What to Know About Traveling with Children in China

••• At the top of a small hike, we stood with one leg in Jiangxi Province, one leg in Fujian Province. Photo by Sara Naumann. All rights reserved.

A car ride to the grocery store can be harrowing with a young child. Intercontinental travel with children is nothing short of daunting. The good news, most likely the airplane trip will be the worst part of traveling with you kids to China. I find China a very child-friendly place and an easy one with kids. And I should know - I'm in the process of raising two here and have traveled with them all over the country.

That said, I know that if you're coming to China for the first time and you have kids along, you also have some big questions. Here are some answers.

Disease – Do I Need to Worry About My Child Contracting Something Horrible in China?

Of course there’s a chance of getting something. But there’s a chance that you win the lottery too. The quick answer is no. Your kid’s chances of picking up some horrible Far-East Disease that no doctor can diagnose are slim.

The first advice I give is always to consult your and your child’s physician before embarking on a trip to China. While the Center for Disease Control does not advocate any specific vaccinations for China, it’s always best to check with a doctor who knows about such things. Read all about Health Concerns and Medical Needs for China travel.

OK, No Vaccinations, but Surely There’s Something to Worry About?

Well, it all depends on how long you’ll be staying in China.

Again, the best thing to do is check with your physician. Yes, your child is going to be exposed to different germs here in China. So there are some precautions to take:

  • Be Well Before You Go. Try to ensure that everyone is taking their vitamins and is in good shape before you embark on a long trip. If you’re already prone to sickness, twelve hours on a packed airplane can do you in. Trust me: more of our visitors to China arrive sick than become sick here.
  • Keep Your Hands Clean. That’s good advice for all the travelers in your group no matter what the age. Bring along disinfectant gel and handy wipes (wipes are readily available in China too). Wash your hands as often as you can remember – this is your First Defense against germs.
  • Try to Stay Rested. Don’t push everyone too hard. There’s a lot to see in China but you can’t see it all in two weeks anyway. The time difference is a big adjustment, especially for little ones. Being tired and run down can lead to sickness so make sure everyone gets rest and try to adjust slowly to the time difference.

Jet Lag – How Do We Deal with It?

There’s no easy answer and it depends on how old your kids are. When my children were under 12 months, we just had to be awake when they were awake and slept when they did. After 2, we discovered the portable DVD player and iPad and have become enormous of entertainment for jet lagged kids (for the airplane journey as well). When we travel, we basically don't limit screen time until we're all on the same time zone.

If your kids are older and can entertain themselves, then be sure to bring along some of their favorite books and toys so they can play while you try to get some sleep.

The first three nights are the most difficult; and the second night is probably the worst. The best advice is to take it slow and sleep when they do. This might mean slowing down your sightseeing activities for the first couple of days.

I Heard They’re Crazy Drivers - Should I Bring the Car Seat?

If your child is still in the infant type, and that buckles into a stroller that can be easily folded, then yes. But taxis generally don’t have useable back-seat safety belts so you won’t be able to buckle it in. Still, it’ll be easier to manage and safer than holding your baby.

If your child is bigger, than there’s no reason to bring it unless you’ll be hiring a car for much of your journey. Like I say above, most taxis don’t have belts, and you’ll find the seat a big burden if you’re not using it. If most of your tour involves the use of a private car, then yes, bring your seat.

But if this isn’t the case, leave the seat at home. I know that sounds scary and truthfully, it is unsafe. But unfortunately, child safety in cars is behind the times here in China.

What About Water and Food Safety?

Happily, you don’t have to worry much about that. If your kids are the least bit adventurous, they will find a wide array of interesting snacks and candy in every local grocery and convenience store. Bottled water is available everywhere from shops to street stalls and in restaurants, if you’re served water that is in a glass, it is coming from a large cooler – not the tap.

Read lots more about Water & Food Safety here.

I’ve Heard Bad Things About the Toilets…

Yes, you have, and rightly so. But China’s made BIG improvements, even in the four years since I’ve been here. They know their own reputation and public toilets are being cleaned up. But you will probably come across a squat-type toilet more than once on your adventures.

Here’s the scoop on Using the Toilets in China.

Should I Bring a Month’s Supply of Baby Food and Diapers?

It depends on if your baby has special needs, but no, you can get a lot of your supplies in China, especially in the larger cities. Where there are large expat communities, you’ll even find brands and items imported from home. Many brands have Chinese counterparts, like Huggies and Pampers. They’re not exactly like the ones back home but pretty much OK. A note to US travelers, you’ll want to figure out your baby’s weight in kilograms!

As for supplies, read all about What to Buy and What to Bring here.