Reals mums: “How I survived travelling with kids”

Singaporeans are crazy about travelling. But is jet-setting with kids crazy? Not if you take some travel tips from mums who’ve been there, done that and plan to repeat it.


It’s the holiday season again and you’re itching for a getaway. Zurich, Dubai, Koh Samui, Lombok… anywhere to escape the city’s high stress levels. But does the thought of travelling with your little ones in tow make you cringe or cheer? 


For some mums, holiday horror tales about food battles in the plane, medical emergencies and explosive poo are enough to make them settle for a day trip to Sentosa instead. But many other mums won’t bat an eyelid at the thought of travelling with kids. Even if it means lugging extra luggage, having to do extra research and planning up to months in advance.


For mum-of-two Kwok Kar Wai, family getaways are a chance to spend quality time with her daughters and husband in a different environment. “Without interruption from work and homework, I can lavish undivided attention on my girls. We can also explore new places, experience different cultures and try out new things together.”


Another frequent flyer mum Azizah Abdul Samat, who has three children, concurs. “Each trip is a unique bonding experience. And I want my kids to have a childhood filled with such special memories that they’ll appreciate even when they’re older.”


Aside from the opportunity to expose her child to different countries, cultures and languages, Rachel Tan, 29, mum to a toddler, also cites practical reasons for taking her young child abroad with her. “Airfare is much cheaper when kids are younger, I want to maximise this perk. Furthermore, having a baby shouldn’t stop me from travelling.”


Ready to embark on your own family adventure abroad? Pick up some tips and tricks for stress-free travel from these mums first…

Don’t be ambitious; you never know when a poonami will throw off your schedule

Rachel Tan, 29, mum of Jedidiah, 18 months
Rachel & Jedidiah in Perth

“Last November, I took my son to Perth with a group of friends. There were nine adults and five kids aged one to three. It was the holiday my husband and I had dreamt about, where we’d visit vineyards with friends and our children would play together. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make it, but I went ahead with the trip anyway.

Unlike travelling pre-baby, I had to spend more time packing and couldn’t travel light. Aside from essentials like my son’s medicine and photocopies of our identification documents, I had a change of clothes for both Jed and I in our hand-carry luggage for the flight. I also brought along a baby monitor so I could leave him sleeping in the bedroom yet know if he cries out for me. And for easy meal preparation, I brought breastmilk bags for storing and freezing soup. 

Travelling with a young child makes it hard to plan an itinerary because you never know when a poonami (poop explosion), medical emergency or toddler tantrum can throw off the schedule. So, rather than be fixated on sticking to a schedule, just take things slow. Aim for no more than one or two attractions a day. 

My trip was memorable because my travel party and I were flexible with our schedules, accommodated each other’s needs and looked out for each other. After ‘surviving’ each day, the adults gathered to just chill over wine while the kids slept.

Looking back, it would’ve been nice to have had a clone on the trip. My clingy toddler didn’t let me out of his sight and at times refused to sit in the high chair even though I was within sight. So I had to baby wear him while preparing his meals and packing. But overall, it was a good first overseas experience with a baby. I’m already planning our next trip this year!”


My tips for travelling with a baby: 

  • Be ready for all weather conditions and have a good jacket for your child in case it’s colder than expected.
  • Bring a spare baby carrier in case one gets soiled.
  • Be flexible and don’t jam-packing your itinerary.

     

Opt for private tours so you can return to your hotel at any time if the kids are tired or unwell

Azizah Abdul Samat, 42, mum of Ardi Raiyan, 16, Riyan Adam, 14, and Aryan Rayhan, 10
Azizah & her family

“My trips are always booked through my regular travel agent who’ll arrange an itinerary to suit my family’s needs. I avoid large group tours because the early starts, rigid timings, and fixed attraction stops and dining places may not suit my kids. Instead, I opt for private tours so that at any time, I can return to the hotel should the kids get tired or feel unwell. And I never fail to buy travel insurance before every holiday.

For one family trip, we went to Mount Zao in Yamagata, Japan to see the snow monsters and there was a blizzard and heavy snowfall. We weren’t prepared to handle the freezing temperatures that dipped to -10 degrees. We didn’t wear the right gear to protect us from the extreme cold and my sons’ lips began to crack and bleed. We ended up using all our heat packs to keep us warm and stayed indoors at the cafe to enjoy the scenery instead of going outdoors.

The experience didn’t scar us, however. Each trip is an adventure and prepares us for the next one. Next on our travel bucket list is Egypt. My kids want to see the Sphinx and pyramids, and go camel-riding in the desert.

Teamwork is important when travelling with kids. My husband and I always carefully choose the places to visit, ensuring that they suit our kids. We avoid very strenuous activities and excessive walking as they may get tired and restless. It’s good to involve the kids in discussions about what tours and activities we’ll be doing. They can have a say in how they want to spend their time and will be better prepared for what’s to come. My husband and I also make it a point to include so ‘me time’ in the itinerary where each of us takes turns to enjoy a private activity, like an onsen, while the other stays at the hotel with the kids.”


My tips for travelling with kids:

  • Get travel insurance.
  • Have good footwear and ensure each kid carries a water bottle to stay hydrated.
  • Carry a backpack instead of hand-carry luggage so your hands are free to fill up forms at the airport and hold your kid’s hands tightly.
     

Safety, ease of navigation and child-friendliness at the destination are my priorities

Kwok Kar Wai, mum of Kaelyn, 11, and Kaellen, eight

“In 2014, my daughters and I went on an all-girls holiday to Taipei with my mum, sister and sister-in-law. We were to fly to Taipei with a transit in Hong Kong. But at 2am, just hours before our departure, I received an SMS notification about a 13-hour flight delay due to a thunderstorm and potential typhoon in Hong Kong. All connecting flights had been cancelled.

I frantically tried to call the airline for a flight change but couldn’t reach anyone. Then I remembered I had travel insurance and considered calling my agent. But in the end, we all headed to the airport at 6am as originally planned. There was an extremely long queue and many other affected travellers were desperately trying to get replacement flights and accommodation.

Kar Wai with Kaelyn & Kaellen

Eventually, after two hours of uncertainty and putting up with people who were shoving and trying to cut the queue at the check-in desk, our airline managed to put us on another flight that went directly to Taipei and we arrived there on schedule. Phew!

When travelling with kids, the level of safety at the destination is always my top consideration. Next come the distance from Singapore, ease of navigation within the destination country, and the availability of kid-friendly places. To ensure the kids have an enjoyable time – and the adults stay sane – we’ll ensure there are opportunities for them to engage in hands-on activities where they can gain knowledge and life values. For instance, in Australia, we visited a working farm where the girls milked cows, collected freshly-laid eggs from the coop, rode on a tractor, and fed goats and cows. It taught them patience and determination.

Pre-children, my trips could be more spontaneous, with impromptu day trips to Batam, Malacca or Johor Bahru. But now more planning, research and checks goes into family holidays. Sometimes, I wish that at the swish and flick of a magic wand, my kids would be bathed, dressed and fed, with all their belongings neatly packed before a journey. Haha!”


My tips for travelling with kids:

  • Bring a first-aid kit with common medicines like paracetamol as well as probiotics and vitamin C. Include medicines you’re familiar with that may not be available overseas.
  • Have sweets handy for kids to suck on during flight take-off and landing to ease ear pain.
  • Kids should pack a flight bag with toys and puzzle and story books as well as an extra set of clothing, in case of luggage delays or loss.
     

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