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Traveling with Young Children - the ‘WHY’ and the ‘HOW’

Traveling with Young Children - the ‘WHY’ and the ‘HOW’

(SPOILER ALERT!) There’s a travel journal template for kids which you can download for free! The link is provided at the end of this blog post.

Before I became a mom, traveling was my biggest passion. My Husband and I were avid travelers, we had visited 42 countries thus far, and it is a report card that we proudly hold close to our hearts.

Now that we are parents to two, we obviously couldn’t travel as often as we did in the past, but that doesn’t mean we have stopped our travels. We just had to modify how we travel to accommodate our young kids!

Travis on his first trip to Perth at 1 year old.

We brought Travis on his first trip when he turned one year old. And being our first trip with our firstborn, it was one of the most memorable trips we’ve ever had.

It is, at times, frustrating to hear parents say that their kids are too young to travel. In truth, no perfect age exists to start traveling with kids, so why not start now?! Starting while they’re young gets them accustomed to how traveling is and helps them develop a deeper appreciation for the world around them outside of this little red dot we live on. I find this especially important since Singapore is such a small city - there are truly so many things going on out in this world that the next generations need to be aware of instead of living in their tiny little bubble.

Travis in New Zealand when he was 2 years old

“My kids are too young to appreciate travels.”

“They are so young, they will not remember a single thing.”

Before I go headlong into the benefits of traveling for young kids, let’s talk about these 2 common perceptions.

Firstly, I agree. It’s undeniable that kids younger than 5 years old will likely not remember much about their travels. But this is not about whether they can remember what they did on their trips, it’s about exposing them to the world and in the midst of it all, build their character, enhance their development and create family bonds.

In the same line of argument, why then do parents bring their young children to the zoo or the park or the library? If they will not remember a single thing, why not just keep them home everyday till they are >5 years old when they have better memory? Why do parents then invest hundreds or even thousands of dollars into educational toys for children as young as one year old? If you believe that they will not remember a single thing, these hold no benefits whatsoever for them either.

Again, it’s not about how much they remember, it’s about exposing young children to the world, and providing them experiences which cannot be taught in a traditional classroom.

This holds true for the visit to the zoo, the picnic at the park, the reading stint at the library; as well as the travels to places outside of their comfort zone.

Why are travels so important for young kids?

So why this huge emphasis on bringing young kids on travels? There’re huge benefits to not just the child, but the entire family.

Create strong family connections

The memories created through travel as a family are irreplaceable. Many a times, my husband and I find ourselves recounting our adventures with Travis - that awesome farm stay we had where we got to feed the farm animals, the foods we tried, that hike we did together, those other families and kids which we met and interacted with. And yes, even memories which are not great but we managed to work through them and can now laugh about them - when Travis experienced motion sickness and we had to make many stops during our road trip; when we had to wake early every morning just to cook his meals for the day etc.

These memories bond us together as a family unit. During travels, you truly spend high quality time together - without the stress of work, or the long list of household chores you need to get done, or the distractions of technology. Travels also provide a great opportunity for the entire family to unplug and just focus on bonding with each other!

Traveling together create closeness and shared moments which cannot be replicated back home.

Introduce the World to them

Traveling with young kids introduces them to new sights and sounds which they might not experience back home. It exposes them to different foods, cultures and people; and helps them to understand that the world is so much more than the home that they grow up in.

During our Perth trip when he was 1 year old, that was the first time Travis experienced a different kind of weather (it was 17 degrees Celsius) from what he was used to in Singapore. On that same trip, we did his first farm stay where he fed chickens and ducks and sheep every morning. During our New Zealand trip when he was 2 years old, that was the first time when Travis saw snow-capped mountains. On the same trip, he touched and fed alpacas, and went on a hike into a forest. During our Melbourne trip when he was 3 years old, he took his first ride around a farm in a tractor. On the same trip, he went fruit picking and bit into lemons and oranges straight off their branches.

These are experiences that cannot be taught in a traditional classroom. These are experiences that cannot be replicated back home.

