3.27.2014

Overseas Trip with Young Children

This is how we travel in Asia, "Look, Ma, no car seat!!"

There are many many blogs out there that cover the topic of overseas traveling with young children, but I thought I present a real-life what-worked-for-us tips based on our recent experience.

Firstly, as with any trip with young children (I'm talking 5 years or under), you need to get this extremely clear in your mind: this trip is NOT about/for your children, it is about you (parents, relatives, if you are visiting them) and the huge inconvenience these little people will have to endure because of it. Let's face it, I hardly remember what I did for vacation when I was 3 years old. The same will apply to any children; the younger they are, the less the trip will become significant part of their childhood memory.

If you start trip planning with this tenet in mind, then your priorities will fall easily in place. For example; instead of agonizing whether or not to go to the next attraction, we realized it was time for the Toddler to nap, so we chose nap and relaxation for a more refreshed day-after.

Budget

This is our foremost consideration: we could possibly afford a week trip to Japan/Korea or a three-week trip to three countries and we chose the later. Japan can wait. Taiwan and Singapore are not exactly the cheapest place in Asia, either, but we have family members there, so that helped a lot narrowing down our destination. In fact, the side-trip to Bali was surprisingly affordable.

The majority of travel budget goes to airplane tickets and accommodation. Some airlines do offer half-price for children under certain age and you should take advantage of it. If your children is slightly above a year old but not yet two, seriously consider buying them a place for their own, or a bassinet, especially for long-haul flight. Even with young children traveling, airlines will not automatically give you the bulkhead row (the front-most row) due to a variety of reason. If so, don't fret, find out what their policy is and just follow along. Turned out, the middle seat was not really all that bad either.

Airlines also have different policy of leaving children in their own seat for us parents to take care of ourselves. This is especially crucial to take note if you are a single parent traveling with 1+ children. I know a friend of mine who had to hold peeing during the 11 hour flight from Germany to Seattle, just because she was traveling with TWO toddlers and none of the stewards can "watch" over her children while she ran and took a bathroom break due to airlines' policy (in fact, on her trip back, she wore diaper herself. True story). So, do your homework and save yourself the trouble.

A few words about accommodation: many hotels that we researched in Asia provides baby crib/cot for a fee. It is worth considering even if your child is older/a toddler. In Singapore, when we stayed at a hotel, we took out the crib mattress and put them on the carpeted floor for the Toddler to sleep and that resembles his toddler bed set up that he has now at home.

For more in-flight tip, please see this guest blog post that I published earlier here.

Destination

Consider the mobility of your children and select travel destination appropriately. At 2.5 year old, ToddlerLorp is definitely able to walk but has limited endurance so he definitely required stroller for the bulk of our travel. In selecting travel destination, we chose places that has good transportation system. Both Taipei and Singapore have excellent MRT and bus system that we enjoyed throughout our trip. This is also why we crossed out China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia (Bali was a side trip of 2 nights-3 days) when narrowing down our choices. We found out it was almost impossible to travel by foot + stroller in Bali as the sidewalks were not really stroller-friendly.

Another consideration is the availability of toilet and food; major necessities for children and adult alike, but more so for children. We found that so long as we are traveling in major touristy area, bathrooms and food are quite easy to find. Be prepared, though, by bringing your own supplies such as toilet paper, wet wipes and hand sanitizer. We found the majority of bathrooms in Taipei were not stocked with toilet paper or even running water and soap, even in major tourist attractions. Singapore was markedly better in terms of public restrooms. It was hit-miss in Bali.

Attraction

Think about what you would enjoy as family. For example, there are many attraction in Taipei: the gondola, National Palace Museum, etc. but realistically, the Toddler is very much into panda. So, we made every effort to see the popular panda enclosure.
Every now and then, it is fun to visit local non-touristy attraction such as local park and playground. We did that on occasion and the Toddler were enjoying his time bonding with his distant cousins.

