There’s a lot that can go wrong when you’re travelling—and there’s even more that can go wrong when you’re travelling with kids.
From your child screaming non-stop for a 12-hour flight to falling sick overseas, there’s no faster way to ruin a holiday than to be hit with a kid-related disaster and have no way to avert it.
Thankfully, travelling with the young ones can be stress-free and fun with just a little foresight and preparedness. We’ll take you through 10 disasters that can strike when you’re travelling with kids and how to avoid them.
- You become that parent with the screaming kid on a plane
- You lose your luggage
- Your accommodation is just too rustic
- Your child gets sick—touch wood—maybe with COVID-19
- You can’t communicate in the local language
- You go to the least kid-friendly attractions ever
- All the kid-friendly attractions are fully booked
- You missed your flight/bus/train
- The climate is too hot/cold/wet/dry
- You did everything right, but things went wrong anyway
1. You become that parent with the screaming kid on a plane
The last thing you want is to find yourself trapped on a 12-hour flight with a screaming child on your lap and murderous stares from sleep-deprived strangers around you.
To prevent your child from throwing a tantrum on a plane, here are some steps you can take to ensure they have a comfortable flight:
- To minimise ear pain or popping during take-off and landing, bring something for your child to suck or chew on that would encourage them to swallow more. A bottle or pacifier might do the trick for infants, while chewy candy or hard sweets would be great for slightly older children. If you’re a breastfeeding mother, nurse your baby during ascent or descent.
- Bring their favourite snacks in case because plane food kinda sucks, and happy belly = happy child.
- Bring activities to distract your child, such as a colouring book or soft toy. Alternatively, just opt for a full-service flight—these usually come with better in-flight to keep your child entertained and keep your blood pressure in check.
- Take extra care if you’re travelling with an infant under a year old. That includes reserving a bassinet in advance—these usually come in limited quantities for each flight, so check with the airline as early as possible.
2. You lose your luggage
So you get through the flight without a hitch and land safely with your child, all smiles and laughter. You go to the baggage carousel to collect your luggage, and that’s when disaster strikes: the airline has lost your luggage.
There are two main things you can do to prepare for this.
The first is a stopgap solution to meet your child’s immediate needs—in your hand carry, pack a clean set of clothes, some toiletries, and anything else you and your child need to get through a day and a night.
Also be sure to keep things like phone chargers, tickets and other official documents in your carry-on baggage. This will ensure you can continue on to your accommodation and enjoy at least the first day’s itinerary without too much disruption.
Secondly, get travel insurance for you and your family. Don’t write this off as an unnecessary expense! If/when you’re stranded at a foreign airport with little more than your wallet in your pocket and a set of extra clothes on your back, the compensation for delayed, damaged or lost baggage can be a lifesaver. You can use this to buy essentials for your child in the interim, while your lost luggage (hopefully) makes its way back to you.
ALSO READ: Getting the Best Travel Insurance With COVID-19 Coverage in Singapore (2023)
3. Your accommodation is just too rustic
Congratulations! You, your child and your luggage all survived the flight. Next, on to that swanky hotel room!
You open the door to your new abode for the next two weeks, and that’s when you’re hit with funky-looking furniture stains and a musty smell that makes you suspect a family of bed bugs beat your family to the bed. When you turn to what you thought would be the kitchenette area, your stomach drops at the distinct lack of any cooking stoves or kettle to boil water for infant milk.
How are you and your child going to survive the night?
Choosing the right accommodation to meet your child’s needs starts now.
- Read a wide range of reviews, paying attention to the recent ones and any one- or two-star reviews. Any mention of insufficiently cleaned premises is a red flag, especially when you’re travelling with kids.
- Verify what facilities are provided, especially if you need hot water to warm up breast milk or mix infant formula.
- Check if the tap water is clean and safe to drink. Bottled mineral water isn’t recommended for babies due to the possible high levels of minerals it contains. Whether tap water is potable may differ across cities and states in the same country, so emailing the hotel or Airbnb might be the best way to check.
- Check out nearby shopping, transport, and medical amenities. Shopping malls with supermarkets and pharmacies are a big plus. If you’re going to be driving, look out for accommodation near reliable car rental companies’ drop-off and pick up points. Finally, don’t forget to take note of nearby hospitals and clinics—which brings us to our next point.
4. Your child gets sick—touch wood—maybe with COVID-19
Your child getting sick is never fun, and your child getting sick while you’re on a family holiday is 100x worse.
For minor ailments like a (non-COVID) runny nose or a mild injury like a small cut, bring some child-safe medication and a basic first aid kit. Where that isn’t enough, a trip to a nearby pharmacy might do the trick (see our point above!).
Where possible, choose accommodation that’s near a reliable government-certified hospital. You might also want to bookmark these on your phone for quick access, though we hope you won’t need them.
What’s worse than your child falling sick? Your child falling sick with COVID-19. That means a whole bunch of quarantine restrictions are going to kick into place, and your trip is basically cancelled.
While there’s no way to un-COVID your child and un-cancel the imposed quarantine, the next best thing is to get travel insurance with COVID-19 coverage. On top of regular travel insurance coverage, you’ll be covered for the following scenarios:
- Quarantine allowance if diagnosed with COVID-19 overseas
- Cash benefit if hospitalised due to COVID-19
- Medical coverage for COVID-19
- Coverage for trip cancellation/postponement due to being diagnosed with COVID-19
- Emergency transportation allowance to a medical facility for treatment if diagnosed with COVID-19
5. You can’t communicate in the local language
What happens if your child needs medical help, but you can’t tell the local doctors what’s wrong with him/her?
