Travel with Kids

A new baby brings with it, unexplained joy; also hard work that you can’t prepare for. A roller-coaster ride is what it is. Eventually, new parents do desperately seek a break. As did we.

In the fall of 2014, our son was due to start school. So a few months prior, we decided to go to Dubai to recoup, in an attempt to relax tense nerves and sore muscles – moreso myself than my husband. Travelling with a child is something a lot of parents are very scared of. Let me tell you: don’t be! If you plan right, it will all be well worth it.

In Dubai, we booked ourselves a room at Sheraton, Mall of the Emirates. This was good decision number 1. A hotel attached with a mall was something we needed at the time. Our tot was fond of afternoon naps. So we’d casually step out whenever we wanted, roamed around the mall, found ourselves an eatery, and when Mr. Cranky Pants decided it was time to unleash his super powers, we’d stroll right back to our hotel room. Late in the evenings, my husband and I would take turns watching movies at the in-house cineplex.

When out sightseeing or in the mall, we’d always take along the baby buggy. This was good decision number 2. It wasn’t an umbrella stroller. It was a heavy weight travel system with a large basket to carry along baby food and goodies. We had also accessorized the buggy with little toys to keep our kid entertained – when he decided to stay put. He otherwise loved running around. But the buggy still served as a nice alternative to restroom facilities for quick diaper changes in a discreet corner or for when tiny legs needed some rest…or for carrying shopping bags!

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The Dubai trip was just what the doctor ordered. We couldn’t do the desert safari because we were with an underage child. My husband muffled his excitement in Wild Wadi as he went solo. But this trip was just what the doctor had ordered. We ate and ate, watched movies, shopped a bit, entertained our kid plenty. It was a winning potion.

6 months later, we found ourselves in Thailand. Bangkok was hot, crowded and disappointing. Phuket though, was a mixed bag of nuts. Our hotel there was Grand Mercure. It boasted a separate swimming pool for children, which was a big hit with our 3 year old. This was good decision number 3. Choosing a hotel with a pool and/or a kids’ club or play area, will be well worth the additional moolah.

The inevitable was to happen. We booked an island hopping tour. This was a bad decision. Waking up your child in the wee hours of the day, hopping from one van to another, from one boat to another, from island to island, in sweltering heat was hard on both mother and child. He did eventually warm up to the beach and emerald waters but in hindsight, I wouldn’t recommend such tours with small children.

Soon after our son turned 4, it was London time. His obsession with “Big Ben” was contagious. By this time, as our child’s full dependence on milk and bananas had given way to home cooked, desi food, and his total aversion to fast food and pastas was evident, the three meals of the day were to be my biggest challenge. So while this trip was being planned, I was clear in the head: I needed kitchen facilities. We booked the Staybridge Suites in Vauxhall, This was good decision number 4.

 

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Our first morning in December London was spent doing groceries in Iceland – the supermarket of our choice. We loaded up: stocked our cabinets, fridge and freezer with ready-to-bake, ready-to-cook, ready-to-heat options, juices, veggies, spices and condiments. DSC_0072We had 10 chilly London evenings where we would return to a cosy kitchen. This was good decision number 5. When travelling with children, we learnt it paid off to stay put in one big, entertaining city.

 

 

 

 

 

Here is some proof.

 

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London is Boring

“London is boring. There is nothing to do.”

I am a member of a travel forum and this statement was posted by another participant. I wouldn’t take this personally…except that maybe I do. For one, I owe London a big deal. My son was born in the city while we were temporarily stationed there. He was born with a rare medical condition that required several surgeries over the course of a year. Not a penny was demanded from us. The country’s health system afforded us the luxury of free treatment, and the doctors and staff at the hospital won our hearts. Loving and caring; on top of everything; never discriminating. Some were Londoners; some probably weren’t. And that’s the beauty of the city. It is home to more immigrants than it is to the English people. And that’s why, when you step into the city as a tourist, you immediately feel like you belong.

So then, coming back to: “London is boring. There is nothing to do.”

Approaching the statement very objectively, this is factually wrong. London is abuzz with concerts, shows, theatre, talks, conferences and festivals throughout the year. No matter what your taste, there is something on offer. There is always something to do or see. If you can’t find anything, you are most likely not looking in the right places.

I can maybe concede to the fact that some people might not find London clean or refined. There are as many types of people as there are cities in the world. You like some. You don’t like some. I’m still going to try and convince the pessimists out there.

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Imagine you are standing in London somewhere. Imagine it is the Marble Arch. Where do you go from there. There’s vibrant Notting Hill in one direction, the Arab eateries of Edgware road in another; the finesse of Knightsbridge and South Kensington are conveniently accessible on the other end of Hyde Park for some Harrods therapy or museum loving; fine dining options are dotted all across Mayfair behind Park Lane; and in yet another trajectory from the Marble Arch, lies the mecca of all shopping strips: the Oxford Street. Strolling down, taking in known and unknown high street brands and the iconic Selfridges, you can choose to turn left on Orchard Street to take you right into Baker Street and over to the Sherlock Holmes Museum or Madame Tussaud’s.

