Monday, 5 October 2009

travelling with kids: boat

I have had a range of experiences travelling by boat with my children, most of them in a developing country.  This somewhat affects my advice.  Unless travelling around modern harbour cities on well equipped passenger ferries, my tip is relatively simple: avoid it.

If you must travel in a canoe between islands
  • make sure you trust the person who chooses and paddles the canoe (unless you have your own)
  • sit still
  • put the fear of God into your children so that they sit still, too
  • if it's stormy, wait until tomorrow, very few things are that important that you must travel in a canoe in a storm.

General tips in case of rough seas and sickness
  • Find out about wind and current patterns, and the current state of the swell.  There are websites that give you that sort of information. It can help when you are deciding about your trip.  For instance, it is always rougher travelling south in Vanuatu than travelling north because of the way the waves go.
  • Give your children travel sickness tablets, especially if they are two and under.  If the sea is rough, they will get sea sick and very young children don't understand what is happening to them and don't know how to prevent themselves throwing up and keep looking around and throwing up.  When they fall asleep, then they will have reprieve from the sickness.  Older children can be reasoned with and instructed to lie down and close their eyes.  If you can prevent the sickness, hopefully you won't need the following tips.
  • Take travel sickness tablets yourself.  It is possible to avoid vomiting by closing one's eyes and blocking out the world, but this is rather difficult when looking after and cleaning up a child.  Only, if you are pregnant, you probably won't be able to take them.
  • Be careful about what you feed your children before and during the trip.  Rough seas mean you'll be seeing it all again.
  • Take water to drink.  Vomiting bile is painful for the very young.  It's good to dilute with water.
  • Take a change of clothes for wearing at your destination.

Travelling overnight on a "passenger vessel"

I have only done this once, and it was terrible.  The main thing to remember is that it won't be anything like your experience of passenger vessels in the developed world.  Don't assume anything.  Shipping is usually for cargo and passengers are just an extra load on board.  This changes everything.  Sometimes the ship will wait in port for cargo to arrive, sometimes it will be a long time unloading and loading cargo.  More importantly, the vessel is not set up for you to have a cruise.  Be warned.
  • If you are the sole adult responsible for your children for this trip, it is definitely worth asking someone to accompany you.  Fares are usually cheap and the children usually travel free.  An extra fare is a little investment for a great deal of help, especially if that person is experienced in travelling on such vessels.
  • Find out about how long the trip will take and when you are expected to arrive at your destination.  Plan for an extra night or two, just in case.  Should the ship arrive in the middle of the night, most probably you will be able to stay on the ship until morning but check this.  It can be difficult arranging to be met in the middle of the night, just as it is difficult getting taxis and checking into a hotel.
  • Find out about the sleeping arrangements.  There are unlikely to be cabins let alone beds available for passengers.  If you are offered a VIP room, take it, as it's likely to be the only room available for passengers to have privacy and a space to sleep.
  • Find out about meals; what will be served and when.  Will you need to purchase food or is it included in your ticket?  Will there be food available to purchase if you need it?  Take snacks and water for you and the children.
  • In the case that there are no cabins and no beds, this makes sleeping very difficult.  There may be chairs or benches to sit on.  Try and find some small floor space out of the way of crew and passengers and set up some space for your children to play and sleep.  This is not easy, as ships don't have a lot of space as a rule... but perhaps there may be some outside the crew's cabins... but don't set up there without checking first with the crew.
  • Take a couple of towels.  These are good for children to sleep on and make a good pillow for yourself.  It is relatively easy to sleep without a mattress, impossible without a pillow.
  • Take lots of things for your children to do in a small space and be willing to share with other children who are usually bored, too.  Colouring in, plasticine, a small tea-set, stickers, beading...  Older children usually only need a book, a pen and a small pad.  Younger children are more difficult and need your full attention to ensure they don't fall overboard.
  • Take toothbrushes and toothpaste but don't worry about washing until you get to your destination.  It's not worth it (unless you have someone else to look after the children while you do).  Take a small packet of nappy wipes for cleaning hands, especially before eating.
  • Take a bag packed with the things you need for the boat.  Everything that you need only for your destination should go in a separate bag that goes in the hold.  You don't want to be lugging too much around on the boat with you but you do want to make sure you have everything you need.
  • Make sure you know where the life jackets are and how to use them.
  • Be friendly to the crew.  They can be extremely helpful.

OK.  That's it.  I definitely don't recommend travelling with your children alone on a boat. 

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