I thought it would be fun to take the family to Asia. I didn’t think it was weird or brave or silly, that is until friends and family kept giving me surprised looks when I mentioned our trip. I used to live in Japan, so I was confident we’d be able to get around there pretty easily. China, on the other hand, was a little more of an unknown and lived up to the mystery. If you’ve been thinking of taking your kids to Asia, or anywhere abroad, here are 10 questions to ask yourself before you buy those plane tickets. Because behind all those cute Instagram pictures are challenges and surprises that aren’t for everyone.
1. Can your kids walk several miles?
Not every country is as stroller accessible as the United States. In China, a lot of the walkways are not smooth, which makes navigating your stroller a challenge. I highly recommend a Solly Baby Wrap, or something similar if your kiddo is small enough, but if they’ve already grown out of that phase, they’ll have to do a lot of walking.
When our toddlers weren’t walking, they were on dad’s shoulders or on mom’s back, so you also have to be strong and ready for the long days. It might be a good idea to take a few hikes or afternoon family walks to prep.
2. Will they try new food?
Having an adventurous palate will make things easier, and lets your family really experience the culture. Our kids wouldn’t try everything, but we found a lot of things that they knew and liked, such as rice, fish, chicken, and ramen. We tried to go to the grocery store and get some supplies for peanut butter and jelly and other easy snacks to take with us on day trips, but it was a bit of a challenge — no peanut butter in sight! If you get really desperate, most areas have recognizable fast food chains, but even at McDonald’s, it’s a little different, with corn as a side, taro root pies, and more!
3. Do they mind getting their picture taken with strangers?
In Asia, we stuck out like a sore thumb, and in the less international areas, there were people who had never seen a blonde or redhead in person. Pair that with the Chinese people’s love and fascination of children, and our kiddos could be compared to a boy band.
Our 4-year-old thought it was hilarious and kept asking, “Why do they want to take pictures with me?” It was hard for them to understand, but they didn’t seem to mind the attention.
4. Are you a good planner?
I did a lot of research on the things we wanted to see and the best ways to get there. I would recommend doing as much planning as you can before you get there and printing every piece of information that you might need in hard copy. (More on why in #6.) There are a lot of amazing things to see, and unless you have a month set aside, you’ll need to be organized to get everything in. With kids, you also have to think about their schedules and what they can handle. We could’ve seen double if my husband and I were alone, but it was more important to us to have an enjoyable time and not push the kids too hard.
5. Can you roll with the punches?
Even after all your planning, there are going to be things that happen that are beyond your control. We were unable to retrieve the tickets we bought at the train station and ended up having to sleep there ’til the next train! It was a crazy experience and hopefully it won’t happen to you, but it’s possible. You’ll likely experience things that you’re not expecting! If you’re going to enjoy your time, you will have to be able to adapt to whatever is thrown your way.
6. Are you tech savvy?
There are a lot of different ways to use the Internet while abroad, none of which are super easy or reliable. I looked into getting a prepaid data SIM card for my device, but ended up renting a pocket wi-fi from a Japanese carrier. Everyone’s needs and situations are so different, so you’ll have to do your own research and figure out what will work best for you.
Figuring out my phone in China was super difficult. I hadn’t realized I wouldn’t be able to use my Google Translate app, Gmail, Google Maps, or Google Drives (which had all my trip itineraries). Some high-end hotels had VPNs which allowed us to get around China’s blocked sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Unlike Tokyo, we weren’t able to access any free public wi-fi because we didn’t have a local mobile phone that we could have the code texted to.
In other words, don’t count on being able to use the Internet and your mobile device in the same way you do in the States. Prepare by printing out anything you’d like to know including locations in both English and Chinese, words and phrases you’ll need to get around, directions via subway stations, and anything else you can think of.
7. Are you a good negotiator?
One of my favorite things around Asia were the markets. They say the prices start three times higher than they actually sell them at. If you can be astute and sharp, you’ll be able to stretch your dollars a lot further and bring back something for everyone on your list without a problem.
8. Do you know any of the language?
When you’re going to a country that doesn’t speak English, it’s a great idea to take an introductory class. If your family knows hello, thank you, excuse me (which we had to use a lot), and where’s the bathroom, it can go a long way. People appreciate when you try, and in some countries, it will be your only option to communicate.
9. Do you have issues with personal space?
Different countries have different levels of personal space. When you’re standing in a line in China, it’s completely normal to have your body touching the person in front of you. Maybe it’s because there are so many people or they’re trying to be efficient with time and space — either way, it can take a moment to get used to. If you don’t adapt, most likely you’ll have people cutting in front of you all the time because they don’t think you’re actually in line!
10. Are you ready for an adventure?
This is the most important question. What are you looking to get out of this vacation? If you’re looking to relax, be comfortable, and be pampered, maybe it’s best to go somewhere more local or familiar. But if you’re looking to discover a new culture, with everything that comes with that, then get ready and go!
Traveling can be an amazing growing experience for your family. We loved having the opportunity to show our kids another culture, with its unique foods, treats, games, entertainment, transportation, buildings, and animals. It wasn’t always easy, but we made a conscious effort to make the best of each situation and enjoy the time with our family. I hope you take the plunge and explore this amazing world we live in!