowd. Another good idea is to write your cell phone number in marker pen on your child's arm. Don't worry, it will come off with a good scrub!
9. Let's Negotiate
The kids will go mental if you insist they learn about EVERY impressionist artist to come out of France or EVERY Nobel Peace Prize winner that once lived in Berlin. Try some negotiation tactics and trade a museum for a park or a gallery for a day at the beach.
After all, the whole family is on holiday and the idea is to....
10. Have Fun!
Involve your children in the daily planning once you're on your vacation. This will give them a sense of empowerment and importance. Allowing them some of their own money to do with as they please (within reason of course) will also add to their feeling of importance.
Remember that your work will still be there on your return home, so turn off the phone/pager/email updates or whatever it is you have that ties you to your job and enjoy your precious family time.
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