Magazine article Geographical

Have Children, Will Travel: It's Increasingly Common for Travellers to Venture off the Beaten Tourist Track with Young Children in Tow. Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth Explains What Families Should Pack to Keep Their Little 'Uns Safe, Healthy and Occupied When Travelling Independently

Magazine article Geographical

Have Children, Will Travel: It's Increasingly Common for Travellers to Venture off the Beaten Tourist Track with Young Children in Tow. Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth Explains What Families Should Pack to Keep Their Little 'Uns Safe, Healthy and Occupied When Travelling Independently

Article excerpt

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We first ventured overseas as a family when our first-born was three months old. After the long flight, we checked into a palatial hotel in Karachi and were greeted with free warm samosas and thick mango juice bobbing with ice cubes. About 36 hours later, Pakistan's welcome started pouring out of my bottom, and I spent much of the next two days becoming familiar with the tiles on the bathroom floor. I paid dearly for ignoring the traveller's mantra; 'peel it, boil it, cook it or forget it.'

I was breast-feeding my baby at the time, but the diarrhoea compromised my milk supply and he soon became hungry, unsettled and demanding. I bought a feeding bottle with a stinky robber teat, which he declined, so we struggled until my gastroenteritis burned itself out and my milk started to flow again. I hadn't thought about a backup and wasn't aware of the well-established technique of feeding him with a cup and spoon. The episode demonstrated both how protective breast-feeding is (my baby remained well throughout) and that lukewarm snacks and ice cubes are high risk when travelling where not everyone has access to a toilet.

Before leaving Britain, we had prepared for our first family trek by buying a fiat-packable baby carrier. It fitted neatly into a suitcase and seemed comfortable for him and us. We checked the manufacturer's instructions, as guilt-ridden new parents are wont to do, and noted a dire warning that the child could fall out and be harmed. A restraining harness was recommended. We searched, and finally a salesman-himself a parent--reassured us that a harness wasn't necessary. Our reaction hadn't been atypical. We were heading up into the Karakoram and, as new parents, we were edgy and keen to do the best for our precious progeny. Inexperienced parents-like inexperienced travellers of all kinds--tend to take too much gear. It often turns out that you need very little special equipment, and it can be profitable to buy or improvise from local markets.

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KEEP IT STEADY

Families new to travelling often fall into the trap of spending too much time searching out fancy kit. Those hours might be better spent trying out solutions with gear you already own and researching the destination. In this planning stage, it's also important to take a cold, hard look at whether the trip will suit all members of the family. Some children get dragged along by over-eager parents when the youngsters would rather hunker down in a sandpit or arrange pebbles on a beach.

A successful family trip often isn't goal-driven and allows plenty of flexibility so that the whole family can just relax by a river for a couple of days if that's what spontaneously appeals. A toddler carried all day in a backpack will want out and will be frisky and mischievous at the end of the day, when the parents want to rest. A child who has been allowed to potter and explore will be tired at sundown, too, and nights will be more restful for everyone. Clearly, there are times when, for safety reasons, an infant must be carried: the route to Kangchenjunga Base Camp in the Nepalese Himalaya, for example, involves negotiating high paths with potential for a 1,000-metre fall into the river below, and valley-bottom paths punctuated with temporary bamboo bridges over raging glacial melt-water that would swallow the strongest of swimmers, let alone a child.

Trekkers keep warm through exertion, so it's easy to forget that the baby or toddler in the carrier can get seriously cold, as well as bored. Indeed, there are several deaths each year in the Alps where mountaineering or skiing parents don't notice that their child has become hypothermic. A Japanese father took his infant to the 6,189-metre Himalayan summit of Island Peak, despite the fact that it's unwise to ascend above 3,000 metres with a child who can't describe their high-altitude headache. Fortunately, the child survived. …

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