Traveling with children is often associated with stress and can seem daunting for parents. I have had people tell me how challenging it is to do. However, I pushed on because it is something that I wanted my sons to have; to see the magnificent world through their little eager eyes and incredible minds. The excitement and glee I saw during their first plane ride and visiting the different places are worth all the (mis)adventures, too. I am so glad that we traveled as a family while my kids were still young.
Vacationing with my boys to Qatar, where my husband worked for six years, has been one of the trips we keep doing almost every year during Christmas time.
It is a big adventure with four boys in tow. Two of them below five years old at that time. It was difficult, nevertheless, I accepted it because I wanted them to experience traveling as young children. It made my two eldest sons (twelve and five years old at that time) more reliable during the whole trip, carrying their backpacks, and helping push luggage carts and strollers of their younger siblings as we navigated through long queues in the immigration.
Packing and Preparations
The first thing that we prepared for our trip was ensuring that our passports were in-date.
My husband took care of the Family visit visa application since he was a permanent resident there at that time. The visa application was processed through the mobile app of Qatar’s Ministry of Interior Service Centre, and it only took 2-5 days to get this approved and made the process amazingly easy. Once this was completed, he emailed the copies to me, and that’s all I needed to present at the Philippine airport’s immigration before boarding.
Next, we made sure that my sons’ vaccines were up to date, so we visited their pediatrician a week before the scheduled flight. I also brought a basic medical kit with their multi-vitamins, paracetamol, and medicine for cough and colds. I got an antihistamine for my eldest because he has allergic rhinitis, and the desert sand and dust trigger this. I also included a small first aid kit with band-aids and alcohol.
Packing for the whole family was something I endeavored to conquer next. Now, make that packing clothes for five people including myself plus my 3-month-old baby. Clothes took up the most space in our luggage. But I didn’t have to pack a lot of clothes because I can do laundry at my husband’s flat, so I pack for 3 days worth of clothes for each one of us and pajamas for when we’re just going to stay home.
I brought my Ergo baby carrier for my 3-month-old baby to easily navigate the hustle and bustle of the airport and a stroller for my 4-year-old son who could get tired walking. Toys, books, and fully charged gadgets were essentials to while away boredom while we wait in lines to board the plane and while in the flight.
Places We Visited
Seeing a different culture and place for the first time is truly marvelous. We got to tick off most of the tourist spots featured in travel guides. For me, watching all this through my children’s eyes is an altogether awe-inspiring and unforgettable achievement. That is what made all this worthwhile.
During our first visit in 2015, we were able to see and ride the camels at Sealine Beach. There was even a sandstorm that day, but we didn’t mind and had a great time. This was the highlight of our first visit. Of course, we also spent the entire morning lazing around by the beach. These are extraordinary moments we get to keep for the rest of our lives.
When we came back for a Christmas visit in 2018, we went to see the Islamic Museum. It houses one of the complete Islamic artifacts which originated in different Islamic countries such as Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and a few others from Spain, India, and Central Asia. One of the exhibits features how beautiful Syria was before it was destroyed by war. My eldest son, who was 12 at that time, had a great time taking photos of the artifacts and reading about them. It surprised me how a visit to the museum could be enjoyable to a 12-year-old who loves mobile games.
We mostly spent our time taking the kids out to play in the park. We do not have public parks here in the Philippines where kids can just go to play so that is a new experience for them. This gave them the chance to socialize and gain new friends from a different cultural background. Seeing their faces light up as they shared how they found a friend is a beautiful memory etched in my brain.
We also visited the famous Souq Waqif, a marketplace famous for its traditional Qatari architectural style to buy souvenirs and Corniche which shows off Qatar’s skyscrapers and business center.
In 2019, Doha Metro was opened to the public, so we relied on it to get around town and save on transportation expenses. The kids also enjoyed these train rides because they get to see and experience more of the world. Up to this date, it still amazes me how the little things delighted them. Like how they would happily tinker around their airplane seats and play with the freebie toys they were given.
Work and Family Balance
We were able to spend these vacations with the family in tow because of the perks of my husband’s job in an airline company. He worked 12 hours for 4 days. Most of his rest days were spent on exploring and touring. When he had to work, the kids and I stayed in the flat where we would do educational activities, art, and movie watching to bid the time. We’d go out to explore the city and have dinner outside when he wasn’t too tired from working.
Having small children and keeping them entertained while my husband rests is a bit of a challenge especially when he transitions to his night shifts, but we managed it. I would take the kids out to play in the yard.
We must add creativity and variety to the children’s daily activities while they are not out exploring so they don’t easily get bored. The books we packed and the reading apps in their iPad were lifesavers for times when I needed to do laundry or quickly put together a family meal. It kept them entertained and they could do the activities on their own.
It is a priority for us to spend quality time together as a family while the children are growing up. That is why we make sure that Christmas holidays are spent with each other regardless of geographical location and the various dilemmas associated with it. We make it work and when we encounter roadblocks, we are gracious and reasonable enough to allow ourselves to adjust and find the solution. Having a supportive partner and openly communicating with each other are the keys to successfully conquering these roadblocks. It’s not always smooth sailing. There are times you end up clashing. Honesty, empathy, and respect enable us to get through this.
Cost of Living
There are different factors that you will consider when it comes to the cost of living. The top two factors on my mind are your family’s priorities and the country you’re visiting.
As for my family, our cost of living consisted mainly of food and transportation because most of the places we visited did not require or have minimal entrance fees. We stayed in the flat that my husband rented, that’s why we didn’t have to worry about the cost of hotel accommodation as well. We preferred to shop and cook our food with the occasional take-out food the kids enjoy.
To get to the tourist spots, we commuted via the Metro train which also has a free shuttle that drops us off across the street, so it was cheaper for us unless we stayed outdoors after the train stations closed, then we’d have to take Uber to go back to the flat. This seldom happens though.
