It’s a maxim universally marketed that having children kills the traveller in you. It is something often quoted in the “Why not to have kids” bibles and generally nodded to and sighed upon. ‘Herculean task’, ‘nightmare’, ‘horror story’ are commonly used words by people to describe traveling with kids. And then there are pre-boarding facilities and goody bags from airlines, overload of activity timetables at resorts – all aiming to subtly announce that a holiday with children is going to require supreme engineering.
When I threw open the question of how do we make our children better travelers on my blog’s forum, I received the usual formulaic responses, since no one realized it was a trick question: Plan well, involve the child, tell them about where they are going to travel, show them pictures, videos, show them the place on the map, plan their meals (or pack whatever you can), get them excited about what they will do on the plane , make a list of activities, take their favorite toys, carry board games, carry their favorite food, favorite puzzle, favorite soft toy, favorite movie.. and so on.
Why travel at all, I wondered? Why bother if you are going to simulate the same kind of life in a different address? When you do the aforementioned, you are raising the opposite of a real traveler. I do realize that holidays need to be planned (especially when kids start formal schooling as there are at best three windows to choose from). But that should be limited to bookings. In my experience, Air BnBs and homestays work better than hotels and if you choose locations you have friends living in – nothing like it.
In my limited experience of seven years and 13 trips with a child, I have come to realize this: The problem, very often, is not the child. It’s the adults. Because you pass on to your child how you have been programmed to travel and if you are the kind who bursts a capillary because you forgot to pack your iPod speakers, chances are, you are already raising a high maintenance child who may prove the cliché right. But this is not a post that tells you what to pack in their bag or how to pacify an irate kid on a plane. Instead I will tell you this:
Don’t behave like you are moving there. You are just travelling. Stop being so manicured about your travels. Your child will follow suit. On my first travel date with fellow parents, I noticed that they came armed with a suitcases full of toys, dolls, books and games for a three night stay in Matheran. “Why do you need so much?”, I asked. “Oh, you never know. It’s better to be prepared,” they said. But isn’t that what travel is about? Not knowing?
Don’t oversell the destination and what you will do there. Don’t sell the journey either. Parents have a tendency to do this. This disallows the child any room to have his own her own experiences, and they are forced to look at the entire trip through a readymade lens, which will never allow the real traveller in them to come out.
Allow the place to happen to your child. Don’t tell them what to expect. This usually means giving at least four to five days in one location to give enough time to experience it, rather than location hopping. Improvise. If things always went as they were planned, it’s not travel. It’s stasis. I think this works better for adults too.
Travel is not about being constantly entertained and your child needs to know that. And if you in that trap, you are teaching them that this is how life is – a series of fun-filled, action packed time capsules on loop, where there is no time for recovery, stillness or nothingness – you are in a dangerous place. It’s a slippery slope from there.
Give gadgets a break. Try clouds instead. Or birdsong. Technology is an easy weapon used by most parents – I see it in airports, holiday destinations – each child with a gadget, adults with theirs, swiping away. It’s time to talk to each other and not our gadgets.