It helps to make kids more adaptable and flexible.

Traveling will definitely take kids out of their usual routine and structure. And it is an important lesson to help kids deal with the unpredictable. They will also learn how to deal with situations and be more patient. The waiting time at immigration might take hours, planned activities might be canceled or postponed because of the weather, the hotel room might be smaller than expected etc.

Travels, hence, provide great opportunities to build resilience in these younger generations where more often than not, things might be handed to them on a silver platter many a times.

It creates culture and diversity awareness.

Documentaries or books can only explain so much about a culture until you surround yourself with it. Traveling to places outside of your hometown can vastly teach the kids what it’s like to live in someone else’s shoes.

Interacting with different people from different countries during travels also teaches them that not everyone in this world looks like them. There are different races and nationalities all around the world. It’s a great way for them to experience and embrace diversity.

It supports cognitive development.

Psychologists have explained that when traveling with children, certain areas (the play and seeking system) in the brain are activated and trained, which are less active at home. The play system is activated, for example, when children feel the sensation of sand under their feet, splashing with their parents in the pool, or even bouncing on dad’s back at the beach. The seeking system is activated for instance, as soon as children discover new things in nature.

During travels, this play and seeking system is highly activated because of all the new sights, sounds and smells around the children. These triggers are very important for children’s cognitive development.

It enhances learning beyond the classroom.

Hands-on learning is the way to get any kind of real-world information to stick with anyone. So imagine, with traveling, you’ve got the best learning tools surrounding you and your kids. From hiking the Rocky Mountains to exploring the Grand Canyon, no textbook or TV show can describe the smells of the Washington forests or the feeling of the Grand Canyon rocks like actually being there to experience it themselves.

Being in a small city like Singapore, there are many things which you can teach in a classroom. But it will never beat experiential learning, especially for young kids. What better way to learn about the 4 seasons than to visit a country during one of those seasons? What better way to learn about animals (which cannot be seen in Singapore) than to visit a country with those? What better way to learn about Mother Nature than to take hikes through forests?

Tips for traveling with young kids

Undoubtedly, traveling with young kids can be really exhausting, and at times, pretty stressful too. Before our very first trip with Travis when he was one year old, we were feeling quite nervous. We had tons of questions in our minds: “What if he falls sick overseas?”, “What if he keeps crying on the flight?”, “What if he’s not accustomed to the weather or food there?” etc.

After 7 trips with Travis across 3 years, I’ve developed some personal tips of my own, which I would love to share with all of you!

Tip #1: Be Prepared

It’s essential that you are fully prepared for situations where your child might fall sick or get injured. We always pay a visit to our pediatrician about 1 month prior to the trip. During that visit, we get Travis a flu vaccination (if needed) and request our pediatrician to pack a bag of medicines for our trip.

The medicines which she usually packs for us include paracetamol (for low grade fever), brufen (for high grade fever), and medication for cough, running nose, vomiting and constipation. Along with these, we also pack in motion sickness medication, over the counter nasal spray, a thermometer and vitamins.

And don’t forget about the first aid kit! Our first aid kit includes alcohol swabs, antiseptic lotion, tons of plasters, mosquito repellent, after-bites cream, lotion to ease bruises, baby Vicks and an ointment to relieve bloatness or gassy stomachs.

Tip #2: Pack sufficiently but smartly

When it comes to packing for young kids, it’s always better to over-pack than to under-pack. Check the weather of the destination you’re going to, and pack sufficiently and appropriately for it. Not sure if it will get too cold? Throw in a couple more sweaters. It doesn’t hurt to have extra clothing especially if you’re going to a place which is cooler than Singapore.

To pack smartly, I use packing cubes for Travis’ items:

- 1 packing cube for all his clothes

- 1 packing cube for his bedtime routine (pyjamas, a small blanket, his soft toy)

- 1 packing cube for his bath time (body wash and shampoo, lotion, wipes)

- 1 packing cube for the small items (socks, underwear, hats, gloves)

- 1 packing cube for meal times (food scissors, disposable table mats, face wipes, hand sanitizer and snacks)

Having these packing cubes makes it more efficient in packing and unpacking with every accommodation that we move to during the trip, and it’s also easier to grab what is needed.

