Recently, my family of five had the opportunity to visit Sydney. It took us a while to finally take the plunge because out of these five family members, three were little people under six years-old! The grown-ups were definitely outnumbered and we had no idea how things will turn out.
Any sane parent would think twice, or even thrice, about travelling with young children. Our friends kept asking if we were crazy to travel long haul with the kids (ages 5, 4, 1) but we do not want that thought to stop us from experiencing the world, plus we simply didn’t have any other options to settle the kids without having to worry about them while we were away. So, we packed up the bags and left (it’ll be really nice though if we could’ve actually checked the kids in along with the bags at the airport, hmm). Eight days later, we got home safe and sound, everyone was in one piece and we didn’t lose the kids at any one point of time (yay!). That’s a win in our books.
Although it was a tiring trip and we didn’t get to do much of the touristy things, I must say this is the best holiday we’ve experienced yet. The experience is truly invaluable and we learned that, hey! Travelling with kids is really not that bad after all—tiring yes, but definitely memorable. Here’s what I take away from our trip to Sydney with my kids.
1. Forget about a detailed itinerary
Generally, Sydney is a children-friendly city. It has well-groomed gardens and parks; really cool playgrounds, and convenient transportation; we even found a pub that offered kids meals one night along the Darling Harbour!
That said, it is best to keep your itinerary SAOC – Simple Activities, Open to Changes. Trying to do and see all is the reason for over-tired, cranky kids, and tired kids fall sick easily.
But we didn’t travel all the way to be cooped up in the hotel room, Leishia!
Yes, I heard you! It’s a bummer really, but unless you and your family are seasoned globetrotters, we’d suggest slow and easy.
Starting early (before the trip!) by factoring in your kids’ normal routines at home will help you come up with a more practical plan when you are on the road. What we planned was— only one highlight per day and stick to it. With that in mind, we have visited the Featherdale Wildlife Park where we patted the koala and fed the wallabies; built sand castle at Manly Beach; played at the Tumbalong Park numerous times; had ice cream at the Darling Harbour under the sunny skies; checked out a couple of hipster cafés and sipped babycinos; and watched the sun set behind the Sydney Opera House while enjoying a romantic dinner cruise – all with the kids tagging along!
2. It’s hot, it’s cold: Packing for kids
We arrived in Sydney during the autumn season. The weather could get rather chilly especially in the evening/night, with the temperature hovering around 16°C – 18°C. You do get plenty of sun during the day time but do get a jacket ready for the kiddos. Drizzles are to be expected so hoodies or hats are useful.
For each of our kids, we packed a light cardigan and a thick jacket, and then there are your usual (going out and play) pants and shorts, enough socks and underwear to go around, comfy walking shoes, and make sure you bring two or three changes of T-shirts for each day because you’ll need it, trust me. I was packing with autumn in mind – cooler days shan’t require so many change of clothing because, you won’t sweat, right? Wrong! Well, it wasn’t so much about sweating, but rather, kids being kids, they will find a way to dirty themselves – ice cream drips, dirt from the playground, sand from the sandpit, getting wet from the water play at the parks, and a lot more.
TIP: You may also consider bringing a small bottle of washing detergent powder and do a little laundry in the bathroom, that way, you may save your sanity a little from the avalanche of dirty laundry when you get home (we almost quit parenthood when we unloaded our bags when we got back, go figure).
3. Parks are an essential energy-drainer
We made sure to let the kids frolic in the park every day, it saved our sanity by draining their energy; throughout the entire trip, we were able to send the kids to bed between 7:00 – 9:00 p.m., depending on what’s up the next day.
Tumbalong Park—one of Sydney’s most iconic public spaces boasting a whooping five hectare of green-park-goodness—was a walking distance from the hotel where we stayed in. The first day when we stumbled upon its gargantuan playground at the Darling Quarter had our jaws dropping to the ground staring at the playground equipments we deemed too far advanced for young children, but all the young local kids (and parents!) did not even bat an eye! Clearly we were the only sheltered parents there!
The park houses The Big Slide, the largest slide in the playground and it’s over three meters high with eight meters in length, and instead of a staircase where you walk up and slide down, you’ve got to rock-climb up the slide! There is also the 18.7 meters long balancing ropes for tightrope walker wannabes; whizz through the air on the 21 meters long flying fox; and then there’s the massive “Octanet” where 83 sqm of rope net rises over 10 meters into the air! Not forgetting the all-time-favourite, a variety of water features and wet spaces for kids to play in.
TIP: Pack your kids’ swimwear for some good old water fun here!
