Booking the tickets was the easy part. Enduring the bewildered looks from family and friends was the hard part. My family loves to travel. We have a reputation. (When normal families want to go to Disney, they hop on a plane to Orlando. We flew to Tokyo to get our Mickey fix.) But when we told folks we were going to China with kids, the bewildered look was typically followed with “Why?” At first, I tried to explain. Then I just started asking my own question, “Why Not?” I’ll admit China is not the first place that comes to most parents’ minds when planning a family vacation. But it‘s worthy of strong consideration. If folks took the time to investigate Shanghai or Guilin like they do Paris and Rome, they’d get it.
There is No Substitution
Traveling with kids in China is amazing for so many different reasons. It’s like no other place in the world. There’s a comfortable familiarity you find when you travel in Europe with kids. Don’t expect that in China. Appreciate that it’s not there.
Kids are Cool in China
Due at least in part to the one child law, kids have a certain elevated stature in China. They’re celebrated. They have a holiday in June—think Mother’s Day, but for kids. My girls loved the fact people kept handing them candy. American kids tend to stand out in China. Blonde hair and blue eyes made my 8 and 10 year-old girls walking tourist attractions for the locals. Being popular is a good thing. On many occasions, complete strangers, would pass along a blessing of good fortune or just say hello. It was particularly humbling for my daughters when the well wishers didn’t speak English. Sign-language is universal.
A Feast for the Senses
Everything makes you go “WOW!” From it’s vibrantly painted temples to the mist-shrouded Li River. Photographs don’t do the country justice. You have to see China. Your kids will smell it too. Good smells, like the scent of clay at the Terra Cotta Warriors ongoing archeological dig. But it’s the bad smells that tend to leave their mark in kids’ memories. And more often than not in China, those smells have to do with dinner. Pick your battles. Don’t worry, the kids won’t starve. The dumplings shaped like swans will win them over. Worst case scenario, McDonald’s holds it’s fair share of Chinese real estate.
Don’t Be Scared
China is different. But don’t let it’s differences scare you off. The Chinese are proud of where they live and they want you to like it too. You’re kids will get a healthy dose of a dramatically different culture, but when you head back to the hotel for the night expect the same quality and comfort you’d expect in New York or San Francisco. In all of my family’s globe-trotting, the hotels in China all stand out as some of the nicest we’ve stayed. My girls still talk about the Jinshi International Hotel in Xian. The floors are open in the middle looking down on the beautiful lobby below. A huge western style buffet breakfast, complete with all their favorites, may have influenced their opinions as well. One of my top picks, the Crowne Plaza in Shanghai. It was the tail end of our trip and we were exhausted. This quiet, big city hotel had everything my family needed, including an indoor pool that was open late! It was the perfect way to wind down before jumping into bed.
And...a good night’s sleep is important. The Great Wall is waiting.
Dana Rebmann is a travel writer living in Sonoma with her husband and two kids. She writes for Ciao Bambino.com, a family travel guide with tips and advice around all things related to traveling with kids, as well as reviews of the best kid-friendly hotels.