Global Travels with Kids: Backpack to Buggy

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Traveling with children? It can be difficult, but it also can be a lifestyle and a great choice. We've featured several resources here on Wandering Educators, and I am always looking for more! Recently I found a great website about traveling with children, called Backpack to Buggy - An avid traveller adapting to becoming a mom. I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with Meg Keogh, creator of the site.  Here's what she had to say...

 

 

WE:  Please tell us about your site, from backpack to buggy...


MK:
Backpack to buggy aims to give new parents, or prospective parents, help with the transition from traveling to traveling with kids. From sharing reviews of destinations, great gear, hard-learned tips & tricks, or just philosophy, I hope to inspire more parents to recommit to their love of travel and to inspire their next generation of travelers.

 

Traveling with kids

Naptime in Bali

 

 

WE: 
What led you to start this site?

 
MK:
I became a mom in late 2006.  My travel experiences during my daughter’s first year left me in tears.  Travel as a mom was stressful, distracted and left me wanting to go home.  I was deeply scared that I would not be able to travel for the next 20 years.

 
Driven by my fear, we spent Christmas 2007 at home.  It was OK as my daughter, Mirielle, caught a bad flu that she generously shared with me.  Under the fog of fever, I decided that we needed to take a traveling vacation. That meant no relatives involved, over an ocean, to a country where English is not the first language, a tropical climate and an exciting culture.  Travel like the before child days.   We ended up picking Bali with a stop over in Hong Kong.

 
As I planned this trip, I was motivated to write a blog to share what I was learning and feeling.   If one sleep-deprived, scared, stressed out new parent decides they are going to make traveling with kids work, I will consider it a success.

 

traveling with kids

Meg and Mirielle hiking in the Cape Breton Highlands

 

 

WE:  What is your travel background and philosophy?

 
MK: I have always loved traveling.  In college I majored in International Relations so one day I could get paid to travel.  It hasn’t worked out that way, but, I have managed to visit 19 countries on 4 ½ continents including a good deal of the US, and living in Hong Kong while finishing my Master’s degree.

My travel has involved backpacks and suitcases, hostels and resorts.  Thankfully, I love the travel planning process as much as traveling and I am able to find super bargains.  It is the classic “champagne taste on a beer budget.”  My favorite places so far are Crete, Bolivia, northern Vietnam and St. John’s USVI.

 
These days a typical trip combines relaxing downtime with exploring a new place.  With the crazy pace of life, I am someone who needs to unplug.  I prefer to spend exploring time on foot or public transportation as we spend too much of our life in cars.  Food is a huge part of the travel experience for me, so we try and work in a top restaurant and many different flavors of a destination.  Now that we have a toddler with us, we only plan one big exploration or visit a day.

 
I believe that travel is about recharging – physically, mentally and spiritually.  It does not matter if you are going to a Club Med or Paris, Disney World or Tokyo, or even a local day trip.  Any sort of travel should leave you with energy or excitement.  This includes feelings like peace, wonder, curiosity, confidence or adaptable.  Travel changes who you are, if only for a moment.   I can’t wait to find out how it impacts Mirielle.

 

 

Meg Keogh

Meg in Hania, Crete, before baby

 

 

WE:  How difficult is it, to travel with children?

 
MK:
If you expected it be like traveling before you had children, it is a nightmare.  It gets a lot easier with practice and the right attitude.  Every trip you take, you will have smaller bags and less gear.  You also find the routine and travel schedule that works best for your own family. It took me over a year and 20K flight miles to figure this out and it is constantly shifting as Mirielle grows up.

Right now, my daughter is a true toddler with the attitude that comes with terrible twos.  Long road trips are out of the question, but if we hop in the car around her naptime, put on the Sirius Sinatra station, we have two hours of drive time while she naps.  After that, we make sure to schedule stops every 20-30 minutes.   Fancy restaurants are also out of the question so we look for cafes or courtyard eating.  She has just become interested in TV, so I expect she will be watching videos on our next flight.

 
Rather than resenting that we can’t take a road trip or enjoy a traditional restaurant meal, I focus on what we can do.  I am uncovering new places in old locales.  I cannot emphasize enough how social playgrounds are when you are outside of your own neighborhood.  Rather than a detour from our visits, I now think of them as a great way to learn more about the local people and get great recommendations.

 

 

WE:  Do you have any tips on preparing kids for intercultural experiences?


MK:
Start right from the beginning.  You don’t have to travel to teach your child to appreciate intercultural experiences.  There are lots of things you can do for your child, but like all parenting, just focus on what is most important to you.  For me it is food and language – two huge components of culture. 