Trip Management


  • Sleep begets sleep.
    Not only for daily life, but also for traveling. Sure, give opportunities for them to stretch their little legs in the airports/during transit, but also be mindful of their internal state. Making your children run around wildly before long-haul flight will just make them wired even more. Tired, wired children and long airplane ride does not mix well. Same goes with dealing with jet-lag; denying your children naps are going to backfire during night time sleep. We listened to your body and took small naps when we were tired and found that the trip was more enjoyable/less stressful that way.
  • Be flexible.
    So many times I thought I'd be disappointed if I couldn't visit X, but realistically, traveling with young children require a much slower pace. Be kind to yourself and your children (remember the first "rule" above). In the end, I didn't feel like I miss a thing.
  • Always have back ups
    That means: back up plans, snacks, clothing, anything. Such was the case when the Toddler in badly need of diaper change while we were in the middle of the long immigration line at Chang-I airport.
    Also, on our first day in Singapore, we woke up super early due to jet-lag. Most attraction open at 10 AM local time when we all would fall asleep, so we utilized that early morning time to go to parks (such as Gardens by the Bay), part of which is open to public all day long.
  • Stay healthy.
    We packed up zinc spray/lozenge and take them at first sign of cold. As the Toddler loved airplane's bathroom, we let him pushed all the buttons and checked all the latches before wiping his hands with sanitizer. We also ate lots of probiotics (many can be easily find locally). Don't forget to sleep (see above).
  • Car seat or CARES Harness?
    During the majority of our travel, we were able to use our FAA-approved car seat (Britax Marathon). We flew Boeing 777 from/to Singapore/Taipei and 747 from/to Taipei/the U.S.; the car seat fits nicely on those airplanes without difficulties. Another perk to having a car seat: the Toddler is used to it already and was able to sleep in it for a longer duration of the flight. Car seat doubles as stroller in the airport and although it is heavy and bulky, it was very handy at times, especially when he needed to stay put during long lines at the immigration, baggage check, etc. when none of us could have allowed him to roam around.
    The downside about car seat is that many Asian countries are not used to it. More often than not, we run into difficulties convincing cabin crews that we need to use the carseat on board and we are able to install the carseat ourselves. I'm not surprised: in the countries that we visited, children are not required to travel in car seats even in cars. Nevertheless, we were able to convince the cabin crews in each trip and dare I say, I even had envious glances from parents of small children who squirmed in their laps during the long-haul flight.
    Now, to CARES harness. From FAQ on CARES website, there is weight limit of 22 lbs or above to be able to use the harness. The Toddler is well above 22 lbs (he is around 29-30 lbs) but I feel the harness is really designed for older children -- more like 3-4 years and up. The travel to/from Indonesia was done with an older Airbus model and we used the harness on the Toddler with ill effect. He kept sliding off the chair and since he sat in C-curve torso position for prolonged period of time, he puked several times during the flight.
    If we were to do it all over again, especially at the age that the Toddler is, we would definitely bring our carseat on board and make sure the airplane can accommodate carseat. If your children are older, you may be able to get away with harness alone.
  • Essentials.
    Wipes, wet and dry variety, always.
    Diapers are surprisingly easy to find anywhere in Asia (they even sell smaller pack of 3 and I think I even saw a diaper vending machine once).
    Food: luckily, the Toddler is a champ eater, so I have no problem, but stock up on snacks that your children are familiar with (in our case, Gold Fish Crackers). There are always western-style McDonald/KFC abound, but they may not taste the same (we found McDonald's chili sauce while in Singapore). If you are more adventurous, you can certainly go for local food, which are fabulous. When in doubt, go with the crowd: always go to crowded places since the food turnover is high and when the place is crowded, there must be a good reason why!
    Toilet: beware & be prepared (see above).

Lastly, I found people in Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia are very friendly with children in general. The cabin crews were extremely nice and accommodating to the Toddler and they never forgot to coo whenever we went by. People that we met readily greeted the Toddler with eager smile & curiosity. They often yield the elevator, bathroom, or seat in MRT readily if they saw me walking towards it with the Toddler in the stroller. It is so refreshing to see a whole different culture which has quite sunny attitude toward family and travel is about discovering new cultures.

I hope my tidbits have been helpful and I wish you a happy travel with your little ones!


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