Tip #3: Plan for the flight

What is the most stressful part of a trip? With no doubt, most parents would answer “the flight!” How crazily stressful is it, if you have a baby crying non-stop, or a toddler who is throwing tantrums onboard, or a preschooler who just would not sit still!

No matter how short or long your flight is, plan for it! Pack a carry-on bag with all the items which you need just for the flight. We use an overnight duffel bag for this. What are some of these items I’m referring to?

- Extra set of clothes (in case your kid throws up, or spills his food or wets his pants).

- Ziplock bags (for those above reasons!)

- Medications for the flight if needed (I always bring motion sickness medicine onboard because Travis does experience motion sickness during turbulences)

- Snacks

- Thermos flask of hot water

- A small soft toy

- Soothers if you are bringing a baby (baby carriers, pacifiers etc)

- Entertainment (stickers, colouring book, his favourite toys etc)

I have recently designed a travel journal for him which I will be bringing along for our upcoming trip! The travel journal template is free for you to download (click here), and customizable for any destination you are going to!

Tip #4: Be flexible with itinerary

I’m a stickler for planning, and so when things do not go as planned, it really makes me extremely exasperated! But being a mom of 2 has obviously taught me a thing or two about going with the flow now.

We still have planned itineraries, but we’ve learnt to be so much more flexible with it! There would be days when the kids are crankier or more exhausted than usual. On these days, we cut back on our activities so we can have a more slow-paced day. This goes a long way to ensure that the entire family continues to have fun and enjoy the rest of the trip.

Tip #5: Include buffer days into the itinerary

What do I mean by buffer days? These are extra days you insert into your itinerary with no plans whatsoever. We usually insert a buffer day for every 4 days of planned itinerary.

What do we use these buffer days for? We use them to just rest and relax, or to have a slow day exploring the area or hood we’re staying with. Or in the event where our previous 4 days of itinerary turned out to be too packed or exhausting for us, we have this one buffer day to spread out our plans.

These buffer days have proven to go a long way for us especially when we are traveling for more than a week!

Tip #6: Airbnbs over hotels

At one of our Airbnbs where a high chair was provided upon our request

We had been staying in airbnbs for every trip we went with Travis. More often than not, airbnbs provide fully functional kitchen (complete with stove and refrigerator), washing machine and large toilets. A kitchen is very useful if you need to prep meals for your kid who is too young to be eating outside food. Having a washing machine also helps if you did not bring enough clothes to last the entire trip. We all know that a young kid is extremely capable of going through 3-4 changes a day!

I also love airbnbs for the sheer space they provide. They are apartments so the area you have for the kids to run around definitely beats that of a small hotel room! Prior to the trip, we will email the airbnbs we are interested in to check the following:

- Do you have a full kitchen?

- Do you have a washing machine?

- Do you have bathtubs, cots and high chairs for kids?

There were times when the Airbnb hosts actually went out to buy a bathtub or high chair for us (at no extra charges). And if the airbnb apartment happens to belong to a family with young kids, they usually have toys too!

Tip #7: Introduce your “new” homes

The very first Airbnb we stayed at during Travis’ first trip (he was 1 year old), he cried non-stop for 2 hours from the moment we stepped into the Airbnb. He also didn’t sleep well that night. Needless to say, he was really cranky the next day too.

We then realized that introducing the new “homes” to him every time we enter an Airbnb helped him transition into the unfamiliar environment. We would bring him to each section of the apartment to explain to him what it is (referencing back to our own home), and talk to him about the activities which will be carried out in that section.

”Here’s the living room. It looks like what we have back home, just slightly smaller. You can play with your toys here or read your books here.”

”Here’s the bedroom. This is where you will sleep at night with Mummy and Daddy. Isn’t the bed bigger than what you have at home?”

”Here’s the toilet. This is where you will take your shower. I know you’re not used to the shower head because that’s not what we used at home. But I will be here showering you as well, just like how we do back home.”

