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Taking little children on big trips

Published on: April 01, 2007

How could we turn down an invitation to a Delhi wedding where the groom
would ride in on an elephant? It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
But what about our five-year-old son? We weren't willing to leave him
behind while we traveled to India for two weeks. Although we'd taken
Zane to Mexico twice, this type of international travel would clearly
be more complicated. There was the 22-hour flight, the risk of malaria,
recent outbreaks of dengue fever and the news of bombings in Mumbai.
Were we making the right choice in taking our son halfway around the
world for a traditional Indian wedding?

We ultimately decided we were. We wanted to give our family a unique
cultural experience, and expose Zane to the reality that not everyone
enjoys the luxuries we often take for granted. Fortunately, we found
that a little bit of advance planning went a long way. Although we had
our share of challenging travel moments, seeing our son ride the
wedding elephant and participate in a henna ceremony made them
completely worth it.

Although you can't plan for everything, here are some tips to help make
your overseas journey a little less stressful.

Gather documents early

Allow enough time for passport processing, which can take up to two
months. Obtaining visas can also take several weeks. If only one parent
is traveling, you may need documentation that the other parent has
given permission for the child to leave the country.

Research health recommendations

Visit the Centers for Disease Control Web site (http://www.cdc.gov/travel/)
for health recommendations about your destination country. If
immunizations and/or medications are recommended, make an appointment
with your family doctor or local travel clinic. Plan early, as some
vaccinations need 2-4 weeks to take effect. Although travel medicines
and vaccines can be costly, the peace of mind is worth the increased
travel budget. Find out what is covered by your health insurance, and
call different travel clinics and doctors to compare costs.

Explore itinerary options

For extremely long journeys, consider an overnight layover. By spending
the night in Korea on the way to India, not only did we avoid a
grueling 24-hour travel day, but we also enjoyed exploring cosmopolitan
Seoul. When building your itinerary, try to allow for extra time at the
airport to help reduce potential stress.

Find spacious lodging

Roomy suites or rental houses are worth the extra money. Dramatic time
zone changes mean that children will often wake up in the middle of the
night. It is useful to have an extra room where part of the family can
be awake while others catch up on sleep. A kitchen allows you to easily
make meals, and a fridge allows you to easily store kid favorites like
milk or yogurt.

Pack efficiently

Long flights and jet lag means tired children, and you may find
yourself carrying them while waiting in long lines or when running to
catch a flight. If your child is too big for a stroller, but still
young enough to be carried, you won't want to be unnecessarily weighed
down. Leave as many extras at home as possible; many supplies will be
available at your destination. Check as many bags through to your
destination as possible and avoid overly heavy carry-on bags.

Bring entertainment

The one thing you do need to bring is your child's activity-filled
travel bag. Fill a small backpack with lightweight books, pens and
games. Buy some new items before you go as a surprise during the long
flight. Find out if your airline has entertainment centers available
for each individual passenger. If not, you may want to invest in a
small portable DVD player and extra battery pack.

Watch what you eat

In many third world countries, you'll want to avoid raw fruits and
vegetables that can't be peeled, food from street vendors, and ice made
from unfiltered water. Only drink bottled water and juices. Pack
travel-size bottles of hand sanitizer and have your child sanitize
their hands several times a day, particularly before eating. If you are
traveling in remote areas, you may want to bring a water bottle that
doubles as a purifier.

Keep snacks handy

Since overseas travel often means unanticipated delays, it is smart to
always have snacks on hand. Even airlines with excellent service have
long spans between meals. If you are going to a country with wildly
different flavors or levels of spiciness, bring a few easy food items
with you. We brought peanut butter, cereal bars and macaroni and cheese
to India and were very happy we did.

Allow for down time

Although the temptation will be to pack in as much as you can, don't
overdo it. Young children are easily over-stimulated and need daily
down time. Even adults will find that usually simple tasks -- such as
getting cash or finding lunch -- can be much more tiring in a foreign
country. Plan one or two things a day, keeping in mind that young
children don't tolerate crowds, museum visits or long lines as well as
adults. Pay attention to your child's moods and respect their limits.

Pack your sense of adventure

Remember that overseas travel with young children can sometimes take
very interesting (and exhausting) twists and turns. If you keep your
spirit of openness, adventure and humor, you'll find that within some
of the most difficult moments are gems your family will treasure for
years to come.

Lisette Austin
is a frequent traveler and freelance writer who contributes regularly
to local publications. She lives in Seattle with her husband and son.

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