Top 5 Perils of Traveling with Kids in Tow…

Tell me again? You’re planning on going traveling with your two kids?!

Some people thought we were crazy. And yes, there have been times we thought so too. Backpacking with our kids aged 10 and 7 has been wonderful in so many ways. But there are drawbacks too.

Sometimes, you just want to eat a meal with no dramas. Or visit an attraction in the middle of nowhere, and not worry about where the nearest clean toilet is. Or use public transport and not lose something.

Sometimes, us parents just want an easy life.

“OK Rosie, on this trip, we’re going to drive mum and dad absolutely bat-shit crazy!”
“Yeah great idea Ruben! You lose everything and I’ll make sure we visit every toilet in Asia. Agreed?”
“Agreed!”

Inspired by an hilarious blog post written by a the Prince family, these are our Top 5 Perils of Travelling with Kids:

  1. “Does anyone need the toilet?”

I’d be the first to admit here that I’m not the biggest fan of public toilets. I like my nice, clean, private toilet, with lockable door, working flush and nice, soft toilet paper. I’d possibly go as far as to say I have a bit of an ‘ishoo’ with grotty toilets. In 1967, a psychotherapist called Thomas Stampfl introduced a psychological intervention used to manage and treat phobias. Commonly known as ‘exposure therapy’, the idea of this is to put a person into a situation where they would face their phobia at its worst, and they then eventually become de-sensitised to their fear. I can confirm that this does indeed work.

Thanks to our kids, I have spent more time in Asia in disgusting squat toilets, than I have sunbathing on the beach. True story.

Our kids never need the toilet when we’re in our en-suite hotel room. Or when visiting a decent restaurant. Or in a

I'm sure that's a toilet we could use...
I’m sure there’s a toilet around here somewhere that we could use…

nice shopping mall. Nope. They wait approximately 12 minutes, until we’re completely in the middle of the wilderness, at a local market, traveling on a packed bus, or in a tuk-tuk. That’s when they want the toilet. And its not just for a wee either. They have a bad tummy too. It’s suddenly URGENT

Because of these situations, we have visited some of the most horrible toilets in all of Asia. The worst one was at a local market in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It only took 5 minutes to get to the market from our homestay accommodation in a taxi. Rosie didn’t need the toilet before we left. But within 1 minute of arriving, she did. And of course, she needed it badly. It. Could. Not. Wait.

We couldn’t see any toilets around, naturally, and in the end, brave Ruben asked one of the fruit sellers if there was a loo his sister could use. They pointed to a small garage across the alleyway. There was a dude stood outside, his fist stuffed full of cash. We were ushered past, through the garage into another alleyway out the back.

There were 3 toilet stalls there, each with broken doors and squat toilets contained within. The floor was very wet (toilet floors always seem wet here, which is not great with flip-flops). There were 2 low level taps outside the stalls, with which 4 prostitutes were trying their best to have full showers- complete with shampoo, shower gel, the works. We scuttled past, apologizing for interrupting their privacy. They didn’t seem bothered.

Inside the toilet, the temperature was about 50 degrees. Of course, there was no toilet paper and the door lock didn’t really work. It was pitch black dark inside with the door closed. You didn’t want to touch the walls. Or floor. You could hear the mosquitoes buzzing excitedly around, waiting to bite as soon as you dropped your underwear.

For most people, this would be enough for them to realise that the toilet could wait until later. But not our girl. She really can go anywhere. It’s almost worthy of a talent award.

Business finally finished, we sanitized our hands the best we could with the gel-stuff, wiped the sweat from our brows and walked back out through the garage. The guy stood there gestured to the paint daubed on the wall: ‘5’. Aaron handed him 5,000 Vietnamese Dong (15p). The dude looked a bit shocked. On walking away, we suddenly hoped we weren’t meant to pay $5! He didn’t look like the kind of guy to mess with. I hope he knew we were just using the toilet, not participating with the local girls out the back.

We didn’t go back to that market, just in case.

  1. “I’ve lost it!”

On a trip such as ours, especially on traveling days, there is a lot for us grown-ups to be thinking about. Do we need a cash machine? Will the cash machine talk to my bank? Will it swallow my card again? Do we have any money left? We have to keep an eye on our stuff, ensure that we alight the plane / bus / train / taxi / tuk-tuk at the correct location. We also have to be looking out for good places to eat at all times and we’re always thinking of what we need to plan for next on the trip.  Our minds are constantly full.

The kids meanwhile just need to safely get on and off said transport, enjoy the journey and remember their hat and their day-pack when we arrive at the destination. That is all.

But no.

Ruben has lost the special hat that grandma gave him more times

Something missing? Ruben's lost his hat again... Probably left it on the aeroplane.
Something missing? Ruben’s lost his hat again…

than I can count. It’s been left on a cruise boat in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam (then sent back on a 1hr boat ride and 4hr drive back to Hanoi with a later tour bus); on a bus in Siem Reap, Cambodia, that immediately headed back to Phnom Penh (so the hat made 2 trips to Siem Reap); and its been abandoned in too many restaurants to even remember. Every time, the kind local folk have moved heaven and earth to return the hat to its rightful, very grateful owner. And every time, after many tears, we’re been promised that once it’s been found, it will never happen again: that the precious hat will be looked after carefully forever more. Until the next time, when it’s lost again. Aarrggghhhh! He needs an alarm to sound if he gets too far away from it.