We quickly learned to let go and chose to believe that the kids were capable to overcome these equipments, which they did. In fact, they thoroughly enjoyed themselves and were brimming with pride with their achievement! There’s no stopping them at this point when they had mastered The Big Slide.
The Aussies love their parks and gardens. In this relaxing weather, they make a great place to visit and unwind over picnic. Do your research online! Mapping out a list of parks before the trip will help you figure out how to get there with the kids without wearing yourselves out.
TIP: Consider getting a hotel with a park nearby!
4. No baby car seat, no go!
In Australia, baby and children car seats are a must if you were to travel in a car. So if you are planning to rent a car, make sure you ask for car seats or provide your own; also bearing in mind, taxis will not ferry you if they do not have car seats installed in their vehicle.
It was not possible for us to bring our own car seats along because, three car seats? It simply wasn’t practical. So we ended up walking a lot and taking public transportations which were easy to get around in.
5. Kids’ Meals in Check
When you are on the go and are only visiting a place for a short period of time, food for kids can get a little tricky (or simple), depending on how you look at it. Some parents prefer to pack daily rations of food from home to be prepared for their children when travelling, but bear in mind, Australia imposes strict customs rules – if you bring any food with you, you must declare them for inspection.
I usually steer my kids clear of “non-wholesome” foods such as sweets, sugary desserts, fast food, sodas, etc. However, seeing that we were travelling, and that we were, in fact, holidaying, I decided to forget about lugging along rice grains and a mini cooking pot, and just be more relaxed about what they eat, let them enjoy and try out different offerings, instead of putting them strictly on a kid’s diet. That doesn’t mean it’s “junk food galore”! As parents, we know our kids’ limits, so let that be your guide.
After we’ve settled down in the hotel, we took a stroll around the neighbourhood and checked out the nearest grocer, we found ours located inside Paddy’s Market, a bustling market place very much like Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market, albeit on a much smaller scale. We stocked up on fruits and yoghurt cups, so that even if the kids (especially my 1-year-old) didn’t eat a proper hot meal, they would still have some healthier food going in.
Also, we made sure they ate well during breakfast at the hotel’s buffet line – eggs, Weetbix with fresh milk and fruits, yoghurt, nuts and seeds, and the occasional pancakes with syrup and hot chocolate won’t hurt either.
TIP: Go for the local fresh and in seasoned produce – Australia is famous for its dairy produce, opt for those! Avocado makes an awesome nutritious meal for children too.
6. Night flights saved my life
I know some parents prefer traveling during day time, only because their kids can’t sleep well at night on the road anyway. But we’re all for taking the red-eye! Our flights transited at Singapore and getting from terminal to terminal in Changi Airport was really leg-power testing when you have a 24 pounder strapped on you. But we flew out on a red-eye so it was all good, because the kids slept through the entire flight duration only waking up to breakfast and a little in-flight movie time before touching down.
However, the flight home was a whole different story. It had us at the airport by 4:30 a.m., and it was an eight-hour flight, and a transit at Singapore. We were to arrive at 5:45 p.m. Malaysian time. The math just got heavy on us, adding on to that, nobody slept throughout the flight home, and that means we had three over-tired and hyped up kids in hand to handle the entire day. I won’t deny that it was the most torturous day of our lives! So please, when you are travelling with kids, long haul especially, repeat after me, Night Flight Saves My Life!
TIP: We only found out recently that you can actually bring your children’s car seat on board to be installed on your child’s flight seat. That will definitely be so much more comfortable for them to sleep in. Do call your airline to check and let them know the model/make of your car seat so that they can assist you from there.
7. Parents are superheroes
After making through this trip to Sydney, I’d happily wear the cape and hail myself a superhero. So should you! The idea of vacationing, be it somewhere near or far, with children (young children especially), is undeniably intimidating, but that really shouldn’t stop you from embracing adventures with your children.
The things we learned as parents during this trip about ourselves and our children were way more than the things we learned in the past five years of our being parents. For one, our trips to the Tumbalong Parks made us realise that kids are what they are according to the environment we put them in. Treat them like babies by bubble wrapping them, they’d behave like babies; they can accomplish nothing without the parents’ help. But, give them obstacles to overcome, then guide and trust in their ability—they won’t even realise it’s a challenge. They will just take it head on as they should, and you’d be left surprised by how at ease they are in tackling challenges. Not to mention, it’s so liberating and empowering when we as parents let go, we literally get to watch our children bloom before our eyes.
So if you are still asking the classic question, “to go or not to go?” then let me urge you, stop wondering, and start wandering.