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On the Road: Places to Stay

Traveling with kids

ON THE ROAD: Part Two (of 5)

Compliments of: "Travel With Children" by Maureen Wheeler (Lonely Planet Publications, 155 Filbert Street, Suite 251, Oakland, CA 94607.)

RULES OF THE ROAD:

PLACES TO STAY:

SETTLING IN

Some children will sleep anywhere with a minimum of fuss. At one stage my children certainly did not fit into that category, although they are much better sleepers now that they are older. If your children are members of the great non-sleepers' conspiracy, there are a number of possible solutions.

Your children may not take to too much moving around. You may find that they find it hard to settle in a new room. It is worthwhile to make sure you are always settled into the hotel early in the afternoon to give your children time to get used to the room. Even very young babies can be extremely sensitive to their surroundings. Try to give them time to explore the room, play in it, learn where the bathroom is, etc. It is also an idea to carry something personal which will make the room familiar. Try to have something that a baby can always have within view; a small hanging object, a fluffy toy that sits on the bed, a familiar rug or cuddly will help children settle.

Let older children play house. They can set out their toys and books and chose a drawer or space to put their clothes in. Little boys and girls love to bustle around "tidying up" and each new room can provide an excellent opportunity. If they want to move things, let them (within reason).

SLEEP

The fact that you are all sleeping in the same room may also be unsettling for your children. I find that the younger they are, the more difficult it is. Tashi will now sleep through anything, yet as a baby the slightest noise would have her awake and noisy. Babies tend to sleep lightly and are easily disturbed.

Getting children to have daytime naps can also be a problem on the road. Small children need a sleep during the day and will be extra tired when traveling. Some children may sleep quite happily on your shoulder wherever you may be, others need to be laid down on a bed, given a drink and cuddled before they can drift off.

When Tashi was two years old we spent an hour or so every afternoon lying beside her telling stories and singing songs before she would go to sleep. You can sometimes make a choice: keep your children awake all afternoon, and put them to bed early (which means your day ends early too); or insist that they have an afternoon nap in the hope that you can all go out to eat at night without exhaustion making the experience a misery for all of you.

When I say you have a choice, I am assuming your children will comply-they don't always. It was always a battle to get Tashi to sleep. From the day she was born, sleep was something she tried to do without. When she was 18 months old, she gave up all daytime naps but got into the habit of going to bed at 6 to 6:30 p.m. and sleeping a straight 12 hours. When she was little we stuck to that routine when traveling and it worked quite well. From the age of two, however, we found that the traveling and the heat tired her out, so that we could get her to go to sleep in the afternoon (with songs, etc.!) and she would stay up quite late, quite happily.

Kieran, however, was quite a different kettle of fish. He would sleep until midnight, after which he would wake for a chat at least once before dawn. He liked to have a good morning sleep, in a bed, and then until he was 13-months-old, again in the afternoon.

Which meant that our days had to be structured around his naps. This was sometimes awkward, and at times he just had to accept that bed was not available, but on the whole we tried to keep to the routine he liked. On his first trip, when he was just four months old and he was more able to sleep anywhere, we took a reclining stroller and he would sleep in that. However, where possible, we did try to organize things to suit him.

As he got older it was more difficult; no matter how tired he got, if he couldn't lie down and have a sleep, he was miserable and quite able to keep himself awake way beyond the point where he could cope. It is not worth trying to force your children to "get used to it" in this sort of situation; you will simply have to organize your traveling to suit them. This is where the compromise comes in-you have to, your children won't.

Older children are much easier; they usually like new hotel rooms, and will run around checking out what they offer. Usually they have a preferred bed to sleep on within minutes of entering the room, and they also like to set out their toys and books and make a space for themselves. Going to bed at night is the usual matter of getting them to settle d own, but hey usually present few problems as the days' events will have worn them out.

When there are four of you, it may be easier to take two rooms side by side, rather than all pile into one. In some places, like Bali, you can often get two rooms sharing a veranda, which becomes your private "sitting room." You also have the benefit of two bathrooms. It's surprising how often even pretty basic hotels have some sort of family room or "suite". Getting a place where you have your space and the children have theirs can make a real difference to everybody's comfort.

With a veranda or some other separate space, the parents can sit and read or talk while the children eventually go to sleep. Sometimes this is not possible, so you are stuck with trying to dim the room sufficiently to encourage the children to sleep but not so much that you are forced to go to bed too. As the children get older, you may find that they can stay awake until a reasonably late hour, and then you can all go to bed at the same time.

COTS

Expensive "international standard" can almost always supply them and in many places, even more reasonably priced hotels will have something for a baby or small child to sleep in. Some places will charge more for a cot but many cheap places will not have heard of them; in developing countries even many medium-priced hotels will look at you with incomprehension.

I didn't carry a port-a-cot with me for either of the children, and although it would have been useful at times we managed without one. There are all sorts of alternatives, including the children simply sleeping with you, although if your children are restless sleepers, like Tashi was, that can be no fun at all.

Two armchairs placed facing each other can make a fine, safe sleeping cot for a small child. Even if you don't leave them there all night it can be useful for daytime sleeps, and for the first part of the evening when the baby is asleep, but the rest of you are sitting up reading or whatever. A large drawer might also prove serviceable as an improvised cot.

