Problems of travel with kids, oh yes, there are a few. Some consider them major problems, others, tiny inconveniences massively outweighed by the benefits. We are firmly in the second group or we wouldn’t be doing this crazy non-stop travel thing.
A reader asked me to write this post a long time ago, thanks Kellie, sorry for the delay, I’ve been busy travelling with kids, it’s pretty full on.
I think the main problems of travelling with children are very similar to those of normal daily life with children. As parents we all have to get used to being on-call 24-7, we’re used to that, we signed up for it. I don’t think it’s actually a bigger deal when you’re travelling than when you’re at home.
Here for the uninitiated, are a few problems of travel with kids, most will only be problems if you let them be.
Problems of Travel With Kids 1: Money
It costs a lot more for a family of four to travel than it does for singles or couples. But, outside of airfares, it’s nowhere near four times as much, so long as you’re careful and do plenty of shopping around for the best deals.
We all signed up to pay for them when we took the parenting job, no surprises here. There are ways to make your dollar go further when you’re packing a family.
- Go for a lower standard of accommodation, transport, food or entertainment. Pick whichever one is least important to you and slash the budget in that area. We know from personal experience that our kids don’t care if it’s a 5 star or a guest house. We’ll take the best value accommodation we can find and work hard at finding great deals, they do exist!
- Travel while they’re young. Under 2’s can fly free, younger children are more likely to stay for free in hotels and young children can often sit on laps on buses and trains, cutting ticket costs. They also don’t eat so much and free admission to attractions is a bonus.
- Visit cheaper destinations. We like to spend a lot of our time in Asia and keep trips to the west to a minimum. Within Asian countries, for instance Thailand, Bangkok costs more, somewhere like Kanchanaburi costs less, divide your time according to cost.
Problems of Travel With Kids 2: Health
You can stay at home worrying about Delhi belly or you can get out there, throw caution to the wind and see what the world brings you. Odds are you won’t get sick and neither will the kids.
I was worried that the kids would be more susceptible than us to all sorts of bugs. It turns out they’re not.
Tummy bugs are pretty common in Asia. In 6 months we ( the kids and I) have been fine. Chef had a nasty couple of days with high fever and diarrhoea in Luang Prabang, thanks to the terrible buffets. He ate it, stupidly, we didn’t.
The kids really haven’t had any major tummy problems at all, particularly not in Thailand.
The medical care we have received in Thailand has been of a great standard so far, Chef even had surgery. Likewise, in Guatemala and Malaysia we saw doctors we were very impressed by and Chef’s tooth extraction in Flores went well.
Dengue fever is my big worry, we have it back home in Australia, but not at the levels you’ll find in Asia. We think Boo (7) had Dengue in Vang Vieng. It wasn’t too bad, fever followed by vomiting, rash and aches. Children get it more mildly than adults. We went to the tiny local hospital, but lack of English meant we didn’t get a diagnosis.
Avoid mosquitos like the plague! If you do that you’ll cut your risk of a whole panel of diseases.
Problems of Travel With Kids 3: Worry
They could be lost, abducted or injured in all sorts of horrible ways, but they probably won’t be. People are mostly nice and have families of their own, people look out for kids all over the world.
I suffer from anxiety, if I can do this and stay sane, so can you!
Problems of Travel With Kids 4: Being Normal
Normal families have bedtime, mealtimes, routines and rules. Normal parents have jobs, responsibilities, me time and late nights. We’re not normal. Normal goes out the window when you travel with kids, everything works better if you ditch normal.
We have found it absolutely impossible 99% of the time to get the kids off to sleep while we’re still awake in the same hotel room. Our best ploy is to all go to bed at the same time and ,if we’re not tired but they are, read until we drop off.
Admittedly, children’s bedtime can spoil grown up fun when it’s just the four of you in one hotel room. Our way around it is simple, no rules, no routines. We sleep when we’re ready and get up when we’re ready.
We’ve shifted our adult schedule forward to match that of the kids. If we want a fancy dinner and a few drinks, we do it earlier in the evening so that we can all go to bed at the same time and the kids don’t get tired and fed up. We normally pick a restaurant on the beach or with some outside space so that they can play if we want to hang around with a couple more drinks. Places with pool tables are also a big hit with my two.
Lack of “couple time” and “me time” could be an issue for some, if you want it badly you can slot it in. My husband runs, that’s his me time. I’m not needy in that department at all, my early mornings on the computer are my solitary luxury.
The better quality and non-stop family time is a pretty good pay off.
Problems of Travel With Kids 5: Not Travelling Light
You can travel light with kids, it is possible (we don’t through choice). All of my boys’ clothes and small toys fit into their own 15L packs, way below hand luggage size. They have more changes of clothes than we do.
When we started this trip we were carrying a lot of educational materials, they really weighed us down. After chef’s surgery we ditched them to lighten our load but stuff has accumulated again since.
We could maybe downsize to carry on packs if we wanted to but I like having a few “school” books with us, I’ve bought new. Those and the electrical equipment, first aid kit, wash kit and Lego take up most room in my pack. I’ll carry the kids’ Lego gladly, they deserve to have some things that are important to them along on this trip.
Problems of Travel With Kids 6: Keeping Them Clean
You can get laundry done cheaply and quickly just about anywhere.
