Would you let your child travel without you?

15 April 2013

Misc Travel News
High Speed Rail in Taiwan
Taiwan High Speed Rail

This isn’t a question about whether you’d let your child travel alone, rather, would you allow your child to travel with family or friends, but without you going as well?

It may not be something that you’ve considered, but it’s something that I have current personal experience of…

My seven year old son will be jetting off on a very long flight to Taiwan in the near future, with members of my extended family.  He will be away for seventeen days, and the longest time he has previously been away from home overnight, is one night with his grandparents. He has never been on a plane before, so the flight of 14 hours will be a challenge for a typically active 7 year old!

When I tell people about his impending trip away, they are often surprised on two counts:

  1.  That he is going to Taiwan, as it is not a common holiday destination
  2. That he is going away without any members of his immediate family

The reason that he is going to Taiwan is because of extended family links with the country, and it is a place that he has heard lots about, seen lots of photos of and even met people that have made the reverse trip from Taiwan to the UK.  I myself know that it is an incredibly diverse country with spectacular landscapes, awe-inspiring architecture and renowned tourist attractions, such as Taipei 101, from a previous trip that I made.The fact that he will be travelling and staying with people who live or hail from the country (for some of the time) can only help him enjoy the experience to the full, with the benefit of local knowledge and translation.

I believe that my son is very lucky to have an opportunity to visit a country with a completely different culture, lifestyle and language from anything that he has experienced before, and have few qualms about his well-being  as he is going away with people that he knows extremely well.  Of course, we will miss him, and the house will seem incredibly quiet, but I believe that he is at an age where he is increasing in independence and maturity and will be open to enjoying all that this amazing experience has to offer, and that it wouldn’t be doing him any favours to keep him at home.  The world is a smaller place in these days of improved technology, and Skype chats and phone calls will keep him connected with us regularly.  My main concerns are that we will miss him (probably more than he misses us, as he will be kept extremely busy!) and that he will misbehave whilst he is away and become a nuisance to those he is travelling with…my other fear is that he won’t be very forthcoming or chatty when we speak to him on Skype or over the phone (sometimes the conversation can be a bit one-sided if he’s desperate to get back to something more exciting!).  Hopefully, these fears won’t be realised and it will be a great experience all-round.

The View from Taipei 101
The View from Taipei 101

There are a number of reasons why it may not be possible for you to accompany your child on a trip away, whilst they may be able to go with trusted others:

  • You may not be able to get away logistically – you may not be able to get the time off work, or may be reluctant to leave pets or travel with a very young child
  • It may be too much of a stretch financially for more family members to go too
  • There may only be a limited amount of accommodation available at the other end
  • There may be other family members who have medical problems, who are reluctant travellers or are unable to make the trip for any number of individual reasons
  • So, allowing one or two members of your family to make a trip away can sometimes make sense – absence can make the heart grow fonder, and there will undoubtedly be much quality catch-up time and sharing of anecdotes and photos upon their return.

There are some practical considerations to bear in mind, when considering this scenario:

  • Make sure that the child is happy to travel in this situation and really understands the practicalities of it, also make sure that all of the people that are travelling with your child are happy to take on a temporary parental role
  • Make sure that you have considered the financial aspect of accommodation, food and leisure costs while your child is away  and that you have budgeted for this
  • Make sure that your child has got travel insurance, as it may get overlooked in this situation
  • It would be lovely for them to record the memories of their trip so perhaps provide a diary or scrapbook for this and maybe a one-use camera to take pictures on
  • Make sure that those taking your child are aware of any phobias,  medical problems, allergies etc. to avoid potential problems
  • It’s a good idea to provide a signed letter from you as the parent explaining who your child is holidaying with, and that they have permission to do so
  • Make sure that their passport is current and valid, and that they have had the right inoculations if needed
  • Many people have little idea of where Taiwan is located, and what it is like, beyond the “made in Taiwan” stereotype.  It isn’t a typical holiday destination, due no-doubt to the fact that it is a long way from the UK, English is not commonly spoken or written for tourist purposes  and it has not been widely promoted.  It has a lot to recommend it as a travel destination though (perhaps as a stopover from another Asian or Oceanic destination), including a variety of Asian cuisines including a multitude of street food, bustling night markets, impressive temples, festivals and a love of fireworks, lanterns and karaoke!  There are also bargains to be had, as prices are very reasonable compared to the UK, especially food and train travel (although the exchange rate is currently poor).

