The most important thing to pack is the right attitude. No, your journey is not going to look like those on Instagram. Yes, it’s gonna be messy and exhausting. And it is going to be the best of all times.
Leave the strict, everyday rules at home. The entire plane will thank you for giving your little ones that lollipop they usually aren’t allowed. Accept that you need more time for every little move, and make everyone go to toilet whenever possible.
Half-fill your bag with snacks to be safe (and the other half you ask? See next point.) Snacks are the best for an instant rise in energy levels when navigating through a strange metropolis with a toddler or two. Sometimes low blood sugar levels affect the parents’ moods also, so make sure your partner eats his or her cookie too.
Opt for familiar snacks. There’s a time and place to make your offspring give roasted crickets or durian at try – but for this purpose their favourites are definitely the safer choice. Watermelon from the roadside vendor, chocolate milk or fresh juices are great for keeping kids hydrated – and for bribing them to keep calm during the final 30 minutes on the songtaew.
3. WET WIPES
When on the go, something will always spill. Or bleed. Or be too yucky to touch. Keep wet wipes in an easily accessible place, like the side pocket of your bag, where you can reach them with one hand and one movement. Speed is key here.
Keep wet wipes in an easily accessible place, speed is key here.
Whether you spend the day hiking or sightseeing, in the afternoon everyone is tired and cranky from the heat and exhaustion. This is the time to go and enjoy a family massage. A foot massage is best because it’s easy to find a row of reclining seats for the whole bunch of you. Preferably in an air-conditioned room with just the waterfall fountain breaking the silence.
Kids and adults alike will love this serene little pitstop, getting admiring smiles from the staff and a pleasant rub down from a happy face. In my experience, everyone under six years old will instantly fall asleep, even though they insist they’re ‘too old for day napping’. Heaven after a day in Chiang Mai’s Sunday market or a visit to the hill tribe villages.
Teach your kids to ‘wai’ when entering, greeting and thanking. Hands together and a nod, a wai is a sign of respect. Smart kids discover the benefits of wai’ing – everyone loves polite little falangs, and they’re in for treats, playing and even more smiles than usual.
Polite gestures and a few phrases in Thai are part of every traveller’s tool box. Make sure you know the do’s and don’ts of the country, and guide your kids to respect the culture too. Socially responsible travel tips can be found here.
6. MEET THE LOCALS
Travelling children get the same bias as their parents: everyone seems to be there to serve them, be it a taxi, hotel or restaurant. To show the real life behind the tourist scene, spend a few days in a homestay. Even better if you can make it a village-stay, where you are guests of the whole village and get invited to take part in everyday local activities.
Kids don’t need a common language to make local friends. Rock paper scissors, tag and football can be played with sign language. All they need is some time to overcome their shyness and suss each other out. Three nights with a local family and your children have experienced more than a lifetime’s worth of all-inclusives at a big resort.
7. ALL INCLUSIVES, BUT NOT THE USUAL ONES
A curse word among “real travellers”, all-inclusive packages with their bracelets and crowds of other tourists are a no-no for real experience seekers. But sometimes it’s nice to have someone else do the bundling of activities, accommodation and dining for you.
Operators like Duara Travels have wandered the hills and found remote villages with home-stay options and put together multiple packages that include everything, even additional activities with the locals. Booking this way you get a rest from planning and deciding, and still get the most authentic insider view to the culture and the people.
8. Ambition level check
Travelling off the beaten path with children is the best. But set your ambition to a realistic level: keep the days short enough, don’t overestimate the stamina of the little feet and don’t be disappointed if your kids are done with that temple you love in two and a half minutes. And always reserve time for play, exploring and surprises.
If there’s a toilet, use it. Every time. All of you.
10. Big memories from the small stuff
Children don’t wish for extreme experiences. They find joy and wonderment in small, everyday stuff. A ride in a tuk tuk, feeding the pig that lives under the house of your homestay. Running into a fountain. Petting a cat or going to a local market.
If you have the opportunity to do a village stay, cooking on an open fire, washing a car in a waterfall or sweeping the local temple’s yard with a monk are better memories and souvenirs than money can buy. And it is healthy for us adults also, to stop and enjoy the wonders of everyday, too.