Travelling with preschoolers can be a bundle of fun as they're so wide-eyed about the world and ready to be thrilled by the smallest thing. On the other hand, preschoolers can also easily drive you up the wall with their endless questions and can freak out when they're out of their routine and in unusual situations. These tips might help you travel more easily with your preschooler. Please also see our stories on travelling with babies and toddlers -- some of the tips there are also relevant for preschoolers, such as travelling with loads of healthy snacks and taking along new little wrapped toys on planes and long trips.
Read up on the places you are going to visit ahead of time and tell your preschooler all about them. This will get your child used to the idea of touring a foreign place as well as build excitement and curiosity ahead of the journey. Discussing your itinerary ahead of time will allow them to feel more in control of the situation, too. Include a chat about going through airport security to avoid a meltdown when all of your child's favourite toys get handed over to a stranger.
Your child probably won't become fluent in the language of the country you're travelling to, but they sure might pick up a few words, especially if you prepare them ahead of time (you'll pick up some handy phrases too). There's nothing like a four-year-old spouting a few phrases of the local language to immediately win hearts and minds, especially in Southeast Asian countries where so few foreigners bother to learn anything at all.
Consider whether your child is now old enough to listen to a chapter a night (or a flight) from a longer book, rather than having to read the same few storybooks again and again. Harry Potter might fit the bill, some Dickens, or even something like The Hobbit. You could also get the book on tape so they can relisten to chapters while on longer car, bus or train rides. If you can afford it, a portable CD player can also be a lifesaver. You don't need to bring too many CDs along, as plenty of affordable ones are available in Southeast Asian markets (be sure to get them to play for you first to ensure the quality is good). And don't forget the magic of simply making up stories. Set them in the Southeast Asian country you're travelling to next!
This can be a great souvenir for them as well as you. Get your child to tell you about what they have done each day and they can draw some pictures to go with the story. They might also stick in special items they find -- leaves (remembering customs regulations!), feathers, sand and so on can all work. Later you can add some photographs and ask them to help you write captions.
Rather than wait until you just can't take another round of I Spy to try coming up with new games, do some research ahead of time and write a list of new games to play to carry with you. You might find a few games that just need a couple of props you can take along with you. For "real" toys and games to take, http://www.kidstravelhappy.com has an excellent selection. They ship only to the US and Canada, but they may send to other countries on request.
Even if your child is potty trained, this can come in handy if you're travelling off the beaten track in Southeast Asia as so many toilets are to put it bluntly, very grotty. Your child may turn up their nose at the state of some loos and just not want to go, so having a potty packed can come in very useful. Something like he Travel Potty Chair can work nicely.
Some days, forget about your guide book and its list of things to see and do. Southeast Asia is such a colourful place, kids will be occupied simply by going to a market full of squirming live seafood or a food hall filled with unusual vegetables and noodles hanging in windows. Malls too can be destinations in themselves, for an air-conditioned respite with playgrounds for kids and coffee for parents.
Crowds on the streets and around tourist sites can be oppressive and a bit frightening for kids. Make sure you Sharpie your phone number and your hotel's phone number to your wandering preschooler's forearm in case they go missing, and snap a picture of them on your phone. Security for finding missing kids may not be what you're used to in the West and it's likely that you'll need to rely on the kindness of a stranger to return your child to you. Be sensible if something goes wrong, but don't panic: Violent crime is much less of an issue in Southeast Asia than in the West and it is quite likely someone will step in to help your child.
You'll generally find it pretty easy to get Western-style meals for fussy kids even in Southeast Asia, but do try to order some local food and you might be surprised. Preschoolers do tend to like rice (go on, let them eat it with their hands) and might love slurping up noodles. Watch out for chillies though! The best advice for eating local, whether you have kids with you or not, is to eat where the locals eat, as the turnover of food will be high. (We actually hear more stories of people getting sick eating at five-star hotel buffets than on the street.)
When you've had enough of going truly local, try splashing out without hurting your wallet -- you may not have to be staying at a five-star resort in Southeast Asia to use their facilities. Day passes may be available to hang out at their flash pool or even to attend kids' clubs (which usually have a minimum age of three). Call ahead and check. It might be a nice way to get a dose of luxury without having to fork out a fortune to actually stay somewhere flash.
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 9th August, 2009.
Planning well is an integral part of getting the most out of your trip. Be it picking the right backpack, the right vaccinations or the right country, the simple decisions are often the most important.