Travelling with a 4 years old

1:15 PM

Belong to any parenting group or forum, and the most often asked question is “When is it the right age to travel with a kid?” or variations on the theme going along the line of “Can I think of taking a long trip with a toddler/baby/preschooler….”
I come from a family that has been bitten by the travelling bug, I travelled a lot in my childhood and more often than not it meant camping or sailing, or staying in PG accommodations, we covered most of central Europe before I hit the teenage years, hit Turkey when I was 9, Kenya when I was 12, squeezed in Morocco in between, and all these trips at the Exception of Kenya were done by road and ferry boats, Kenya was the first time I went on a plane in my life.

Rich from that experience and the tales from my parents, and having done a little travelling with Ishita as well, the answer to the million whatever currency you want question is : There is no such thing as an ideal or perfect age.
There are different challenges for different children’s age, and each destinations will pose their own set of challenges as well. When you have kids travelling with you you need to factor their needs, and what the destination has to offer, and then decide how much sanity you are prepared to loose in the process.
When it comes to long flights, or any flight for that matter, I found that the 5 months old Ishita was far more content and cooperative than the 18 months and then 24 months old one, she became easier flying with at age 3 but only slightly, she was far more cooperative this time around, but mostly because the flight had on board entertainment and blankets which she thought were really cool (the things that will make a kid’s day!). The leg of the trip we did on a smaller plane with no entertainment still covered the needs of kids, providing them with glue less repositionable stickers as the staff on Thai airways understand that even a one hour long flight is still too long for a small child to deal with without distraction. Ishita got a Toy Story set on the way to Phuket, and a Winnie the Pooh set on the flight back to Bangkok:

thai airways kids kit

4 years old are affected by a very short attention span, that’s the one thing you need to keep in mind…at ALL TIME. What is cool and exiting one minute will become nasty awful and warrant a fuss in the split instant of a Nano second, and they will understand no reason. Distraction will work, even if it is temporarily, so make sure you have a plan B, C, D, E and beyond. As adults you might be exited at the idea of heading on an international vacation, soak in the culture, the local food, and have plans of sightseeing in mind; rest assured that these are grown up plans and that kids thrown in the equation will or make it a bit tricky if you decide to stick to the original plan, or you need to think about the enjoyment your child is going to get out of the trip as well.
I myself still have vivid memories of our trip to Turkey during which my parents would have spent all their time visiting Greek ruins and eating Turkish food, while I 9 years old along with my 6 years old sister saw it differently. Greek ruins are not exiting to a kid, spending your entire vacation glued to a beach towel isn’t to a grown up. You need to find a balance, and kids don’t really get that exited about gastronomy either, so you need to make sure there is some food they will like around.
Ishita was true to that theory on our trip to Thailand, the majesty of Buddhist temples was totally lost on her to the point I am not even sure she even noticed them. The 2 hours long boat trip we took in Bangkok only became exiting when we reached the cat fish feeding point, and Wat Arun lost its interest after the first flight of stairs. even in Phuket where we did kids friendly activities we suddenly faced the mighty 4 years old whiny fuss act out of the blue. The beach was all she wanted to be at one minute, until she decided it was too sandy and the water was scary, at which point she wanted to go home…not the hotel, but home in Mumbai because she missed her friends. The elephant rides was fun for 2 minutes, after that she wanted to see the monkeys, and some jungle, the instant she was in the jungle she wanted the beach, settled for a canoe ride for 10 minutes, but started fussing and wanting to eat while in the middle of a mangrove lined backwater network. Nothing out of the ordinary for a 4 years old, that’s what they do, and my parents confirmed it telling me that until we reached the age of 5-6 they rarely attempted anything bigger than a trip to a Mediterranean beach resort where they would pitch their tent at a local camp site for the duration of the holiday. My dad even told me that I did threw the same kind of fit Ishi did about the sea being too cold, too scary, the beach too sandy, the pool too deep…So it seems history repeats itself nicely here. When it came to food, I also knew from all my travelling experience and years of expecting French fries in every towns and ports in the world that Ishita would not want Thai food on her plate. Fortunately, this is a notion that is not lost on restaurateurs there. The places we ate at in Phuket almost all had a kids menu that consisted essentially of chicken nuggets, fries and pasta, all listed on a special kids menu with picture handed directly to the child for them to make their choice. The places that didn’t have a kids menu were all very helpful at telling us which dishes were more to the taste of a young child, when one evening Ishita wanted some noodles and pointed to a picture in the menu (menus all have pictures in Thailand…more in another blog post) the waiter told me that it was a bit spicy and recommended another one that would please the palate of a 4 years old more, and still be enjoyable for the grown up in charge to finish. In Bangkok we didn’t frequent enough restaurants to tell what was the norm, and with Ishita becoming super whiny due to the lack of beach, we stroke the idea of eating exotic cuisine, we’ll keep that for another trip. 

