I am not claiming to be an expert. But, we have continued to travel pretty much non-stop, even once we hit parenting-land. Noah was a mere few weeks old when we took him for his first camping trip in our baby-blue combi to one of Australia’s stunning national parks in Sydney’s close surroundings. From then on, it was camping-kids fun every weekend until his little brother arrived 1.5 years later. When Gael was a mere three months old, we sold up everything we had in Sydney and left for Europe in search for a boat. The first six months we lived in a caravan and traveled from port to port, along the European Mediterranean coast. After a winter working gig in the UK we then moved aboard Happy Dancer, our Moody 425 now for sale and sailed the Med. Since September 2015 we’ve taken to travelling overland again. With Spain and Morocco in our pocket, we will soon take it further east – to where the sun rises.
Here’s the simplest tips which have been making our family travels a hundred times more enjoyable.
Whilst as a young, single and carefree traveller you might be able to cramp a whole country’s itinerary into two weeks, doing the same won’t bring you any joy when traveling with youngsters. Slowing down and stopping for at least three nights, if not more, in a place will. Soon you’ll notice that it’s not only the kids who need time to adjust, but staying a tad longer than all the rest actually allows you to see beyond the first superficial imprints of a place and learn about its depth and personality. Going back to your favourite backstreet restaurant for the second or third time will give you a completely different treatment and feel than just rushing by as another stranger on your first visit. Seeing the same locals over and over again stroking your kids hair will earn them one or the other heart-felt freeby, instead of just treating them as a welcome add on to you as a walking dollar sign. Seeing more than just the most famous sights and museums often reveals more of a place’s soul than its most famous highlights.
Less is more
Even though you might be used to seeing all of the latest Lonely Planet, now Trip Advisor’s, recommendations from your pre-kids travelling days, trying to see it all won’t give much pleasure to anyone. Instead chose a few things which make the whole family happy. For us this includes things like markets, forts, castles, palaces, abandoned ruins, mountain tracks and beaches. Museums have to have a special touch to it to make the list. For instance, in Madrid this time the Prado was a no-go as two and four year olds are simply hard to impress with Velázquez and Goya and the like. However, the (free!) maritime museum next door with plenty of real canons, old galley replicas and videos of the golden days of the Spanish conquistadores was a new and enjoyable discovery for the whole family. Less can also mean spending a whole day in a park or somewhere out in nature, rather than making it just a quick picnic stop before rushing on.
Always have snacks handy
Travelling sometimes means a long quest for the next food place. Especially if, like us, you try to avoid tourist cramped places with high prices and disgusting food like the pest. Kids (and some dads) are not good at appreciating how much better a meal can taste if your tummy is really longing for it. If they are hungry, they want some food NOW. Having a few healthy and handy snacks at hand not only keeps everyone happy, but also healthily travelling along. Here’s a few recipes which work well for us, together with Nori (Japanese seaweed), rice crackers and fresh fruit.
Have breakfast on stand-by in a travel esky/cool-box
While my whole morning can sometimes go by without even thinking of food, one of our toddlers is the kind of person who has barely left bed and needs some breakfast straight away. Unless you always stay in big resorts or five star accommodation where breakfast is waiting for you at the touch of dawn, be prepared. Same thing obviously counts for rental apartments. In Morocco, never expect breakfast before 9h30. Thus having some pieces of fruit, some cereals, crackers or whatever else will satisfy your little one’s first and urgent breakfast cravings will make the time till proper breakfast much more enjoyable.
Whilst in Spain we have pretty much always rented apartments (Be wary of Airbnb – we used to be big fans until we realized they often charge up to 100 Euros more for THE SAME property than other pages like bookings.com!), in Morocco it was mostly riads and mountain lodges – all a variety of B&B. Apart from our word wide favourite place, Riad Dalia in Tetuan, where we spent the first night and almost regreted them having set the standards too high, we asked for breakfast around 8h30am every morning. We were never actually served before 9h30am, and most often not until 10am when things slowly start moving. The one morning we had run out of standby brekky for little Noah, waking up and having to wait for hours was not only a nightmare for him, but also for us, the other guests (try keeping a hungry toddler calm and quiet…) and the staff who was woken ways earlier than their usual 9h30am!
If you like the idea of strolling through town to grab breakfast on the go, again, it might be all more enjoyable if the kids have something in their tummies before you head of in search for the best croissant, Café con leche or mint tea and omelette.
Just as much as we love meeting all sorts of character throughout our voyages and making new friends, so do the kids. Luckily ours always have each other to play and with a mere age gap of 1.5 years they have been best buddies since Noah first made his six month old brother laugh like no one else could. Nevertheless, they love playing with other. Culture or language boundaries don’t exist in their world. The best places we’ve stayed at, like Riad Dalia in Tetuan, came with their own child who made ours feel welcome and kept them cheerful and busy while happy parents enjoyed a rare undisturbed meal or two. Else, we often do go through the effort of seeking out parks and playgrounds where local kids hang out so we can put up our feet for a while and sip a quiet mint-tea with local almond sweets while the kids can get rid of their access energy spinning and running around with the other children like the last space ship two seconds after launch. It’s worth every effort as the rest of the day then tends to develop so much more calmly.
Have a few toys handy
Waiting is part of travelling, whether it’s for an airplane, the next train, a taxi or a dude to show you to your hotel if you are lost in an ancient medina. Whilst grown-ups, and especially curious writers in constant search for interesting content, unique stories and attention-grabbing faces like me, can find any opportunity to stand and gaze into the crowds for minutes turned hours on end, kids generally don’t. Having a few light favourite toys of theirs handy gives you the time to gaze and keeps them happy. We try and avoid all the screen gadgets. So for us, this includes small balls, little books, but mainly a few pencils and pieces of white paper to draw, write and make paper planes. Last used a few moments ago as we arrived in our new lodge, happy but exhausted, and needed to put our feet up for two seconds while the kids, who had slept the whole journey, were full of beans.
In every real man a child is hidden who wants to play.
For all travel-savy readers, please do share your very own special tips in a comment here below or on our Facebook page. Share the love – make travelling more accessible and fun for everyone. Reduce misunderstandings. Diminish cultural boundaries. Help make the world become one.