Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Travelling with Children

I've just returned from a holiday in The Gambia, West Africa, with my two children (aged 4 and 2). "Are you mad?" I hear you gasp, "travelling with children!"

Actually, it's very rewarding.

I never expected that I would ever take a child abroad - I didn't fly until I was twelve and there's nothing wrong with Cornwall. But since I gave up my career to travel with my husband I've learnt that nothing is ever as expected. Therefore, I was quite calm when I found myself checking in for a ten hour flight to Kyrgyzstan with a three-month old baby. Now it seems perfectly normal for me to travel with my children and it's surprisingly easy - they love it.

Children are more adaptable and capable that we give them credit for. Take malaria pills for example. I'm sure I'm blacklisted as an irresponsible mother at my local health centre, being the only person they've ever encountered who has taken her family to a malarial area. However, the nurse consented to give me malaria pills and I wondered how I would ever get two children to take the disgusting things.

On the first morning I fussed around trying to dissolve the pills in orange juice and hide them in food. Not successful. Feeling desperate I decided the next day to just hand a pill to the four year old and tell him to swallow it. He put it on his tongue, took a drink and proudly told me "it's gone." The two year old wanted to try so I thought why not. He put the pill between his teeth and I could only see aggravation ahead. But before I had time to fuss he took a drink and looked up at me. "Gone!" he announced, flinging his arms wide with pleasure. We are still on the course - you have to take them for a week after you return - and it's their favourite part of breakfast. I'm now worrying about what entertainment I can create when the pills run out.

They are just as relaxed about the aeroplane. I've realised that when you're a child, everything about airports and planes is completely exciting, even taking your shoes off at the security check. They love being involved in the process, handing their passports over at the desk, looking out for the bags. And my four-year old is the only person who ever reads the safety card. This time he studied it carefully, asking intelligent questions about when the oxygen masks would drop down and whether he could see his lifejacket under his seat.

I no longer bother weighing us down with toys; the greatest entertainment are the gadgets. The two-year old spent many happy minutes switching the light on and off - and intermittently summoning a harassed air hostess. They both enjoyed their headphones, choosing music channels and dancing in their seats, fun for them and the amused passengers around us.

I could bore you with tips - take lollies to help ease the pressure as you land; check if blankets are provided if it's a night flight; get them to wee just before you get on board as the “fasten seatbelt” sign stays on longer than you’d think - but the greatest tip in enjoying travelling with children is for yourself. I've learnt that to succeed you have to go with the correct mindset.

For the first few days in The Gambia I felt frustrated: the sun was shining, we were by a pool or on a beach and yet I was confined to reading The Gruffalo in the shade. Then I had an epiphany - there's no point expecting such a holiday to be relaxing. Going on holiday with children is not relaxing; they don't morph into obedient, quiet angels just because you drive them down the M5 or change countries. But going on holiday with children can be rewarding. I discovered great joy in showing them new things and sharing experiences, wondering how the smells and sights of Africa appeared to a curious four year old. And I realised that if I didn't waste time hankering after holidays of old when I spent days reading on a sun bed, the week was relaxing in its own way.

If you can appreciate the change of scene, new routine, new stimulus and family time you can all come back refreshed and revitalised, if not necessarily relaxed. And it’s amazing how beneficial a small amount of time out can be – unable to spend a week on a sun lounger I felt rejuvenated after ten minutes.

And don’t dismiss the added bonus of how much you all appreciate home and its conveniences on your return.

In summary, I recommend travelling with children. Don't be scared, ignore the disapproving looks of your health visitor and give it a go.

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