I’ve lived across the road from my gorgeous neighbourino Brigit for ten years but it’s really since we’ve had kids that we’ve become close. She is an amazing woman, a high powered HR exec and a real ‘get on with it’ type with a heart of gold and a smartass intelligence that has me hooting with hilarity. Everyone loves Brigit because she is the most positive, genuine, enthusiastic and lovely person to be around. She seriously upped herself in my opinion when she announced she was taking her little girl on a trip overseas. The idea of dragging my two screaming boys on a longhaul plane trip makes me want to crawl into a corner and flay myself. But like everything, Brigit took the trip in her stride and returned with some excellent tips for travelling, especially with little ones…. over to you Brigit!
Well, I’ve done a fair bit of travel in my time, living in France for a few months going to French school, hiking the Kokoda track and the Inca trail, the obligatory Aussie tour of Europe after uni; Hong Kong, New Zealand, San Francisco and NYC… I’ve travelled by myself, with friends and family, and I’ve done organised tours, day trips and solo adventures.
Here are 10 things I know about travelling with kids:
1. If you’re travelling with children, take an extra pair of hands.
I recently expanded my travel horizons by taking my 17 month old daughter to England and France. Luckily for me, my daughter turned out to be a travelling champ, but I took my Mum with me, which meant I still managed some solo walks around town while she slept and even sent her to bed with Mum a couple of nights when she or I was sick.
But saying that, if you can’t find someone to travel with, go on your own! The beauty of this style of travel is that you can do exactly what you want and when you want to. If you think you’ll miss the company of others, enrol in a week of cooking classes, language classes.
2. Youth Hostels have a time and a place.
Hostels are a great place to meet up with other travellers, they’re cheap and they’re everywhere. I’ve had some great experiences in hostels, made new friends and discovered interesting places. I’ve also had some gross experiences in hostels, being “sleep wee’d on” (think sleep walking, but with wee), and being reluctant to return to a 12 person room after a shower because of the all pervading smell of 12 sleeping people releasing gases for 8 hours. I decided in my early 30’s when the only option for accommodation one night was a hostel, that I am too old for them. Or too mature, or too finicky, or too something, but no more hostels for me and my daughter.
3. Learn the language.
It’s not too hard, and the locals love it. Even if your phrases include “please”, “thank you”, a few numbers and “do you speak English” you are already a step ahead of other tourists who just wander into an Italian Gelati shop and say loudly in a strong American accent “I want… Is that coconut? I want Coconut and…” Read the sign, ask for “Fragola e cioccolato”. It’s polite, sounds cool and is sure to get a smile.
4. Stay for a bit longer in one place and settle into the town.
I love to find the local bakery or coffee shop, and make it a part of my daily routine, dropping in each morning for a croissant or bagel before hitting the sites. The locals will get to know you and your order if you’re anything like me. It also means you can settle your child into a bit of a routine for a few days/weeks.
5. Ask for recommendations.
We all have friends who have been somewhere. Put the call out, find out where people have had great experiences, a favourite restaurant, must do sites or activities. This can be a great way to get off the beaten track and make some amazing discoveries. This is an especially great option if you’re travelling with kids for the first time. (It’s a very different type of travel!)
6. Eat the food
Now I haven’t travelled to some of the more exotic locations where insects or insides might be on the menu, but one of the most useful phrases to learn in any language is “what is your recommendation”, or what is the local speciality”.
I also just shopped at the local supermarkets for baby food, my tip? Allocate plenty of time (with a dictionary if needed) to read the labels to figure out what’s in them! I found the pictures on the front helpful too!
7. Take some little Aussie souvenirs.
I often take 12 packs of those little koala key rings that can clip onto things. People LOVE them and they are a great way to start a conversation, say thank you, or provide a point of difference between you and the other million tourists who pass through their town. I’ve given them to classmates, bus drivers, waiters, baristas, concierges and kids on the bus. Always positively received.
8. Make use of the local public transport.
Don’t be put off by the London Underground, Paris Metro or New York Subway, they’re all great ways of getting around, soaking up the local culture. Buy a ten trip, or three day pass or whatever it is that allows you to make the most of the convenience. If you’re travelling with children, make sure they’re walking or the stairs in the metro can be a bit of a challenge. No problem if you followed tip #3 – the locals regularly offered assistance!
9. Don’t cart all that baby crap!
Even though the airline says you can bring a suitcase and two or three pieces of baby stuff, I just couldn’t bear the thought of trying to wrestle a stroller, cot or car seat from the airport at the other end. I just strapped the baby to me in a carrier and hired what we needed. It couldn’t have been easier. In Paris and in Auckland the items were dropped off and picked up for us from our accommodation, even when the pickup was from a different location. Easy peasy!
10. Be gracious, grateful and don’t be an ass.
You’re representing your country out there, and remember, you’re in someone else’s home. Avoid complaining loudly about things that may seem foreign to you… they are! Be proud of being an Aussie, tell people about our country, native animals, beaches and outback, but don’t start a competition or argument.
It’s a wonderful world out there. Travel can open your eyes, teach you new things, inspire gratitude and change your life. Get out there!
From Brigit’s Mum, tip no. 11: check out child friendly things to do – lots of playgrounds and a carrousel in Paris!
Tip #3 is THE most important. We traveled Europe with an 8 & 11 year old who were more than happy to have a go at the language and we got great service, had fabulous conversations, scored amazing food gifts and generally had the best time. The locals really appreciate you having a go (not that they understand that Aussie phrase!).