The Question: Should I take my young kids on an Asian backpacking adventure? I have a five-week holiday, but I’m scared to travel with my young kids. Help!
“Backpacking with young children is a lot easier than you’d think and you’ll be surprised … how many other families are doing it,” says Tracy Burns, co-founder of Vagabond Family ( vagabondfamily.org).
She should know. The Australian mom, her husband and two kids (at the grand old ages of 2½ and 4½) backpacked through Southeast Asia last year for five months. They’re now renting a house in Penang, Malaysia, and using it as a springboard to continue travelling.
Asia is an ideal destination for an extended trip, Burns says, as the locals tend to love children, travel is cheap and distances between destinations are short (once you survive the long flight there, of course).
Here are her top tips for a successful backpacking adventure with the kids:
*Take it slow. Children are notorious for shortening the travel-sightseeing to-do list, so spend at least four days in each location to allow time for everyone to relax and to help the kids enjoy some routine.
*Choose guest houses over hostels. While hostels are increasingly family-friendly, family-run guest houses offer a better deal. “For the same money or less, you will get a nicer room and often there will be a garden, toys or other children to play with.” To find this boutique hostel-style accommodation, use sites such as hostelworld.com, hostelbookers.com and tripadvisor.com (for the latter search budget, B&Bs and specialty lodging and look for family reviews).
*Choose country and beach over city. Asian urban centres are hot and busy and often involve a lot of walking – not ingredients for a good time with preschoolers. Smaller towns and beach locations are a better fit, says Burns, whose website offers tips on schooling, budgeting and putting your nomadic dreams into action.
Burns describes herself as a typical mother, which means she worries about safety, too. Preparation helps to overcome this: Visit a travel doctor before you go; carry a well-stocked medical kit and buy travel insurance.
And if you find backpacking just isn’t for you, there’s an easy solution. “Check yourself into a nicer hotel or at least a guest house with a pool for the duration of your holiday and relax,” Burns says. “A nice hotel in Asia like the one we are staying in tonight in southern Thailand can cost as little as $40, including breakfast for four. A nice family-run guest house with a pool is $20 a night throughout much of Asia. So nice doesn’t have to blow your budget.”
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Karan Smith is a former editor of Globe Travel. Special to The Globe and Mail