Tips for Travelling with Children
Prepared by Harold Stephens
Travel Correspondent for Thai Airways International
Peter Rukavina and his wife, from Canada, decided they would like to come to Thailand for a visit; they wrote and asked my advice about bringing their young three-year old son Oliver with them. After seeing many Westerners traveling with their children in and around Bangkok, and even up country, I wrote and said I didn’t see why they couldn’t travel to Thailand with Oliver.
They came, spent three weeks, and had a grand time. I wrote about them earlier in Weekly Travel Feature, with advice for other travelers who are thinking about doing the same thing. I also suggested that readers who wanted more information should e-mail Peter direct, and I gave his e-mail address.
Peter received hundred of emails, and he has been good enough to answer many of the mail. He recently received an e-mail from a lady named Christelle. Peter replied to her, and sent me a copy. I found it packed with valuable information that I’d like to pass it on to readers.
Peter’s answer to Christelle: I'll answer you as best I can. First, about bringing a camping bed for your son, is it a good idea or not? We stayed more often in guesthouses rather than luxury hotels. We found that Guest Houses while they often had high chairs available in their coffee shops, any sort of crib or special bedding wasn't generally available, so Oliver ended up sleeping with us. If yours is used to sleeping alone, and you'd like to encourage this, then some sort of bed might indeed be useful.
Christelle: What about insect repellent? Is it not dangerous since children put their hands in his mouth all the time?
Peter: We bought two varieties of insect repellent, one with DEET and one without, and ended up not using either, as we (a) there in the dry season, (b) tended to stay in urban areas exclusively and (c) didn't actually encounter any insects. It would have been a much more challenging situation for us if we were more rural and in the rainy season: the advice from out foreign travel clinic here was that it's generally better to risk the evils of DEET so as to avoid the greater evils of malaria and dengue fever.
Christelle: Bringing a mosquito net, a good idea or not?
Peter: We didn't, but again, we didn't have much need.
Christelle: Finding baby milk and other baby food? Are there shops like '7-Eleven'?
Peter: We used our trip to Thailand to switch Oliver from a baby-food-only diet. We did bring a box of dry fortified cereal, and mixed this with boiling water for breakfast every morning, which gave us some assurance that he was at least eating something, but we found him willing and eager to try just about anything we encountered otherwise. We were fairly conservative in where we ate, tending towards hotel coffee shops more than street stalls, but we did get braver, with no ill effects, as our trip wore on. There are 7-Eleven shops everywhere. We found disposable diapers, in small packages, available anywhere in 7-Eleven.
Christelle: I saw that you had a stroller as well as a backpack to carry. Would you advise to indeed take both?
Peter: We spent a lot of time in advance finding the perfect baby backpack, and even took a trial trip down to Boston for the weekend just to ensure that it worked well. This was all we took on the trip with us. While it worked well on the airplane -- we always brought it right on the plane with us -- we abandoned it almost as soon as we got to Thailand, as we found that, in the heat and pollution of Bangkok it was just too much for both Oliver and Oliver's bearer. Thankfully we had a couple in Bangkok, The author of the Post article and his wife, who were an excellent resource for us, and they procured a folding stroller for us from their church, and this was our salvation. We thought that uneven streets and pavement would make it impossible to navigate with a stroller, but this was almost never the case: the only really difficult area to navigate was the long stairs up to the Sky Train in Bangkok -- it always seemed that the escalator was on the other side of the street. We successfully used buses, trains, planes, and riverboats with the stroller; it was great. One tip: don't take one of the really cheap, really portable "umbrella"-type strollers, as your child will quickly grow uncomfortable. Opt for something where the bed can recline, and, ideally, something with a sunshade. With a stroller in hand, I can't see any reason to bring a baby backpack.
Christelle: Is there anything extra you would recommend? Anything you did not think at first but would have made your life easier after all?
Peter: Although it is expensive. I highly recommend getting your child a seat of his own on your long-haul air flights. The best advice I read when we were planning our trip was this: find a small chair somewhere in your house; sit down with your child on your lap; stay there for 18 hours. If you can manage that, by all means carry the child on the airplane on your lap; otherwise grit your teeth and get them their own seat. We took Oliver's regular car seat, which had an "okay for airplane use" sticker (be sure yours has one; some airlines check and refuse the seat if it isn't there) and although it was big and bulky and inconvenient to lug through airports, it was largely responsible for maintaining our sanity.
Oliver was generally fine on the flight over -- he slept for long periods. It's important that while one of you is playing or feeding or otherwise entertaining your child on the plane the other one gets some rest, as they’ll be called into action sooner or later, and without at least one of you alive and ready at all times, things can get stressful very quickly. I had my "meltdown" in Tokyo on the way there (we flew Toronto, Chicago, Tokyo, Bangkok) -- just hit a wall of fatigue and couldn't operate at all. Thankfully Catherine was in fine form and was able to handle things.
In-country, transport was another issue entirely: we left Oliver's car seat with our friends in Bangkok and carried/strollered Oliver everywhere.
This was generally just fine, although speeding around Chiang Mai in the back of a tuktuk with Oliver hanging on for dear life certainly forced us to change our point of view about safety-related issues!
Health-wise we benefited from a very good foreign travel clinic here in Charlottetown: we got our shots there (Oliver only needed Hep A, as he'd received everything else as part of his normal course), but also received good advice about possible food and water-born illnesses. We took a fairly well stocked bag of medical items -- hydrating salts, band-aids, etc., and also had a prescription for Cipro, a very powerful antibiotic, in case Oliver or we got into serious stomach problems. We ended up using none of it, but were always happy it was there.
If you are seasoned traveller you will know this already, but do your packing, and then, when you're all packed and ready, try and get rid of 1/3 again as much of what you were originally planning to take with you. We got the three of us down to one large backpack and one small carry-on backpack; with the car seat and the stroller and Oliver, we couldn't have managed more. We found even the smallest guesthouse would do our laundry, and so we got by with very little. We also got very good at navigating the Thai postal service so as to be able to send back anything we purchased by mail and not have to lug it around with us; amazingly the "3 to 4 months sea mail" that was the cheapest option arrived in about 3 weeks.
Christelle: Did Oliver have his own passport, or is he registered in one of yours/both of yours?
Peter: I'm not sure what country you're writing from, but here in Canada there is no longer the opportunity for a child to not have a passport of their own. To avoid problems at customs and security, I'd suggest you get a passport for your child even if you don't have to.
By the way, one big thing you will find is that you will get access to special treatment in airports the likes of which you've never seen. In Bangkok, for example, we were ushered to the head of a customs line. This was true everywhere but in Japan, where we received no special treatment at all. Otherwise you will find the Thai attitude towards children very different than you are used to if you live in the west: the first time your child is spirited off to the restaurant kitchen so that you can eat in peace you will fear that they have been kidnapped; after a while it will feel like he most natural thing in the world.
One travel recommendation: we took the train south from Chiang Mai to the city of Phitsanulok, which is about 1/2 way to Bangkok. We stayed there for 2 days and had a wonderful time. It's a very compact city, with a small downtown and very few tourists. There is a wonderful night market.
Hope this has been helpful; please don't hesitate to write back if there's anything else I can tell you! firstname.lastname@example.org (Work)
And I thank you, Peter, for doing my work for me.
E-mail: ROH Weekly Travel (email@example.com)
Note: The article is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the view of Thai Airways International Public Company Limited.