  1. Chop-sticks are not percussion drum sticks. Or to be used as swords. They are not wands.

The food hasn’t even arrived yet. And already, 3 chopsticks are on the floor, simply because “they rolled off the table”. 1 chopstick has poked someone in the eye. Another in the rib. All chopsticks have now been removed and put on another table for safe-keeping.

Oh look, our noodles have arrived!

But now there are no chopsticks left to eat with.

Bloody hell! Pass me a fork. And don’t even get me started on why there are 2,500 toothpicks to spill on every table…

  1. “I can’t find it.”

What is it with kids not being able to find anything? Ok, so we’ve been on the road now for 9 months. We live out of our backpacks and wear the same clothes, use the same stuff and play with the same toys day in, day out. We don’t have much; the bags weigh about 10kgs each and we each have our own. So you’d think that if you asked a kid to put on a clean pair of pants in the morning, they’d be able to do it. But no. It goes something like this:

“Where are my pants?”

“Where do you think they might be?”

“I don’t know.” (Looks aimlessly around room).

“Do you think they might be in Mum’s handbag?”

“No! Don’t be silly Dad!”

“Do you think they might be in the fridge?”

“Daaaaad!” (Starts rifling through their sibling’s clothing….)

“Do you think they might be in YOUR bag?”

“Oh.” [Opens own bag and finds clean pants, neatly folded, on top].

THIS HAPPENS EVERY SINGLE DAY.

The other one is:

“Mum, do you know where my ruler is? I can’t find it!” (Hasn’t actually looked for it).

“Where do you think your ruler might be?”

“In my pencil case maybe. But I don’t know where that is.” (Child remains seated on bed / at desk / on floor. Doesn’t move.)

“Is that your pencil case on the side there, right next to you?”

“Oh yeah. Thanks mum.” (Child turns 45 degrees and reaches less than an arms length to retrieve said pencil case, in plain view).

Every. Bloody. Time.

  1. “I don’t like it.”

I would imagine that lots of people dream about choosing their dinner from a menu, having it cooked for them by someone else and never have to wash the dishes. I know, because that used to be me. But when you’re travelling, especially with kids, this can be tricky; mainly because you need to be mindful of the budget, and eating out all the time isn’t always cheap. In south east Asia, where we have spent the last seven months, Western food choices tend to be the most expensive. And we’ve found that spaghetti bolognase in Vietnam, may not always turn out to be quite the same as spaghetti bolognase, Mum-style back home. We always encourage the kids to eat ‘local’ food, as it tends to be the best choice taste-wise and is usually very budget-friendly. Often they will order a rice or noodle dish and love it. But sometimes they insist on Western choices. And this can lead to problems.

Ruben for example, ordered a ‘hamburger’ in Thailand. It turned out to be exactly that: a (stale) hamburger bun, with a slice of pre-formed ham, 1 piece of limp lettuce, a bit of tomato and plastic hamburger cheese. He took a few nibbles and said: “I don’t like it”.

Rosie ordered Spaghetti carbonara in Bali. The menu said spaghetti, with bacon and cheese. What could possibly go wrong? Well, what she got was spaghetti, with some ham bits and a dairylea triangle on the top. Dairylea triangles counts as cheese, right? (Wrong Asia, so wrong!). Anyway, she said: “I don’t like it.”

In Kuala Lumpur, we decided to have a quick picnic lunch in one of the parks. At the bakery in the KLCC shopping centre, the kids choose a slice of pizza. It looked innocuous enough. You can’t mess up Pizza, right? Wrong. Instead of a tomato sauce on the dough, it was a hot spicy chilli sauce. They said: “We don’t like it.”

You could argue that the kids were right to turn down such terrible food, but there have been a whole host of other things which also haven’t come up to scratch for our 2 little connoisseurs. When is apple juice not “the right sort”? (Answer: when its cloudy, not clear); When is jam not ok? (Answer: when it’s the “wrong kind of strawberries.”); When is fresh fruit not good to eat? (Answer: When the pineapple is “too sweet”); How could you not like yoghurt? (Answer: When it’s got “lumps in it”); When are pancakes not nice? (Answer: when they are “too fat”).

“Oh crap. What are we going to eat now?”

Oh, how I hate to hear those words, “I don’t like it”, because the

problem we’re then faced with is: what are they going to eat now? When you’ve just spent half the dinner budget on a huge, uneaten ‘hot-dog’ that’s just not up to expectations, what do you do next? Do you make them eat it? Buy another meal? Or do they just go hungry? (the little buggers)! Answer: at various times, we have done all three!

So there you have it. Our top 5 kid parent / kid perils. They’re probably not even exclusive to our traveling lifestyle, so my conclusion is simply that kids are just awkward little sods put on this earth to annoy us parents. ‘Character building’, my arse.

If you enjoyed this post, look out for Top 5 Advantages of Travelling with Kids in Tow!

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