Traveling with kids – it’s hard, but it’s worth it. Depending on the age of your offspring, the challenges vary, but as parents and travel experts, we have some insights on how to streamline a family vacation.
To share the things we’ve learned through years of experience planning – and taking – family trips in Asia, we created this step-by-step guide to help you enjoy the perfect trip with kids.
Taking tips from this guide, you’ll be able to plan a hassle-free family Asia vacation that will keep even the littlest travelers in your group enthralled.
Step 1 – Select your destination
As travelers with children in tow, there are certain destinations you’ll have to cross off your list. Anywhere too remote, rainy, cold or hot is likely to cause more anxiety for you than it’s worth. That still leaves you with plenty of choice though, even in the hottest, rainiest and most remote places in Asia.
We have said this before, but we think Asia is a great place for family holidays. Perhaps it’s because we know the region so well, but we see lots of reasons why Asia is family friendly. It’s got everything: big, modern cities, easily accessible wilderness, laid-back beaches, world-class hotels and resorts and well-developed travel infrastructure to tie it all together.
As long as your transfer times are minimized, your itinerary is tailored to your family’s needs, and the season you travel in is amenable to your desired activities, most major destinations in Asia will give you an enjoyable and exciting family trip.
It just takes some research and planning, so keep reading…
Step 2 – Health and safety
Your family’s health and safety is no doubt priority number one. No matter how footloose and fancyfree you were in your former kidless life, when you travel with children, suddenly access to a hospital or an English-speaking doctor looms foremost in your mind (especially if you’ve got children who inherited their parents’ daredevil genes.) Traveling in certain parts of the world might also expose you to diseases and parasites you don’t have to think about at home. Most of the time, these are easily prepared for with a trip to your GP and adequate research. While researching your shortlisted destinations, don’t forget to include:
- Airline and airport suitability for children. You probably have your favorite airline, but they may not have the swiftest transfers to where you want to go, and a 4-hour layover (or more) in a not-great airport might just break you before you even get to your destination. This is especially important when traveling with babies. Are there adequate nursing rooms in your terminal? Any toddler-friendly play areas? Does your plane have decent baby change tables? Can you secure a bulkhead seat? Official airport and airline websites won’t give you the insider info, but there are myriad mommy bloggers out there who have done the research for you. Also research things that might make your flight less painful, like something that can make them more comfortable.
- Required and recommended vaccines. The CDC lists suggested vaccinations for every country in the world. Malaria, hepatitis A and typhoid are the most common ones in Southeast Asia. The best and easiest way to guard against mosquito-borne diseases (especially if your child is normal and hates taking medicine) is to stay covered with clothing and insect repellent and to avoid being out at sunrise and sunset. For children over two months, the CDC says using products with DEET is not harmful. Remember that zika is present in some places, so if you’re planning more babies, those destinations are best avoided.
- Hospital proximity. It’s always prudent to know where the nearest hospital is while traveling. When you’re single, a smaller clinic in a remote town might be adequate, but with kids, having an English-speaking doctor and proper emergency room nearby can provide valuable peace of mind. In most major Asian cities, the quality of medical care is world class, with private JCI-accredited hospitals in most capitals. They’re not cheap, however, so make sure you have travel insurance. (NB: travel insurance doesn’t cover scooter accidents.)
- Domestic transportation. How do you get around in your chosen destination? Research how easy it is to find a reliable taxi, if there’s mass transit, how expensive it is to hire a private driver and how safe it is to, say, get on a provincial bus. In Vietnam, for instance, some taxi companies are known for scams. In Thailand, minivans are cramped and drive recklessly. In Japan, the underground is to be avoided during peak hours. Cars in developing countries may not have seatbelts. Every country will have its travel idiosyncrasies you should be aware of before you arrive. The only way to really avoid any unpleasant surprises is to get a reputable local company to arrange your transfers for you – at least the first time you travel with kids.
