Kid-Friendly Travel – A Manifesto
I want you to know I spent a substantial amount of time swotting up on Marx and trying to work the word “bourgeois” into this manifesto before deciding to spare you. I’d throw in a “you’re welcome”, but it’s not really the fashion to say “thank you for not being a prat”.
Probably it should be. We can come back to that point.
Well, What Is It?
If you’re looking for the majority of restaurants to have kids menus, high chairs, and bathrooms with changing tables, keep dreaming. – Thrifty Travel Mama (in her guest post)
Here’s why a lack of these wouldn’t push a destination off my kid-friendly list: there are alternative solutions. You can sit a baby on your lap during a meal, use a packable high chair or booster seat, picnic like a crazed mad thing whose main symptom of crazed madness is a tendency to overdo it on the picnics, or allow a member of staff to walk your child around while you eat.
You can throw down a change mat on most flat surfaces: strollers; tuk tuks; the ground. You can even find plain carbs with the nutritional value of chips in more or less every corner of the globe. Our physiological preference for dense calories unites us.
But you can’t make a whole group of people tolerant of children just by turning up with a three-year-old in a cute hat*.
Thrifty Travel Mama prioritises the attitude of locals towards children over any amount of stroller-friendly accessibility, and at first glance I agree. For one thing, people who are tolerant of small children are a lot more likely to walk them around a restaurant for you while you eat, so equipment like high chairs is less necessary – and that’s even before you front up at the bottom of a staircase with a stroller, or (heaven forbid) anywhere in public with a crying baby or active preschooler. But without diminishing the importance of a welcoming attitude based on reasonable expectations, my answer is different.
My (Different) Answer
If things have to be perfect for the kids, the parents won’t be happy anywhere but Disney. – Thrifty Travel Mama (in comments)
Disney isn’t perfect for our family. We just about managed a quiet day at Hong Kong Disney without total meltdowns. If the crowds had been larger or the queues longer, I would have worried not only about P, but Æ too – as it was, there were points of touch and go. With Æ, I’m talking about now, not P.
The truth is, when a destination is marketed as “family-friendly” it’s often the first sign it won’t suit us. Not because I’m a travel snob who thinks she’s only doing it right if she’s breastfeeding in the back of a tuk tuk as it chugs past the temples of Angkor, which in any case is not “doing it right” as anyone who tries to breastfeed a toothy infant on a bumpy road will find out. It’s because a lot of “family-friendly” destinations are bright, polished enclaves whose high chairs, kids’ menus and change tables can’t possibly make up for the overstimulating barrage of AWESOME FUN that certain members of our family find stressful, if not debilitating.
Which brings me to my main point: the most family-friendly destination is the one where your family’s different personalities can find common ground. That’s why, though it sounds strange to some, we think Club Med ain’t got nothin’ on India Rail. When everyone’s eager, interested, and able to cope, problems get solved and inconveniences get tolerated. Indeed, the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. And… we’re back to that point about prats**.
What Our Family Looks For In A “Kid-Friendly” Destination
- A culture which tolerates children warmly.
- Open spaces, preferably in natural settings.
- Safe accommodation (at one point we had a strong preference for ground floors).
- Sights of special interest to individual family members.
- Varied/unusual transport options.
- Easy-to-navigate sights, attractions and facilities (the precise definition of “easy” will vary with travel experience).
- Mild, resolvable challenges.
- Picnic spots.
*For what it’s worth, I fully encourage the use of cute hats, however far that sort of thing goes.
**Not Marxists. Just prats***.
***Seriously, though – can you hear “manifesto” without thinking “Communist”? I can’t be the only one.
Extra note: I’ve been reliably informed that I’m overdoing it on the how-to and philosophical posts. This is due to a number of factors, all of which are unsuitable for blogging about. Thanks for bearing with me, and in response to this criticism, please enjoy not only this manifesto on kid-friendly travel, but also (coming) a how-to post on saving money for the holidays. You can weigh in with your views on what, to you, constitutes a “kid-friendly” or “family-friendly” destination here in the comments, and store up those money-grubbing ideas for later in the week!
SJ followed up with some extra thoughts on family-friendly travel (especially in Croatia) – including thoughts from other travelling parents.
And The Family Adventure Project advocates collaborative planning. And having kids post Trip Advisor reviews.