by Eric Pateman
As someone who has spent a lifetime travelling and hits the road around 275 days a year, I feel almost more comfortable sleeping on airplanes than in my own bed (almost, but not quite!). While travelling solo, I can dart past lines with Global Entry and my status card and use lounges and long flights to catch up on work and sleep, but that all changes when travelling as a family of five!
This past winter, my wife and I took our three girls, aged 10, 9 and 6, travelling for more than two months on over 15 flights through five countries, including New Zealand, Australia, India, Fiji and Singapore.
Now that we are back and recovered, we enjoy reliving our adventures through our photos and stories. Many a dinner table discussion has centered around what we learned from our travels. Everyone seems to have many things that they remember fondly, but there are also memories of things that did not go as smoothly! My wife and I certainly took away different things from the trip – here are tips for travelling with kids and each other!
- Give Back – One of the opportunities that this particular trip provided our children was to understand how fortunate they are to be Canadian. I believe travelling is a chance for our children to reflect on their good fortune and give back to society, exercise empathy and discover how they can make a difference. The children saw people living on downtown Auckland streets and asked us to buy a few extra meals packed “to go” to share with them on our way home. After visiting a village school in central India and seeing no art supplies, they decided to leave behind their pencil crayons with the 15 students there who had no desks.
- Cultural Learning – Travelling is about learning. We are very fortunate to live in a school district where the teachers encourage our girls to travel and understand the benefit of it. We, as parents, need to also ensure the learning happens when we are away – both in keeping the children caught up with their peers at home and taking advantage of the wealth of learning opportunities in the new country, culture or environment that we visit that day. In our case it looked like math homework in the morning and then a sugar cane factory in the afternoon or spelling tests and then flying kites with local children, or a day wandering local markets and then cooking in people’s homes – the opportunities to learn are endless, but it was our responsibility to facilitate them.
- Travel Smart – Take advantage of early boarding with kids, skip as many lines as possible, take advantage of lounges (if you have access) and ALWAYS have everyone use the bathroom (whether they say they have to or not) before you board, and always go again before leaving an airport and being transported to your hotel (places like India can take a VERY long time to go short distances).
- Lots of Rest Time –This one was challenging for me as I usually explore a new city from dawn to dusk and I am always on the move when I’m on my own. With children, however, I quickly had to change my mindset. Long travel days and jet lag are tough for any traveller, let alone those in the 10-and-under set. We scheduled afternoon naps and later starts to our days and maybe only saw a fraction of what I might have done on my own, but the reward was enjoying it with a happy crew!
- Give Kids a Camera – Children are inquisitive and have a different perspective on the trip (in many cases because they are looking at it without jaded eyes and also from about two feet lower down). Let them capture what they are seeing and what they think is important – it will also allow them to relive the trip through their own eyes when you return and create their own photo book.
- Journal Every Day – We were encouraged by the girls’ teachers to have them journal their trips. The bonus is that it is a great way for the kids to remember things – especially when they are young and on such a big adventure! Journals can be traditional and handwritten (which also helps with spelling and grammar lessons), or they can be digitized through dictation or videos. Whatever they decide, make sure you set aside time each day to do this.
- Always Provide Them Contact Info – Give your children contact info for you so they can always get a hold of you if you get separated – name, cell phone number, email address, local address – update this as you move locations.
- Don’t Let the Kids Wear a Watch – follow the time zone in the place you are – this will help them adjust better to sleep and eating schedules, especially if you are jumping around time zones a lot.
- Relax – You need to be able to go with the flow (this was the hardest one for me). Most of my business trips are uber-structured, but when travelling with kids you have to be more flexible and go with the feelings – some days will be off or down days (especially when travelling for weeks on end). Embrace it as a day off for you too!
- Make Sure Mom ALWAYS has her morning coffee – nuff said!
