Should we take our toddler to Kenya, if not, where?
February 2, 2013 5:02 PM   Subscribe

I have a great opportunity to go to Kenya in June, the question is, does my partner and daughter (20 months by then) come with, or do I meet them somewhere on the way back to Australia?

So, through my job I have been given the opportunity to work on a development project in Kenya for one month in June. I'll definitely be doing this; it's an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.

My partner will want to holiday with me an in exotic locale afterwards. The catch is, this will be our first international/major holiday with our daughter, and I'm not sure whether a) we should do that in Kenya, what with long flight from Sydney etc, and b) If she would appreciate the kind of holiday we could uniquely (i.e. not get somewhere else, or even in Australia) take in Kenya (i.e. we are not flying all the way to flipping Kenya to have a beach resort holiday, we are from Australia, after all!).

I am worried about subjecting my partner to a hellish, long flight, and then we both have our holiday ruined by our gorgeous, yet very toddly daughter.

Three years ago, my partner had a similar opportunity in Nigeria (we work for the same employer), and I met her in Namibia after for a holiday. It was amazing. Unequivocally the best holiday I've ever had. The camping, the desert, the nature, the wildlife, being on safari, trekking through savannah - blew my mind. I know that I will love what Kenya has to offer me.

The problem is, it's not just me - or even us - any more. I have a little person attached to me now with a specific set of needs and desires, and I'm not so sure that she will love what Kenya has to offer her - and I'm not so selfish as to demand we do what I want, nor am I comfortable with an even longer absence from her than strictly necessary.

So, my questions relating to this are threefold:

1) Has anyone done a holiday with a toddler in Kenya, or similar sub-Saharan country like Tanzania etc? What was your experience like? Are there specific things in Kenya you would recommend, or Sub-Saharan African activites in general you would recommend? What was your kid like camping/on safari etc?

2) Is the prospect of a huge timezone jump (about 9/10 hours), plus a couple of 8 hour or longer flights simply too horrible to endure with an active child between 1-2? Is that an insane thing to even consider?

3) If Kenya sucks for any or all of the above reasons, where would you recommend we meet up for a holiday after? Note, this needs to be somewhere that will be at least sort-of en-route from Kenya to Sydney. As a guide, interconnecting flights could land us in UK/Europe; Dubai/Abu Dhabi/middle easty; Singapore, Honkers/Southern Asianish. Americas or anywhere near them is out. Partner and I have been to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Namibia, she's done much of Europe from Germany west, and I've been to Singpore. Not super-interested in revisiting any of those places - especially Hong Kong as we've been there tonnes.

PS not looking for comments around general safety issues, etc. Assume I'm on top of that.

Mefites, shower me with your wisdom?
posted by smoke to Travel & Transportation around Kenya (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How many shots would your daughter have to take? Is your daughter old enough for all of the shots?
posted by KokuRyu at 5:06 PM on February 2, 2013

Suggest you contact these folks on Kenya: they really know Africa (SW) / safaris and can advise on taking small children. The founder took his children to SA/Letaba area several times.

Personally, I would not unless I was traveling v. high end as I would be concerned about health risks.

Abu Dhabi/Dubai are great, very safe and great for children. If you have not done middle east I would go UAE/Oman and its very child friendly and very culturally different
posted by zia at 5:27 PM on February 2, 2013

I would just keep very close track of the elections (currently slated for March 4). I've not been following the news very closely, but they have the capacity for badness, especially in the parts of Kenya that are particularly good for tourism and safari (the coast and the central provinces). There've already been rumblings, and if it's anything like 2007, I wouldn't be surprised if things continue through June in parts of the country.

Visiting Kenya was wonderful, and I highly recommend it. I don't know, however, if you want to bank on expensive plane tickets for your wife and daughter and not have it work out because Kenya's too dangerous. I can't really speak to taking a toddler on a really long flight and the difficulties (or not) of that, but you can fly from Nairobi to Tanzania without a hassle. Safari in Tanzania is supposed to be nice, and the Tanzanian coast and Zanzibar are also supposed to be lovely.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:31 PM on February 2, 2013

When I was in Zambia there were strict rules against bringing young children on safari, for safety reasons. For that reason I would recommend against bringing a toddler to Kenya.
posted by alms at 5:35 PM on February 2, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments so far guys, just to gently reiterate my three question and especially last line: PS not looking for comments around general safety issues, etc. Assume I'm on top of that.