- Physical security and scams. There are security risks in every country, so it’s advisable to be aware of them. Some are fairly innocuous, such as being overcharged for a taxi ride, but others can really ruin your holiday (such as being charged thousands of dollars for a minute scrape on a jet ski). It also pays to be hyper aware of your environment when you travel. You can’t assume people will stop for you at a red light or pedestrian crossing. You should exercise caution when eating street food and drinks. You should obviously not flaunt cash or expensive items – including cell phones and tablets. Most beaches aren’t patrolled by a lifeguard. Many places – even luxury resorts – are far from baby proof. Do your due diligence before you go, and just be on your guard while traveling.
Step 3 – Ask an expert
If you’ve never traveled to your desired destination before, there’s no better way to prepare than by asking an expert. This might mean contacting a local blogger, finding local family groups or better yet, getting a reputable travel company to plan your trip. If you’re traveling to Asia, we are happy to help plan the perfect family-friendly vacation, based on the ages of your children and your unique travel desires.
There are many advantages to opting for a customized family trip designed by an agent, rather than planning and researching everything yourself.
What Backyard Travel offers families:
- Advise kid-friendly hotels and resorts. It’s difficult to get information about which properties have kids’ menus, splash pools, modern cribs, games rooms or even bathtubs, and time-consuming to research all these small but important things. An expert can find out for you straight away.
- Arrange all transfers. Including airport pick-ups and drop-offs, with an English-speaking driver. The car will have seatbelts and a baby seat, if required, plus refreshments. The driver will know exactly where to go using the fastest route and will drive safely. They’ll also wait for you and stop for toilet breaks when needed.
- Plan an itinerary with the shortest possible transfer times. Nobody wants to be waiting in an airport for three hours with small children, or racing to get the whole crew ready in the morning for an early flight. We also minimize your one-night stays, since unpacking and packing with an entourage is not something you want to do too many times. A knowledgeable agency knows how to plan around such things so the pace of your trip is just right.
- Source activities suitable for different ages. Toddlers and teenages obviously have different ideas about what constitutes a good time, and an agent can give you a list of activities to choose from that suits your children’s ages and interests.
- Organize EVERYTHING. Planning a holiday is daunting at the best of times, but with children it can seem like an insurmountable task. Leaving it all to an agency doesn’t mean you are surrendering your freedom of choice, on the contrary, it means you have more flexibility to do only the things that interest you. You get plenty of options without the headache of making a dozen different bookings in every destination. You can also opt to leave days free, with a self-guided itinerary from us as a suggestion. Children are unpredictable, so free time during your trip lets you be spontaneous – or just relaxed, if a lazy day relaxing at the hotel sounds like heaven to you.
- Keep you safe from tourist traps. Unless you want to go to tourist traps, in which case your agency can not only organize it, but get you there safely and easily.
- Interesting and unusual kids’ activities. Sure, anyone can recommend a waterpark or a trick-eye museum, but we source and design special programs for kids that are both fun and culturally enriching. For instance, treasure hunts in Beijing where kids need to find and buy certain traditional items; artisan workshops such as a silversmith session in Bali; kite-making; toddy plantations in Baga; farm visits in Cambodia, and trips to animal sanctuaries in Thailand. We also offer homestays, which totally immerse families in local culture, letting kids experience day-to-day life first hand.
Step 4 – Pack wisely
Only you know what’s going to work for you and your family. You’ll see a lot of advice online about packing light and just as much advice telling you to pack everything so you’re prepared for every scenario. While it’s true that traveling with a baby requires some extra baggage for diapers, bottles, changes of clothes, burp rags, swaddles, toys and so on, once you get to toddler age you can start to whittle down your list of essentials.
Things you might want to consider:
- Entertainment. Most parents are happy to distract their child with screentime while enroute to their destination. A tablet is light and portable and there are plenty of apps for all ages – download ones that don’t need Wifi to work. Coloring and/or sticker books are somewhat more messy to deal with, but worth it for older kids.
- Snacks. It doesn’t hurt to bring some familiar crackers or cereal.
- Security item. A blanky, plush toy or pillow.
- More clothes than you think. You don’t want to have to find a laundry or department store while on holiday and kids clothes roll up pretty tightly.
- Sunscreen. It’s hard to find in some countries and it’s just easier to bring it.
