I recently read a travel-related article that made my blood boil. The author complained about how poorly parents travelling with children are treated by other travellers, particularly by those without children. She alluded to how unfair it is that other travellers expected her to be responsible for any disruption her child caused in their day. While the author had a valid point that children are not difficult intentionally, her article read like the whining of spoiled brat who expected the rest of the world to adjust to accommodate her new circumstances.
No, I do not have kids. I have, however, spent a lot of time with children, having seven nieces and nephews, two grand-nieces and many friends with children. My mother, a single parent, travelled with us and I became familiar with planes, trains and automobiles at a young age. There were many road trips where I’m sure she could have used a stiff drink after the 147th “are we theeeeeere yet?”.
I believe children should travel. Exposure to other places, experiences and cultures will help the child develop a confidence, social conscience and empathy they may not if they never strayed from familiar surroundings. I do, however, think that the type of travel should be dependent on the age, maturity and temperament of the child, both for the child’s sake and for the sake of other travellers. Exposing a toddler to a hostel environment because you want to save a few bucks is not necessarily in anyone’s best interest. Many hostels cater to young adults out to have a good time. Expecting guests to be accommodating to a three-year-old in that environment is akin to me going to Chuck-E-Cheese and demanding the children be quiet so I can read my book in peace. Just not gonna happen!
Most people, with or without kids, understand that young children get tired and cranky and have meltdowns at the most inopportune time., particularly if their routine has been disrupted. They understand that infants often have difficulty with earaches in planes. They understand that kids can be loud and rambunctious and lack self-control. That understanding does not make the situation any less disruptive or irritating to those around the child, particularly when the parents do nothing to manage the behaviour. My mother taught us how to behave in public. If we couldn’t, we were removed from the environment. There was never an expectation that those around us should quietly tolerate the situation.
The reality is when you have children, your circumstances change, and parents need to adapt to that change, not everyone else. That may mean travelling in different ways than before or even postponing certain trips until such a time as the child is old enough to handle and appreciate it. Taking a road trip instead of a flight gives you the freedom to stop at parks when the kids gets bored and need to blow off steam. A train offers a toddler more room to move about than a bus or a plane, and a couchette lets you maintain nap schedules easier than the alternatives. Take your child on short flights to see how they adjust to changes in air pressure and being cooped up in a confined space before booking the transatlantic red eye.
No one says you have to stop travelling, but you do have to be cognizant how your decision to travel with your children impacts other people. If a child shrieks incessantly on a 12-hour overnight flight, my irritation will not be with the child. It will be with the parent who deigned to expose the poor creature to such discomfort. Your choice, your child, your responsibility.
That may seem unfair, but life is not always fair. I am 50 and understand that some hostels do not allow guests over the age of 45. While I may not like it, I accept that I have moved into a different category than those to whom the hostel caters, even if I can still party like a 25 year old. My circumstances have changed. I can adapt.
By all means, travel with your children, just please be considerate to those around you. If your child is being disruptive, address the behaviour or remove the child from the situation. Take your children to a place where they will feel more comfortable, and leave the rest of us to enjoy our time. Any adjustments you have to make now for the benefit of the majority are only temporary. Kids grow up faster than we think.