Family Travel Contest: I is for Spy, T is for Treasure Hunts

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The following is a post from The Perrin Post by Wendy Perrin of Conde Nast Traveler Magazine. WildChina founder Zhang Mei shares tips on traveling with children…

Family Travel Contest: I is for Spy, T is for Treasure Hunts
WildChina founder Zhang Mei with 5 and 2-year old daughters in Cambodia

Today’s tips come from Mei Zhang, mom of three (ages 8, 5, and 2), founder of travel company WildChina, and one of the China experts on my list (updated and published annually in Condé Nast Traveler) of the world’s best travel specialists. Mei’s hard-earned wisdom:

1. Slow down the pace and allow kids (and yourself) down time.
We tend to feel pressured to pack too many things into one day’s travel plan. The pressure is well justified, as we are often talking about thousands of dollars of plane rides for the family. But, in the end, kids get grumpy, parents get exhausted–a lose/lose situation. So I often plan just one major outing for each day and leave the rest of the time for hanging out. Take Cambodia as an example. The temples can get repetitive really quickly, so I made a deal with the kids: one temple a day! That, plus the time they spent watching monkeys on the temple grounds, would usually take us till noon, then we’d grab a nice lunch in one of the roadside restaurants, then back to the hotel for the baby to nap while the older kids watch an afternoon movie and I get a massage. Then it’s pool time, followed by excursions for dinner and ice cream in local markets.

2. Stay put in a place at least 2 to 3 nights before moving.
City hopping is driven by the same pressure–that feeling that you’ve got to see everything! Wrong. It burns out the kids and you. Stay in a place a little longer so they develop a sense of routine, which calms them down.

3. Try to take 1 or 2 kids on a special “date” trip with mommy or daddy.
We often travel as a whole family entourage for Christmas and spring break, but at other times I try to take the kids on separate trips to match their time and interests. The younger ones could afford missing preschool for long stretches at a time, so I took them to China with me for 6 weeks; we covered Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, then Cambodia. I didn’t want the older child to feel left out, so I took him on a cruise to Patagonia, since observing animals and hiking in nature is his love; if we’d had the little ones with us, we wouldn’t have been able to do as much.

4. Whenever it’s affordable, hire a guide; sometimes he or she can double as a sitter.
Cambodia_temple_guideI’ve often found this possible on my travels. Most guides in China and Cambodia are so eager to help that they are willing to spend time with the kids. When I had 3 kids with me at the Great Wall, the oldest one ran fast, while the baby was still in my arms, so the guide willingly took the hand of the middle child and helped her up and down those steep stairs. Same thing in Cambodia: I hired a guide for the day (our guide, Jet, is pictured at right), but we were done with touring by lunch time, so he happily played games with the children back at the hotel. It’s fun to see the kids learning different games from different cultures.

5. Create games for the kids.
Angkor Wat and the Forbidden City are really boring for kids after five minutes. So I’ve taken what we do at WildChina into my personal trips, playing I Spy games and doing treasure hunts with the kids. At Angkor Thom, for instance, there is a huge fresco/wall carving depicting Buddhist historical stories, so we had the kids look for the Fish, the Monkey, etc. That was their favorite thing!

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Wendy Perrin is Condé Nast Traveler‘s Director of Consumer News and Digital Community. To contact her, please e-mail wperrin@cntraveler.com or follow her on Twitter @wendyperrin. Share and submit your own tips for traveling with kids into the A-to-Z Family Travel Contest for a chance to win a $16,000 family vacation in the Caribbean. See website for details.

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