Thailand with kids is a good destination all in all,  if you come from India worry not about the hygiene factor, if your child is India-proof they will be Thailand-proof as the level of cleanliness is far superior in touristic destination such as Bangkok and Phuket. Ishita being a 4 years old she is out of diapers, and can do without milk, making our life easier on that front. The activities Phuket offers are family friendly, and there is a little of something for everyone, with a 4 years old we opted out of the day long excursions to Phi Phi Island and James Bond Island, they were pricey, and seeing where it headed on a 4 hour long combo of elephant ride, jungle hike and canoeing we decided to not bother, getting our postcard island fix from something smaller and nearer that took 4 hours. The day we decided to go shopping in Bangkok, we kept the food simple and familiar and Ishita’s day was made by finding a store that sold Hello Kitty stuff.
Thai people love kids the same way Indians do, rest assured that kids will get some attention, and will be made to feel special almost anywhere, from the elephant handler fashioning a grasshopper out of banana leaves for Ishi, to the bartender in the hotel keeping her distracted with fancy drinking straws, not mention the coo and smiles and waves given by total strangers in restaurants and the metro, Ishita was kept entertained enough.
If you come from a western country, nothing to worry about hygiene wise, as I said Thais keep thing neat and clean, I have no idea if the water from the tap is drinkable, we used bottled water without even asking if there was an option, and unlike India, water is not offered free in restaurants, you have to purchase a bottle. The lonely planet guide state that health wise Thailand is a safe destination to travel to, and the most you could have to deal with is a slight tummy upset from trying a significantly different than your own cuisine…which as said before is not really much of an issue with a 4 years old that doesn’t think beyond pasta and fries. All in all I would say that the same old no brainers of steering clear of salads if you aren’t used to them, un-bottled juices, and glass of waters of unknown sources and remembering to take precautions regarding the sun there isn’t anything to worry about there.
DH has dreams of visiting European cities one day, but after that trip he knows that will have to wait until Ishita is a bit older and able to appreciate the cultural value of a vacation a bit better. It never really does until the mid-teen years from my experience, but 10 years old will be willing to visit monument if there is an incentive coming in the form of enough pool and beach time or a visit to a theme park squeezed between culture soaking sessions.

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  1. Beatrix11:48 AM

    "DH has dreams of visiting European cities one day, but after that trip he knows that will have to wait until Ishita is a bit older and able to appreciate the cultural value of a vacation a bit better. It never really does until the mid-teen years from my experience, "

    I remember the 1st time I went to Europe when I was 11 yrs old, we went to Switzerland, Austria & Germany.

    I was born & raised in a tiny agricultural town of about 5000 people in California.

    The majority of the population in my home town were Hispanic/Latino - there were only 7 white kids & 2 Chinese kids out of the 250 students at my elementary school.

    I thought the entire world had a population skew like this.


    Was I surprised to see all the white people in Switzerland, Austria & Germany - I had no idea!!!!

  2. I grew up in Geneva, which is a very cosmopolitan city, my school had students from very diverse background, cultures and nationalities because it was in a district where there was a refugee shelter whose kids were attending the school as well, so I grew up used to be in a very diverse environment. The town my parents grew up in is about 30 minutes away from Geneva and is one of these small town, with people that have been there for generations and very few newcomers, it was a very white city, and the elders would gossip on no end about "these Italians" or "these Spanish" who immigrated in the 50's and 60's but were considered by my grand parents' generation as foreigners still. And of course this was still a town, there are villages in the countryside, and you don't even have to talk secluded area in the Alps, where there are families of pure Swiss decents and nothing else that have lived there for eons.

  3. Alexandra Madhavan5:14 AM

    Great post! It is such a parents' dilemma - to travel or not to travel... We went to Venice when Maya was 11 months old and the flight was a disaster as she had just started walking.
    We are planning to go to India for next year's Diwali, when Maya will be 2.5. I am honestly dreading the flight, but at least she is watching cartoons now! LOL

  4. When Ishita was a week short of being 1 we were relocating from Bangalore to Mumbai, she was fully mobile, and it was hard to keep up with everything, the only part that was non stressful was the actual flight to Mumbai. We had to go to the airport early as we were travelling with our huge dog and that needs a little planning, then the flight was delayed, so she spent the whole time we were in the airport running back and forth in the terminal so much that about 10 minutes before boarding she crshed down for a nap and woke up only when we were landing, then she was super fussy in the cab from the airport to Navi Mumbai. She was still easier than the time we moved back to Bangalore, and then the worst was the move back to Mumbai 6 months after moving to Bangalore, back then we were all emotionaly and physically wrecked and Ishita developped a fear of iflatable mats, the time we had to sleep 3 days in a row on them before even taking the plane...sigh


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