In the last four years, Tyler Lim (pictured above) has flown to London, Paris, Melbourne, Perth, Los Angeles, Colorado, Hong Kong and Vietnam. His younger brother, Jake, has been to Hong Kong, Australia, Vietnam and Bali over the last year.
The travel itinerary of your average jet-setting start-up entrepreneur? Not quite. Tyler is four years old. Jake just turned one.
Five-and-a-half-year-old Dexter Wong is shorter than his airline seat, but he has already been to Los Angeles, San Diego, Orlando, Liverpool, Avignon and Lyon, among a long list of other destinations.
The three are among a growing group of well-travelled Singaporean children, who have stamps in their passports from when they were four months old, and have been to places that even adults dream of.
They may not remember where they have been, but their parents are not bothered by it.
Tjin Lee, mum to Tyler and Jake, says that her elder son doesn’t remember anything from his trips before the age of two. “He had been on more than a dozen flights, when he suddenly turned to me excitedly one day on board an airplane and shouted, ‘Mummy, Bubu is on an airplane!’ – and I realised that to him, this was his very first experience on an airplane,” she says. “He remembers
none of the previous trips except what I show him in photos and videos.”
Tjin, who has her own marketing communications firm, says that is to be expected. “I don’t mind that he doesn’t remember, I have always travelled with him for my enjoyment, and the pleasure
of his baby company.”
Taking them overseas is her way of bonding with her sons. “I travel with them and show them the world. I feel this is a far more interesting way to learn, than from textbooks alone,” she says.
“I love showing my kids the world and watching their growth, and the wonder in their little faces through these experiences.”
Earlier this year, Dexter vacationed in Orlando, where he attended the Star Wars Celebration, spent many hours at two Universal Studios theme parks, four Disney World theme parks and
also packed in a visit to Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre.
You would think that would be the best part of the holiday, but when his mum, Ann Goh, asked him, she got a different answer.
“He told me the best part was looking at merchandise and buying toys, and taking the plane and enjoying all the inflight movies. He didn’t seem too impressed with the theme parks since he is not tall enough for many rides,” says Ann. “I think the idea of being with Papa and Mama 24/7 excites him more and that he doesn’t need to go to school.”
Ann, who owns a chain of toy stores, says: “It is a bonus if Dexter remembers where he has been, but more importantly, it is a time for us to spend time together outside of Singapore. My husband and I love to travel, Dexter has no choice but to come along with us.”
But to help Dexter remember his trips better, Ann bought him an artist sketch book on a recent holiday to Japan. “I told him to draw anything that he liked,” she says.
Dexter filled over 100 pages with doodles of what he saw and liked in Japan, such as Pokeballs and monsters, because he played Pokemon Go, and trains because the family took the shinkansen.
“Since he doesn’t know how to write yet, drawing was the best way to express himself and (the book) acts as a memento for him to remember his travels,” says Ann.
Stay-at-home mum Melanie Wong says that her three children remember where they have been only from age four. “It is nice when they recall and tell us if they have seen this or done that before, when we spot something familiar back home,” she says. Her kids are Ashley Goh, 10; Maisy, six; and Callum, four.
With numerous holidays thoroughly enjoyed, the three mums have the art of travelling with kids down pat.
Melanie says that when it comes to deciding where to go, the family usually plays it by ear, unless it is for a specific activity, such as skiing. “I will look up places of interest, and fit in what we
can do when we get there. This way, we don’t get stressed over the itinerary, and still have an enjoyable time together as a family.”
Since flying can be stressful even for adults, let alone children, kid-friendly and reliable carriers, such as Singapore Airlines, ANA and Air New Zealand, are some preferred choices.
For long-haul flights, Tjin believes the money spent on Business Class seats is worth it. “For long-haul and red-eye flights, it definitely helps that Tyler has the space to spread out and fall asleep. Business Class travel is for comfort,” she says. On shorter trips around the region, the family flies Economy.
She recommends taking a red-eye flight if it is to a distant destination. “Keep them awake during the day, and let them sleep on the plane.”
She always travels with a lightweight stroller that is of carry-on size, so she can pop it open once she steps out of the plane, instead of waiting to collect it from the baggage claim belt.
For kids who rely on the bottle, Ann suggests letting them try different brands of milk powder before a trip, so that they will not be dependent on a single brand. “This way, you can buy milk powder in the country you are visiting,” she says.
When it comes to accommodation, Melanie likes those that come with self-laundry services, as “this means we don’t have to pack as much clothing.”
Tjin prefers villas over hotel rooms, so that the whole family can relax in a more spacious environment. She also looks out for resorts with kid-friendly facilities, such as kids’ clubs and playgrounds.
Travel industry players know the importance of keeping kids happy and are going all out to make sure they feel that way.
