Travel without tears. Or without kids

[ Monday, 5th March 2007 ]

I’ve always taken my children on holiday but plenty of parents choose to leave their children behind according to a new survey : ‘27 per cent of couples of the 1000 couples surveyed “regularly” leave their children under the age of 16 in the care of other trusted adults when they go on holiday. A further 24 per cent say they leave their children “occasionally” to take a break abroad.’

Twenty three per cent say it's a way of escaping parental chorse while 19 per cent say it's a chance to rekindle their romantic relationship. Others say they don’t enjoy going on holiday with their children or they can’t take their children out of school or they go to places that are unsuitable for children.

I take my children to lots of unsuitable places: Egyptian market places where locals tried to auction off my daughters (they were joking, I think); Japanese drinking clubs under the railways arches in Tokyo and London nightclubs for instance. These adventures are not always planned but they are usually fun. Getting there isn’t always such a laugh.

Take motorway driving when the children were under ten. I used, regularly, to stop on the hard shoulder to prize apart my furious, fighting angels. The police never challenged me. I’m almost disappointed because it would have made an interesting court case. My justification for stopping was, simply, that a punch-up between the children was an emergency. Never mind the harm it was doing to them – it was seriously distracting me from driving.

Presumably all the squad cars that passed where driven by long-suffering parents who knew the score.

We didn’t always have back-seat punch ups. Sometimes careful planning would keep everyone happy. I would have small packs of food to buy silence, ‘until we see the sea for the first time’, or, ‘when you’ve counted six church spires’. Or we’d play a Just William cd. Or I’d ask one of the children to help map read (my eldest started when she was 5 and she was, and still is, an excellent navigator)

The most successful challenging journey we notched up was a long-haul flight to Japan on Japan Airlines when the children were 5 and 6 respectively. They were the only children on board and the Japanese passengers (we were the only non-Japanese) played with the children throughout the flight. I am eternally grateful to those passengers.

Now my children are teenagers and they no longer fight. Their priorities are about keeping their make up and (minute amount) of clothing looking cool. Or listening to i-pods. Or both.

The full horror of fighting children on long journeys came back to me last weekend when a TV star friend who shall be nameless told me about coming back from the States with his-high spirited two year old. She threw a tantrum which made Naomi Campbell look retiring. The pilot threatened to turn the plane back to JFK. My friend’s mistake was to give his daughter some anti histamine before the flight to try to calm her. It had the opposite effect. You can find more stories and discussions about long haul with children on Take the Family

I’m glad I’m out of the fighting-on-long journeys phase but, for those who aren’t, has a discussion about keeping children happy on long journeys

I can’t find much discussion about the ‘in between’ bits of travel when you’re stuck at an airport facing delays, for instance. Games like ‘hangman’ and ‘noughts and crosses’ filled in some of the time and, now that my children are in their teens, shopping fills at the time nicely. I saw one deranged mother promise her daughter caviar if she counted how many caviar eggs made up a spoonful of the stuff. It worked on her child but it wouldn’t have worked with mine even if I could have afforded the caviar.

Do you do the caviar number on your children or, if not, how do you keep your children happy when you’re travelling? Or maybe you’re one of those who prefers to leave their children at home. If so, how do you feel about it? And how do your children feel about it.