Travelling with kids is a bit different to travelling with a bunch of friends from school or your significant other, and we’re not just talking about the costs involved.
While Southeast Asia is generally a great destination for travelling kids of all ages, some attractions won’t really work, perhaps for safety reasons or minimum age requirements. A bit of research is a good idea. Likewise, if you’re travelling with a toddler, you may need facilities in your room, such as a fridge, which will not always be available in simple, more affordable accommodation, and in more remote areas.
If you’re coming to Southeast Asia for the first time from a Western country, you may find the laissez-faire attitudes to some aspects of public health and safety a bit confronting. Your kids may be taken by surprise, too. It pays to watch where you are walking—all the time—and never assume that anything—anything—has safeguards. Some common things to watch out for include:
Outside of private residences (and even then rarely) pool fences are almost never seen. If your child cannot swim and your accommodation has a swimming pool, exercise care. Some destinations may have fences you can rent (Bali is big on this).
It remains quite common for cars, especially taxis, to not have seat belts in the back seat. While there are the obvious safety ramifications of not wearing a seat belt, if you’re travelling with a toddler or small child, this means there can be little point bringing a car seat, as you will not be able to tether it in most vehicles.
Bungalow verandas are rarely designed with children in mind, meaning there is often no veranda at all (warning klaxon!) or what there is will do nothing to restrain a toddler. Balconies in high-rise hotels and apartments often will have zero safety from a child’s point of view and it will be rudimentary for them to climb onto the edge. If travelling with toddlers, always keep them in sight, the balcony doors closed, and remove furniture that could allow them to climb onto the edge.
In most cases beaches (and certainly rivers) are not patrolled. This means there is only one person responsible for looking after your child: you.
If you’ve taught your kids road safety, they would assume that a zebra crossing is a safe place to cross. Unfortunately, motorists in Southeast Asia rather uniformly ignore these. If you launch yourself onto a zebra crossing expecting an approaching vehicle to yield, you will likely be in for a nasty surprise. Always wait for a gap in the traffic, cross slowly (so the traffic, especially motorbikes, can veer around you) and always check for oncoming traffic from all directions—including on the footpath. Even on official one-way streets, traffic may move in both directions.
We’ve seen some true death-trap cots in our time and often found we were better off having the kids in bed with us or on a mattress on the floor hemmed in by pillows and bags. If the cot looks unsafe, don’t use it. Take a close look at moving parts which will catch exploring fingers.
Locals can be very hands-on, and especially in more rural areas, your kids may be stared at, and occasionally have their cheeks pinched—both of these can be wearing on kids and the latter can be annoying (and painful for the child). Don’t hesitate to wave a pinching hand away with a smile—it is meant as an action of affection, it just doesn’t always feel that way!
The above may make it sound like the entire region is a death trap, but that isn’t the case. It's a good idea to be cautious though, and keeping the above in mind means at least you won't be surprised when you arrive. Generally speaking, you’re expected to look out for yourself (and your children).
And travelling with kids isn’t all bad news!
In our travels we’ve near always found staff—be they in hotels or restaurants staff—extremely helpful and understanding, especially when it comes to young kids. Don’t be surprised if restaurant staff pick up your child and play with them—we’ve had staff rush off into the kitchen with ours leaving us alone for 10 wonderful minutes while we've eaten our dinner.
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.