- Hats for everyone.
- A thermometer and baby acetaminophen or ibuprofen (usually more palatable than the former).
- Wipes. As a parent, you probably have these on you constantly anyway.
Here are some more tips from our experts.
With a newborn
- Get the bulkhead seat so you have the extra space. Even if your baby won’t sleep in the basket, you can store things there.
- Bring lots of burp rags. Consider bringing a change of clothes for yourself.
- Be prepared to remove the baby from the carrier on takeoff and landing – you will have to put a special baby seatbelt on.
- Think about getting one of these or these to save your arms.
- Breast milk and bottled water for formula are allowed on planes. Try to get baby used to drinking room-temperature or cold milk as it saves you from having to heat it every time.
- Bring warm clothes as the bulkhead seats are often colder than the rest of the plane.
- It’s noisier and there’s more traffic around the bulkhead, so you might want to bring a cover for the baby (and you) to get some privacy.
- Wear your baby in a carrier or a sling.
With an older baby
- This is possibly the worst age because they want to be mobile but aren’t easily entertained and also seem to pick up on your stress levels. Bring new toys, load colorful apps, walk around with them, bounce them, and importantly, fly when they are usually sleeping.
- Strollers are stowed for free with most airlines and can be brought all the way to the gate. Get an inexpensive umbrella stroller that’s light and easy to fold – one you can bear to get a scratch or two. Or get a fancier one that fits in the overhead compartment.
- Think about getting a lap child a flight vest.
- A baby monitor. Enjoy dinner on your terrace while they sleep – it’s your holiday too!
- Bring a carrier that breathes. It can get hot walking around with a kid strapped to you all day. Consider attaching a clip-on battery operated fan to it, for both your sakes.
- Sippy cups and water bottles. You’ll probably lose at least one.
- Insulated bottle bags are useful and can be kept cool on the go with personal ice packs.
- Diapers are available everywhere, though can be harder to find in Japan.
- Formula and baby foods are also available, but it doesn’t hurt to take some with you for transit times. You might not always have time to go to a store.
With a toddler
- A back carrier is best for a toddler who likes to see where they’re going. Try a soft-structured buckle carrier that’s lightweight and breathable that you can put on with minimal fuss. Make sure it’s supportive enough for them to sleep in if you’re not going to stop for naps.
- An umbrella stroller is a prudent inclusion for napping on the go, but many countries in the developing world don’t have sidewalks suitable for strollers, so always bring a carrier with you.
- Bring their favorite snacks and water bottles.
- Schedule regular play time at local playgrounds or just in a safe, enclosed space.
- Stay in hotels and resorts with a splash pool so you don’t need to carry them the whole time in the adults’ pool.
- Bring some of their favorite lightweight toys for downtime in the room.
- Put them in the window or middle seat on the plane to help contain them.
- Bring plenty of clothes, sandal-type shoes and closed sneakers.
With kids four and up
- Keep them in the loop about what’s happening, it will help them get excited about the trip and also motivate them to not dawdle and complain when you’re in transit.
- Also ask them what they want to do and keep them involved in the planning process.
- Anticipate motion sickness, food aversions and animal allergies everywhere you go.
- Let them pack an entertainment and snack bag just for them.
STEPS TO AN AMAZING FAMILY HOLIDAY
- STEP 1: Make a shortlist of where you, as a family, want to go
- STEP 2: Set a budget
- STEP 3: Research: suitability for your children, weather during your planned travel dates, accommodation, transport in each destination, (or call your agent)
- STEP 4: Decide where you want to go based on all of the above
- STEP 5: Get passports and visas sorted out
- STEP 6: Book flights & hotels (and tours!)
- Travel documents (visa, hotel coupons, birth certificates, visa photos etc)
- Phones and tablets
- Power adaptors
- Pens (for arrival cards)
- Hand sanitizer
- Insect repellent
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- Card games
- Some local currency
If you have any tips or tricks to family travel, let us know in the comments. And if you’re inspired to plan a family trip, get in contact with us and our Travel Specialists will customize a family trip just for you.