Family travel doesn’t automatically mean exclusively beaches and kids’ clubs. Cities are great for short getaways too! We’ve taken under 7s to some of the biggest cities in Asia and have realised a few things that help keep everyone sane and actually enjoy the trip. The most important obviously is to take it easy, go slow, and be happy to just to take in a fraction of what you could without the kids.
Do your research and a bit more. It takes forever but the best days in the city are those when you have a rough idea of what to do, where to have a run-around-break and where to eat. Check playgrounds and parks on the map. We are lazy sightseers and generally set out in the morning when it’s not so hot and crowded and do one thing before lunch. The afternoons are played by the ear – a swim at the pool or even a film in the room may be on the cards if the morning has worn everyone out. We have to admit we don’t always follow our own advice but in those cases normally end up eating bad food, getting stressed and opting for the hotel pool instead of some exiting adventure.
Now that the kids are a bit older, they can be included in the travel planning. Leap & Hop kids’ guidebooks are a fantastic resource and made a huge difference to our 7 year old’s trip to Yangon and Colombo. There are many other cool travel journals and guides for kids, too, great for older kids!
One thing in common for Asian cities seems to be the traffic. Try to work around the busiest times to avoid getting stuck for hours.
Choosing a hotel
Although my obsession with hotel reviews sometimes eats into my sleeping hours, it’s good to check out the reviews. Especially when traveling with toddlers, a pool and/or spacious garden are a must. You don’t want to be constantly shushing around honeymooners or businessmen – but generally everywhere in Asia is child-friendly. Also, being as close to public transport as possible to avoid carrying anyone home.
If your budget can flex, consider upgrading into a club room if you are in one of the big chain hotels. In many hotels the club lounge is as good as any sky bar, and the fact that you can feed the kids on the nibbles while sipping sparkling wine with your significant other, is pretty nice compared to dragging the cranky kids to an expensive restaurant past bedtime.
I often use Booking.com because they offer free cancellation on many hotels – this way I can keep an eye on the rates and make sure we get a room in one of the hotels on my short list. I also find they have the clearest information on child policies of hotels – whether breakfast is included and availability and cost of extra beds.
Transportation as an attraction
Many cities have cool ways of getting from one place to another, like the river boats in Bangkok and the ding ding trams in Hong Kong. Even the metro is exiting for kids who are not used to it, not to mention the tuk tuks. We often take the long way – kids keep entertained by the sheer excitement of the vehicle while the adults can have a good look around the new place.
Work around meal times
Our kids are unfortunately not as adventurous food-wise as we’d like them to be but we try not to spend holidays eating the same stuff we have at home. Refer to point one and have a rough idea of restaurants or foods you want to try out – I often try to google family blogs in the destination to get recommendations for family-friendly locations and scribble notes on my guidebook. We try to keep a balance between local delicacies and pizza. Fried rice is a life saver!
Look for good break spots
Have a look at the map and make at least a mental note of parks and indoor playgrounds for those much-needed breaks to let out steam. Most malls (and they are not difficult to find in Asian cities) have indoor playgrounds, that however annoying, can be a great respite from rainy/hot/hazy days. They are also perfect depositories for kids and non-shoppers during some retail therapy or a quick massage for the others.
Something for everyone
If there is a theme park, science museum or other kid-targeting attraction in the city, we generally include that in the itinerary as a
bait treat for the kids. This means that they (should) not grump about visiting sights that the adults want to see. I am an avid bargain hunter and market hawk, and often allocate one clear slot for me-time when the others chill by the pool or watch a film. This way I get the need to browse out of my system and the kids don’t have to be dragged into the shops.