Victoria Hogg, general manager of luxury travel firm Scott Dunn Asia, says that everyone knows that family holidays aren’t always stress-free. “We understand that when kids are happy, parents have the best opportunity to relax and unwind, which inspired us to start the Scott Dunn Explorer kids club.”
For children up to the age of 11, Scott Dunn runs Explorers kids clubs at nine resorts in the Mediterranean, the Alps and in the Maldives. Offering a structured programme of age-appropriate activities, Explorers kids clubs are led by teams of UK-qualified professionals. Each age group enjoys a tailor-made programme of on- and off-site activities to ensure that the children are inspired and entertained.
In 2016, it introduced Crew, a flexible 18-hour programme split over six days, which is specifically designed for children above 11 and teens who want time away from the parents. Crew involves a mix of water- and land-based group activities.
In Singapore, the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore has its Ritz Kids Night Safari programme (pictured above). The family gets to stay in a premier suite with breakfast for two adults and two children.
The kids will get a Ritz Kids Night Safari sleeping tent in the room, equipped with a night lamp, an edible turndown amenity, a Ritz-Carlton lion beanie and an engaging activity book for an in-room camping experience.
Stanley Tan, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing says: “The Ritz Kids Night Safari Adventures room package seeks to cultivate the spirit of the great outdoors in young children through an immersive ‘glamping’ experience. The room package has been particularly well received among families, with almost three times the take-up during school holidays.”
Airlines, too, are doing more than offering the standard kids meals, toys and bassinets for young travellers.
Etihad Airways of the United Arab Emirates offers a Flying Nanny on board long-haul flights. Identified by a bright orange apron, the Flying Nanny provides a helping hand to families and unaccompanied minors.
The Flying Nannies are not your usual stewardesses but have undergone training from the world-renowned Norland College, focusing on child psychology and sociology.
During the flight, the Flying Nanny helps serve young passengers their meals and offer activities to keep them entertained, including teaching them simple arts and crafts, such as origami and magic tricks. Towards the end of the flight, the Flying Nanny helps parents by replenishing milk bottles and offering items such as fruit and snacks, especially if the family is transiting to another flight.
Over at Air New Zealand, passengers have the option of choosing an Economy Skycouch, which is a row of three Economy seats that can be used for the kids to stretch out or as a play area. The seats are similar to an Economy seat, except that there is an additional footrest that opens to form a couch.
The armrest on the window side goes all the way up to create a comfortable lounge space, while the armrests in the middle seats disappear into the back of the seat.
Qatar Airways recently partnered Hasbro to update its range of plush toys, children’s activity kits, and in-flight lunch boxes. The airline’s children’s meals feature new Pictureka or Monopoly designed lunch boxes, a gift that children can take home and use after their flights. It also introduced a glow-in-the-dark Clue Junior entertainment pack, to keep restless youngsters busy when the lights have dimmed.
Two companies have also jumped on the bandwagon with products to make flying a more comfortable experience for kids.
Parents who have had to sit still in their seats on long-haul flights while their kids are sleeping partly on them will appreciate the Bedbox by Jetkids (pictured). Created by a Norwegian couple, who have three children and have experience in the aviation and retail industry, this is an all-in-one child’s ride-on suitcase, hand luggage and inflight bed/leg-rest.
The Bedbox can only be used during the cruise portion of the flight, and when there is no turbulence. It helps extend the length of the child’s seat. Place the provided mattress on top and an Economy Class seat can become as comfortable as a Business Class seat for the child.
Similarly, the Fly Tot is also aimed at creating more room for child travellers. The cushion can be quickly inflated or deflated during a flight and is similar to having a briefcase or a carry-on placed in the legroom area.
Mums say the most important way of keeping their kids happy when they travel is to let the kids take their favourite toys.
“I let Dexter pack his stuff and he can take anything that his backpack can accommodate, such as toys and games,” says Ann. She also packs a sketchbook and markers for him so that he will be able to draw when he is bored.
Baby Jake travels with his panda and dinosaur toys, while elder brother Tyler takes his toy plane along. Tjin also packs a roll of tape, which she uses to create make-shift runways anywhere they go.
“I also improvise with paper and draw him a paper runway or road map on the go. He loves these, too, and they can occupy him for hours.” she says.
Melanie allows her kids to take their own security blankets or toys with them, but discourages them from packing other toys.
“I tell them we may end up buying a new toy or two along the way,” she says. Her elder daughter usually packs a book, her pencil case and notebook, as she likes to write down stuff. “They will each carry their own backpacks with water bottles, and be responsible for their belongings.”
The seasoned mummy traveller advises that parents travelling with kids for the first time not to overthink.
“A lot of things work out well in the end,” she says. “Don’t overpack. A lot of necessities can be bought at the destination if needed.”
A version of this article first appeared in The Business Times.
(Kids’ travel photos: Tjin Lee & Ann Goh)