I'm really looking for comments on the actual nuts and bolts of the holidaying, thanks again. :)
posted by smoke at 5:36 PM on February 2, 2013

Cannot comment on all of this, but comparing Nigeria to Kenya is like comparing apples and oranges.
Staying in a game park lodge in Kenya i.e. Amboseli etc. is not a good idea with a toddler, but a beach holiday in say Malindi should be OK.
However I am not up to date on Kenya safety for foreigners (on preview see ChuraChura), see
My children followed us around Asia and Africa with no problems, but YMMV.
posted by lungtaworld at 5:42 PM on February 2, 2013

Of course, one of the problems is malaria. I'm not aware of the current drugs you have to take for that part of the world, but i do know the current medical advice in the UK was enough to make a relative of mine hesitate about taking her baby to Nigeria - said relative was born and brought up there. Of course babies are born in Nigeria every single day but the alarmist advice you get in the first world tends to make you forget that.

It's a difficult decision. It's nice to think that once you are a family you will do everything together, children included. My mother as a young Englishwoman in the 40's was prepared to bring up her children in a country she must have thought of as particularly dangerous....what an adventure. What a brave person.

Educate yourself about the risks and decide....but remember people are born and take risks there and it's just a part of life; but life is not as safe there as it is in the west. Can you take that on board?
posted by glasseyes at 5:42 PM on February 2, 2013

You don't mention whether or not you could vacation with your partner and have your daughter stay with grandparents or an aunt or uncle... is that possible?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:53 PM on February 2, 2013

Best answer: Have you taken your daughter on a long plane ride? How did she do? You might luck out, but in my experience, I would really think carefully about the prospect of travelling solo with a toddler on two long flights in a row. Sydney to Nairobi looks like it takes about 19 hours (per Expedia). I don't know your kid, obviously, but I think at the very best, your partner will emerge from that experience exhausted and cranky. And that doesn't even account for the hours she will spend in security, at the airport, changing planes, going through customs, all wrangling a kid who will probably really just want to be walking around when it's not convenient...etc. I am someone who has travelled with toddlers, and have a high kid tolerance, and I fear that could be a pretty hellish experience for a non-essential trip that your kid won't even really appreciate. (I love 20 month old kids, but they are not really going to be enriched by Kenya the way an older kid would.)
posted by Countess Sandwich at 6:09 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My situation is a bit different, as both of my kids are from Ethiopia (we're American and we adopted them). Having said that, I did take one of my sons back to Ethiopia for ten days when he was about 3. We had a fantastic trip! We spent a bit of time in the city but were mostly in smaller towns, and we saw some really cool stuff. We went at a slower pace than I would as an adult by myself, but that was really fine, actually. It was a more reasonable speed anyway. The only thing that was rough was when we went on a hike to the Blue Nile Falls, and he couldn't keep up, and I had to carry him, and that was pretty awful as I wasn't prepared with a carrier (which I would have been if he was younger).

For you, I'd suggest thinking about these issues: how is your daughter when she's off her routine? Will she sleep in a carrier on a parent's back? Is she fussy about new foods? Does she sleep okay in new places, especially if she's cuddled with her parents?

The fact that you are an experienced traveler who is used to traveling in less developed countries is pretty key here, as it sounds like you'll be able to roll with the punches. I think taking her on this kind of trip might help her learn to do the same!

My son and I weren't dealing with jet lag, as we were coming from Egypt when we went to Ethiopia, but I'd suggest your partner and daughter arrive a few days early so they can adjust to the time change in the comfort of a hotel (or wherever you'll be staying). Also, perhaps you could line up a short-term nanny to help you out when your partner and daughter arrive, so your partner can nap and someone else can help out. I'd also suggest you all go on a few camping trips soon, if you haven't recently, to see how she does.