And if that is not your cup of tea, keep strolling down Oxford Street. Grab one of Ben’s Cookies along the way. That’s heaven in your mouth. Ed’s Diner, right behind Ben’s Cookies, offers halal hot dogs with black beans. Once you reach Oxford Circus station, you again have 3 options. Turn left for Regent’s Park, or go straight for New Oxford Street. Soho is nestled in somewhere down there. Try the area for a cheeky night out with friends and snicker away.

And if that is not your cup of tea, turn right for Regent Street. This curved – an almost concave – structured line of upper scale shops is a sight for sore eyes. This is the home of bespoke tailoring for gentlemen. But forget that. Whatever you do, do not miss Hamley’s Toy Store. It is unimportant if you don’t have any kids in your bandwagon. Just walk in. It’s magic. It puts Hamley’s stores in other cities to shame. I could easily spend an hour inside. At the other end of Regent Street lies the iconic electronic billboards of Piccadilly Circus. Granted it doesn’t quite match up to the vibe of Times Square in New York, it has still served as a fantastic photo op for tourists for decades. Stand across the road and look for props on the screen. There are, yet again, several directions to choose from. China Town, Leicester Square or Trafalgar Square. Lots of music, hullabaloo and street performances encapsulate Leicester Square and China Town on weekend nights.

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And if that is not your cup of tea
, walk towards Trafalgar Square. Admire Nelson’s column, the fountains and lions. The monumental National Gallery on Trafalgar Square is unmissable – and free. What’s your choice of monopoly property here onwards? Towards Charing Cross, right off the Strand, lie the electric Covent Garden on one side and the Waterloo Bridge on the other. Try The Icecreamists for guilty pleasures in Covent Garden. Their Breast Milk ice-cream was a bit too adventurous for us to indulge though (has this place shut down?). The Waterloo Bridge, on the other side, offers beautiful vistas of the city by the Thames.

And if that is not your cup of tea, maybe head down to the Houses of Parliament, the Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey via Whitehall. Say hello to the prime minister at the unassuming 10 Downing Street along the way. The London Eye and South Bank Centre, both situated south of the river, are also iconic landmarks. London’s southbank also hosts one of the biggest iMax screens in the continent.l2

And if that is not your cup of tea, walk down the Mall from Trafalgar for views of Buckingham Palace. St James’ Park is another popular royal park situated in this area. A section of the Buckingham Palace is open to the public for some time in the summer months. Do check. Other popular palaces in the city are Princess Diana’s Kensington Palace or the Hampton Court Palace associated with Henry VIII.

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And if that is not your cup of tea, try the gothic currents of Camden Town, the modernity of Canary Wharf and the O2 Arena, which is a good venue for dinner and a movie at the end of the day. Access their website for upcoming shows. You never know, you might stumble upon Disney on Ice, Sonu Nigam in concert, or a BSB-NKOTB reunion to relive the obsessions of teen years.

It is impossible to wrap all of London in a blog post, I concede. I have been to churches and cathedrals across Europe, but few beat the magnificence of St Paul’s Cathedral. It is jaw-dropping from the inside. A guided audio tour will totally be worth your while, and a hike up the spiral staircase will test your mettle and core strength. Are you up for the dome? Along the way, stop for a breather and some fun at the Whispering Gallery. This was featured in a Hollywood movie which I cannot quite recall. Maybe one of my readers can jog my memory.

Further down the river, lies the Tower Bridge (often mistaken as the London Bridge). Next to it, sits quietly, the Tower of London, which offers history buffs, a solid rendezvous into London’s gory yesteryears. Also nearby, stands the Shard – a modern addition to London’s skyline.

I haven’t as yet fully covered the city centre, and there is so much more in the outer (and conveniently accessible) zones of London.

It is best to spend more than a week in the city if you really want to take it in, but if you’re in a hurry, check my guide on How to Use the London Pass.

Boring is not a word I would associate with this giant metropolis. Tens of day trips from any of its major rail stations are yet another reason why it makes such a good base to see more of England. Something tells me, I will keep going back. And so will many of you.

London is not boring. There is so much to do.

How to use the London Pass

For a first-time traveler, or for anybody who hasn’t mastered the art of maps and time-management, London can be over-whelming. It would suffice to say, there’s a month’s worth of attractions for the avid tourist. And distances are aplenty. How does one manage then? Luckily, the city’s got a great network of underground tube stations. We devised one excellent, super efficient way to use it.

Step 1: Buy a London Pass. Websites like London Town will sell them online. Get a 3-day pass.

Step 2: Have your heart set on marking every possible inch of territory. That’s what we did, when we were in London last June.

Step 3 (hot tip!): Mark all points of attractions by tube lines. On the day that we were taking the Circle line, we marked all places that were close to stations on that yellow line. And on that one day alone, we managed to cover places like the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Royal Albert Hall. All of these were adjacent or close to stations on the Circle line, and therefore, it meant that we could cover the maximum attractions without having to waste time changing lines or catching buses.

And of course, get up early! Most of these places will deny you entry after 4 in the afternoon.