In place of our annual family holiday, this year, my husband, Terence and I decided to try something different. We decided to go on a “holi-date”, a holiday consisting of one parent and one child, visiting a new destination. We thought it would be a fun challenge for us and a meaningful way to get to know our children better. We are parents to young children, a five and two year old, both at an age where they are very active and dependant on us. So this was not a holiday to kick back and relax – we knew that it would be hands-on and would require some compromise on our ambitious idea to see everything at the holiday destination. Still we chose to “holi-date” for the reason that it would have a long-term trajectory of building bonds through travel as our little ones continue to mature and grow as individuals.
I had S, our 5-year old boy as my travel buddy and Terence had little E as his co-explorer. Our destinations were a no-brainer. I’ve always wanted to see and taste Taiwan and Terence decided on Hong Kong as photos of dim sum lured him from afar. We booked our tickets way in advance, taking advantage of cheap flight fares but the planning only started about a month before our “holi-date”. When we got into the planning, we researched on public transport, places of interest, child-friendly attractions and the weather. Our itineraries were kept fairly loose to make room for any sudden-lies such as prolonged toilet time, uncalled for melt downs, slower pace of travel and other factors that come with travelling with young children.
Since I had S with me, I also wanted to try staying in hostels to give him the opportunity to mingle with different people from different countries – so we chose two different types of accommodation during our week in Taiwan, a few nights in a hostel-type accommodation and a few nights in a hotel. Much to my delight, he had a lot of questions while at the hostel, asking about different countries and why people travelled, listening in to different languages and sharing common spaces with strangers.
I was particularly excited to explore Taiwan with S. He’s at the age where he can read maps with a little assistance, enjoys different foods, gets excited about trying new things, follows instructions well and is able to articulate this experiences in words. I knew he would be an excellent travel buddy and he proved right! We explored the city from morning till night, always ending up in one of Taiwan’s bustling night markets. We went on a free walk tour where we got a low-down of Taiwan’s history and culture, visited the massive Taipei zoo – the largest in the Asia, rode the glass-bottom gondola to Maokong, decorated paper lanterns with heartfelt words and set them off into the air in Shifen – an enchanting village with a railway line running across it, meandered through the hillside town of Jiufen whilst trying not to get lost in the narrow alleys, witnessed the majestic Shifen Falls, stood in awe of Taipei’s jaw dropping skyline at the top of Taipei 101, elbowed our way through the crowds at Ximending – one of Taiwan’s busiest districts, took a dip in Beimen’s public hotsprings pool where old people hung out and talked all day and gobbled down the best of Taiwan’s street food.
Terence and little E explored bustling Hong Kong – Apliu flea market, Sham Sui Po, Tsim Sha Tsui, savoured many dim sum meals, wandered through Kowloon Park taking time to feed the fish and chase the birds, took the cable car to Ngong Ping, watched fishermen hauling in their catch at Sai Kung and enjoyed a full day at Ocean Park. His days in HK were a lot different from mine. Terence’s bag was packed with E in mind – diapers, milk, thermos, extra clothes and wet wipes. He also carried E in an Ergo carrier when it was time for her morning and afternoon naps. When she snoozed, Terence took the advantage to explore busier sights at a faster pace.
We returned home on the same day after a week of being apart. We were thrilled to see each other, shared many lingering hugs, exchanged gifts, scrolled through photos and spilled stories! While the children went off to play, running around the house and making it come alive – Terence and I took to our journals to pen some lessons we’ve learned from our “holi-date”. It’s without a doubt one of the best travel decisions we’ve made and hopefully, we can repeat this in a couple of years with the other child. What a privilege!
A holi-date in a heartbeat – here’s why:
- Special memories & stronger bonds
Extended time together in a new place is the best set up for growing relationships. Shared experiences such as savouring all kinds of street food or hiking to the waterfalls are powerful mental milestones that form special memories exclusive to parent and child. Imagine you’re your child’s best friend and closest buddy for a whole week!
