Our kids do it all the time: run around and play hide-and-seek among the ailes of the department stores we visit (and then fall asleep like our son in the photo). If it is a traditional department store, one of those that could double as a warehouse, they usually become fairly easy to find. At least, we can hear them screaming with joy on the top of their voices. And the ailes are straight so we can see them as they run by. If it is a clothing department, we and they have become tall enough that we can see them running around, since the ailes are lower (with clothes on hangers).
Playing hide-and-seek is fine, but not when it means you keep bumping into people, tearing down merchandise, being loud and generally making a nuisance of yourself. Some stores have play areas but if the kids want to run around, they are hardly sufficient.
If you are in a setting with lots of people, and worse, traffic, you do not want your kids to run around. Or in a straight line, for that matter. That is how they get lost. And how accidents happen - small children have no idea that cars can not stop if they run out in front of them, and if they are playing with each other they forget the environment and want to run out where there are less obstacles - which means the street.
So what do you do? We try to give the kids some excercise so their legs will be less full of running, as you would say in Swedish. It does not take much, it is quite sufficient to walk for a few hundred meters. That takes out the energy overflow and makes them feel just about tired enough to follow you around quietly as you make their siblings try on clothes or shoes.
But if you wanted to do some shopping after lunch, you have just topped up their energy reserves and they have not yet got the carbohydrates into their blood stream, so they are ready for the midday nap. That means they have a lot of energy for running around and playing.
So make sure they understand that you are going to the play area, or the toy department, or the park right after lunch. And after that, you will go get icecream. It is sure to make them less likely to run away, especially if you also explain that there will be no ice cream if they do, and you will be going straight home if they do not behave.
When you are out doing something as a family, you need to put all the stress on the "family" part. It is no longer about you, although it can occasionally forget that as long as your kids are sitting in strollers and are asleep. But when they start to walk, forget it. That is when you have to redesign your plans for the day, in more ways than finding barrier-free entrances.
You have to take all your family members into account, and if you have three kids like we do, they outnumber the parents. That means play before shopping, and then only very quickly as the kids are starting to want to go home and have their lunch nap.
If you think through your trip in advance, you can decrease the risk that your kids will want to run away. They may still get stuck in the toy shelves, or staring at the donuts, but at least they will be easy to find. Even if they run around the entire store playing hide and seek. You have to make sure that they do not bump into anything breakable, or tear down expensive fashion, or something similar.
You want to make sure either that the weather is nice and there is a park you could go to, with sufficient play space to keep your kids occupied; or you want to find a place where they can run around without bumping into other people and disturb them (something that is seriously frowned upon in Japan). An abandoned warehouse would be nice but there are preciously few of those in the city centers. Even if you go to a shopping mall in the suburbs, you may not be let in into the abandoned warehouses. If there are any.
Since gyms for children do not exist in most cities, and are unlikely to be where you want to go even when they do, you need to adjust your planning. Shopping now becomes an an activity you do after the play hour after lunch in stores near parks on sunny days.
If you do plan your days this way, your children become much more likely to keep being interested, and if they do run away you know it is in a place where you can find them relatively easy. Just go look by the doughnuts.
Most airlines will politely refuse if you try to check-in with a child that is less that two weeks old (the ones which do not politely refuse are somewhat ruder). Even though airlines have a lot of freedom in setting the rules for whom they allow to travel, the rule of newborn children seems to be universal.
Not that it is bad, mind you. On the contrary, that is a great idea. A newborn child has not yet got used to being outside the safe, warm, quiet and dark environment of the womb. Why put them in an aluminum tube with bright lights and lots of noise?
The noise may not be such a bad idea, actually. Newborn children crave the constant background white noise of their mothers heartbeat, and the noise of an airplane engine is the right kind of "white noise" that can lull children to sleep. Most parents have stories about washing machines, vacuum cleaners or dishwashers putting their children to sleep by calming them. The white noise from the engines in the airplane is the same kind of white noise that a washing machine gives off.
If the airplane was a dark, moist place where you could have bodily contact with your parents, then it would be a different matter. But the reason you should not let a newborn child travel is not that the airplane is a noisy environment. It is the rest of the airplane environment that is harmful.
Just consider: Here you have someone whose immune system has not encountered anything harmful before. Nothing, in fact. Not even a single bacterium and certainly not a lot of virii. The baby does not know anything about the world, and it does not know what is harmful. Its immune system is just being prepped on how to handle the dangers of the real world, and then you put them in an environment where they have to breathe the air recycled from other passengers for at least an hour (usually more like four, but frequently six or seven). Which includes bacteria and viruses.
