As I was SCUBA diving a few weeks ago, my main thought was how I’d love to be holding Kyle’s hand, experiencing for the first time with him the strange thrill of breathing underwater. I saw Nemo hanging out in a sea anemone on the Great Barrier Reef, and of course, my knee-jerk reaction was point it out to Tate.
Oz has moved up on our list as a place we want to visit as a family. I’m so thankful to have experienced Queensland with a group of bloggers, but it’ll be all the more special when we return as a clan.
I know a little family jaunt to Australia isn’t realistic for everyone—but it can be with thoughtful planning, or if you’re not too far from there anyway (Simple Mom has a global audience). We plan to visit the country as part of our round-the-world trip.
I’m a big believer in not putting off major trips until kids are older—the younger they start traveling, the better travelers they become, in my experience. Here are good things to know about traveling globally with small kids, particularly to the Land Down Under.
1. Remember the seasons, and travel with them, not against them.
June is winter in Australia, along with everywhere else in the southern hemisphere. The tropics reside in the northern segment of the country, not the southern. I know this is a giant “duh,” but it’s easy to forget when you habitually think of August as the hottest month of the year.
Winter (June through August) is a great time to visit Queensland, since it’s still warm but not terribly hot. Visibility is good for the Great Barrier Reef, although Aussies find the water a bit chilly (it can go as low as 72 degrees Fahrenheit; 22 degrees Celsius).
2. Loosen up on the long flights.
We treat long airline flights as “special treats” for the kids. Sure, we keep to certain standards (especially as a courtesy to other passengers), but our normal routine has gone out the window—why try and fight it?
The kids can have multiple juices when the flight attendants offer, and I have to admit, the myriad kid-friendly movies on personal screens are a godsend. We pretty much let the kids watch movies nonstop, so long as their behavior remains appropriate. Sure, we’d like them to sleep, but we don’t expect it—I don’t sleep well on planes, either. If it happens, awesome.
My flight from LAX to Sydney was long—a bit over 14 hours. Make sure the kids walk around every few hours (unless they’re sleeping), take advantage of airport playgrounds during layovers, and allow them to enjoy the airline treats.
3. Enjoy the natural offerings as much as possible.
Sure, we visited Disneyland Paris on our trip to France a few years ago, but I think those outings should be tempered with enjoying creation whenever possible. Visit national parks, go camping, and drive deeper into small towns—you’ll get a much richer, organic experience.
The options are endless in Queensland, Australia:
…Or simply take a picnic to the beach and make a day of it (but make sure it’s not jellyfish season!).
4. Make it educational but fun.
If you make a game of it and show interest yourself, learning about the history and science behind where you’re visiting could be the highlight of your trip. I’m a sucker for history myself, so I love learning about old buildings and the original people who first called a spot of land Home.
But I totally enjoyed the science-y bits behind my time in Queensland. A highlight was chatting with a film editor whose footage can be seen in BBC’s latest documentary about the Great Barrier Reef (it’ll be available in North America sometime December 2012). He also films a lot footage for Discovery Channel’s infamous Shark Week.
Mid-sentence, he shouted “Crikey!” and ran over to show us an epaulette shark. He picked him up (he was in the middle of mating—sorry, dude…), and taught us all about this unusual shark species. That afternoon remains one of the highlights of my time in Oz.
5. Enjoy the cultural and linguistic nuances.
Instead of fighting the differences in foreign countries, embrace and enjoy them. Some things can be harder than others (such as a completely different language than yours), but continually keep this mindset, and teach it to your kids: it’s not wrong, it’s just different.
Australians and Americans both speak English, but they are two very different brands of the same language. We had a ball learning the various Aussie lingo. For one, they shorten everything—uni for university, sunnies for sunglasses, brekky for breakfast, prezzies for presents, mozzies for mosquitoes.
They also call swimsuits either togs or cozzies (depending on their region of origin), and they have a delightful array of nicknames for men’s Speedos. Oh, and they must give everyone a nickname. How on earth do you nickname me? Either Tshie or Oxie.
Yeah… It doesn’t make much sense. But it’s fun.
6. Embrace the food.
Unless you’ve got a serious food allergy on your hands, resist the urge to pack backup Goldfish or mac-n-cheese. In Australia, I had kangaroo, crocodile, and a variety of ice cream like wattle seed, soursop, passionfruit, and black sapote. It was all delicious. Can’t say I loved the Vegemite, but I did try it (even though Darren says I tried it wrong).
If the kids see you trying new things with a good attitude, they will, too. And in Australia, you can always fall back on “normal” food as well… like Tim Tams.
7. Spend more money on experiences than souvenirs.
You’d probably guess that I’m not a big fan of souvenirs and travel tchotchkies that just collect dust on a shelf. I’d much rather spend money on experiences than on things to bring home. You can always take photos of you enjoying the experience, then frame and hang it at home.
I did buy a few small souvenirs for the kids (small stuffed kangaroos, koalas, and cassowaries are hard to resist), but otherwise, everything else was consumable. I love heading to local grocery stories for souvenirs—it’s a great place for a cultural comparison, the items are much more affordable, and they’re usually consumable.
For our family, international travel isn’t a one-day dream—we’d rather prioritize our money to spend visiting cultures and far-off lands over two cars or a large house. It’s just how we roll, and it makes for a lot of fun memories.
I know a lot of you have traveled internationally—what’s been your experience in traveling with kids? Any bits of advice you’d add?
I visited Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef courtesy of Tourism Queensland. For more travel inspiration, check out their Queensland blog.