So we just returned this month from our first holiday as a family of five. Hooray! I'm pretty sure that many parents travel with their kids too, at least we know many of our friends and fellow bloggers in Singapore do. Thus, I was a little amused that we received so many comments along the journey on how amazing we are to be travelling with three kids, with the youngest baby being just five months old. From the airport custom officers and taxi drivers to our friends and even people we bump into on the streets and in the night markets, people were saying things like "Are all these kids yours?", "Wow, so many passports!", "I seriously don't know how you do it", "How can you survive being out for 12 hours a day?" and "You even brought this tiny little baby?".
Seriously, there's no big deal, right? In our case, it's simple. It's either we travel with all of the kids, or we don't get to travel at all. So obviously, we chose to go with the former.
That said, you have to understand that we spent the first few years of our parenting journey in Scandinavia - a place where you are told to just let your child drink Coke or eat ice cream if he is running a fever - which paved the way for our styles, beliefs and way of thinking. People who don't know us might think we are a little bit bochup; people who do know us will understand that we are the liberal, un-traditional kind of parents. After all, I was out and about in two days after giving birth, I made my girl do a snow angel and go on a dog sleigh when she was one year old, I pick up biscuits that have dropped onto the floor and pass them back to my kids, I let them try out food from roadside stalls, I make them hike through forests and I am totally okay if they go to bed past midnight.
So, when I say that I'm going to share some tips on travelling with young kids, I actually mean doing it the unorthodox way. No strict routines, not much rules, no stress, no fuss. Yes, if you need tips on what medication to bring, what travel insurance to buy, which family-friendly itinerary to follow, which online websites to book tickets, you can just google or read other family blogs because I don't know much about all these. What I'm going to share with you is how we do it in our family, how we travel with young kids in a rather Zen way and have a simple, happy and carefree holiday.
1) Be flexible
The number one rule is to be flexible and know how to adapt. This means that you usually do not follow strictly to an itinerary but instead play by ear. It all depends on whether it's raining or sunny, whether you have as much time as you thought you would, whether (any of) your kids get cranky halfway through, whether something better comes along, whether a place interests you or your kids so much that it becomes worthwhile to forsake visiting another. Don't take it too hard if you end up setting foot in one out of the three places that you (you, not your kids) badly wanted to; do your best to make that one visit count and have a blast.
2) Forget routines
Our friend, a dad of two kids, told us that he follows strictly to routines and nap times, thus it has become impossible for them to travel as they only have 2-hour pockets of time before they need to find a place for the kids to rest and sleep. Okay, I get it. Routines are in place for a reason - they let the kids get accustomed to timings, thrive on better quality rest and in turn make life easier for the parents. But when it's during the holidays, we totally forget about routines (not that we have a strict one in the first place). We let them skip their naps but we also let them sleep on the go if they want to, we let them stay up late to watch cartoons but also wake up slightly later to have breakfast, we remind ourselves as long as everyone is having fun and things are going well, we'll eventually adjust and deal with routines later on.
3) Bring a baby carrier or stroller
This is crucial to us because like I said, we let our kids sleep on the go and literally anywhere. The infant will be warm (actually, I do mean hot and perspiring) and snug in the baby carrier when he needs to doze off and the toddler can take a rest in the stroller when she needs to. Well, we've taken our buggy across mountainous terrain and snowy landscapes, but there are times when we forgot to bring it or simply decided that we don't want to lug it around. In those times, you have to once again be flexible and if the kids really need to take a rest, we've tried letting them catch some rest in hotel lobbies, taxis, trains, in the rented car and even restaurants too. A power nap can work wonders but it doesn't have to always happen on the bed.
4) Never grumble to your spouse
It's hard enough travelling with young kids, it will be even harder if your other half starts to grumble, make complaints or become bad-tempered during the journey. Remember that both of you are not having it easy and it would be impossible to always expect a fair 50/50 distribution of workload. If one is better at reading maps and navigating in a foreign land while the other is better at making milk and soothing crying kids, let it be. One important thing is to find time to talk to each other and enjoy the holiday as a couple too, not just be slaves for the kids.
5) Let the kid indulge
Now this is quite straightforward, Happy Kids = Happy Parents. We try to keep our holidays quite kid-centric though we also do things here and there that will make ourselves happy. If my big girl wants to go on the viking and sit in the last row, I'll accompany her (by the way, I almost screamed my head off). If my little girl wants to go on that scary roller coaster which she barely reached the minimum height, and requests to sit on it not once not twice but thrice, by all means. If the baby keeps eyeing that piece of watermelon or steamed pumpkin that the sisters are eating at the restaurant, no harm to just let him try a little, right? One thing we've achieved over the years is that the kids sort of know how to give and take - meaning that we do kiddy stuff with them and they in turn do more adultish stuff with us. While we are happy to accompany the kids on the ferris wheel, meet mascots and take them on pony rides, they are equally happy to watch movies (not animated ones), hang out at cafes and go shopping with us too.
