Outdoor Education: Travelling…with children?

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I travel quite frequently for work, usually with a large group of students to various locations around the world. Sometimes people at different airports ask me things like ‘how do you cope?’ or ‘is it tricky travelling with a group of this size?’. The truth is that I actually look at young families with 1, 2 or 3 children and I think exactly the same things to myself!

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I will quite happily herd a large group of 40 teenagers through airports and around a European city, or take a similar sized bunch of 9 to 12 year olds on a week long jungle trip in South East Asia. This kind of travel doesn’t phase me in the slightest, but the prospect of one day taking a baby stroller and a toddler of my own on a trip somewhere troubles me more than I’d like to admit to my pregnant wife!

When I see a dad walking around with a baby strapped to the front of his chest with one of those human holsters, I can’t help but wonder if he enjoys it or not and how on earth you get yourself in and out of those devices. Many of my friends now have small children, and with multiple nephews and nieces, I have been in silent awe of how they have all managed this new phase of their lives. Especially when it comes to travel.
I’m usually the one on the airplane with a team of students trying to get them to locate a seat they’re happy with next to their friend while other passengers look on. The look that I get as we make our way down the aisle to our assigned seats is one I can only imagine is the one I am guilty of giving to those families with small children. You know, the look that says ‘aww your kids are cute, but I hope you don’t sit here’ or ‘I hope your kids don’t scream the whole way’. But just getting to the destination, as I’ve learnt, is only the beginning!

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Spending a week with my wife’s family in a nice quiet rural part of the UK along with their two young children has opened my eyes a little further as to what’s in store for me as an expecting Dad. Packing up to go for a short drive is not as simple as just grabbing the wallet and sunglasses, but a whole operation with regards to how long it has been between feeding, if the nappy bag is fully stocked and was the seat put back in the right car after one toddler wanted to travel in Gran’s car last time?! Making sure you’ve got the right things packed is crucial for a smooth trip anywhere, especially with young ones.

Even going to cafes and restaurants is going to change with children in tow. Previously, I gave no thought to going out and stopping off wherever or whenever I liked for a quick coffee or a meal. Meeting up with some family and friends while away in London, my wife and I went to a café with a giant ‘soft play’ area. The two young ones aged three years old had a blast while the Mums could quite happily sip their
coffee knowing that the kids were having fun in a safe environment and burning off just enough energy for some downtime later on.

This has got me thinking about how important it is for these kinds of places to exist. In the UAE we are often spoilt for choice around the malls when it comes to areas for young children to play, explore and challenge themselves. More often than not, there are age appropriate activities that children can participate in under supervision while parents can sit down together to recharge and reconnect with friends. However, this isn’t always the case while abroad. Yes, there are places to visit that kids love and have a lot of fun at, but what about the parents that just need a coffee without wondering if their highly active child is annoying to other guests?

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While the soft play café in London wouldn’t have ever been on my radar as a place to meet up with my friends, I can now see the often necessary bonus it adds for young families. Kids who were still unsteady on their feet were allowed to go off into the foam padded apparatus to climb walls in order to jump into a pit of balls before whizzing down a slide. This goes on a sort of repeat cycle where every new attempt has a more confident climb, a bigger jump and a faster slide! It was refreshing to see that not one child in the room was sat with an iPad or other device to occupy their time. The only ones sat down were the ones taking a few minutes to drink and encourage their parent to come watch their new found skills in the play area.

Photo 14-07-16, 12 35 11 PMAlthough somewhat nervous, I quite like the idea of travelling with my own kids one day and finding great places to eat too. I’m also now more aware of the places that are ‘child friendly’ with some kind of adventure and exploration area attached or nearby. Finding more of these cafés and restaurants is probably something that comes with a bit of parenting experience and is something I’m quite looking forward to. That might even make up a whole new kind of travel itinerary for me, where instead of my usual urban jungle trek to explore a famous landmark, I’ll include a stop at a park with a playground with something new to offer young adventurers, as well as a seat for mum to have an ice cream!

Words + Photos by: Haydon Kerr

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