Vacation — oh that wonderful word that makes your problems take a backseat. But then you look at that backseat and there is a wailing child on it. Preeja Aravind finds what to do to prevent that and make it a memorable trip for all involved
Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” In modern times, however, taking that as an advice at face value, especially if you are travelling with children, is inviting trouble. Most of us love to travel, and the world is becoming increasingly accessible — what with EMIs being given for even foreign travel. New-age parents want to see the world with their little one(s) in tow. However, for some of these parents, apart from the logistical challenges, a trip — be it by train, plane, bus or car — is a terrifying prospect because of the dreaded tantrum.
The prospect is only terrifying if there is no planning. The key to a good and memorable vacation, says psychotherapist Sonal Kothari, is planning. “How would you feel if someone tells you that this morning/evening you are to go somewhere and not even tell where? The same is applicable to toddlers/children who would like to know what is happening to them,” Kothari explains.
Have children? Will travel
People should not stop going on trips just because they are parents and are afraid of a tantrum. Stephanie Hirsch, author of Go Baby Go: Baby Travel Like A Boss, writes in her book that you should travel with your baby, especially if s/he is younger than 18 months old. Her reason: Children at that age are more compliant. Bangalore-based HasGeek founders, Kiran Jonnalagadda and Zainab Bawa, have been taking their daughter, who is now three years old, on trips since she was six months old.
Jonnalagadda who recently went on a camping trip to Himachal Pradesh says, “This was the first one she travelled without her mother. We went for a whole week and after the initial two days where she would not leave my side, she started having loads of fun.”
Madhuri Banerjee, author of parenthood books such as My Yummy Mummy Guide and The Flaky Mummy, too, advocates travelling with your child(ren). Her only caution, “Take precautionary methods to make sure your child will be comfortable and safe.”
Award-winning Editor of National Geographic Traveler Keith Bellows writes in the introduction to his book 100 Places That Can Change Your Child’s Life, “I want you to consider how and why you travel with kids… It’s not just about the place you visit but how you experience it that matters … It is all about wonder. That is what we owe our kids… dedicated to exploring the world together. And finding the wonder.”
Shivangi Sharma, author of I Made a Booboo, however says there is “no black and white” answer when the question is whether to take your child/ren on your travels. Sharma, who has also co-authored travel book Dutched Up, says the travel needs to be made fun for the child.
Travel To Places, Don’t Arrive
Just like there are books on parenting, there are books that tell you where to go; and there are several more that tell you stories — humourous and horrifying — of travelling with babies, toddlers, preschoolers. All, however, agree about inclusivity. And modern parents who have made successful and enjoyable trips with their little ones have always included the children in the planning — letting them know about the upcoming vacation/travel, building anticipation, creating wonder in the child.
Says Ashwin Satish, a Kochi-based software professional, who didn’t stop travelling just because he was a father. “We didn’t avoid it at any time. We first took her on a weekend trip when she was a year old, and we were living abroad.” His daughter is now five, and she loves to travel, especially by car.
Kothari says, “The whole approach to travel changes when you travel with a child. You have to remember there is this third person, albeit small, whose needs have to be met. You cannot do a whirlwind trip of taking in all the attractions like you would do with an adult travel partner. Doing so means setting yourself up for trouble,” she warns.
Another key suggestion by Hirsch is to keep the child’s routine wherever you travel. “If you satisfy your baby’s desire for consistency, s/he won’t be fussy about unfamiliar noises, smells, faces about her/him.” Jonnalagadda however disagrees. “My daughter knows that home routine is not applicable while travelling.”
Children are fellow travellers
Kothari, too, agrees with that, albeit on the itinerary front. “Don’t be too attached to a schedule. What if you decided to do something, but your child has come down with a fever, or is not feeling up to it.? Take that into account and slow the entire trip down to your child’s specification.”
For Jonnalagadda, the idea was to make their most recent trip his daughter’s. “She was a fellow traveller who was on her holiday and I was her guardian. I went through the whole cycle of planning with her because it was her trip.”
Banerjee, on the other hand, has an advisory of essential checklist for travelling with children: “Giving travel sickness medication an hour before travel; carrying snack boxes, and boiled and filtered water for the child; soft blanket in case it gets cold; a change of clothes in case it gets soiled; a book and a toy to keep them entertained and emergency contact number written on a wrist band, or sewn into clothing so that it could be on them all the time.”
Sharma adds to it saying carry extra of everything. Apart from that, the “only check list item should be for mothers to not panic and stay calm!”
Tantrum is a cry for help
There have, however, been times when despite all the prepartions one massive tantrum can derail everything, for no apparent reason. “I think when children throw tantrums there is some need of theirs that is not being met. They could be hungry or angry or tired, or something that they can’t articulate enough,” says Kothari.
Banerjee adds, “Children try to use public space as a platform to get attention that they might not be getting otherwise. If they don’t like public embarrassment parents need to quieten the child down by giving him attention and discussing later why the child threw the tantrum.”
Sharma, however, has a stronger view: “What is so embarrassing about a child throwing a tantrum in public? The child is only trying to communicate.” To counter that, the parents need to be prepared or risk feeling embarrassed. All that parents need to keep in mind is that involving children in the travel plans goes a long way in enjoying the trip, and enjoying your child, and letting your child enjoy the wonders of something new.