2. Stage for education
Most of school learning is done in the classrooms, through books or audio visual material. Traveling allows our children to learn with all their senses and it gives them real-world practical lessons that can only be thought through experience. For example street smartness, appreciation for diversity and respect for different communities.
3. Ownership results in responsibility
From the get go, S packed his own day bag filled with a couple of books, a travel journal, wireless headphones, a bottle of water, jacket and a cap. He carried his day pack everywhere and knew that it was his responsibility. There was one incident where left the bag in a shop while waiting for me to buy some souvenirs. Upon realising that he was missing his bag, he dragged me off the streets and back to the shop to ask the shopkeeper for his bag. It was a lesson as a parent that in order for our children to learn responsibility, they have to first feel a sense of ownership.
Life will not always be a set routine. If we teach our children to be adaptable and accepting of change, they will be better navigators in life. Adaptability involves living in different conditions, eating different kinds of food, taking different kinds of transport – in general appreciating the differences and similarities that each country, community and and place has to offer. Exposing our children to new cultures and places also fuels their sense of curiosity and wonder.
5. Seeing the world through their eyes
It’s interesting to see our child’s personality emerge in different situations, such as getting lost, sticking within a budget, studying maps, choosing the places of interest to go to and deciding on what to eat. By allowing our children to make these decisions, it empowers them to step into new (and sometimes) unchartered territory. For example, S was given the option to choose between going to the public hotsprings bath or visiting the national science museum (which I thought was a better choice for children). He chose the public hotsprings bath filled with old people and was not allowed to jump and splash around. I thought he would have hated the experience, but he loved it. He sat in the hot pool listening to old uncles chatting away, people watched and sipped green tea for two hours! What an old soul!
Practical tips for traveling with children
Before you pounce on the next travel deal to plan your own “holi-date”, here are some practical tips that will help you along:
1. Age appropriate
Our children are at the age where they can walk, talk, is curious about their surroundings and don’t need a long checklist of things just to survive. They are also at the age where attractions make sense to them (eg. zoo, theme parks, etc). In short, I will probably not go on a “holi-date” with my baby and wait till he/she is a little older – but I’d gladly take them on a holiday! The purpose of both is quite different.
2. Fly early
Catch an early morning flight because when children wake up, they are ready to go! Morning flights are also usually less crowded and you reach the destination in the day which makes it easier to get around and navigate yourself in a new place.
3. Pack light
Especially if you’re traveling with young children, they cannot help you with larger bags and you don’t want to be in a frenzy waiting for multiple luggages to arrive on the belt while taking care of your child. Pack only what you absolutely need – swap strollers for carriers and bags with rollers are easier to get around.
4. Bring some meds
When traveling with children, you want to be always prepared to combat any bug or treat wounds. Essential medicine include paracetamol, antihistamines and small first aid kit. I also always carry some multivitamins or vitamin C for them to boost their immune system.
5. Encourage them to keep a travel journal
S kept a travel journal of his trip to Taiwan. He scribbled the different places we went to, foods we tried and things we saw. He doodled what he saw and stuck entrance tickets and stickers in it. He absolutely treasures his journal (which is nothing fancy, just a few pages of A4 paper stapled together with brown cover and self-decorated cover) – but this will be in his library of memories way into his adulthood.
6. Do some pre-trip learning
Read up, watch videos and talk about the place you will be going with your child. It helps create a sense of excitement and anticipation before the travel.
7. Take your time
Remember, it’s a holiday between you and your child. Give yourself enough buffer at the airport, getting around, having a meal or sightseeing. Young children love to explore and they don’t care about time. Older children perhaps like doing things that is not your usually fancy – but giving them time means and doing it together allows you to appreciate the world through their eyes. Terence was with E at a park and he thought a walk through was enough, but E decided to pick leaves, gawk at birds, pick up stones and wander around. Terence instinctively got the cue to slow down, enjoy nature and taught her about the tortoises and ducks in the pond and the different birds they saw.