GCCjr recently achieved the ripe old age of 16 months. By coincidence, he also recently visited his 16th country. (Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Vatican City, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, UK, Ireland, Iceland, US… Taiwan apparently is not a country.)
At current pace, he should be able to visit all 195 countries of the world by the time he is old enough to drive, making him the youngest person ever to achieve that milestone. But accumulating passport stamps just for the sake of passport stamps isn’t a goal, so our pace is likely to slow. Still, he’ll probably be a full member of the Traveler’s Century Club.
When we first started traveling with the little guy we didn’t really know what to expect. Based on the numerous questions we’ve received during the past year, it seems many others are in the same boat. So here are some thoughts on traveling with kids based on 16 countries worth of experience.
Thoughts on Traveling with Young Kids
I imagine every child is different, and some will travel better than others. Kind of like adults. And of course their wants and needs change with time. Plans that work well with toddlers probably need some adjustment over time.
GCCjr is a natural traveler, likely in part because it is all he has ever known.
He is quick to smile with adults, will shake hands when meeting new people, and walks right up to other children to give them toys, asking them to play. There are very few situations where he feels uncomfortable… crowds, heights, big dogs… it’s all great. Well, everything except clowns…
He loves being outside and will hand us his shoes if we are taking too long to get ready in the morning. When we arrive at a new hotel or Airbnb ($25 free with 1st stay) he will wander off to explore the place and report back with any interesting finds.
He loves airplanes, elephants, and horses. If there is a photo, painting, or sculpture of any of these in the room somewhere, he will let you know with an elephant trumpet or horse whinny. Every time he sees an airplane in the sky he points and yells “fei ji, fei ji!” (飛機 飛機, airplane in Chinese)
He is a happy, healthy, thriving kid. Travel and adventure suit him. This is what we do to keep it that way:
More Direct Slower Travel
As two carefree adults we have experienced long overnight bus trips, red eye flights with inhuman connections, boat trips that twisted our intestines inside out, and single days with all of the above. Those days are behind us.
We now try to limit travel time in a given day to just a few hours, and do our best to align travel time with nap time. 6 am flights are eschewed in favor of noon departures. This limits the number of miles and time zones we can cover in any given day, but there is no rush.
Trips that might involve several connections or multiple forms of transport are avoided, at least in one go. Rather than spend 2.5 days to get from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos, for example, we decided to fly 60 minutes direct to Southern Thailand instead. Laos can wait until they invest in better infrastructure.
Direct and short distance travel isn’t always an option, but we can still take steps to make getting from A to B as efficient as possible. For our 16 hour flight from Asia to Europe, we booked business class seats using frequent flier miles, and chose a midnight departure for easy sleeping on the flat bed seats. Jr slept most of the flight. For our upcoming 14 hour fright from LA to Taipei, we booked GCCjr’s first dedicated seat, even though he still qualifies as a lap carry infant. Zzzz…
On occasion we have been known to arrive at a random destination with no plan and no reservations. We would just book something when we arrived and figure things out as we went.
With a young child we don’t want to arrive in the middle of the night with no place to sleep, so we have accommodations sorted before we arrive. When we departed for our European trip earlier this year, we had booked our arrival flights to Portugal and our departure flights from Iceland to the US. We also had 3 nights booked at an Airbnb in Lisbon. The 4 months in the middle were unplanned. Where do you want to go today?
A 3rd person does expand our packing list a bit, but by less than you might think. A long trip is really nothing more than a series of individual weeks, so a week’s supply of clothes is all that is required. At present size, nearly all of our baby clothes are about the size of two of my T-shirts.
Although we could probably do it if we tried, we don’t try to travel with carry on only luggage. Walking through an airport with a child is enough exercise for one day without having to lug baggage as well. This sometimes results in a few extra dollars of baggage fees, but nothing worth worrying about.
Daily Use Items and Other Stuff
We’ve seen parents bring two full sized suit cases to a beach in Thailand just to hold a month’s supply of baby food, diapers, wipes, and formula. Children go through an ungodly number of these things.
