PlanHero is excited to bring you the travel writings of our newest contributor, Christen Kadkhodai, in her first post, Will Travel with Kids. Christen is an American travel writer living and working in Australia. Be sure to read her bio at the end! Pour yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy the ride while she shares her stories and tips for globetrotting with kids.
Both of our children took their first flight when they were just a few weeks old. They each wore white knit caps and their eyes were closed in their passport photos, headed overseas to their new “home” in Central America. Now four and two years old, they have collectively traveled to twelve countries (and counting) as far reaching as literally “the end of the earth” in southern Chile to our current home in Canberra, Australia. We have spent countless hours in airports, on planes, and in hotel rooms. Think lots of play with sugar and cream packets, media on iPads, and all of ROYGBV on the color wheel during “I Spy.” It has been a wild and wonderful ride (let’s be real, it’s definitely had its share of lows too). It’s a journey that we are still on, and we’re still learning; every trip teaches us something new about the unexpected challenges and thrills of exploring the world with our children.
How about some lows to start out? We never imagined how treacherous a simple escalator ride could be until our three-year-old threw a tantrum on one in Tokyo. And what about that time I desperately breastfed my son on the side of a highway because we forgot bottled water while road tripping in Honduras? Or when our daughter whined through the entirety of our personal tour of the “Hobbit” set in New Zealand? The only thing I remember from that hour long (expensive!) tour was my daughter sulking on the side of a mountain and the complementary beer I guzzled at the famed pub the Green Dragon. I’ve been there and there and there. It’s not pretty and it’s parenthood, it happens between your four walls and around the world. I learned the hard way that people take holidays but tantrums don’t.
There are plenty of travel highs too when you travel with kids. I love remembering the makeshift bandanna the waiter made my son in a white linen restaurant we had no business visiting in Granada, Nicaragua or the relief and jealousy I felt when a couple of Chilean flight attendants decided to entertain our newborn, carrying her up and down the aisle while addressing the needs of other passengers. I would never have connected with so many kind and interesting people overseas if our children had not been playing together in the park. My kids are without preconceived notions or any level of social self-consciousness (help me!), and they have made connections faster and more effortlessly than I ever could. I can still see our then two-year-old attempting to cartwheel with a group of Guatemalan girls in Antigua, the way the girls giggled and squeezed his tiny cheeks against the backdrop of decaying churches and active volcanoes.
A child’s openness and innocence is an incredible prism through which to see our world, yet, it can also make them vulnerable. Keeping our kids safe has always been a big part of our travel planning process. I know, who wants to talk about vigilance during anything you might refer to as a “vacation?” But new cultures and surroundings can be seriously challenging for adults let alone children. Not only do you want to keep them safe, but you actually want to have a good time (maybe even enjoy a drink once in a while). I promise, it’s not too tall an order.
Out and About
If they tend to dip and dash on what would otherwise be casual sightseeing outings, embrace the leash! This is the way we saw the entirety of Central America with my son, who is high energy and high speed. We socialized a new “puppy backpack” for him at around 18 months, and it stuck for a long time. He still remembers it with a smile! Yes, some people snickered and pointed, but I held my head high. I knew my son was getting his energy out and discovering the world of travel on foot. When we arrived back at our hotel he was exhausted and Mom and Dad got a little downtime. And most importantly, the leash kept him from getting run over by one of the speeding tuk-tuks that always seemed to be clanging by.
What if they wander away? We all hate that idea but it does happen. Dress them in bright colors! Remember walking around with your Brownie troop in those garish lime green hats? You hated them then but learn to love them now. Find clothing that allows you to quickly spot your kid in a crowd. And while I don’t love the Paddington Bear association, it can be very useful for your child to have your information tagged on his/her body. This is normal in certain cultures. When we visited the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo they required all children to wear tags on their shoes with the contact information for their parent/carer. Do not get overly precious about it! Just put your name and contact information and loop it around a shoelace or strap. If you are overseas, put the information for your hotel. Older kids? Even before you travel, teach them to identify security personnel and information booths (make it a game!) and encourage them to find these people and places if they ever become separated from you. Actively point out family gathering points. If you make it a habit it’s less alarming for children and activates that part of their brain.
In the Room
Sickness happens when you travel with kids and believe me, it is not cute to try to explain the weight and height of your three-year-old to a pharmacist when he is off projectile vomiting in your tiny hotel room in Sapporo. I still have the Japanese note the terrified concierge scribbled for me that night just as a reminder to always bring a thermometer and Tylenol! I have a pack designed for fishing lures that I use to pack the kids toiletry and medical bits and hang it up in the closet once we arrive. To that point, make use of practical and easy to replace items. Zipper plastic bags are like gold in my family.
Be your own safety and security expert for your hotel room. I can still remember certain accommodations and furnishings that stressed me to no end. And it does not matter if they tell you on Trip Advisor that the place is the most family-friendly spot in town; it might just end up seeming like a death trap. The examples seem like such errors in common sense: the giant and exposed glass coffee table in Panama, the massive TV teetering at the top of the flimsy bamboo shelf in Costa Rica, the tenth floor hotel room with a window that a toddler could easily open and close in Chile. Take a deep breath and ask if it is necessary in the room. If not, call up reception and see if they are willing to store it during your stay. Often they will! If there’s no removing it (like the window, sad emoji), what can you do to make it safe? First off, do not draw attention to it. Then use impossible to move suitcases to barricade the area around the window.
In fact, we have been our own DIY travelers in lots of situations. If you want to see the world, get creative, be flexible, and be willing to go with it a bit. Blend those principles with a fair dose of common sense and you will find the world is a lot less intimidating than you thought. And most importantly, you get better the more you do it. Even as fluent Spanish speakers, our first short driving trip with one immobile child to Nicaragua seems like a lifetime ago, and we thought it would break us. Fast forward to our recent multi-week trip to Japan with a toddler and a baby and we faced illness, language barriers, and major culture shock. At the end of that trip we all still liked each other and we made some amazing memories as a family. Maybe there is something to that 10,000 hours theory.