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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Travelling with children is an experience itself

Having little ones means having to rethink adventurous travel, writes Shelina Janmohamed

Standing on Mount Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa, would have been impossible with children - the ultimate party-poopers / Getty
Standing on Mount Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa, would have been impossible with children - the ultimate party-poopers / Getty

I have stood 5,895 metres above earth at the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point of Africa. My face was so cold I couldn’t feel it and my fingers were like chunks of ice - so stiff that I couldn’t photograph my achievement. It was a glorious moment, my adventurous spirit released at last.

I was the kind of traveller who would book tickets and turn up in a remote village hoping to find a place to sleep; who stopped and talked to locals and got invited into homes; who walked through valleys and discussed local politics and for whom every travel disaster was the prelude to an unexpected story. I was never one to hang out on a beach for a whole week. In fact, I could imagine nothing worse than lounging by a pool for seven whole days.But then, what I didn’t have when standing on the roof of Africa was children, the ultimate party-poopers when it comes to adventurous travel.

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Since I had my children, I haven't been able to travel as freely. This was frustrating because I had enjoyed my freedom and experiences. As a female traveller, I enjoyed breaking stereotypes at home and wherever I travelled to. That's what holidays used to mean. But now, with two miniature humans to feed, entertain and comfort, my previous travelling experiences are now impossible.

I have had to relearn how to travel. First I learnt how to have a beach holiday. The bliss of someone else bringing food and clearing it away again while doing nothing but watching the waves and digging my toes into the sand was – to my surprise – an enjoyable change from the struggles of caring for a newborn. I can confirm that I have now mastered the art of sitting by a pool drinking a mocktail.

But then I became a working mother who also travels for work. I suffer angst when leaving the children. Again, I had to learn a new way to travel. Now I take the children with me. There is a delight in being close to them, having them accompany me and have them enjoy new experiences. But mostly I think it’s important for them to see their parent in action. Their mother is not just the mummy they know at home: she is a rounded person with her own identity. More mothers should do this with their children. In fact, more fathers should do it too.

I discovered something else about travel when it comes to having children. They are in fact just little people whom I can introduce to the art of travel. As a parent, I have realised that instilling the love of adventure and discovery is itself a form of magic. It's a privilege to be able to introduce new cultures, food and people to children and the excitement in their eyes at seeing things for the first time is a reminder of the joy of travel. They say that today we have travelled to all corners of the Earth and nothing is left undiscovered. Except, of course, there is one territory that is awaiting discovery and adventure: the spirit of children.

I look forward to the day when they will be my travelling companions. They don’t need to be adults, just young people with ideas and opinions. And I don’t think that day is too far off. But perhaps the most important lesson I have learnt when it comes to being a parent and travelling is the importance of ensuring we create time and space to be together during our holidays.

On a recent trip, we wove in one magic ingredient – some private relaxation time at the end, just the four of us. We had our own villa, the incredible privilege of our own pool and the luxury of being looked after. All we had to do was concentrate on being together. It’s something we miss out on during our hectic daily lives.

Making sure our travel was an opportunity to bring us closer together through shared experiences paid off. When my two-year-old returned to nursery she was asked what she did on her holiday and she said: "I gave my mummy lots of cuddles. All the time."