We had only a few days supply, so we just walked across the street to the grocery store and restocked. It turns out there are babies born in Thailand too. Globalization means everything we’ve needed is available everywhere. (We figured this out when Jr lost two left shoes in two days in Madrid.)
Moral of the story: pack light.
Routine in the Absence of Routine
There are very few constants while traveling, so we take steps to provide a routine. The main constant is ever present parents; Mom and Dad are always near.
Within any given day, there are repeating patterns such as our bedtime ritual. A bath and bathtub songs, a bottle, brushing of teeth, and bedtime stories and songs wrap up each day. Only after Jr falls fast asleep do we make time for ourselves.
The combination of parental presence and routine provides a strong sense of security and comfort. Jr is a pretty chill little dude.
Snacks & Meals
Mom keeps Jr on a fairly strict diet of natural foods, which means many of his meals are made at “home.” Restaurant meals can be heavy on oils, salt, and seasonings, so we seek out simple preparation of quality ingredients using staples such as rice, fruit, veggies, and meat & fish. This usually mean’s avoiding the children’s menu.
For snacks, broccoli and asparagus are Jr’s absolute favorite foods, followed by berries and grapes. These are all easy to prepare and transport. Often before we go out for a big day, we fill some small containers with sliced fruit and steamed veggies and bring a container of puffs. We also always have water.
Incidentally, many Starbucks across Europe will give a free steamed milk for the kiddo, but it is hit and miss.
When we leave “home” we always have a plan for nap time.
Ideally we can return to our apartment or hotel to get a light nap or just to take a break. This allows us to nap together so we are all equally fresh and recharged.
Since napping at home is not always practical, a reclining stroller with a jacket or blanket draped over the top to keep out the light makes a great snooze box.
Exercise is a huge help to make sure nap and bed time go off without a hitch.
Toys & Entertainment
Toys of all shapes and sizes have been tested and scrutinized by our young boy, but they are all just passing fads. The toys he currently favors all pack small, such as his toy trucks and planes, stack and roll cups / balls, and wooden animal magnets.
But his true loves are rocks and sticks. He can pass hours casting stone after stone into a small stream, and every short stroll is greatly improved upon by dragging a small stick alongside. Sand boxes and beaches are also great fun, as are slides and swings.
Fortunately, rocks, sticks, sand, and playgrounds are everywhere. Not a day passes where we don’t spend time with one or all of them.
At this stage, learning is largely focused on language, getting up and down the stairs, and self feeding. I’m really excited for the day he wants to use the potty by himself.
We read everyday, sometimes for just a few minutes but usually much longer. Often we’ll read the same book, once in English and again in Chinese. A family favorite is The Very Hungry Caterpillar aka 好餓的毛毛蟲.
We’ll add Writing and Arithmetic to the curriculum when it seems right.
Routine medical needs due to the common cold and other childhood illnesses can be managed fairly easily at home. Rest, time, fluids, books, and some cuddles go a long way. Cancel the dinner reservations and hang out at home instead.
For scheduled vaccinations, they can be done in any modern hospital (they are all modern hospitals.) To date we’ve done all of these in Taiwan, but we wouldn’t hesitate to get vaccinations done in any country we’ve visited.
For emergency care, immediate needs would be handled at the nearest possible hospital. Jr is covered by his own travel insurance policy.
Parents across the globe are all trying to figure out this parenting thing, and have shared many observations with us about GCCjr. They often assume he is older than he really is because of maturity and level of comfort in many situations.
While some like to point out that “he won’t remember any of it”, the truth remains that his personality and world view are being shaped and molded by his experiences. In simple terms, he seems to grasp well that people are nice, all foods are worth trying, and being outside and exploring are the best.
Certainly not an exhaustive list of ideas, but these practices have been working well for all three of us.
Do you have tips for traveling with young kids?
To close, an obligatory gushing parent photo collage of the world tour:
Koh Lanta, Thailand
Blue Lagoon, Iceland
Seattle, WA, US