There can be a lot of fear around travelling in developing countries with young children - it does require a little more preparation, but for us, the benefits have far out weighed any of the minor extra precautions.
In the past 6 months we have been lucky enough to travel through Myanmar, Malawi and Zambia with our mini backpackers. Travelling with the kids to developing countries - where the infrastructure, economy and way of life is in such stark contrast to how we live our life in the UK - has given us some of our richest travel experiences, and an opportunity for some of our greatest learning.
Here are a few of the practical tips we have come to rely on.
I always hoped that doing this much travelling would make our kids really adventurous eaters. But I'd be lying if I said that's the case! They tend to stick to plain carbs (rice, pasta, noodles, chapattis), plain veg & fruit on the road. Carl & I used to assume it was normal to get tummy bugs every time we travelled 'off road', but we have realised it is our desire to try EVERYTHING that has led to this! Our kids are a lot more cautious about eating unusual meat & sauces they haven't had before, which means our little backpacking vegans are rarely ever ill!
There are still days when I worry that they haven't eaten enough, or long delays that mean that we end up skipping a meal, so I always pack a load of snacks that I know travel well. Our 'tried and tested' favourites are: popcorn, dried crackers, dried fruit (especially apricots, mango and raisins), rice cakes, cashew nuts & digestive biscuits.
This is Carl’s favourite topic. He LOVES the whole challenge & puzzle of working out how to get from place to place in the easiest, safest, most cost effective way.
In Myanmar we used a combination of car, bus, train & two internal flights which increased the cost significantly for a family of 5, but made exploring this amazing country quicker & easier. In Africa we travelled entirely over land using local drivers.
In general terms here are the pros and cons to different modes of transport when travelling in developing countries:
- Internal flights are generally the most reliable & certainly the quickest way to get around, but are expensive - especially in Africa.
- Hiring a driver can be unpredictable (as you can never be sure of the quality or reliability of the car). However, this is also our favourite because through your driver or guide you can understand so much more about where you are staying, food, customs & advice as to the best places for rest stops.
- Hiring your own car gives you lots of flexibility & autonomy, but is often another expensive option (in Zambia it was 200 dollars more to hire a car then it was to use a local driver), & relies on you knowing where you are going & understanding the local rules of the road.
- Whatever option you go for EXPECT DELAYS & a lot of waiting around. Whether it's a flight that's been cancelled, a police road block, long queues at a border crossing or a broken down vehicle - it's good to be prepared with lots of paper activities for the kids; a pack of cards easily accessible; lots of snacks & full water bottles before you set off.
I become fastidious about hand washing on the road, & giving the kids the chat about not putting fingers or toys in their mouth. We have baby wipes and hand sanitizers in every bag & pocket, for toilet stops and washing hands pre meals.
We only drink bottled water & brush teeth using bottled water too. Bedtime takes longer but the novelty of us all brushing out teeth together means they usually do a much better job of it!
Managing mosquitoes is the single thing I find hardest when travelling in hot climates – mostly because it doesn’t matter what I do, I end up getting eaten alive. Thankfully, we have a lot more success protecting the kids! We always pack thin long layers to cover up in the evenings, & make sure we stay in places that provide mossie nets when recommended. We use chemical free insect repellent & wrist bands (and then lavender oil to soothe all the bites I get regardless!).
I used to carry a massive medical kit with us when we travelled to developing countries. Now we just take the essentials - no different form what we take when travelling in Europe. We do, however, always take out full travel insurance, and make sure we always know where the nearest medical clinic is, just in case we need one.
When we first arrive...
When arriving in a new country we always stay in the best accommodation that we can afford for the first two nights. However well we prepare for a trip, we still always arrive exhausted, which makes adapting to a new climate, language, culture and food a lot harder. After a couple of good nights sleep and some gentle acclimatisation we are in a far better position to head off road and start exploring – this one tip alone has transformed many a family trip!
And for what its worth, everyone has their different techniques for combating jetlag – but for us, we always try to land at our final destination in the evening. Long haul travel is always exhausting. By the time we have landed we are usually always ready for a good night sleep.
So, those are my travel tips - I’d love to hear some of yours.