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Economy and spontaneity, the enemy of travelling with kids

I usually have one sacred, unbreakable rule when I travel, and that's don't do anything you wouldn't do at home.

Our taxi driver is tutting and rolling his eyes at anyone who looks his way. It's 10pm and we're 10 hours into our journey home from Sri Lanka. My husband and I are patiently strapping our two sleeping children into their car seats and securing these in the back of his Mercedes-Benz. It's not a quick process on a dark night and the queue of taxis outside Abu Dhabi Airport lengthens steadily.

Tired as we are, I wouldn't dream of putting this most precious cargo on our laps and bombing home asap and yet, only hours before, the four of us had been sitting, sweating, in the back of a tuk tuk that is overtaking into oncoming traffic on the insanely busy road that runs between the beach resort of Unawatuna and Galle.

With a three-month-old baby strapped to my chest, I'm trying to brace myself against the driver's seat to minimise the risk of serious injury if the three-wheeler grinds to a sudden halt - as it has twice this week - knowing full well that all such resistance is futile. My one comfort is that our driver, who runs the guesthouse where we're staying and has a family of his own, is driving with as much care as the kamikaze tactics of others allows.

I usually have one sacred, unbreakable rule when I travel and that's don't do anything you wouldn't do at home. This rather po-faced instruction doesn't apply to the fun stuff that make holidays a joy such as paragliding off a mountain top (not something that is even possible in downtown Abu Dhabi) but the dull stuff like not playing Russian roulette with your children's safety.

My sense of worry only deepens when our driver-cum-host tells us that 17 people died in a single accident on this very road only a few days ago. So why has the normally uptight me, a play-by-the-book, irreproachably responsible parent, gone nuts?

I blame spontaneity the enemy of travelling with kids. I'd booked our holiday just 24 hours before we hopped on the plane. I'd made sure the children's vaccinations were up to date and read the latest travel advisories on Sri Lanka but skipped the usual worry and paranoia stage of my pre-holiday planning. The first sign of trouble appeared at Colombo airport when the taxi I'd ordered arrived with lapbelts, next to useless for securing a kid's car seat. Then the undeniably cheap and lovely guesthouse close to the beach turned out to be 15 minutes away up a very steep hill. Without the option of hiring a car, a tuk tuk proved the only feasible mode of transport.

What should I have done? Checked into a swanky hotel on the beachfront that rented out cars for the day and fitted the car seats. So make that economy and spontaneity is the enemy of travelling with kids. Luckily we all survived to learn the lesson.

cdight@thenational.ae

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