Another good thing that we enjoyed was that the whole family’s airfare was booked with the airline company that my husband worked for, so we have the benefit of 50% – 90% discounts as part of his pay package. The only drawback was that on most flights we are chance passengers so we’re always the last to board with barely a few minutes to spare before the plane takes off. So yep, if you’ve watched Home Alone and remember the scene of Kevin’s family running at the airport to catch their flight? Yes, we’re that family. And that is no easy feat with pre-schoolers and a baby.
Nevertheless, this travel perk is so great, why wouldn’t we want to do it as a family, right? This played a big role in making this happen because we wanted to take advantage of this opportunity.
Obstacles and Challenges
Every life decision entails obstacles and oppositions to overcome, and I believe in managing our mindset to focus on how we can conquer them instead of just dwelling on them.
The most challenging for me was the nine-hour flight to our destination with my 3-month-old baby at the same time managing my 4-year-old hyperactive son. I was the only adult on that trip, and I had to rely on my 12-year-old and 5-year-old sons to manage our luggage and their younger siblings. It was a remarkable trip for the books which taught me how perseverance wins all the time.
I made sure that I allotted a good amount of time before the actual flight to do away with traffic and other delays we may encounter. It was a good thing that I had the foresight, because, en route to the airport, we had to make a quick diaper change stop.
Two days before we took our flight, we had to reschedule it because there were slight discrepancies in my sons’ visas. The Philippine Immigration Officer was extremely strict with making sure that their second names were included in the visas issued and since they weren’t, we were not allowed to board on that day. So, we (three children and an infant in tow) traveled to the airport with our luggage only to be offloaded. It required a lot of emotional maturity on my part to keep together. I am also privileged that my three-month-old son was a good sleeper who slept through the whole ordeal and my two elder sons were accountable and incredibly helpful. My husband had the visas corrected so two days after this, we were able to go to our destination.
Looking back, this challenge helped shape my children to be positive and confident in tough circumstances.
Overall Experience and its Impact
Truly, traveling with my young children was worth it. There were hiccups along the way but the takeaways that we got far outweigh any of these. As I mentioned at the start, I wanted my children to have this voyage of discovery because they would reap significant values out of it. They became self-reliant and more independent. They became more responsible. They are better attuned to their surroundings and the needs of others. They learned to socialize and get along with others who may talk and look different than they are. Through this, they uncovered the beauty of diversity. We’ve opened doors to unexpected friendship even for just a few hours of play. Best of it all, they had a fantastic time through these adventures.
The adversities we faced showed them how real life works. Things don’t always go your way, but it is something that must be faced. As most would say, experience is the best teacher. They were able to discover the valuable lessons they would not learn within the four walls of a classroom or the four corners of our house. They also showed me to view the world without restraint.
As a family, we got to spend quality together and became closer. My husband didn’t feel the nagging parent guilt of missing Christmas time with us. Since he couldn’t come home for Christmas, we packed Christmas in our bags and hearts and brought it to him.
We are stronger together. It made us better navigators as parents. I didn’t want to live with a what-if when I am much older. I reveal that I know the true rewards of it.
Moreover, I got the privilege of growing with my children and purposefully shaping and contributing to their development to be the man they want to be.
Children are never a reason NOT to travel. I’d say travel and bring them along for the ride. Sure, you and your children would have to develop the temperament for traveling and waiting through long lines (there are priority lanes for children), however I see that as a positive addition to your relationship. It helps solidify the open communication lines you must nurture with your children. I had a bunch of people telling me against the idea of bringing my kids along and listing all the things that could go wrong. But I said, I’d rather try than not, and I am happy that my husband and I committed to doing it.
A few things to keep in mind when traveling with little ones:
- Preparation and research go a long way. Find out what are essentials and would make things easier for everyone. Being mentally prepared on how to take on the perceived challenges gives you extra ammunition when the situation arises. Most of the time they don’t though. You know why? Because you were able to prevent this in the first place. You were able to prevent the situation because you are prepared.
- Keep the children involved when planning activities. This gets them excited and interested throughout.
- Give the children more freedom and relax some rules you’d normally enforce back home. Allow them to eat snacks, bring their favorite small toy, or spend more time with the iPad. Just remember to pack all this when it’s time to get going. Of course, you’d feel the guilt by allowing these, but it keeps everyone’s sanity intact, and that dreaded long wait time becomes bearable. I’d say it’s a win win. You can tell your children that rules will be enforced once you’re all back at home.
Best Family Memory
The best memory? It is tough to come up with just one. Let’s see. We have a collection of family memories that sum up as the best family memory. These are like tiny pieces of the puzzle that when put together make up the bigger, and beautiful picture. A colorful photo of doing these wonderful activities together. Bonding together. Laughing together and just having fun in each other’s company. Everyday is an opportunity we seize to do something that brings us closer. To spend as much time as we can with our children. As parents, we understand that these days are numbered and it’s not something we can redo or take back so we live it the best way we can.
There’re so many memories to choose from. There’s that camel sighting and ride. Oh, and there’s that day on the beach we went parasailing with our eldest who was only 8 years old at that time.
The day when my second son found a hermit crab by the beach and crawled like one trying to follow it.
Or maybe it is this close encounter with a baby sea turtle at a local beach.
It could be one of those big moments of exploring and discovery. Being with nature. Encountering something for the first time. Seeing the world with fresh and imaginative eyes. Or it could be the simple moments when they just had fun playing make-believe in the park with kids their age.
These might be the best memories for me which can be different when you asked my children. But I’d always be grateful that I got to see the beauty of the world through their eyes full of curiosity and inquisitiveness. Always so willing to know more and appreciate. I’m happy we made these choices for us.