19 April 2018, by Tan Li Lin
Ronald and I, with Lia, went to Japan during the recent Sakura season for 3 weeks.
Yes, that’s 21 days with Lia stuck to us (me) 24/7.
This trip marks the first of more to come where we explore a family+work lifestyle in different countries.
Lia is 1.5 years old now and while she’s at the age many kids join pre-school, Ron and I have decided to try out what homeschooling could look like. We’re hoping this lifestyle exposes her to more places, nature, animals, people, languages and cultures.
There are so many things I can write about the recent trip, but I’ve decided to share key observations about travelling with kids that I hope can change the perception of fearful parents, followed by some travel tips learnt from lugging Lia around 9 countries over the last 18 months.
Concern #1 “Travelling with kids is really difficult”
I’ve heard this from several new parents who hope to travel but get stopped by the worry that travelling with their baby/toddler is super troublesome.
It really has to do with expectations – the way we travel has to change from the way we used to without kids. To hope to travel the same way, or same intensity would be setting ourselves up for frustration!
I used to cram my holidays with the best eateries to visit, best sceneries to chase, and adventures like rafting or snorkelling or snowboarding (oh how I miss my freedom!).
Very early on (read the blog entry on our first trip with Lia) I’ve realised creating a loose schedule that allows flexibility reduces travel stress. Be prepared for contingency plans and unforeseen situations (like yourself or a child falling sick). More time means less scrambling and screaming at your kid(s) to “hurry UP!” which makes them upset and very fast escalates into everyone getting frustrated.
Have some key areas to visit, and be prepared to shuffle those around depending on the day’s situation. Take into consideration that you might not get to fully savour a slow meal, that you and hubby need to take turns doing things like massages or spas or time to clear emails; the partnership factor in place helps to lighten the burden whilst ensuring you all get to do some of what you love.
Get equipped – Important travel necessities are CLEAN WIPES, diapers, snacks and kid’s preferred mode of transport (stroller or carrier). Having what you need makes things way easier.
Taking into account your kid’s temperament – Don’t expect to cover much if your kid is active and needs to get off the stroller/carrier often; have things to occupy them during meals, or train and plane rides like books, snacks, snacks, snacks, toys, and every other safe thing within arm’s reach you can use to distract them.
Lia tends to always need to hold something in her hands, and knowing she can’t sit still during meal times, we’ve found that taking turns to distract and feed her while the other one eats works for us. It might take a few days or trips to get to know your child better.
Just don’t make the mistake of forgetting about their moods and then later on getting upset at them for ‘screwing up your plans’.
Concern #2 – “It’s a waste of money to bring them overseas; they don’t understand anything”
I’m an advocate of exposing children to as many experiences as possible.
They don’t comprehend the world like we adults do, but they do so in their own way, and it’s up to us to facilitate that learning. It’s an absolute joy to watch Lia get to know ‘ducks’ and ‘clouds’ and ‘dolphins’ and ‘trains’ beyond simply pictures in her books.
These new, stimulating experiences anchor their understanding of the world faster, and introduces them further into the mesmerising world of movement and sounds and relationships (like how dolphins interact with people).
For the rest of the trip, Ron and I talk constantly about these new interactions and it helps her build familiarity, like building her confidence in vocalising the words, or sounds.
Recently during swim class, Lia found a cheat way to swim – which was to not submerge her head(!). That changed when we went to the Zoo and we watched the Hippos over and again surface, take a breath and submerge. We stood there talking her through it, and asked her if she could be like the Hippo. Viola. Problem solved. Now, if she tries to be funny, we just ask her to be like a Hippo again, and it works!
The recent trip to Japan had both hot and cold days, and quick enough Lia could articulate if she was feeling cold, or hot. Being stuck at home in hot singapore, or an air-con room, wouldn’t have given Lia the exposure to weather – temperature, wind, rain and even snow! With more new things from the trip to talk about amongst everyone, the kid(s) will catch on and this speeds up their learning.
So travel has its benefits and is achievable with a slight shift in mindset.
Moving on, here are some tips to make your travel with kids easier and more enjoyable!
#1 – Indulge them a little
Being in a foreign place can stress them, and it gets worse when you’re stressed too from the travel lifestyle because they feel it, especially if you tend to take it out on them from time to time (I snapped at Lia more than I’d have liked to over the 3 weeks).
So give them more of what they like – snacks, iPad, phone home videos (Lia loves those) etc. Bring comforts from home to make them feel at ease, like their favourite toy, or books, or music.
When they are happy and occupied, you get more time for yourself. Don’t worry about ‘spoiling them’; kids tend to just adapt to the situation. Once they are back home, they sync back into their usual routine and forget about all those indulgences.
#2 – Change the pace of activities
Sometimes, Ronald and I would spend the whole day trying to cover our itinerary which results in Lia having to be strapped to us the whole day. Of course, it’s natural for her to get frustrated and want to explore on her own and play.
I’ve found that spreading out intensive sighseeing days with relaxed park or zoo days helps, and letting them spend time zipping around play areas or the occasional shopping mall you come across helps them to hit their ‘activity quota’.
#3 – Smart packing
Obviously, any type of Onesie (dress, jumpsuits, pyjamas) helps to reduce the baggage load. If you’re anal about matching clothes like me, pack several separates that can mix and match.
Kids clothes are easy to hand wash and dry so you can recycle them easily; however, young kids get their clothes dirty very easily too! So I tend to pack about 5-6 days worth of clothes which I’ve found to be enough to allow up to twice daily changes and 2 – 3 days in-between to get laundry done.
#4 – Have a chat with your spouse about how you are both going to make it work
On holiday, parenting is 24/7, so the usual routine of who does what might need to change up a little to ensure neither one gets burnt out and upset. This trip was particularly hard for me because we didn’t have my parents around to help out with Lia, and I had to spend lots of time cooking and doing laundry and cleaning the place and managing Lia, on top of sightseeing, so I barely had any time for myself.
Ron took her baths at night, and would spend 45 minutes splashing in the bath with her, giving me some time to recuperate and get my own stuff done. Ron was in charge of all the getting around (transport and directions) so I didn’t have to worry about logistics; I took care of food, comfort and Lia’s plans.
#5 – Get into a routine as much as you still can
Again, new places can stress kids. Keep what you can consistent and familiar. We did fixed breakfasts (at home, yogurt and biscuits/bread), lunch and dinner times. If we both skipped lunch, we’ll make sure Lia gets an Onigiri lunch (she loves those) still.
Night routine stayed the same – get “home”, rest, bath time, books, Chinese songs on Youtube and then milk and sleep. We kept the variable factors to morning or afternoon/evening sightseeing times we were out and about. Keeping their routine helps you predict better when they will get hungry, cranky, and/or nap (which is a perfect time for you to quickly go visit or eat where you want to!)
There is a beautiful world out there waiting to be explored. Go forth, with your little love one(s), and you’ll experience fulfillment like never before.
Lin Tan is an Entrepreneur and an Executive Coach who dedicated herself to others and her career, until family changed all that. Follow her blog on www.ilovechildren.sg and journey with her as ‘life after 30′ opened up a completely new chapter.