Rule #9: Your Kids Are Your Passport

Rule #9 featured copyOne concern I hear from many parents planning a trip overseas is that taking kids along will cut them off from any “authentic” experiences and doom them to a vacation full of children’s museums and swimming pools. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Traveling with children will often gain you instant friends and helpers as well as getting you admittance to all kinds of “special” places and experiences you’d never get otherwise. In the Beijing expatriate community there was a common saying: “When in trouble, wave your kid, not your Mastercard.”

The author's son being taught to make a blown-candy animal at a cart in the Summer Palace in Beijing, surrounded by a friendly crown of Chinese onlookers.

Would Cletus like to make his OWN blown candy animal, in defiance of all rules and regulations? Why, yes, thanks, he would!

The shift is obvious from the moment you set foot on the plane.

In America, boarding a plane with a baby will win you scowls, wary glances and “they’re not going to sit by ME, right?” reactions all the way down the aisle. But try flying an Asian or Middle Eastern airline. Those wary glances are traded for huge, welcoming grins, and Chinese grandmas actively recruiting your kids to sit by them. Strangers will take turns holding your baby so you can eat. The older kids in the row behind you will shower your kids with toys, food and crayons. Crying babies will be greeted with sympathy, rueful smiles and friendly advice. Lots and lots and lots of advice. But not a frown in sight.

The author's son surrounded by a group of Chinese women crowded very closely around him as he bends over a book.

Cletus reads Chinese, and learns the cultural differences in Eastern and Western ideas of Personal Space.

The same holds true for most of the world. While a preschooler in a fancy restaurant in America (or, truthfully, France) will be a Problem, a preschooler in the same restaurant in Greece is the center of a happy crowd of admirers. In China, the waitress might disappear into the kitchen with your toddler in tow to show her the fish tanks and stuff her with dumplings while you enjoy your meal. In Turkey, having a kid might be the ticket that gets you into a local’s kitchen to sample real local cooking, or to the front of the line for street food.

A small boy is hugged by a teenage waitress at the Smile Cafe in Athens.

Lemmy and Zoe, the Greek waitress to whom he became (briefly) engaged.

When my sister took her 1-year-old son to Turkey she was amazed at the level of love he got from every person they met, especially from men. Everywhere they went, they had crowds of people cooing and awwwing and handing him gifts as they passed. They were nearly always given an upgraded room for free, “to have space for the baby.” Strangers bent over backwards to accommodate them every step of the trip. We found the same in Greece where our kids became a passport to better deals, better service and abundant love from the locals.

A toddler sits on a bench being fussed over by friendly Turkish hotel staff

Oliver gets some attention from his hotel staff . . .

Whether it’s getting pulled to the front of the Immigration line or scoring some free ice cream on the beach, your kids are your ticket to a better experience. So fear not, weary traveler! In most of your travels, your kids are going to be an asset, not a liability.

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