“Are we nearly there yet?”. Travelling with (small) children

Genn Kameda

Ideal for small children are trips which do not expose them to great heat or cold or humidity. The destination should also be easy to reach because endless car journeys are even more of an ordeal for children than they are for adults. If they are unavoidable, the German automobile association ADAC has discovered that the roads are apparently least full on a Tuesday. 

Long-distance flights are just as problematical, particularly if different time zones are involved. Jetlag is a stress for children as they cannot cope so easily with long flights, a change in daily routine and a rapid adjustment of living conditions. It mostly takes four to six days until they settle into the new rhythm and then, as a rule, it is almost time to go home again.

Together with the return journey, the local infrastructure should also be a criterion. There should be a lot of space for letting off steam and playing and not too much traffic on busy through-roads. It is worthwhile finding out in advance about the hygienic conditions (water quality) and adjusting to different national cuisines with unfamiliar herbs and spices which small children in particular need time to adjust to. It is worthwhile carrying a well-stocked first-aid kit for minor illnesses. There are a lot of effective medicines in anthroposophic medicine for classic travel illnesses such as diarrhoea, vomiting, insect bites, minor accidents, fever and pain. Good preparation also includes a relaxed itinerary: we do not have to follow every recommendation in the travel guide. Essential, however, is enough time to go to the park, the beach or the playground. If children are allowed a say in the decisions, that is of benefit for planning as a whole.

Speaking as a paediatrician, I would like to urge parents to consider the following: create the space for rituals and rhythms. Time moves differently when travelling. The whole environment is a new and unfamiliar one. That is why it is important to maintain certain rituals from home: the bedtime story with favourite books and cuddly toys, regular mealtimes, time for play and letting off steam, fixed times for going to sleep and for resting.

Alongside these rather more organisational questions, it is also useful to try another perspective on occasion: let your thoughts wander into your own past. What was it like when you were a child? What did you like to do with your family when you were on holiday? What places have stayed in your memory? You will notice that it is not always the biggest experiences and trips which have remained “timeless” in the memory but the “smaller” experiences such as camping at a river in the Eifel in Germany or an enthusiastic game of football on the beach in Holland.

Mostly these very special memories are not tied to specific locations but rather to the togetherness with family and friends. It is especially the togetherness with familiar people which makes a particular impression as (holiday) experiences. Even the familiar parents can be experienced differently: mum and dad are more relaxed on holiday and therefore often simply different.

Normal everyday life with school, music lessons, work and household chores gives way to quite different encounters – with ourselves, with parents, with siblings. And that is no longer a matter of course today. The questions is not, therefore, necessarily: “Where shall we go?” but “How and where is the space created for such an encounter?” That, above all, requires time – the location is less important. If you allow such an encounter to happen, your holiday time together remains “timelessly” alive also in the memory of your children.

About the author: Dr. Genn Kameda is a specialist in paediatric and adolescent medicine in Düsseldorf