6) Pack the essentials but keep it light
I realise that what goes into one family's luggage can vastly differ from another, depending on your habits, your kids' needs, your kids' ages, your kids' hobbies, the climate you are visiting and so on. Here is a list of our travel packing checklist. As best as we can, we try to keep our luggage light so that it makes it easier to move from place to place. I usually pack in more than enough outfits for the kids because we tend to go out alot and they often soil their clothes or reek of insect repellent. I also make sure we have some colouring or drawing materials to keep them occupied during flights and mealtimes. No iPads or phones for now, thank you.
7) Learn to close one eye
You have to tell yourself that "It's okay" when something unexpected occurs and learn to give the kids, and yourself, some leeway when on a holiday. And you know what, more often than not, it's really, really okay. Once in a while, it's okay to let your child roll in mud, play in the rain, swallow some sand, eat a dropped biscuit, have salty fries or a couple of candies. I mean, unless the child has allergies or medical conditions, if not I think there is no point in losing your top or making sure that everything goes perfectly in the way you want it to be. It is not a big deal if your kids end up missing the parade, if they are not able to meet and greet their favourite character, if you don't manage to explore every trail or if your whole family ends up with bites from a walk through the forest. Always open one eye so that you are aware, but learn to close the other so that you don't become too narrow-minded. When you encounter lousy service or a substandard hotel breakfast, don't let it affect your positive spirits, laugh it off and move on. If the hubby forgets to load the stroller or when you realise you did not bring your phone charger, do what you can and let go of what you can't. As long as the family stays together and the kids are safe and sound, that's most important.
8) Remain calm even when things go wrong
It's funny that no matter how much you plan, things can, and things will, go wrong one way or another. The hubby and I don't really have a plan when we go overseas. I mean, we do book the air tickets and accommodation beforehand but that's basically it. As for where to go, how to go, what to explore, we usually decide when we arrive. I think I'm lucky to have a hubby who is exceptionally calm (his heart beats slower than most people), is never paranoid and doesn't worry about the things he cannot change. During our trip to Taiwan, he caught a cold, the toddler got bitten by sandflies which in turned swelled up and caused an allergic reaction, and the baby developed a fever and a flu. People will probably think we are the lousiest parents because not only did we not have any medicine with us, we also didn't bring them to the doctor or pharmacy but instead continued hiking the next day from morning to night. These were our kids you are talking about and obviously the last thing I want is for anything nasty to happen to them. Nonetheless, as their parents, we knew that the situation was not too serious (we would have gone to the clinic if things didn't improve after a couple of days) and were confident that we could get through it, so we didn't do anything but instead let their bodies' immune systems combat the viruses on their own. Whenever things go wrong, be it kids falling sick, missing your flight, getting lost, the key is to remain calm, decide on your next course of action and march on with a hopeful heart and positive attitude.
9) Practice makes perfect
If you don't get it right the first time, do it again. And again. If travelling with kids the first time turned out to be a total disaster, don't be afraid to try again. If you are outnumbered by the kids and feel like you are about to give up, don't. Practice does make it better and we all need time to get into the swing of things. So do the kids. Think about it, if you don't travel with the kids when they are young, are you going to wait till they turn 20 before doing so? Would they still look forward, and have time to attend, every family trip? Will you still have the energy to run around? Will their eyes still light up at every slightest wonder? Well, you might still be travelling with them once in a while, but you will no longer, no longer be able to turn back time and wished that you had brought them to explore the world when they were little and when their world revolved around you.
10) Capture the memories
Honestly, I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. It doesn't make me scared or nervous, but it does make me want to make full use of today. Kids are only young once so while you can, capture these priceless memories of being with your kids in their growing up years. I don't just mean whipping out the camera and taking a digital copy every five minutes. While that is important to many of us parents, never forget to savour the moment with your heart during the vacation and remember this warm and fuzzy feeling called family bliss even when you are old.
So, this is how we do it and have a happy holiday with three kids in tow. I'm not saying it's good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, but this is just how we roll and this is what works for us. No matter what, parents should really try not to judge other parents and what works for one might not work for another. You just have to find the rhythm that suits your family best. Well, I'm just glad we are slowly but surely building up our Travelogue! Till the next travel related post!