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International Travel with ChildrenTravel with the Little Jet Set
Sharmila Murat, a Galavante Cofounder, shares her experiences of travel and the sweet expat life in Dubai with her passport-toting daughter Ela. In addition to her work at Galavante, Sharmila is the CFO of a luxury brand distributor in the Middle East. She makes it all look so easy, managing her busy family life and a successful career. Her daughter Ela is an international social butterfly – she’s been traveling since she was three months old, and now at the age of 2 1/2, she’s taken 27 flights and covered over 74,000 miles. Galavanting around the world is a way of life for our little jetsetter.
Galavante: Ela is quite the world traveler; she has more miles under her huggies than most adults.
Sharmila: She does indeed; we have family all over the world in Europe, Asia, and the United States. I love to travel so where I go, so does Ela. When Ela was three months old, I took her on a first girl’s trip to visit my sister who was working in India at the time. A month later, we went to Istanbul to celebrate the holidays with my husband’s family, and then to Chicago to make the rounds with my family in the Midwest. And of course, we stopped in New York to visit you.
Galavante: Even then I was amazed at how calmly and easily Ela adjusted to the jet lag! What countries has Ela visited so far?
Sharmila: Since that first trip at three months old to India, Ela has been to Turkey, the US, Jordan, France, Italy, and the Maldives. She’s now a pro, having traveled on 27 flights.
Galavante: How is traveling in the Middle East with kids different from traveling to Europe or the US – and how is it similar?
Sharmila: Traveling in the Middle East is not that different from traveling to other international destinations. Throughout the Middle East, children are generally cherished, and you’ll often find yourself being ushered to the front of a security or passport line when you’re carrying a baby. Also, security checks are much easier and less invasive. Of course, compared to flying in the US, international travel requires a passport and visas, so don't forget to keep all those items up to date for both yourself and your family.
Galavante: What kind of tricks do you have for travel?
Sharmila: Small babies are actually the easiest to travel with since they are small and sleep a lot. It's much harder to keep a toddler still so the hardest times are between 18 months and three years old or so. After that, they can often entertain themselves and you can let the in-flight entertainment system help you out.
While your child can travel on your lap for ten percent of your ticket cost until their second birthday, that often becomes unworkable by 18 months or earlier depending on the size of your child, and especially when traveling long-haul.
The iPad has become a key addition to our travel bags. Even at a young age, family photos stored on the iPad provide hours of entertainment. Following that, various children's apps provide interesting and educational diversions. When they’re older, you can load their favorite TV shows too. Attention spans are short, though, so you need to offer different activities.
Galavante: What’s in your travel bag for Ela?
Sharmila: In our travel bag, here are some of my must-haves:
- Healthy snacks for random hunger moments
- Water/milk bottle
- Change of clothes for your child, diapers, etc.
- Change of clothes for you (at least a top – trust me on this one)
- Favorite plush toy or blanky
- Loaded iPad
- Reading, coloring, and sticker books
- One or two surprise gifts (wrapped if you have time), which are great for
- Rewarding good behavior (aka bribes)
Galavante: Sounds like you come prepared. What airlines do you like for kids?
Sharmila: Emirates, of course! Seat prices for kids are 40 percent off. During the flight, kids are fed first (special infant and kids’ meals), receive an activity pack, and a stuffed toy. All planes have personal video screens and an in-flight entertainment loaded with children's programs (we have a no-TV rule at home, but there's definitely an airplane exemption). They won't glare if you ask for milk and they typically have formula onboard too. Dubai airport offers Maclaren strollers free of charge for use in the terminal. The business class lounge in Dubai has a special kids’ indoor play area.
Galavante: That sounds pretty swank, and actually more accommodating than flying in the US. Is there specific dress for kids in the Middle East?
Sharmila: Nothing specific. While the Middle East is often hot, buildings, airports, and airplanes are heavily air conditioned, so pack long sleeves. Our daughter thinks we’re going on an airplane every time we put her in a light sweater.
Galavante: What are some key foreign phrases you’ve taught Ela to survive the playground?
Sharmila: She learned how to sing Happy Birthday in Arabic. That seems to get her lots of birthday party invitations...
Dubai especially is full of expats, so French, Hindi, and English with a British accent will get you far. Ela has met a little Mexican girl at the playground, and now says “gracias.”
Galavante: So, not only is she well-traveled, but well on the path to being multilingual. One last quick question: Where do people in the Middle East go for the December and New Year’s holiday?
Sharmila: Expat families living in the Middle East often go back home for Christmas and the New Year. That might be great for Australians going home to enjoy the summer on the beach, but Europeans often come back complaining about the cold weather and canceled flights due to snowstorms, so some choose to stick around. There is a three-day public holiday in November this year, so quick trips to Indian Ocean resorts – Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius – are also popular.
As for us, we're going to the Maldives!
Galavante: We can’t wait to hear all about it. Thanks for inspiring us to travel the world with our children.