Travel tips from a father

Looking back, a lot of things my wife and I thought were essential now seem silly

Not all those who wander are lost, goes a famous line in J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy epic The Lord Of The Rings.

These days, though, the line often accompanies Instagram photos of millennials on vacation.

I am assuming that when Tolkien wrote it, he was not thinking of parents with young children, who may find themselves very, very lost when they make the decision to wander off to foreign lands on vacation.

When you are single, with no children, wandering and getting lost are still options.

You can book last-minute quick getaways and board a plane with just your passport and a backpack, with little-to-no planning involved.

As a parent though, this becomes near-impossible and the backpack of clothes gives way to suitcases filled with baby food, milk powder, milk bottles, toys, books, diapers, baby carrier, medication, baby wipes... and the list goes on.

Not all those who wander are lost, goes a famous line in J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy epic The Lord Of The Rings. I am assuming that when Tolkien wrote it, he was not thinking of parents with young children, who may find themselves very, very lost when they make the decision to wander off to foreign lands on vacation.

Planning for trips with a child is an endeavour in its own right and I am glad to have my wife - who does so much of the planning for our vacations - by my side.

Case in point: When we went to Europe on vacation two years ago, and having done our research, my wife and I decided that a child seat would provide our son - then a few months shy of his second birthday - the safest and most comfortable ride on the long plane journey.

So we found one that met the United States Federal Aviation Administration's standards - and thus the standards of most airlines - and it did provide him with a safe and comfortable ride.

However, as we flew between different cities on our trip, we soon realised that - despite my wife having done her homework and having asked the airlines to confirm that they allowed the child seat to be used on the flights - in most cases, the staff on board did not allow us to use it.

They instead requested that our son either sit on our laps or on his own, without the child seat, which we had to stow away.

Sure, I can laugh about it now, but it was not funny having to lug around what was essentially a 6kg white elephant for much of our vacation.

Looking back, there were a lot of things that, at the time, we thought were essential that now seem silly.

For example, we would take along sterilisation tablets that we would dutifully dissolve in water to soak our son's milk bottles in.

This now seems particularly unnecessary, especially after reading an article in The New York Times that said washing the bottles is sufficient, without having to sterilise them.

Entertaining your child during long plane trips or bus rides also becomes an issue - do you take along your child's favourite toys or books, and risk the possibility of losing them, or not take them and run the risk of having a sulky child while you are stuck for hours on a moving vehicle?

There is the option of just letting him play games on your phone, but that could lead you down the rabbit hole of getting him hooked on the smartphone instead.

Another issue that could pop up is the trip being too physically demanding for a child.

While baby carriers and strollers are available for younger children, these options are less viable as they grow up.

When our family recently performed the umrah - the minor pilgrimage for Muslims to Mecca - we ended up renting a wheelchair to push our son around for part of the physically gruelling rituals.

In short, there is a lot you have to think about when travelling with a child.

Yet, despite all the challenges, family vacations with our son have provided my wife and me with valuable memories and time spent together and I cannot imagine going on holiday without him.

He is also a constant source of amusement on these trips.

About two years ago, while we were on a tour bus travelling through London, my son suddenly felt the urgent need to poop.

Although he was already toilet trained, because we were still a while away from our destination, I took off his pants and put him in a diaper that we carried around in case of emergencies.

As he felt uncomfortable after doing his business, my wife and I decided to leave the bus to look for a toilet so we could remove his diaper and wash him up.

But there were no toilets in the immediate vicinity and he was forced to walk around in just a shirt, sweater and a soiled diaper in the London winter until we could find a toilet.

What made it worse was that we later found out there was a toilet on the bus, which our driver, for some reason, neglected to tell us about.

So, fellow parents with young children, if I could offer you only one tip - planning for toilet breaks would be it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 17, 2017, with the headline 'Travel tips from a father'. Print Edition | Subscribe