If the mention of ‘family holidays’ causes a sudden break-out of wrinkled frowns and grey hairs, you need to take a leaf out of an expert’s book. Debbie Dubrow from family travel website DeliciousBaby.com answers our questions on hassle-free trips with kids…
1. Why did you set up Delicious Baby?
We had always shared our travel stories with friends, and a blog seemed like an easier way to do that. I also wanted a way to share tips and advice about family travel that just weren’t available in the mainstream press.
2. What did you do before?
Before I had kids I worked in the computer software industry for over 10 years. I worked on everything from Apple’s first handheld computer (the Newton) to Internet Explorer and Windows.
3. If all your luggage got lost en route, what one thing would you be sure to store in your handbag to keep the kids happy?
Our luggage has often been delayed for a day or two! The kids always have a backpack full of toys, a sweatshirt or jacket and lots of snacks. I usually secret away a few new toys in my own backpack as a surprise. For longer trips, I always pack a change of clothes (or at least a clean shirt) for everyone and enough diapers to get me through two days.
4. How do you prepare yourselves and the kids for a trip?
We all read a lot about our destination before we go. I like to read everything from stories set in the destination to guidebooks to books about the culture and history. Depending on where we’re going, we might also try some of the food or do some activities related to the destination. My kids have flown a lot, so they’re familiar with the routine of packing up our bags, heading to the airport and clearing security as well as how to behave on a plane. I still take the time to explain our plans before each trip. With younger kids, or kids who haven’t travelled much, you can act out what’s going to happen so they know what to expect.
5. What essentials would you suggest first-time travelling parents pack?
Bring plenty of snacks. You can’t always get something that your child is interested in eating when you’re in flight. You’ll also want to pack lots of toys or activities. Other than that, I’d stick to just the essentials. Heavy suitcases are tough to deal with when you’re also toting a tired child, and you can buy anything you might need at your destination.
6. Some parents might be put off from some countries because of their sanitation, what advice do you have?
There’s a lot of different information out there about different destinations, and it’s important to check the facts before you go. The US State Department’s Country Specific Travel information is a good place to start.
7. What’s your experience of staying in a hostel with your children?
We haven’t done that yet.
8. Do you have an accommodation check-list to ensure it’s suitable for the children?
Here are some kid friendly features you might want to look for:
- Adjoining rooms
- Larger rooms (suite or a regular room that has enough space for the kids to move around)
- If an upgrade is not to expensive, we love to have a separate sitting area so that we can be awake while the kids sleep
- Soundproofing (nobody advertises this, but, for example, we avoid B&Bs because we’re worried about disturbing the other guests)
- Cribs (at what cost). Make sure that a crib will fit in the size room you plan to reserve
- Kid friendly restaurant
- Organized children’s activities (mostly available at resorts)
- Wi-Fi (great when you’re stuck in the room after the kids are asleep)
- Refrigerator (or a mini-bar that can be cleaned out)
- Close to a market, restaurants or a coffee shop
9. What hostel/hostel facility really makes a difference when travelling with kids?
Having a kitchen really makes a big difference in both your budget and the flow of your travel days. Shopping at the supermarket saves a lot of money versus dining out. I like to serve the kids breakfast before we leave in the morning instead of spending an hour or more in a restaurant. I sometimes pack a picnic lunch as well, and that gives us a lot of flexibility versus having to find a restaurant wherever we happen to be at lunchtime.
10. Do you have any travel plans for the rest of the year?
I haven’t planned the full year yet, but I do know that we’re headed to New York. Before I had kids, I used to visit New York a couple of times each year. I’ve really missed going, but it’s not as easy for us to hop on a plane for a long weekend anymore. A trip back last summer reminded me of how much I enjoy the city and we decided it would be a fun time to go with the kids. It just so happens that the kids have been reading a lot of books set in New York lately (All of a Kind Family and Eloise for example) and I think they’ll enjoy visiting some of the places they’ve read about.
11. Your children are all under six. Are there any particular destinations you are saving for when the kids are older?
Yes, we’re waiting to visit developing countries until they’re a bit older. It’s tough to keep an 18 month old from drinking the bathwater (especially when you have two older kids vying for your attention too) and I’m not quite ready to have my kids hop on the back of a motorbike to tour Cambodia. Luckily, it’s a big world and there are tons of places I’m interested in visiting that aren’t so tricky with young kids!
12. Do you prefer to take them on city breaks or to the beach?
I enjoy family city breaks more than the beach, so we tend to do lots of city breaks. There’s always plenty for kids do to in a city – afterall, kids live in every city in the world. If you (like me) enjoy museums and cultural sites, look for children’s programs at the sites and for books that tell stories set at those sites. That will help your kids appreciate the destination as much as you do.
