Some time ago I wrote several posts on travelling with small children that were quite popular. Recently I had the chance to travel with our two year old and three year old for two and a half weeks to Thailand and I thought I would post some addenda to the small children posts as not all of my advice applies to travelling with children of this age.
Where to go?
Again I stress that it is much easier travelling internationally in many respects than within the United States. The sad fact is we are not a child friendly country. At many restaurants loud children are not well received and I have known people asked to leave establishments here due to loud children, though thankfully this has not occurred to us (yet).
While health care and facilities should be a strong factor in where you go, you can be a little more flexible than when travelling with infants. For instance, I would not have travelled to Thailand with a small infant but with children at least two years old it is fine. Still, I did not travel to the north of Thailand due to health facilities and diseases there.
The key is to find somewhere where they will have as much fun as you. Beaches, calm water for swimming, and animals are all big with kids so places where these exist are all great for children.
For specific examples, of the places I have travelled I found Italy and Thailand to be the friendliest towards children. Also do not discount visiting Moslem countries – most of which by nature are extremely friendly towards children. So Dubai would not be a bad choice either.
This is much less complicated than travelling with infants because a bassinet is not necessary and you must buy a ticket for your two year old. With babies I advocated obtaining seats in the bulkhead so you can obtain a bassinet. With two and three year olds, you do not want this because the arm rests do not fold up. Make sure you obtain seats that are not in the bulkhead and call the airline ahead of time to arrange seats all together if possible.
Most international flights have TV monitors on the seats that entranced our kids for the duration of the flight. However, on the 13 hour flight from Seattle to Taipei we did not have these so make sure to bring a few small toys with you. You can buy them new toys for the flight, but we were more confident in taking some of their favorites to pass the time. I also heavily recommend the Leapfrog gaming system – which captivated our three year old for part of the time.
Where to stay
You should try to stay in well respected hotels that cater to young children. Don’t spend too much time looking at the day care facilities of a hotel as most of the time they should be with you. However, the fact that a hotel has a day care program shows that kids are welcome there. I find TripAdvisor.com to be very helpful with determining if a hotel is child friendly.
Even more important is to make sure the average guest at the hotel is fine with children. This can also easily be found from the reviews at tripadvisor.com. Guests on their honeymoons or older guests will often not be tolerant of children.
In general we tried to stay at the best hotel that was at least moderately child friendly. For examples
Phuket – Le Meridien
Ko Samui – Amari Palm Beach Resort
Bangkok – Marriott Resort and Spa
This is somewhat controversial, but I found the following attitudes to improve the quality of our vacation.
1) This is our kids’ vacation as well as ours. Don’t try to mold children into your vacation. Seek out activities you know they will enjoy and be prepared not to partake in some activities that are not suitable for them.
2) Kids are kids. It is a little known secret that kids tend to be noisy. I always joke that our kids have two volumes – “loud” and “louder”. When in other establishments, I try to restrict them to “loud”. In most other countries, people are well aware and accepting of this. Interestingly, the only snide comments we received from the entire trip were from a Canadian woman at the cocktail lounge in the Marriott who “mentioned” there was a McDonalds across the street and an American couple who scolded us for giving our three year old a few tablespoons of Coca Cola. Don’t bother arguing with these people – just smile and let your kids continue. Remember, you and your kids have just as much a right to a vacation as they do. As long as the establishment where you are has no problems, you are the best judge of what your children should and should not do.
3) Be respectful of those who have to do a little extra. If tipping is customary in the country, make sure to tip a little extra to waiters and taxi drivers who will have a little extra to do due to your little ones.
This was a learning experience for us and will affect future vacations. Obviously all children are different so yours may not have the same problems or may have different ones. We found travelling by airplane, train, metro, or bus to not be a problem. As long as our kids had both of us they behaved relatively well. This was not the case for car or taxi travel, as they went nuts being cooped up in such a space for long periods of time. Car seats would have helped restrain them – but the logistics of bringing them is simply impossible for most destinations.
Our two year old also had problems on the boat trips, as he was scared that he would fly away. Our three year old had no such problem.
So the moral of the story is to try to pick places where car and taxi travel is kept to a minimum. Unfortunately in Bangkok’s snarling traffic this was a problem.
During the entire 17 days of our trip, our kids spent a total of about seven hours with a baby sitter. If you find yourself wanting to place your kids with a baby sitter or child care often during your trip, you probably chose the wrong destination and you should have just left your kids at home with a relative. Remember that this is their vacation too and they greatly desire to spend time with you, not with a baby sitter. Of course, you do deserve breaks, so occasional stays are important for your psychological state.
I hope this helps anyone who is looking to travel with small children.