After more than 15 years of mostly solo travel, all of a sudden I had three other people to think about and plan for. Our first overseas trip with my step-kids was to Malaysia when they were aged 10 and 11. I’d been invited to a wedding in Langkawi and we decided to spend a week in KL first. It was the first time I had ever spent 24 hours a day with the kids, and many of my friends were happy to point out that spending that amount of time with their own kids would be a challenge, let alone with someone else’s. Nevertheless, the trip went pretty well, until we got to Langkawi, where the wheels came close to falling off.
Here are some of the rookie errors we made in travelling with kids:
Mistake # 1: Not taking enough food.
I mistakenly assumed that if we fed the kids until they couldn’t eat any more at breakfast, they’d last until lunch time before they needed to eat again. If you’ve been a parent of an 11 year old boy, you’ll know how naïve I was. Less than five minutes after we’d stepped out the front door of the BnB, my stepson was asking where we were going for lunch. When we found somewhere for an early lunch, five minutes later he was asking about dinner. We had brought muesli bars with us but I was a fool to think they would fill much of a gap. Luckily in KL there were a lot of cheap food options, but much of our days were shaped around searching for food. And at places like the waterpark, where it was $45 for a bucket of chips, we learned a very expensive lesson about not packing enough food.
Solution: In future, the first thing we will do in a new city is go straight to a supermarket and stock up on masses of supplies the kids can eat throughout the day.
Mistake # 2: Expecting them to walk.
There are so many fun things to do with kids in KL, but we made the mistake of expecting the kids to walk everywhere. When I’m travelling on my own, I think this is always the best way to see any city. But covering big distances on foot is just not fun for kids. Given it was 30+ degrees and 80% humidity in KL, Miss 10 literally nearly had a melt down. We also made the mistake of doing a lot of walking around during the day, when it’s the hottest and most humid.
Solution: We quickly worked out the best way to see the city was the Hop on Hop off bus, which was airconditioned. We also changed our plans so that we did inside or water activities during the heat of the day and walked around at night.
Mistake #3: Not explaining before we left what the expectations were.
Our trip was essentially in two parts: part one was all about the kids having fun in KL; part two was about me and my friend’s wedding. Considering we spent part one in a $30 a night BnB sandwiched between a night club and a karaoke lounge during the soccer world cup which resulted in very little sleep, part one went just fine. It was when we arrived in Langkawi for part two that the wheels nearly fell off. The kids immediately sensed that we were essentially trying to offload them so that we could have some adult time. This did not go down well. They point blank refused to go to Kids Club, were immensely (and vocally) unimpressed about having a babysitter and were fairly put out about having to sit on the ‘kids table’ at the wedding. I mostly put their behaviour down to shock. They simply didn’t know it was coming.
Solution: In hindsight, we should have sat the kids down before we left and explained exactly what format the holiday was going to take and exactly what was expected of them.
Mistake #4: Expecting them to be so grateful they wouldn’t complain about anything.
Given our trip to Malaysia was the kids’ first overseas holiday which took (me) months to plan and cost us a fair few dollars, I was under the absurd delusion that they would stop being children and be so unbelievably grateful for this amazing adventure we were taking them on that they would not complain about anything. Thus, it took me by surprise when they complained about plenty of things, repeatedly, most of which we could not do anything about.
I was also quite unprepared for how quickly the kids went from being in wonder at everything to turning their noses up at things. Miss 10 summed it up when arriving at the second five star resort, taking one disdainful look at the pool and sniffing “It hasn’t even got a slide”. Considering the first hotel we stayed in didn’t even have a bath, I was more than a little bemused by how quickly the kids adopted five star standards.
Solution: Kids are going to complain, whether they’re on holidays or not. We may consider a penalty system next time, where we fine them from the third time we hear the same complaint. Or, I might just drink more wine. Probably both.
Mistake #5: Expecting them to be thrilled about Kids Club.
I had grand visions of the kids being looked after while my beloved and I got side by side massages, lay by the pool with a cocktail and maybe even had a meal uninterrupted. After 8 days of constantly entertaining the kids in KL, I felt we’d earned it. I also looked at all the activities listed in Kids Club and honestly thought the kids would enjoy it.
My first mistake was that Master 11 considered himself too old and too cool, and to be fair, it did sound like a lot of the children in Kids Club were very young. There were a litany of issues that the kids had with the Kids Club which I won’t detail, but let’s just say it was such a disaster that they actually broke out and made a run for it.
Solution: Given the kids are adamant they will never set foot in another Kids Club again, we will just hire babysitters in future. Or wait for them to grow up.
Mistake #6: Flying home on a red eye.
To be fair, the kids coped exceptionally well with this. Their father threatened all sorts of punishments if they didn’t behave on the Trip from Hell on the way home, which included two flights, a stop over and a midnight horror. By the time we flew into a massive storm coming into Perth, the kids, who had not slept one wink, were beside themselves. I was immensely proud that they didn’t lose it completely, but I think we sailed pretty close to the wind with that one and I will try not to put them through that ordeal again. I’m sure for people with younger kids, red eye flights work well because their kids can sleep through it, but for Miss 10 and Master 11 (and us), it was nothing short of torturous.
Solution: Book day time flights, or for longer trips, include an overnight stop over.
What mistakes have you made travelling with kids? What were your solutions? Comments welcome below.