I would not go to Abu Dubai or anywhere else in the Middle East or North Africa, as it will be so hot you won't feel very adventurous. I can't speak specifically for Kenya, but Ethiopia has lovely weather in June, so I'm guessing Kenya is somewhat similar.

A trip I would love to take is to Tanzania, for a safari and then to Zanzibar. It'd be a beach-ish vacation, but not necessarily in a resort sort of way. Some friends of mine took their young daughters there recently and had a great trip.

One last option to consider might be South Africa. It's not really on my list, but I know folks who have had great vacations there, including safaris, but it's also wealthier and more developed, so perhaps it'd be easier with a little one.

Good luck! This sounds like a wonderful adventure.

(And one last note: there were plenty of folks who thought we were crazy to move to Egypt with two young kids, and plenty of people who thought I was crazy to travel to Ethiopia with a 3 year old. We had great experiences in both places, and I'm really glad I didn't listen to the naysayers.)
posted by bluedaisy at 6:16 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

No way would I consider taking a toddler on ONE flight of 8 hours, let alone two in a row. Maybe she would be fine, but if not, that's a lot of misery for something that's supposed to be a fun vacation.
posted by ktkt at 6:40 PM on February 2, 2013

Best answer: Oh, this is hard. My first inclination would be to take them - of course! It's a great experience! But. Can either you or your partner take at least a week off work after you get home, to deal with your daughter's jet lag? My daughter was Seriously Not Right for a week after we flew long haul, and there was much time spent playing! and wanting to go to the playground! at 2am in the week afterward. If this is something you can handle, then I would consider Kenya or possibly Madagascar. Other, shorter-haul options would be Christmas Island or Brunei/ Borneo. Your daughter (and your partner and yourself) will need malaria shots for Madagascar or Borneo but not for Christmas Island.

Or - have you spent much time in WA or NT? Could you meet your partner and daughter in Perth or Darwin and go hang out in, say, Margaret River or Kakadu for a few days? Far shorter flights, but still far enough away and, in the case of Kakadu, probably similarly exotic.
posted by goo at 7:02 PM on February 2, 2013

Best answer: We've done India twice. Once with a four month old, and then with a 4 year old and a breast feeding 2 year old.

Safety in an African country isn't something I can speak to anyway....but logistics of travel with a toddler I can. And I'd do it!

If just you want general "travel with toddlers in a hardship posting" tips, you know how to find me.

Woo hoo, how excitement!
posted by taff at 10:07 PM on February 2, 2013

Have you seen the show 'Travel With Kids'? Its on Hulu and Netflix... You're in Oz like me though? I'm sure they have a website :-)

From what I've heard, it depends on the kid/parents... if you're all pretty easygoing, it'll be...easier. Also, she's pretty little, people everywhere love babies - you'll have a different connection with people, and a different experience which may be pretty amazing. I know people who've done similar trips with tiny kids to central and south America.
posted by jrobin276 at 11:27 PM on February 2, 2013

I can't speak to the aspects of travel to actually get there, but my parents loved traveling around with my sister when she was a toddler- why? They actually got to eat their own meals! In very family focused places, everybody just wanted to hold her and play with her and it was like having traveling baby sitter for her.
posted by raccoon409 at 12:24 AM on February 3, 2013

Best answer: I can't speak to the specifics of holidaying in Kenya with a toddler. I'll assume you can figure out the levels of medical and political risk involved and make your decisions about those.

The biggest change that I've seen in the holiday plans that we as a family make and that other parents of young children make has to do with how much you try to pack in to a single day. We routinely assume that getting out the door will take us two or three times as long as it would pre-parenting. We have learned to be willing to abandon an experience that we had thought would be fun for everyone.

Generally speaking, I don't think you should assume that your daughter will be miserable doing the things that you would like to do. Until you're dealing with a teenager, enthusiasm tends to be pretty contagious. :) What you do need to do is be flexible about your plans, and make some modifications based on what you already know about your daughter. Try to keep some routines in place, try to take along some familiar things. Be willing to take breaks more frequently than you would if you were on your own.