In Asia you trot along to your local laundry shop, price is normally based on weight, so the kids’ clothes cost nothing.You’ll get your clothes back, normally within 24 hours, clean, dry and neatly folded.
I hand wash the boys’ clothes a lot, they dry really quickly if you hang them indoors in air con or under a fan. Grown up clothes may not get as dirty, but they’re far more difficult to hand wash.
In the USA most motels had laundry facilities and, on occasion ,we’ve taken an apartment with a washing machine.
Laundry has never been an issue.
Showers and baths are easy, but sometimes on long travel days, children can get a bit grubby.
I still carry baby wipes for my 10 and 8 year old babies and hand gel is my friend for times of no water. You can buy both just about anywhere. We also carry tissues or toilet roll and a plastic bag or two for unforseen emergencies. Particularly on buses with no access to our main packs.
We had a vomit once in Laos, travel sickness on the windiest road in the world, we were very glad of the plastic bags. We’ve also been able to help out other, less well prepared, travellers. I sometimes become mum to the gap year backpackers too.
The best tip here is to just stop caring about being spotless, who needs it. They say dirt is good for kids.
Problems of Travelling With Kids 7: Vaccinations and Antimalarials
These days many of us wonder about possible toxic effects of vaccinations. Plenty of travelling families don’t vaccinate and survive just fine, plenty more go the whole hog and spend a fortune at the travel health clinics. I take the middle ground, the kids have the vaccinations I think are really necessary. Same goes for Chef and I.
You have to do what makes you comfortable, if you’re spending your whole trip worrying about what your kids might catch, you won’t be enjoying your time.
So far we’ve avoided taking antimalarials, we’ve very cautious about avoiding mosquito bites because of Dengue and we lived with vast swarms of mozzies back home in Queensland, so we’re fairly good at not being bitten. Residents in the countries we visit, local or expat, don’t take prophylaxis, so do we really need to? Again, this has to be a personal choice, what are you comfortable with?
I’ve posted about my journey to travel vaccine decision making in our travel health category.
Problems of Travelling With Kids 8: School Time
Here is a word for you : Deschooling.
Deschooling is the process of forgetting everything you were conditioned to think about the nature of education, what it is, how it happens and its need to be tested. It takes a while to change your thought pattern and I can’t cover everything here. Read up on unschooling and worldschooling (I wrote a post about worldschooling here). Homeschooling, if you take it to mean school at home, isn’t a great option for travelling families, it’s far too regimented and time consuming, check out the alternatives, they’re magical!
You will normally have to unenroll your children or risk being truant. In some countries you will need to register your kids as homeschooled, in others you won’t. Local and state regulations vary tremendously.
Problems of Travelling With Kids 9:Play Time
We find playgrounds, open spaces, other kids, beaches, trees and organised play facilities everywhere. We’ve never had any problem finding places to play.
Problems of Travelling With Kids 10:Finding Food
For us this is pretty easy, we have non-picky eaters and just one dairy allergy to accommodate. The dairy allergy is challenging, particularly as we like to avoid meat, but it’s do-able.
You will find shops selling western food almost everywhere if that is all your kids can face. Burgers, pizzas, french fries and yogurts could be your salvation. In Thailand there is a 7-11 every few paces, there are supermarkets and fresh produce stalls, there is street food, restaurants and night markets.
You’ll be able to find something, even if it’s only bananas, nobody will starve.
Problems of Travelling With Kids 11: Finding Accommodation
Rooms for 4, or harder still, 5 +, do exist, but they are way,way harder to find that singles and twins and they will usually cost you more.
The USA was the exception to this, all the motel rooms we stayed in had 2 double beds and there was no extra charge for 4 person occupancy.
Hostels would seem to be a good option, but we find that paying the full adult price for 4 beds usually works out more expensive that a cheap hotel room. We’ve only ever used a hostel once for that reason.
We look for children stay free if using existing bedding deals, sometimes kids right up to 12 years can get away with this. We share beds with the kids most nights, we do it at home anyway, it makes no difference to us, everyone is happy.
Asia has mostly been easy for allowing 4 of us to share a 3 or even 2 person room. It’s always easy to go to the hotels and guest houses in person rather than online. Rules can be bent in a person to person transaction and prices are usually lower.
Problems of Travelling With Kids 12: Long Transport Hours
We’ve spent days and nights on buses and trains. Mostly it’s been fine. The kids love sleeper trains and they’re usually OK on buses, they read and look out of the window. Planes hold no demons because of the luxury of in- flight entertainment and food, but budget airlines are less enjoyable.
I think it’s the adults who worry more about this stuff than the kids. The boys have quite often got chatting to people on the backpacker buses or if it’s really boring, they sleep. It’s been fine, honestly!
Problems of Travel With Kids 13: Family and Friends
We’re unusual in that we’ve never had a support network. We’ve never lived near family or friends because we move around so much. If you’re from a tight knit little group you may find it strange to be flying solo. For us it’s fine so I can’t help you much here.
We’re happy with our own company, but if we weren’t there is no difficulty in staying in touch through the internet. Install Skype, chat to your friends and show them where you are and what you’re doing through sound and pictures, for free.
In the olden days we used to have to make sporadic international phone calls and send postcards. Those days are long gone!
My boys occasionally say that they miss a particular friend back home, but it’s very rare. Mostly they’re too tied up in what they’re doing to think about things like that. They’re not interested in going back to Australia at all, they’re enjoying our new life, as are we.