The kids really appreciate the opportunity to connect with nature, and some of the best vacations we’ve done have been the ones where they have plenty of time to play in the dirt. A farm stay last year gave the kids the opportunity to gather eggs, feed goats, and pick their own vegetables. A trip to the Olympic National Park rainforest had them searching for bugs in a stream and going on night hikes. Their clothes were so filthy by the time we returned home that I considered burning them, but the kids thought it was one of the best trips they’d ever taken. In Hawaii last summer the kids loved digging in the sand and visiting the Maui Ocean Center, but perhaps the best memory for me is of the nightly sunset trips we took to the beach. That was a great way for them to wind down before bedtime.
13. Which sight or destination do you think should be experienced as a child?
Lots of “experts” give advice about specific destinations being best for kids, and about some destinations being unsuitable for one reason or another. Mostly they recommend gong to amusement parks or all inclusive resorts. That’s fine if everyone in the family will have a great time at those destinations (and we enjoy those destinations on occasion too), but most parents I know miss the opportunity to explore the “real” world. Kids can have a great time anywhere, and usually the things they think are fun are things you would never have known about or planned in advance. For example, in Barcelona, we happened on Pappabubble as we were wandering the streets. Pappabubble is a traditional candymaker, and you ca watch as they make beautifully designed hard candies (and even sample a piece of the warm sticky sweets). We spent an hour watching and the kids have viewed the video we took over and over. My advice is to pick something that you’re interested in doing and then work out how to get the kids engaged. Be sure to leave enough time free in your schedule that you can stop to enjoy the things the kids find interesting.
14. What advice would you give to anyone toying with the idea of long-haul travel with a child?
Go for it! Sometimes parents get so stuck on their worries about the long flight or jet lag that they don’t take the first step in planning a trip. I think it’s a shame to put your dreams about exploring the world on hold for years while you wait for your kids to grow up. Everyone in the family benefits from travel, even if they’re too young to remember it.
15. What is your favourite holiday activity to keep both kids and parents happy?
Our activities vary a lot depending on the destination. We tend to try a lot of new things when we travel, and often we discover that we enjoy something we never would have tried at home. For example, in Hawaii we might be swimming and playing in the sand. In Istanbul the kids loved crossing the Galeta bridge and watching the fishermen. In Barcelona we ate a lot of Churros and Chocolate.
16. How do you encourage the children to soak up the local culture?
I think they’re better at that then me! The kids want to hang out where locals do and they want to play with local kids – I’m the one who tends to drag them to the tourist sites!
17. How do you keep kids occupied on long journeys?
We bring along lots of workbooks and small toys, but I’m also a big fan of using whatever you find around you to entertain your kids. Some ideas include:
- Go on a scavenger hunt through the airplane magazine. On each page, pick one item that your child has to locate. For older children, hand them the magazine and say “can you find a picture of an airplane?”
- Put some fun pictures onto your digital camera (you’re carrying it anyway). During the flight, you can relive the fun and tell stories about where/who you’re visiting.
- Teach yourself some new finger rhymes (e.g. “where is thumbkin”) before you go.
- Extend snack time by challenging your child. “What is the is the smallest bite you can take” or “see if you can eat just one at a time (tricky for little fingers). Pack your snacks in Tupperware & the packaging becomes a toy when the snack is done.
- Three words: Barf bag puppets
18. Do you have any tips on keeping costs down at you destination?
Snacks and bottled water can really add up. So can meals. Carry along a backpack stocked with healthy snacks and plan to “self-cater” at least one meal each day with a picnic made up of items from a grocery store or local market. You’ll save money and the kids will appreciate spending less time in restaurants. Many museums offer a discount for purchasing your tickets online, and you’ll also get to skip the line!
19. How do you cope when the children are playing up?
Parenting when you travel is no different from parenting at home. When we’re in a new situation I try to be clear up front (before the kids get into trouble) about what I’m expecting. The kids know that there are lots of opportunities for fun when we’re traveling, so they tend to be pretty well behaved. That said, when they do start to “loose it” that’s a sign to me that we’re trying to move too fast.
20. Have there been any defining moments when you realise it’s all been worth it?
Every trip has moments that make it worthwhile, and they usually come as a surprise. A few weeks ago we took the kids up to Whistler to learn how to ski. Imagine our surprise when we came to pick Darya up on her second day just as she was completing her first ever “green” run. Having the opportunity to experience something new together as a family is a gift.
Thanks to pawpaw67, mikebaird and livingonimpulse for the images off Flickr! And of course the wonderful Debbie Dubrow for answering all our kiddie questions. Be sure to check out her blog DeliciousBaby.com for more family travel tips.
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