I just returned from a month-long vacation in Sri Lanka, commonly referred to as “The Pearl of Asia.” This wasn’t my first vacation there nor was it my first time visiting with kids. However, it was my first time vacationing there at a time when my kids are at the age when they make a holiday difficult. At three and four they’re incredibly challenging.
We travel frequently with the kids, after all it’s what we do. Yet, it in no way does this make me and my husband experts at traveling with kids, especially with little ones like ours. What we are experts in is realizing when a place is more kid-friendly, and that’s exactly what we found in Sri Lanka.
It started when we first arrived and were picking up our luggage. The kids were wound up after spending almost 24 hours on planes, going through immigration, and experiencing five different airport security checks. To top it all off, our strollers got lost somewhere on the long journey. My husband ran around frantically looking for anyone that might have had the slightest clue as to the whereabouts of our lost strollers, but everyone told us to just wait at baggage claim. Meanwhile, I was left pushing a trolly piled with four oversized bags and two wild children at two in the morning. Luckily, one of the airport security guards came over and began to entertain the kids with a song, even inviting two of his friends to join in a dance with the kids, allowing me a much needed break.
However, that was just the beginning of one of the many positive, kid-friendly experiences we had in Sri Lanka. Every restaurant we went to, no matter how fancy or “local” it was, welcomed us in with open arms. Most places even offered books for the kids to amuse themselves. People eating or working at the restaurant took a turn at saying “hi baby” or “hello darling” to the kids, even inviting them over to their table. Some went as far as to even feed them for us. The kids squealed with delight every time, often rewarding their new friends with a song and dance. The language barrier never seemed to matter to any of them.
Sri Lanka has no sidewalks to speak of, which forced us to push strollers along extremely small streets made narrower by the over abundance of cars, motor bikes, buses and tuc-tucs. Yet, each time we walked down the street, we never once felt as if we or our kids were in danger. Everyone honked softly to let us know they were close and steered clear of us. Passersby even helped us in difficult situations, such as going up and down stairs or along uneven roads.
We were always invited to go into many shops, and never once did a shop owner ever stress out, let alone yell at our kids. The owner often gave the kids something to play with or had someone entertain them while we were looking around. My husband barked at our son once when picked up something fragile, but the owner of the store politely told my husband that there was no reason to get mad at our four-year-old; he’s young and just beginning to understand what his limitations are. He simply said to redirect Boots instead. It was refreshing to be told to not scold our kids, and that gentle ways and guidance were the preferred method.
It rained hard and often during our stay, most of the time giving us little or no warning and leaving us with two soaked kids in strollers. Every time this happened, someone came to our rescue. Once, a man saw Marc and Button walking in the rain and picked them up in his tuc-tuc, refusing payment for the ride. His only concern was that Button was safe and dry. Another time, a Muslim family welcomed us into their home, giving us towels to dry off and letting the kids play in their house while we warmed up with hot tea and milk. One shop owner was going to close, but left her shop open so we could stay dry with the kids, even checking on us every few minutes to make sure we were comfortable.
No one said anything to our kids about running around naked or swimming in their underwear at the beach. A local or two even helped them play safely when the waves were a bit rough, but the helpfulness didn’t stop there. Waiters sat on the sand with the kids to play with them, and restaurant owners allowed us to use their outdoor shower to clean the sand off the kids. They also went as far as to letting them run about so that they could release their energy while we calmly ate; “they’re babies, let them play,” locals said over and over again.
Tuc-tuc drivers also assisted in any way they could with the kids. If we had to make a quick stop in a store, the driver would help us get out safely with the kids, then assist us back in with our bags. If we needed something from the outdoor market, they would park the tuc-tuc and walk next to us, watching the kids and helping us select the best produce. The kids were always greeted warmly by every driver, each one excited about the kids riding with them. Some even gave us a discount because we were traveling with children. When we were dropped off at home, the driver would often carry the kids up stairs for us, or take our bags so we could take the kids. If one tuc-tuc was too small, they helped us find one that was best for us and our needs.
We do have family in Sri Lanka, but in fairness we rarely see them nor do they know the kids; however, that didn’t matter to them. They were willing to watch the kids for two days so that I could have surgery. When we went to pick them up, our children were happily playing with their cousins. It was clear they were washed and fed, and my children said that there was story time for them, regardless of the fact that the books were in a different language.
As a matter of fact, the only negative comments made to us were by other foreigners, who still believe young kids should’t be on vacation with parents. I’d say that during my years of traveling with kids, Sri Lanka is the most child-friendly vacation spot I’ve ever experienced and would recommend it to any family to visit.