TRAVEL: Take a 'gap year' with the kids

29 September 2017
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An increasing number of families are choosing to hit pause on life and take an extended trip when the kids are young. And with a little planning it could be the greatest adventure your family ever shares.

It could be six weeks touring around Australia, driving a motorhome across Europe, or spending a several months undertaking charity work in Asia. Whatever your destination, many families are choosing to pack up and hit the road when the kids are little, giving them some of the most significant life experiences they could ever hope for. 

Georgina Grandi, Personal Travel Manager from Travel Managers, believes that travelling when kids are younger is the perfect time. “They are excited about the adventure, and you can start building a family’s love of travel from a young age,” she explained. “Also, they haven’t yet started school so it won’t interrupt their school education.” 

Though people like to think they have a work/life balance, the reality is often very different, and removing everyone from the day-to-day routine can offer genuine quality time and a chance to connect as a family unit. Most importantly, Georgina believes that an adult’s love for travel shouldn’t have to end when you have kids. “Take them along for the adventure. The kids will love you for it.” 

Travel with kids today

The experience of travelling with children has changed dramatically in recent years. Gone are the days of one movie screen at the front of the plane and boring museum displays. Today, kids are catered for at every turn with in-flight entertainment, hands-on exhibitions, menus with colouring activities, and family-friendly hotels. Today’s mini explorers also have the world at their fingertips, with Google Earth, and encyclopedia and translation apps to enrich every experience. And of course, they can also now stay in touch with friends and family back home as they go. 

The world is a classroom

Some of the best life lessons are found outside a textbook. “Travelling teaches kids life skills such as respect, resilience and patience,” Georgina said. “It also captures children’s imagination and their senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The excitement of fireworks, the smell of the noodle markets, the thrill of entering an underground cave.” 

There are also practical experiences such as using different currencies, passports and learning a different language, and it can be the start of their immersion into history and geography. 

“It always amazes me when meeting kids from a different country who speak a different language and grow up in different environments,” Georgina added. “They play the same games, laugh at the same jokes, and genuinely love people visiting their country. It’s wonderful to see your children playing with children of other countries in their beautiful and natural way.”  

Becoming immersed in a new culture, children are also inspired to try new food and see the world from a different perspective. “I have a very fussy eater and I always find that when we travel, he will try new foods that I can put on his ‘can now eat’ list when we get home,” Georgina said.  “It’s a small win buts it’s a win!”

Getting started

Though there are many amazing corners of the world to visit, travel with little ones does come with some restrictions, so choose a trip to suit your whole family. Trekking the Himalayas with a toddler might be out, but the USA and Southeast Asia are very kid-friendly. If you are travelling with older kids, get them involved in choosing a destination – they might have a burning desire to see penguins in the wild, or go to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. 

If you aren’t sure what will suit your family, Georgina recommends starting off doing a long drive in Australia. “It will show you how well the kids travel and what they enjoy (and don’t enjoy). As an example, we did a great road trip from Brisbane to Melbourne, we took a month all up but spent a week travelling in each direction.” Try making the drive part of the holiday, taking different routes in each direction and making the stops fun. “We travelled via the coast in one direction and then went inland on the return. Australia is a magnificent country, get out there and explore it. It’s on your doorstep!” 

If you want to venture a little further, try driving a motorhome around a couple of the US states. “Instead of heading straight to Disneyland, make your way to a National Park. They are full of fascinating sights, great walks and the stops are always interesting. You can then use Disneyland as a bribe for the kids!”

If you want to head even further afield, Georgina suggests a rail journey through Europe. “Depending on which destinations you visit, you will probably get the kids’ rail for free. It varies for each country but in general, kids under 4–6 years are free.”  

If you are planning on driving, Georgina recommends not driving more than 400kms a day. “The kids get restless after this time and it means you won’t get tired from too much driving, especially in unfamiliar territory.”

What to do when you get there

Rather than keep moving around all the time, have a base and use it to take day trips. This means you aren’t packing and unpacking all the time. It also helps the kids to settle rather than be overwhelmed by constant change. 

Once settled, Georgina recommends look for activities that will be fun for everyone. “It is no fun if you are at kids’ parks all day, so mix it up. Go to a park in the morning and then when the kids are tired, put them in the stroller and make your way to something else such as a museum. However, always check ahead with museums, as many now have kid zones with fabulous activities.” 

Though you might want to fit in all the sights, slow your pace down and try not to be on the go all the time. “Take time to hang at the beach or with the locals,” added Georgina. “The kids don’t need rollercoasters, they just want to play in the sand and eat ice cream. These are the times when funny situations happen that are unplanned but remain with you forever.”    

Last but definitely not least, research, research, research! “The better prepared you are for the trip, the easier it is going to be,” said Georgina. “If you are time poor, use a Travel Manager to help you in the planning.”

 

Top tips for travelling with young kids

  • Be prepared for delays and last-minute changes.
  • Never assume your kids can wait for the next toilet stop!
  • Know where the parks located so the kids can run around.
  • Check airports for kids’ play areas and facilities. 
  • Book an apartment so you have kitchen facilities. It will save you money in the long run and you get to visit the supermarket or deli to try local specialties. 
  • Check everyone’s passports that they won’t expire for at least six months after the trip.
  • Make sure vaccinations are all up to date.
  • Check the Department of Foreign Affair website (www.dfat.gov.au) for each country to intend to visit for up-to-date information.

 

Don’t forget…

  • Always carry a medical kit.
  • Pack a small backpack that kids can carry themselves with their own essentials. 
  • Always have a sling or carrier for babies.
  • Use scooters for older kids to get around on, and consider a hiking back pack for little ones. 
  • Be ruthless with non-essentials. Kids really don’t need much beyond a special cuddly toy, and an iPad with books, games and movies. 
  • Give kids a diary or old camera to record their own memories. It will be interesting to look back on the trip from their perspective.
  • Rather than take your heavy pram, take a cheaper umbrella stroller that is light and convenient. Most airports will allow you to take it all the way to the gate.
  • Take a spare pair of clothes in your hand luggage for everyone + snacks + hand wipes.
  • Take a list of all current medications – contact lenses, glasses etc.
  • If you are planning on renting a property, take with you evidence of credit rating and letters of reference.

 

Georgina Grandi is a Personal Travel Manager based in Wynnum, QLD 4178. Connect with her at Georgina.Grandi@travelmanagers.com.au, www.travelmanagers.com.au, or on Facebook: @TravelManagerGeorginaGrandi.

 

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