- Be Prepared – Try to anticipate the things that make them uncomfortable so you can either avoid the situation or nip it in the bud to make the trip pleasant for everyone, whether it was a long flight, long car or bus ride or a long day of sightseeing. When travelling, we are only as happy as our unhappiest family member, and small everyday problems seem so much bigger when we’re away from home! Something as simple as a package of mints to hand out to settle car-sickness or smelly places or boredom felt a little bit like mom magic.
- Backpacks with Activities – I had hoped that we could be “screen-free” travellers and had great (pipe) dreams that we would research and discuss our next destination while at an airport, but let’s get real. Honestly, tablets are such a great source of entertainment for long airport waits and flights with no in-flight entertainment. The girls each had “go bags” packed with books, colouring, games, comfort stuffies and journals which they used in hotel rooms and our house rentals, but I admit that the main source of entertainment was their tablets. My only rule: they could only be used at an airport or on the flight.
- Dress in Layers – Airplanes are always cold, especially on long-haul flights. And cold, uncomfortable children are not pleasant travel companions. From Fiji to Singapore, the girls walked on in summer clothes, but had socks and pants as well as a comfy sweatshirt stowed in their backpacks to stay warm on the plane. Once we got to hot and humid Singapore, off came the layers!
- Keep Everyone Well Fed and Hydrated – Sometimes there were really long days of travelling and meals got missed, something that we adults can take in stride, but not so much for the younger children. It made for a slower start to the day, but we always had a good breakfast and planned for lots of snacks and as many regular meals as we could manage. Kids with full stomachs have lots of energy to tackle long days of travel or sightseeing and are infinitely more pleasant! Most moms know this, but I always kept bars or crackers in my bag to hand out if I saw them flagging, and we always had water on hand.
- Travel Hospital – I always had a bag with me that contained bandages, anti-histamines, anti-nausea medication, pain/fever medication, anti-itch cream (you’d be surprised how much this came in handy), sunscreen, hand wipes and hand sanitizer so we could deal with all those little situations while we were on the go without having to stop at a pharmacy or head back to the hotel to the big first aid kit I carried around. I also kept a couple of bags and a 1/4 roll of toilet paper around just in case (this especially for our trip through central India, where western toilets with toilet paper were few and far between!)
- Let Them Choose The Activities – I included them in choosing the activity for the day in cities where we didn’t have scheduled tours. In the mornings after we finished our homeschooling, we would choose whether we wanted to walk down the beach for lunch or hop onto the bus to look for a bookstore and ice cream in a neighbouring town. As Eric said, the children have a different perspective in these new places and it was lots of fun to follow their lead on our daily adventures.
- Keep a Regular Daily Schedule – Every family is different, but I found that our children were happy, energetic and ready to explore, and we avoided melt-downs, by limiting consecutive late bedtimes and early mornings. Sometimes it couldn’t be avoided, so we would try to fit in an afternoon nap or at least some down time.
- Socialization – Life is not what you know, but who you know. Meet people from all walks of life – be social – it helps the children, and even us as adults, understand our place on this planet and develop networks and friendships that could last a lifetime.
- Choose a Trip to Fit the Ages of the Kids – I don’t think our epic trip through India and the long days of tiger safaris would have been much fun if the girls were under the ages of 7, but the beach holiday in Fiji and our time chilling in Australia and New Zealand would have been just fine.
- Take Candid Photos – I took lots of candid photos of our everyday hanging out rather than posed photos so we could remember what the house with the trampoline looked like or what kind of beach creatures we found. The girls also had an opportunity to take photos and this helped them remember the trip from their perspective as well.
About Eric Pateman
Eric is one of the world’s leading experts on Culinary Tourism and is one of our nation’s leading ambassadors of Canadian cuisine. He owns and operates the successful Edible Canada brand of companies, which includes an award-winning restaurant, retail stores and a culinary travel division. Additionally, Eric also has a salt company called Amola and a consulting practice that keeps him travelling around the world about 250 days a year for both public and private sector clients to define cuisines, build brands and shape the future of food. You can follow Eric’s global culinary adventures on his Instagram account @ericpateman.