For food, start early. After tasting jarred baby food at a friend’s baby shower, I committed to not feeding my child that vile stuff. Even with two full time working parents, we avoided the jarred baby food.  But, no “my child now eats anything,” gloating for me.  Mirielle is a picky toddler.  She may eat almost anything, but what is the anything today?  By giving her real food and food with strong flavors from the beginning, she is open to all foods (on the right day.)  Brie instead of Jack cheese, satay or teriyaki instead of chicken fingers, prosciutto and garlic added to pizza or spaghetti, prepares your child for eating different food.   These changes can be introduced at any age.

 
The farmers’ market is a big part of our food at home so we include farmers markets, or the equivalent when we travel.  Mirielle loves tasting samples.  When we bought fish balls in Hong Kong or oat cakes in Halifax at markets, she was quick to taste.  (BTW – she does say “Yuck” to some things then spits the food out and wipes her tongue off with her hand.)  Familiar but new is a combination that works well with kids.

 
Language is one of the most fun ways to prepare you child.  They are sponges for language and learn language in way completely different from adults.   Teaching some basic words in the local language is something everyone should do.  Introduce the four basics in your everyday conversations before departing – Hello, Good Bye, Please & Thank You.  We put a “counting” book together using Shutterfly that had a picture on one side and the number written out in the local languages on the other.  If the language isn’t foreign, teach your child the names of the places you are visiting.  A toddler who can say “Oslo” or “eeuw ‘ork” in the middle of the semi-decipherable babble will charm locals.  A preschooler who can recite the itinerary with great pride, is more interested in the destinations and in sharing his or her stories.

 

 
WE:  How do you prepare to travel with kids? Where are you and your family headed next?


MK:
I start preparing far in advance.  One, I like to prepare and two, I usually need to “un-prepare.”  We need less stuff than I think.  I will forget important things and manage.   Things will not go as planned, so I will have to adapt anyway.   Anything you really need, can be bought almost anywhere.

 
The internet is great for preparing for kid travel.  I put together a resource list in MS Word that I keep with our trip documents.  It includes key information on playgrounds, markets, specialty shops (eg organic grocery or western style pharmacy), super kid friendly restaurants and “drop in” activities (playspace, pool, story time, feeding time, etc.)   On a good day, you can add some activities to your sightseeing or on a bad day, you can find a safe haven.

 
Be very careful about sleep times.  A tired baby on a plane will probably fall asleep, but a tired toddler may have a meltdown.   Know you child’s general sleep patterns as awful as they may be.  (can you guess who does not sleep through the night that often?)   Mirielle becomes a light sleeper in the mornings.  If I get her out of bed at 5am, I can’t expect her to be so tired that she will fall asleep on the 8am flight.  (8am is her “normal” wake up time).   Work with those sleep patterns and try to maintain them as much as possible on the road.

 
We are headed to the US East Coast to visit family and friends over Christmas by using up all the frequent flyer miles and points we have left.  If I am able to book a few nights in the Leading Hotels of the World $19.28/night promotion, we will spend a few days in Carmel, California this fall.

Like many new families, we have to be careful with our budget.  This year we decided to spend our entire travel budget on our big trip to Asia.  It is tough when you want to travel, but don’t have the money.  I am finding ways to make it work and will start adding more “budget” columns to Backpack to Buggy to help other families stretch their travel dollars as far as they can.  (Or in some cases, go as far as they can on their travel dollars.)

Next year’s trip is open, but I am going to make sure that we can take two trips.   One is not enough for me.  For the big travel vacation, I am hoping for the Middle East, but would be ecstatic with Argentina, Honduras or China.  For the more local vacation, I would like to visit the Big Island of Hawaii or western Canada.  If the Euro goes below $1.30, our plans will change.  We have never been to Italy and have delayed our visits three times due to the expense.

 
Now that I am optimistic about traveling with Mirielle, I am planning/dreaming out big trips based a little on her age.  I hope to spend my 40th birthday in India. (I am already trying to build up her tolerance for spicy foods but it goes very slowly.)  When Mirielle is able to snorkel, I want to visit the Galapagos Islands.  When she reaches 8, a big African adventure.   One of the cool things about parenting is watching your child learn and discover.   Nothing says we can learn and discover together.

 

Meg Keogh

BF and beer, Oahu

 

 

WE: Thanks so much, Meg! I love reading of your past and future travels!

To check out Meg's site, please see:
http://www.backpacktobuggy.com

or follow her on twitter (I do!) -
twitter: backpacktobuggy

 

Meg Keogh

Meg in White Sands, before baby

 

All photos courtesy and copyright of Meg Keogh.

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