Traveling: Asian Vacation with Our 3-Year-Old

Who says that once you have kids, you can’t travel anymore? Back in October of 2012, my husband and I spent two and a half weeks in Hong Kong, Macau and Hainan, China with our three year old son, TJ.

Even though we are all experienced travellers, I was a little worried about how our 3 year-old TJ would handle the lengthy flights. Up until this trip, the longest flight he’d ever been on was only six hours.

Just getting to Asia was an adventure in itself:

  • Salt Lake City to San Francisco
  • Overnight in San Francisco with family
  • San Francisco to Seattle
  • Seattle to Narita, Japan
  • Overnight in Narita
  • Narita to Hong Kong
  • Hydrofoil ferry to Macau

TJ took the multiple flights in stride playing with his toys, taking naps when he needed them, playing an occasional game of Angry Birds on the iPad, and enjoying the in-flight entertainment. This trip got him hooked on the show Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

In between flights, we made sure to find a place in the airport or ferry terminal where TJ could run around and my husband and I took turns playing and chasing after him. Both of us made a point to let him get his wiggles out whenever possible. We taught him how to say thank you in both Japanese and Cantonese and he often said the wrong one, which was adorable to everyone.

If we were in a very crowded space, my husband and I took turns wearing TJ on our backs in our Beco Carrier. It gave us a tremendous sense of security in a foreign place. (Read more about how much I love babywearing.)

On the subway in Hong Kong

We also tried to encourage some excitement about each of the flights explaining to TJ that we were flying on a Boeing 777 or an Airbus A330; his first times flying on those “grown-up airplanes.”

Once it was time to head home, we flew non-stop from Hong Kong to San Francisco. That was the longest flight TJ had ever been on at nearly twelve hours long (me too!), and it wasn’t easy as we were stuck in middle seats with my husband sitting in front of us.

TJ managed to take a two and a half hour nap and then a second nap near the end that was about an hour long. When we wanted to get up and walk around, turbulence would pick up and we had to stay in our seats. Since I can’t sleep sitting up, I didn’t get any sleep and managed to watch four movies. In all honesty, I think that flight was harder on me than it was on TJ.

One thing that really helped with the long flight was that TJ got a new toy or a treat every couple of hours. We bought a couple of very small toys at a gift shop in Hong Kong and he got to open a new toy if he had been behaving for a few hours. He got a new garbage truck, a construction vehicle and a fire truck along with a couple of chocolate coins from See’s Candies that we had brought with us. TJ didn’t know how many toys we had bought, only that if he started getting really bored and fidgety or cranky, Daddy would pop his head over the seat and say, “Are you ready for a surprise?”

Overall, it was an amazing trip. I adored watching TJ play with his cousins even though they couldn’t speak each other’s languages. Both my husband and I enjoyed tasting and eating some amazing food with TJ. My boy adores fish, and it’s quite abundant in southern China. The three of us swam in the warm waters of the South China Sea, we got to pick out our dinner from a fisherman’s catch of the day, we hiked through a tropical rainforest, we walked around Victoria Peak, we rode the ferry across Hong Kong Harbor at night and saw an amazing skyline and we got to meet countless aunts, uncles, cousins and relatives whom I still haven’t figured out their relation to TJ. Everyone was warm, friendly and they really made our trip the best it could be.

Swimming in the South China Sea with my boy

This trip occurred just after TJ turned three, and I know that many of us can remember some bits of our lives when we were that young. I know I do. It is my sincere hope that TJ remembers at least some of this trip.

To end here are some additional tips that worked, and lessons we learned from this trip that can hopefully help parents with the notion that once you have a child, international travel is still possible… contrary to what you may have believed or been told.

  • Bring whatever lovey, blanket, beloved stuffed animal, or pacifier if necessary to help your child sleep. We had been working on weaning TJ from his paci at bedtime and naptime, but we totally relaxed the rules while on this trip. He was still only allowed to have his paci if he was going to sleep, but we were a little more lax about it on the airplanes.
  • Bring some snacks for your child that you know he or she will eat. Because of the disruption and confusion with meal times and nap times, TJ wasn’t all that interested in any of the in-flight meals that were provided. He was more interested in playing with the spoon and fork like drumsticks when it was dinnertime on the plane. Luckily we brought some fruit strips, fruit and veggie pouches, crackers, granola bars, and some fresh fruit with us so he could eat when he was hungry.
  • If you are sightseeing, be conscious of your child and their need to have some plain old playtime. A couple of days into our trip, TJ was cranky, whiny and easily frustrated despite having a great night’s sleep. We realized that we had been shuttling him from house to house and attraction to attraction, he hadn’t had more than a few minutes each day to simply play. Once we were able to let him have an hour or two at a local playground, it let his mind and body reset and he was a happy boy again. Because there was so much we wanted to do, and so many people we wanted to visit, we made sure to schedule some play time every day or every other day depending on how TJ was doing.

2 Responses to Traveling: Asian Vacation with Our 3-Year-Old

  1. What a lucky little guy to travel so much! We’re taking our first flight with our toddler tomorrow morning (eeek!) and I’ve gotten so many great tips from you and your articles. Thanks!

  2. Pingback: Líllébaby Organic Baby Carrier Review & Giveaway Mama Say What?! | Mama Say What?!

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