Tip #8: Bring something familiar from home.

This is important in helping them transition into the unfamiliar environments they are in, especially for bedtime.

We usually pack in his bolster, and get him to choose one soft toy to bring along.

Tip #9: Do not skip the daytime naps!

Believe it or not, but in the 7 trips we’ve had with Travis which total up to >70 days, we have never ever once skipped his afternoon nap.

Back home, he naps 1-3pm Everyday. During travels, the timing of his nap is not always fixed at 1-3pm, it really depends on how our plans for the day are like. It’s also not always a full 2 hours, it varies between 1 to 2 hours.

But we always, always, factor in nap time into our plans. We would usually break up our plans for the day into 1st half and 2nd half, and would go back to our accommodation in the middle of the day just for him to nap. There are times when we do road trips, and he would nap on the car instead.

And trust me when I say, these daily naps (whether it’s an hour or 2), makes a huge difference to how smooth your vacation will go!

Tip #10: Fix the bedtime routine.

As much as you can, DO NOT change the bedtime routine! If your kid can’t sleep well at night, your trip is more or less down the drain. There’s nothing worse than having a cranky and tired kid during travels!

Our bedtime routine back home for Travis is: shower, change into pyjamas, drink milk, brush teeth, read a few books, lights out. And we follow the exact same sequence every single night during our trip.

This helps to retain a sense of familiarity for the kid despite the unfamiliar environment he is in. It also helps him realize that despite a change in environment, there’s a part of his routine which is constant and it helps him settle into the night after an entire day of possible over-stimulation.

Tip #11: Engage help if needed!

Grandpa and Grandma on our trip when Travis was 3 years old
If you are still feeling anxious about traveling, or if you’ve had a really bad experience previously, then engage help!
Bring along your helper. Ask grandparents along! Do a family trip with friends who have young kids too so you can all help out with each other’s kids.
We typically travel alone with Travis with no additional help. But during our last trip to Australia when Travis was 3 years old, I was 2 months pregnant, feeling really exhausted all the time and experiencing terrible morning sickness. So we got Grandpa and Grandma along with us to help us with Travis and to spend some quality time with him on the trip!

 

Tip #12: Choose a kids-friendly destination for your first trip!

Start small if it’s your first trip with young kids. If it’s their first plane ride, you do not want to be going on it with them for 12 hours!

Below are some of the factors you might want to consider when choosing the destination for your very first trip:

- Number of flight hours

Choose a destination with a reasonably short number of flight hours. Our very first trip with Travis was to Perth which is a 4-hour flight from Singapore.

- Time difference between Singapore and the destination

For our first trip, we wanted a country with minimal time difference so it’s easier to ease him back into his schedule when we’re back in Singapore. It also helps to reduce any jet lag which could potentially occur. We went with Perth because there was zero time difference between Singapore and Perth.

- Degree of ‘kid-friendliness’ 

By kids-friendly, I am referring to the number of nursing rooms around, the high chairs offered at the restaurants, is breastfeeding supported (if you breastfeed in public), is it easy to get kids medication from the pharmacies if needed, is the place hygienic and clean? Will there be a serious language barrier if the need occurs to bring your child to a doctor in the country?

- Weather

Is it too cold or too hot? Will the kid be comfortable? Is your kid prone to coming down with a flu or running nose? We tend to travel to places with cooling weather (in the range of 15 to 24 degrees Celsius), because Travis gets really cranky when the weather is too hot or humid for him.

Those are my 12 tips for you! I hope they help, or at least give you some courage to take that first trip with your young child(ren) if you haven’t!

I promised a travel journal template, so here it is (click here to download)! This template is customizable for any destination you might be going, and is great to help you and your child log your travels together.

If you have any other tips on traveling with young children, do share with me so I can share with the mommy community who’s following me on social media too!

1 comment

Oct 04, 2019 • Posted by Sabrina Theng

Can share your itinerary? Where is a good place to start off for 1.5 -2 years old toddler? Thanks in advance!

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