The easiest way to avoid this problem is to choose a country where you can speak the local language, be it English or something else. It might be your dream to travel to far-flung destinations where English is as foreign to them as Swahili is to you, but let’s save that for when the kids are a little older.
If you must travel to a country that speaks a language you aren’t familiar with, memorise or prepare some key phrases to communicate any particular needs your child might have. This could be anything from food allergies to pre-existing medical conditions.
Can’t read any part of that language’s script? There’s no shame in printing out little cards with the relevant information. And if all else fails, have Google Translate and a good overseas data roaming plan ready.
6. You go to the least kid-friendly attractions ever
Your perfect day out might turn into your worst nightmare if you find yourself stuck at a historical landmark with no proper toilets or kid-appropriate activities. And oh, what’s that you smell from your baby’s diaper, in a location with zero baby changing stations? Oh sh—
Should you have an infant young enough to still be in diapers, the first thing you’re gonna want to look out for is attractions with diaper changing and baby showering facilities. A baby with a dirty diaper is going to be unhappy no matter how fun the activities are.
Once you’ve ensured there are adequate baby amenities, look out for attractions that aren’t just kid-friendly, but are stimulating for the young ones. For example, creative playgrounds for toddlers will occupy your child with interactive play structures and let their imagination run free. If you tire them out enough, maybe you’ll even get some quiet down time to yourself or with your partner.
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While we’re talking about child-friendly attractions, don’t forget about child-friendly menus. Not all restaurants have kids’ menus, and even fewer come with high chairs, booster seats and fun crayon sets for toddlers to occupy themselves with. If any or all of these are important to you, call or email the restaurant ahead of time to check if these are available.
7. All the kid-friendly attractions are fully booked
Scouting out the best places to bring the little ones to isn’t enough if everyone else had the same idea and booked a spot ahead of time.
To ensure you and your family have a seamless holiday experience, book all tickets and passes well in advance. That means fleshing out your itinerary in Singapore and booking each day’s tickets while still in Singapore. If you wait till you go to the destination on the day itself to get tickets, you’ll be towing an unhappy child in the queue behind you.
In fact, we recommend you pre-book everything—from theme park tickets to restaurant reservations to rail passes. Which of course might come with another problem…
8. You missed your flight/bus/train
Not only is missing your scheduled flight, bus, or train frustrating, but it’s also stressful, inconvenient, and potentially expensive if you need to repurchase tickets.
We get it though—with kids, delays are sometimes inevitable and unforeseen. That’s why If you’re travelling with young children, the best option might be to rent a car. This gives you more privacy, more flexibility, and greater control over the conditions in which you’re travelling. Possibly the biggest annoyance you’ll have to deal with is your child (if they are old enough to talk) asking, “Are we there yet?” non-stop for an hour.
However, sometimes catching a short domestic flight, taking a bus or hopping on a train is unavoidable. Not all areas are accessible by car. In this case, remember the three golden rules: buffer, buffer, and buffer. Take things slow and avoid a jam-packed itinerary that leaves no room for unscheduled bathroom accidents or unruly bouts of mischief.
9. The climate is too hot/cold/wet/dry
It’s only when we go overseas that we realise this: Singapore is really hot and really humid. Some of us learn this the hard way when we freeze our butts off in the thick of winter. But when it comes to your child, you can prepare them for rain, shine or anything in between.
Colder climates: Investing in a good down jacket for your child might be pricey, but necessary to keep them toasty warm. Don’t forget a winter hat and mittens or gloves—these not only help your child retain heat, but also look adorable. You can always try to get these from a relative and pass them on to another relative once your child outgrows it.
Warmer climates: What? A climate hotter than Singapore’s scorching afternoons? Yes, they exist, and you can prepare for them with handheld battery-operated fans, adequate hydration, and cooling, loose-fitted clothing. Choose materials that are lightweight and light-coloured—dark colours absorb more heat.
Dryer climates: Dryer climates, especially in winter months, can wreak havoc on skin that’s only ever experienced Singapore’s high humidity. Your child or baby’s skin might be even more sensitive. While one obvious choice is to layer on moisturiser, be careful to choose baby-safe products. Another good tip is to bring aloe vera gel or some kind of soothing, hypoallergenic cream in case your child experiences an itchy winter rash despite your best efforts.
Fluctuating climates: There’s a common saying in Melbourne that they have four seasons in one day. The truth is, Melbourne isn’t the only place like that. If your travel destination might go from blazing hot in the morning to raining hailstones in the afternoon, pack plenty of layers that can be stripped off or put on. You’ll also want to pack things like a child-sized raincoat and a big UV protection umbrella to cover you, rain or shine.
10. You did everything right, but things went wrong anyway
Here’s the truth: There’s no such thing as a perfect holiday. Itineraries might look perfect on paper, but play out nothing like they were supposed to—even if you followed all of our travel tips above.
Things can and will go wrong: Cars might break down, and—let’s face it—at least one or two attractions out of all that you picked out will probably be a bit of a let down.
So the best and most important piece of advice we can give is this: Stay flexible. If the roads are snowed in, take the adventure indoors. If it turns out your child detests musicals, leave early and find something else to do as a family.
Even if it’s your child’s first travel experience and their favourite part about the entire trip was the blueberry muffin they got onboard the flight back home (true story!), don’t feel bad about it. The most important part about travelling together as a family is that you finally did it, you saw a piece of the world together, and you’ll be jetting off on another trip in no time.
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