For the plane ride(s) specifically, no it's not insane. South Asian (and I'm sure other) mothers routinely fly their little ones back and forth between North America and South Asia, and they all seem to survive just fine. Build in some recovery time at the end of the flight. It sounds like your partner will be on her own for at least one leg of the trip. Be prepared to take over from her at the other end. Make sure you have a variety of activities for your daughter. Keep at least one completely new toy for each flight leg. Don't forget her comfort object(s).

Realistically, a two-year old is not going to remember much, if anything, of this trip. She most likely will love seeing the pictures when she's a little bit older.

In summary: Go for it. Feel free to memail if you have more specific questions.
posted by bardophile at 3:01 AM on February 3, 2013

Best answer: One thing to think about is that you're making assumptions about your child's behavior and temperament NOW rather than when she is 20 months old.

We booked a trip to Oz when our child was a few months old and went when he was ~9 months old. The flight (LAX-Sydney) was nothing like what we imagined. It wasn't so bad that I remember something specific happening, but...

We also did LAX-Singapore, then Bali when he was ~19 months old. Again, we made assumptions that didn't hold up.

My kid wasn't old enough to really enjoy anything about that trip for more than a split second - even the aquarium - yet we were somewhat bound to do kid-friendly things, eat at kid-friendly places.

My concern is that this is a LONG trip for you all.

Also, your experience as vacationing couple will be different from your vacation as a family.

With that said, DO IT!
posted by k8t at 8:48 AM on February 3, 2013

Oh, and think about food and diapering logistics.

Right now, your kids is probably still eating baby food to some degree. But at age 20 months, they're eating a lot more people food. But they're PICKY too. So how are you planning on feeding baby on this trip?

And diapers - bringing enough is a huge PITA. You'd be better off buying diapers when you're there. Can you do that easily?
posted by k8t at 8:50 AM on February 3, 2013

Anecdata: My friend went on a safari with her parents when she was maybe 5 years old, so older than your daughter. She spent the whole time screaming, "OMG giraffe!" "OMG a lion!" It freaked out the animals and the guide nervously had one hand on his gun the whole time.

Also, years ago, my cousin received the opportunity to teach a class for a month in southern Israel so she took her two kids and husband. Hamas was launching rockets pretty aggressively soon after they arrived and Israel prepared to respond with force. The kids remember thinking it was awesome that the bomb shelter had a TV. But if you ask the youngest about Israel, she makes air raid siren noises.
posted by kat518 at 9:30 AM on February 3, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, all, still not sure what we'll end up doing, but seems we're not completely insane (yet), at any rate!
posted by smoke at 10:31 PM on February 3, 2013

A lot of our friends live every day in Kenya with their toddlers and so that's how we holiday for the long weekends, with the toddlers. WE all usually go to the beach because hey, we're living in Kenya, which is great. We rent a house, and you can have local girls come and watch the kids for about 10USD a day. I would assume you'd get the same kind of kid help if going on safari / camping, but probably pay a bit more. That will also of course depend on what level of places you're staying at.

We all don't do the safari thing together often, its more for when parents / friends / other family come into town for a visit. A toddler of course isn't going to appreciate the wildlife of safari the way you guys will, and you should remember that the ideal safari schedule (up and out by 6am to see the animals whilst they're still active, back from 10am-4pm, out again for an evening drive til 7pm or so) isn't necessarily going to play nicely with your kid's sleep schedule.

Basically, I'd say if there's any chance you could do this trip again in a few years for a similar cost, your kid will appreciate it a lot more. You might as well. But if that's a slim chance, well how often in your life are you going to have a paid round trip ticket to Kenya? Probably not that often. Its a beautiful place, I would say go for it, take advantage of everything.

Even the delightful beaches you'll be avoiding :)

Feel free to me-mail me if you'd like my locals-guide to Kenya. I've probably typed most of it out on AskMes in the past already though.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:04 AM on March 21, 2013

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