Here are some family-friendly things to see and do:

Highlights of a trip to Taiwan

Alishan is a mountain range on Taiwan’s spine, and home to the Alishan Forest railway which takes you up, it is interesting to watch the crops change with the climate including bananas and tea.  Many get up really early to watch the sunrise from the top of the mountain, and the cherry blossom is very pretty in the spring.

Kenting National Park is an area of rare flora and fauna, but also includes a beach resort where it can be very hot, there is a sandy beach and typical beach activities such as banana boating, beach volleyball and scuba diving.

Taipei 101 is situated in the capital Taipei and is a record breaker many times over, as well as affording amazing views from the top.  It was the world’s tallest building until 2011 and stands 101 floors above ground.  It has the largest countdown clock (used on NYE) and has the fastest ascending lift.

Taroko Gorge an area of outstanding natural beauty, it is criss-crossed by some hair-raising mountain roads.  It has the world’s deepest marble canyon, and is ‘Lord of the Rings’ like in its rugged appearance.

Baby Boss, Taipei is Taiwan’s first simulation city for children, where they can engage in any of 50 professions and 70 different occupations with games and role-playing scenarios.  They get to choose what jobs they fancy having a go at (including pilot, dentist, gardener and chef) and then get all dressed up before having a go, supported by friendly staff who are on-hand to help.  Another great feature is that they get ‘paid’ for their toil, and can choose to splash the cash in the gift shop or save it in the Baby Boss bank.

National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium has all of the features that you would expect in an aquarium, and exhibits include “Water of Taiwan”, “Coral Kingdom” and “Waters of the World”.  They also have a very unusual offer for visitors – you can have a sleepover in various parts of the centre, including underneath the walk-through tunnels.  So you have the chance to sleep with the fishes and still wake up relaxed and ready to go the next day!

Taiwan Balloons Museum This attraction is owned and operated by a Taiwanese balloon manufacturing company, and is a reminder of the kind of industry that transformed Taiwan from a farming nation to a largely industrial one.  You can have a guided tour, which includes a DIY class where you can make your own balloon and also take part in balloon games.

Maokong Gondola, Taipei is a gondola lift transportation system with four stations – Taipei, Taipei Zoo (outside), Taipei South (inside the zoo), Zhinan Temple and Maokong (Sanxuan Temple).  The lifts afford stunning views over Taipei City and the surrounding area.

As you can probably tell from the photographs accompanying this article, my son did indeed have a great time on his Taiwanese adventure.  He has come back with a new love of aeroplanes, with a willingness to try or do new things e.g. he is very happy to use mint-flavoured toothpaste now, when it used to be a no-no, lots of mementoes of his many outings (including a Taiwanese football shirt) and a desire to share his happy times by talking about what he did, as he shares the many. many photos that were taken of his exploits.

From my perspective, it was lovely to have him back (welcomed by a big banner on the front door, hailing the return of the prodigal son!),  and although there were undoubtedly worrying times like when I heard that his aeroplane had been struck by lightning on the flight over, and that there had been an earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale on his first night in the country,  I was always hearing about these things in hindsight, and knowing that he was indeed safe and well, lent a different perspective . Philosophically, these natural phenomenon would have occurred whether I was there or not.  It was lovely to log on to Facebook and see  from the regularly updated photo album, what he had been up to in the day, and see from his face that he was having a ball.  His Nan’s would also enjoy looking at these pictures and they provided us with a joint point of conversation whilst he was away.

All in all, I conclude that his trip to Taiwan was something that he will remember always, and that he is  thankful to those who were kind enough to take him, and also  to the rest of his family that let him go.

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