From 18 months old onwards children (depending on how big they are and how confident) can really go into a bed. You can always make sure they get abed against the wall and put a pillow beside them if you worry about them falling out.

BATHING

Bathing your children may sound simple but, depending on the age of your child, it may require some organization, particularly if you are traveling on a budget or off the beaten track and your room does not have an attached bathroom, or if there is no bathtub in the bathroom. Sometimes, as in Indonesia, even a western-type shower may not be available. Most children under 12 months old are not quite ready for an Indonesian mandi-standing in the bathroom sloshing buckets of cold water over their heads. You can often ask for hot water to bathe a small child in but it can take some time to produce and in tropical areas where nobody washes in hot water you will be looked at somewhat askance! The hotel may also have a tin bath, or a plastic basin you can borrow.

One place we stayed in Pokhara, Nepal, had two plastic basins for washing clothes. I bathed Tashi and Kieran on the grass outside during the hottest part of the day (because the water was cold) by sitting them in one basin each and scrubbing them down. They thought it was great fun. Tashi at two years old thought Indonesian mandis were great, but her feet were the only part of her that really got washed. Now both children love them and have great fun hurling water around and shrieking with pleasure. Staying in ryokan, the traditional Japanese inns, the children enjoyed following the local custom: you wash outside the bath, then sit and soak in the hot water.

Some small children will take showers, but most of them do not like the experience of water gushing down on them. When Kieran was really little, I used to just lie him on the plastic change mat I had brought, get a bucket of warmish water and wash him down with a cloth. Even in the tropics it can get very cool when the sun goes down (or at least comparatively cooler) and the children may complain loudly about the cold water, so try and wash them while the day is still pretty warm. Then you can let them splash around as much as they like and hopefully clean them in the process.

Occasionally you will strike it lucky and find a bathroom with a tub, not just a shower. While this is a great distraction for most kids, you need to make sure that they don't drink the water, something which they may be used to doing at home (whether you're aware of it or not!).

For teeth cleaning, keep bottled or boiled, purified water in the bathroom and make sure your children know that it must be used when cleaning teeth and for rinsing the toothbrush. Small children often swallow quite a lot of water when cleaning their teeth, so although you may not think it is necessary for yourself, try to make it a rule for the children, and don't let them see you doing otherwise.

TOILETS

If your children are past the nappy stage, they may well be at the "toilet-fixation" stage. You know, when they can't pass up the opportunity to use a different toilet wherever they go? I remember having to swiftly curtail Tashi's delight at being let loose in a showroom full of new bathroom fittings. With both our children there was a phase where no restaurant visit (or flight for that matter) was complete without a thorough inspection of the sanitary facilities.

If, however, toilet facilities are not conveniently to hand and your child gets caught short, any restaurant, coffee shop or hotel will let you use their bathrooms in an emergency, whether you are a patron or not. In small towns or villages, if there is an absence of public places, you can always explain the situation to a pleasant looking bystander (you will almost always have an entourage around you). Whether or not you will always want to use the facilities offered is another question. If you are absolutely stuck, do what the locals do: hold your child out over a drain, or any other likely place.

In parts of Asia, toilets are usually the squat-down variety rather than familiar western sit-up variety. Your children may balk at these "hole-in-the-ground" affairs. Try to be patient. I'll bet you had reservations, too when you first saw them. If you show them how it's done, they'll probably come to regard it at least as an interesting novelty. Always go with them and help them to get organized-they will probably want to be held while they are squatting; many children are afraid they are about to disappear down the hole.

BABY SITTERS

Baby sitters are a possibility in many countries. Large hotels in tourist areas can often make babysitting arrangements, but it's much nicer when the little local hotel in which you are staying is run by a family, and the daughters would just love to look after your children. You can come to some arrangement as to when and how much; usually it will be a very small financial cost. If you are planning a long stay in one place, you can often organize someone to look after the children. Inquire at your hotel, or if you know someone in the area ask them to check it out for you.

In general even young children (by our standards) will be very competent babysitters. Most young girls have been trained by looking after their younger siblings. Children as young as five often have total responsibility for little babies while their parents work.

While I don't suggest you hire a five-year-old, children from 11 years upwards will usually be competent "nannies." In Asia in particular I really don't feel you have to be as cautious or wary with strangers as you would in most Western countries. Obviously there is always some uneasiness with people you don't know, but certainly in the villages and smaller places your children should be perfectly safe with a local child-sitter. Leave snacks and drinks and make sure they understand that your children are not to drink the local water. For the first few times you leave them, try to be gone for only a short time and tell the babysitter when you will be back. If you have any instructions make sure they are understood-get an interpreter if necessary.

With very small children it doesn't really matter whether the babysitter speaks English-"no" is fairly clear in most languages-but with older children it will help if the babysitter speaks even a little English. Tashi and Kieran have enjoyed a wide variety of babysitters and were quite happy to sit and draw with those who didn't speak English very well or at all. The three of them used pictures to communicate, drawing houses, animals and so on and giving the names of things they drew in both languages. I found the baby-sitters enjoyed this as much as the children.

Nowadays, the children disdain babysitters and are often quite happy to stay in the hotel room and watch TV. (Star TV, in Asia, provides reruns of ancient "Neighbors" episodes and up-to-the-minute basketball games direct from the USA.)

(Don't forget to check out this entire article - Parts 1 through 5.)

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