And that is not the only problem with the airplane air. It is colder than the child is used to (which was body temperature), so you have to swaddle it in blankets. Newborn are small enough to ride in the bassinets which attach to the airplane wall, if you wrap them up properly.
The other problem about the air of the airplane is not that it is cold, it is that it is dry. Newborn children do not yet have the proper mechanisms in place to moisturize the membranes of their nose and mouth (not even their lungs), and the main way for getting fluids is by drinking breast milk (or baby formula). They quickly get full and do not want to give them more. You can give them water, but it passes right through. But if they do not drink, they get dehydrated.
On the whole, very small children are too vulnerable to all the dangers of a flight (and I have not even mentioned check-in and boarding). Most countries will also not give passports to children before they are a couple of months old, which means most countries will not allow them to travel by definition - since airlines are required to have identification from all passengers.
And then, I have not even mentioned the stress to the mother. Giving birth to a child is a major labor (pun intended), and any woman needs a few days to recover, if not more.
Considering all these things, it is better to stay at home with your children while they are small. Park your wanderlust for a few months. And plan for the first trip with your baby - their tickets will be free until age 2.
One of the fabulous things with going to tropical and subtropical destinations is not the beaches and the palm trees, although that is sure to be a major driver for your trip decision.
But there is another reason to go to equatorial and subtropical destinations apart from going to those fabulous paperwhite beaches with crystal blue water, and that is to see the sky. You can not see it from big cities like Bangkok or Singapore, and it is often cloudy in the tropics. Even in island destinations like Hawaii the sky is cloudy more often than not, but the weather shifts fast.
We are not talking about the sky in daytime, mind you. There are places, like the Arabian dessert, which you may want to go to just to feel the deep blue emptiness, but for a city dweller like myself (and my children), the night sky is darkish with a few stars surrounding the moon. At a distance. Street lights dampen out all but the brightest stars - the only star our kids know is Venus, because it is bright enough to break through the streetlights.
While getting outside the city can offer breathtaking skies in northern climates as well, unless you happen to be there when there is an aurora, skies in the top two thirds of the northern hemisphere (and the lower two thirds of the southern) are no real competition for the equatorial skies. The view of the Milky Way weaving its way across the sky, punctuated by stars so close you can touch them, bright and colored, is so breathtaking you do not want to stay indoors.
It is worth going to a tropical island just to see that serene, undisturbed sky. Hawaii is unique in that regard, since the biggest mountain, Mauna Kea, is so tall its peak is above the clouds at all times. It is also no longer an active volcano, so there is no danger. Its slightly lower neighbor Mauna Kea is not dormant yet, but the lava today comes from Kilauea, a much smaller mountain. At least as of now.
The unique thing about Mauna Kea is not that you can ski at the top, but the observatory. Or observatories, because the location is uniquely suited for the study of the stars.
Not that you need a telescope to experience the majesty of the Polynesian sky. A hammock under the stars is enough. And plenty of insect repellent lotion, because when Hawaii was rediscovered by the Europeans and Americans, one of the gifts they brought for the natives were mosquitoes.
The biggest problem is the clouds. The island of Hawaii is so tall that it not only stands above the clouds, it also collects clouds. While this means fresh water is available (a big problem on tropical islands), it also means if you want to see the stars, you had better take a boat and leave the island. Or the cloud cover.
If you want beaches, you are even more out of luck. Very few places have mountains high enough to break the cloud cover and beautiful beaches. Most places have either.
This is the same for all the islands in the Pacific (and tropical islands in the Atlantic and Indian oceans as well). Except those that are close enough to a major land mass to share its weather.
And as luck would have it, the Ryukyu islands, which comprise the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa, are at the same latitude as the islands of Hawaii - but they are close enough to the Asian continent that they share the weather conditions with China. Which means cloudy summers, but clear skies in winter. Unfortunately, it also means summer is typhoon season.
But go there just when the water is warm enough for swimming, and you will get both beaches and starry skies. And you know what? The sand in Okinawa is star-shaped.
I took the safe path and paid extra for the ability to take 20 kg of luggage per person when I booked the tickets for our Okinawa trip. It was only 10 dollars. But with a family of six, you find that in Japan, there may be better options.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning four and a half - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.