Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Travelling with kids (Asia Life, June)

As Georgie Treasure-Evans prepares for three weeks backpacking around northern Laos with her husband and two girls under five, she shares a few tips to help you plan for your own family adventures. Her top tip? Keep it simple!

The long school break is a strange time for both parents and children alike in Expatria. There is the inevitable sadness brought about by yet more goodbyes to beloved friends, often distracted by wonderful, albeit exhausting, trips home to reconnect with friends and family. For some there are agonizingly long days hanging about in Phnom Penh waiting for everyone to come back and schools to start!

But these long ‘summers’ also provide the perfect opportunity to explore the beautiful and exotic places so easily within our reach. Here are a few tips to make travelling with children enjoyable and stress free.

What better region to brave with children than southeast Asia, cheek pinching aside? You are welcomed everywhere by willing babysitters and play mates – from local kids to fully grown backpackers. You can relax on long bus journeys as the children get passed around your fellow passengers for a good dose of ogling and boiled sweet-pushing. Nobody cares when you ask the bus to make five loo stops in half an hour. Even a tantrum provides intriguing relief from the tedium of the journey.

Here are a few essentials to add to your usual list. Keep it simple and only pack what you and your kids can carry!

1. Take your favourite baby carrier, and a cotton sling that folds up small. The Ergo carries new-borns up to four year olds, perfect for long walks or late night transits.

2. A wet cloth in a plastic bag is great for washing faces and hands. Waste-free, it is eco-friendly and lighter than a pack of wipes. Though accepting that your off-spring will look and smell rather like street children for most of the trip can be quite liberating, and helps you pack half as many clothes.

3. A bendy, plastic ‘catchy’ bib that you can fold up and shove in a pocket is great to stop children picking food up off the floor. It doubles up as a nose bag if you fill it with raisins for children snacking on the loose.

4. Bags of nuts, dried apricots and prunes are filled with protein and iron for when the children’s diet becomes less balanced. Otherwise Royal D and local snacks will probably suffice.

5. An inflatable highchair that folds up small. Really. It makes having to eat out three times a day with babies or toddlers bearable.

6. Stories and songs downloaded onto an MP3 player with headphones and/or speakers.

7. A book of children’s songs or the words to your favourite songs. Be prepared to sing. For hours....

8. A small kit of natural remedies. E.g. Echinacea for fighting colds, Lavender oil for mossie bites and restful sleep, Citronella for mosquitoes, Chamomile for calming and skin irritations, Aloe Vera for sun burn, Rescue Remedy for shocks, Tea Tree for antiseptic, Eucalyptus for blocked nose, Pro-biotics for keeping Thrush at bay for sugar-fuelled kids... herbal tea bags are good too.

9. A full first-aid kit, sun screen, sun suits and hats and mossie guard.

10. Toys come last on my list from experience. Travelling kids mostly play with their environment. You know: rubbish, old tin cans, cigarette butts, plug sockets, hotel loo brushes, filthy shoes. My nine-month-old daughter played with a half full plastic water bottle for three weeks in Vietnam. If we didn’t have it on long journeys we were in trouble.

But, if you have room, pack a bag with small toys that you can empty onto the floor wherever it becomes necessary. E.g. finger and sock puppets, face paints, fuzzy felt, small dolls with removable clothes and long hair, hair brush, beads for making jewellery, bouncy ball, balloons, washable bath crayons. Twister is great for older kids and making friends.

Your kids can help you pack. Explain why you need to travel light and tell them how exciting it will be to come home again knowing all their toys are waiting for them.

Other than that relax and try not to worry about the mosquitoes, dirt, heat and jetlag. Your kids are probably far more tolerant to these than you are... as we get older and set in our ways, children are the perfect antidote!

Join in their excitement as they experience new cultures, foods, transport and lifestyles. Watch them become thoughtful, compassionate and open-minded as they begin to see their own life in the bigger picture. And encourage them to be thankful for this opportunity of a life time.

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