Pitfalls of (family ) travel – and how best to avoid most of them

April 9, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Let’s face it, if you’re travelling a lot and in some exotic, off the beaten track places, things will happen. One art of travel is being able to get through these moments and make them part of family lore. Usually, unless they’re absolutely awful or  horrendous, most setbacks can be overcome. One thing you discover when travelling with kids – and each extra child adds to this – is that your risk increases exponentially with your numbers. Look at us. My oldest child almost never gets sick. My youngest, now twelve, used to get sick a LOT. I mean a lot. Here’s a catalogue of places he’s been sick : Ireland, China, Mauritius, South Africa, Mexico, countless airports, numerous car and bus rides, and on and on. But don’t let that stop you travelling. Learn to deal with it, and it will all be worth it in the end. Remember too that travel is an adventure, an experience to be embraced, and even the worst times will be memorable in some way around the dinner table later on (even if at the time that’s hard to believe). I really mean that.

1. Connecting flights. Flights can go wrong. Cancelled flights, bad weather, strikes, luggage imbalance (what is that ? it caused me to miss a connection as I sat on a plane on an Atlanta runway for two hours because of this strange malady), being bumped, lost luggage,  the list goes on and on. So, when faced with a choice of a direct flight or a connecting one, always, always, please, take the direct option (the exception for me would only be if there was a fairly significant price difference). Although they’ll tell you the opposite, I don’t think the airlines care one bit about us customers (I’m sure anyone who has been on a plane in coach in the last ten years or so will agree with me) so don’t rely on them to look out for your best interests. You have to do that yourself. Actually that applies to most aspects of (family) travel – you have to be on your game most the time – that doesn’t mean you can’t relax (it’s a vacation after all), you just need to be aware of transport and other arrangements and be confident they’re happening when and how you assume.

2. Luggage and packing (i) –  This has become a very sore point recently because of all the restrictions and fees the hard up airlines keep imposing. So make it easy on yourself. Use your hand luggage very wisely. If you have tight connections, try to only have hand luggage. If you have kids who are prone to get sick on planes, pack extra clothes for them (and probably for yourself too – I learned that the most unpleasant way – I won’t go into details). If you’re going on a beach trip, put bathing suits and sandals in your hand luggage. That way, if you get to your destination the day before your luggage, you don’t waste your vacation. If you must put your bags into the hold, don’t use one bag per family member – rather divide it all up. So if one bag fails to come, everyone will still have clothes.

Luggage and packing (ii)  – Pack clever. Check the weather carefully at your destination, use the 10 day weather guide to get a good idea of what to expect. We went on two separate summer trips to Ireland and Iceland (try not to mix them up). Both times we froze. Summer in Iceland is just not the same as say South Africa or Australia. If you must pack light (I do), but you’re going to a place that has questionable weather (we were in Colombia last summer – Bogota was cool to cold to pleasant; Cartagena is incredibly hot and humid) throw in a few light long sleeved tops (easy for me as I have many light running tops), and maybe some small gloves. They take up very little space and you’ll be so grateful.

Cold-ish in Bogota

Hot, hot, hot in Cartagena

A few more clothes in Iceland (in summer) would have helped

Passports – when we went to Ireland (this was a trip into which we managed to pack a majority of unfortunate experiences – after I got in eventually we found our hire car was too small and there were no others available, our son was sick – again – and our flights in had already been cancelled)) a few years ago, I watched my family enter through immigration and going last, I was stopped by the official. Not enough empty pages in my passport. What ? this has become a common gripe for travelers, so check carefully. Countries have different passport requirements, so be aware of them (some want 2 empty pages, some want 6 months until expiry). And on the subject of passports – carry copies, and scan them into your computer. It’s worth it.

Itineraries – As a self proclaimed travel expert, I create our itineraries. And generally I keep those itineraries in my head. That’s not a very good idea. Print it out or at least have it somewhere electronically. Swallow your pride (talking to myself now) and let others share a little.

Check and recheck flights. If you’re like me, you may book your flights well in advance. And you may have found out in a nasty way, as we have, that flight schedules change. Quite significantly.  The result is you may be totally unaware that a flight you’re booked on is cancelled, rescheduled or just doesn’t exist anymore. And the truth of travel is that it’s not always that easy to check this on the road (ironically you’ll be aware how easy it would have been to check back home and like me you may get incredibly irritated you didn’t do the rechecking) and you may not be able to do anything about it. We were booked on a flight from Bangkok to Sydney once at 11.59pm. It changed by 2 minutes (changing the date) and then the whole thing got changed. Likewise a flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok was cancelled and we found out by sheer blind luck. Our flights to South Africa this summer have already been changed – don’t expect anyone to tell you this. It’s part of the new rules of travel – fend for yourself.

Real touristy stuff – Please, please be wary of this. This is often ‘cultural must sees’ or something in a similar vein. too often it’s a tourist trap that nobody in their right mind would do. As my kids say, although the ‘cultural’ evening in Siem Reap was the most boring thing they could ever remember (it was), at least there was ice cream. Often a far better activity is just to wander around a place checking out the atmosphere and streetlife.

We loved Angkor Wat - cultural evening was terrible though

LIjiang, China - another place we enjoyed but with the unbelievably boring Dongba (cultural) show

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