5 things you never want to hear when travelling with kids

1. “I can’t find the passports”

I’m still getting over this one, but I really did utter those words in Kuala Lumpur last year when I lost our passports, all our available cash, emergency USD and travellers cheques, credit and debit cards en route to the airport.

Everything! All in one tidy little package! I know, 20 years travelling and I still f#@ked up.

In my defence, I can only say that the job of chaperoning our three-year-old through a crowded inner-city train station while struggling with bags and coins and entry tokens got the better of me and whether I dropped my money belt or someone relieved me of it, I can’t say.

The aftermath was dire (we literally had not one ringgit to our names), and the process of regaining our identities and refilling our wallets was intensified by my overwhelming anguish at putting an end to our trip.

Fortunately the hotel we had been staying at not only gave us our room back, but also refunded our payment for our previous four-night stay so that we had cash to buy water and food for our child.

After a long afternoon of Skype calls backwards and forwards between our Australian bank and a series of US-based credit card offices, we finally secured (at considerable expense) a wad of Malaysian currency, ordered a replacement credit card (which miraculously arrived within 48 hours) and I was crying a little bit less.

Emergency Aussie passports and the convoluted process of acquiring a Malaysian exit stamp took another week (and another pile of cash), but their restricted validity meant we couldn’t continue travelling and were forced to return home and secure ‘proper’ passports.

The weight of my sizable mishap was difficult to bear, mostly because it nixed our chance to continue onto Nepal and spend a couple of months trekking while our child was still small enough to be carried. Alas, her days in the backpack carrier are well and truly over.

We left Malaysia heartbroken, but resolved to return with better travel insurance and a less addled Mummy-brain (am I wearing my awkward, uncomfortable, sweaty money belt from now on? You bet!!!!)

The upside to the whole debacle is that we went on to spend a couple of months adventuring up the WA coast and into the Kimberley. And there was one compassionate twist: Air Asia refunded our no-frills Nepal flights on compassionate grounds even though we were effectively no-shows (way to go!).

2. “Mum, I feel sick”

There’s nothing like the idea of your child falling ill when you are somewhere really remote or really foreign to strike fear into the heart of a parent.

You can immunise, sanitise and dole out as many probiotics and vitamins as you like, but there are no guarantees and no protection against the inevitable angst you’ll feel if your child’s sickness turns out to be more than a troubled tummy or a case of the runs.

My own GP tells a ripper yarn about the time he and his wife sailed their three kids to PNG and when one developed malaria-like symptoms, he took the child on long dinghy ride miles upriver to a tiny health post.

There he unwrapped a brand new microscope and used it to analyse his son’s malaria-plagued blood. With the right drugs on hand, his son quickly recovered, and they kept on sailing.

While Dave and I have endured our fair share of illnesses and accidents on our travels over the years, our daughter has so far been spared anything more serious than an upset tummy and a bad case of bed bugs (touch wood).

Odds are the more we travel together, the more exposed she will be, although I do everything I can to limit the risk from choosing appropriate vaccinations and preventative medicines, to being picky about what gets eaten and drunk.

For some parents, the risk of a child contracting any disease is reason enough to stay at home.

However, when you consider that you can contract severely debilitating dengue fever in a place like Cairns, Australia (where I live), you need to put potential health risks into perspective when planning overseas adventures.

Every destination has its own issues, but taking risks is half the reason we leave home in the first place.

3. “Mum, I need the toilet”……on a non-stop bus ride

Strangely, this was my main fear when we took our three-year-old to Burma last year (next to her contracting malaria). I agonised over whether we could handle the long, slow bus rides, and routinely took my daughter to the toilet every time a bus pulled over.

Funnily enough we were on a mere hour-long airport shuttle ride through Kuala Lumpur when my child first uttered those words. But Dad Dave didn’t bat an eyelid.

He simply lined some plastic bags with tissues, squatted our child down between the bus seats out of view of other passengers and introduced Maya to her new travel toilet.

She thought it was a hilarious new invention and I realised I’d been wasting my time fretting about nothing.

4. “You can’t check that child carrier”

Arghhh!! Despite whatever that tight-lipped budget airline staff member at check-in tells you, a backpack that is designed for carrying a child is allowable free luggage when you are travelling with a young child.

Almost all airlines will transport equipment for children at no cost, and backpack carriers are considered the same as checking a stroller or a car seat. Don’t let check-in staff tell you that you must pay baggage fees simply because it looks like backpack.

Arrive at check-in with your child in the carrier if you have to, so they can see that it has a purpose. For some reason, we always have a bit of a battle with Air Asia staff in Kuala Lumpur, which is a travel hub for cheap flights throughout Southeast Asia.

Be prepared, stand your ground adventure-parents – backpack child carriers must travel for free!

5. Sorry,…. we’re fully booked”

Spooked by reports of fully booked hotels during our peak-season stay at Burma’s Inle Lake, we did what we rarely do and booked ahead.

The result was an overpriced hotel room located miles from the action, with no hot water and a complacent reception desk unconcerned about the long stream of travellers queuing with their many and varied complaints.

Thankfully we had only booked one night and quickly found a riverfront room at half the price with twice the smiles, a killer breakfast and plenty of local playmates for our child during our week-long stay.

When the next leg of our adventure took us to Bagan we decided to wing it.

It seemed a great decision at the time, but when our river boat arrived three hours late and well after dark, and the only available transportation was a horse and cart, we loaded up our sleepy child and spent the next hour slowly trawling the hotel strip for any room at the inn.

Finally, after being turned away by a dozen hotels, we reached the end of the line and sheepishly handed over US$50 for a modest room tucked away around the back.

Unfortunately the experience didn’t make us any more organised for the sole reason that we love to scout out local accommodation choices that don’t often make it online in remote destinations (and are usually far more affordable).

We discover more than a few hidden gems this way, but it does involve a bit of legwork and the realisation that just occasionally we are going to have to spend a rustic night in the wrong part of town.

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