After a lifetime of exploring alone, Peter Moore discovers the joys and pitfalls of travelling with kids
After spending most of his adult life travelling alone – and in some of the toughest places in the world – Peter Moore became a father and found the way he travels has changed. He shares the things he has learned about travelling with children. And how it has given him a whole new way of looking at the world.
Children don’t romanticise epic, three-day bus journeys across rutted roads with livestock in the aisles. They call them out for what they are – a total pain in the butt. Better to break up the journey into more manageable legs. You might even find you enjoy it more too.
And while it pains me to admit it, there are times when it is better to shell out for a taxi than walk or use public transport too. After arriving in Stockholm after an overnight train journey from Lapland recently, I decided to take a taxi with my daughter to our hostel, even though it was only a twenty-minute walk away. It meant I didn’t have to carry all our baggage and my daughter had energy to dance along with the hologram band at the ABBA Museum later that day.
Unless you want to go to bed at 8pm, hotel rooms become increasingly impractical when you’re travelling with kids. Time to get yourself an apartment.
With the rise of sites like Housetrip.com, finding a suitable apartment, in a great location, is easier than ever. And more often than not, a place with a couple of bedrooms, a living room and a fully-equipped kitchen will work out cheaper than a hotel.
There are other benefits too. Having your own kitchen means you can cook your own meals, saving money and appeasing fussy eaters. Kids also enjoy feeling part of the community, popping down to the local bakery for bread, squeezing their own orange juice in the nearby supermarket and riding on the local tram or bus.
Best of all, when the kids are tucked up in bed, you can sit back, crack open a bottle of the local vino and watch a bit of television in a foreign language.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but when you go travelling with kids, it is your responsibility to keep them under control. Letting them run riot – on planes, in restaurants, around museums – will just make the journey unpleasant for everyone involved, including you.
The good news is that most kids only act up if they are bored. Keep them entertained and they’ll behave themselves. That could be a colouring book or a fully-charged iPad. You know what will work with your child.
It will be appreciated. Fellow aircraft passengers will smile instead of snarling or tutting. Grateful waiters will reward them with an extra scoop of ice cream. And you’ll be calmer and more relaxed as well.
Since becoming a father, I’ve had to reign in my ambitions as a traveller. Where I used to move on after a few days, I find myself staying longer. Instead of ticking off four or five sights in a day, I’ve pared it down to one or two. Kids just don’t have the stamina – or the interest – in doing more.
The upside is that I’m seeing more, understanding more and enjoying places more than I otherwise would have.
When I ask my daughter about the highlights of the trips we’ve done together, they invariable involve animals. Feeding reindeer in Swedish Lapland. Visiting the donkey sanctuary in Lincolnshire. Getting within a few feet of lemurs on the loose in Amsterdam zoo. Similarly, her ‘bucket’ list is really just a role call of wildlife hotspots around the world.
So, if you find yourself in a fix planning your next family adventure, find something with animals.
18th century architecture will not hold the same fascination with kids as it does with you. And nor will most museums, with perhaps the exception of the Chocolate Museum and the Fries Museum, both situated in Brugges, incidentally.
Chuck in an activity, however, and all of a sudden it’s a lot more fun. Our visit to the Troppen Museum in Amsterdam was transformed from "Pretty Good" to "Awesome" when my daughter was dragged off to the makeshift favela set up in the museum, to join a Brazilian dance troupe and band. The science museum in Amsterdam is "Pretty Good" also, with a fully-equipped lab where kids get to put on a white coat and conduct an experiment.
Similarly, any city tour will be transformed if it is done by bike.
Despite your best efforts, there will be times when your child will be caught short and you'll need to find a toilet, pronto. Over time you'll develop a sixth sense as to where the nearest 'facility' is, subconsciously scanning for museums, restaurants, cafés, train stations and the increasingly elusive public loo.
Having said that, a lot of cafés and restaurants around major attractions aren’t too happy about their facilities being used as public toilets and often put up signs to that effect. But if you buy something – a bottle of water, perhaps – they’ll be a lot more accommodating. Some even recognise that kids can’t hold on like an adult can. The manager running the noodle bar near the Eiffel Tower in Paris waved away my offer to buy some dumplings when my daughter made use of his facilities, with a friendly "She's just a kid".
Do you have any tips for people travelling with children? Share them in the comment section below.
Main image: Boy looking out plane window (Shutterstock.com)