FORGET child's play. Once upon a time, travelling with kids in tow used to not only hurt the pocket, it was also the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with temper tantrums on planes, bawling babies in hotel restaurants and bored teens at resorts meant that parents seldom got a break, on their break.
Kiddie capers still go on - but now, thanks to low-cost airfares, babysitting services and service staff who can turn a staid hotel room into a children's wonderland, more families are happily packing the kids along for holidays.
Though there are no official statistics to show how many young 'uns are now frequent flyers, a check with travel agents shows that kids - ranging from babes-in-arms to children in lower primary - now form a significant proportion of their clients.
Up to 80 per cent of Singapore parents now take their children along for the ride, a far cry from the 30 per cent or so who did so about five years ago.
One couple finding it a breeze to travel as a family are Ms Jean Oh and Mr Peter Yang.
When they got married about 15 years ago, they were avid travellers and did not plan to have children immediately because of their globetrotting lifestyle.
But when their children - Chantal and Curtis - eventually came along nine years later, that wanderlust wouldn't go away.
'We had to take our children along,' says Ms Oh, a general manager of an events company. 'Sure, there are certain sacrifices that we have to make and we can't travel like we used to, but we did not want to leave them behind because we love travelling so much.'
So, when Chantal and Curtis were only three and three months respectively, she packed their bags and left for Las Vegas to join her husband, who had gone there earlier for a meeting.
They flew Singapore Airlines (SIA), and with a little help from the stewardesses, the experience turned out to be 'quite easy', she recalls. Since then, the family has travelled almost half the world, to places as far away as Alaska.
'Maybe it's because I travelled a lot when I was pregnant with my children,' says Ms Oh, half in jest. 'They have been conditioned.'
Ms Alicia Seah, vice-president of leisure travel at UOB Travel Planners, says kids are luckier these days as they get to travel from a younger age than most used to in the past. The youngest traveller she's seen so far was a six-month-old baby who went to Hong Kong Disneyland last year.
So why are parents now willing to spend thousands for Junior to have a holiday?
For starters, the economy has picked up over the past few years, says Ms Joycelyn Su, senior manager of the outbound tours division at CTC Holidays.
It means parents now have more income at their disposal, and are more likely to splurge on their precious tykes.
TRAVEL is also no longer as expensive as it used to be.
Mr Don Birch, chief executive of travel reservation company Abacus International, says feedback from its network of 11,000 agents suggests that more children are travelling with parents thanks to increasing incomes and the arrival of low-cost carriers which put 'holiday air travel in the hands of those who might not have contemplated this before'.
Nowadays, with the hot competition between budget airlines like Tiger and Jetstar Asia, it can cost as little as $10 for a promotional one-way fare to Phuket, excluding taxes.
On full-service airlines, a child's ticket will cost between 10 and 75 per cent of the adult rate, depending on age.
In tandem with cheaper travel is the popularity of regional destinations that can be reached via a short flight, drive or ferry ride - think Bangkok, Penang and Bintan respectively, all very convenient for weekend family getaways.
Small wonder, then, that travel agents are also cashing in on the family-plus-kids market. At the recent Chan Brothers travel fair, for instance, discounts for child travel went as high as 50 per cent, says the agency's marketing communications director Ivy Tan.
'To encourage family travel, prices for some packages were based on two adults and two children,' she adds. 'Most of the time, children enjoy concession rates.'
Similarly, CTC Holidays sold many Happy Deals packages - where children were offered special discounts and free gifts - at its recent travel fair, says Ms Su.
'We have also recently pledged to be a pro-family business... when customers book their tours at the CTC office, we have a children's corner with colouring books and toys to occupy them,' she notes.
HIGHLIGHTING this trend of jetsetter kids is the fact that they are on everyone's VIP lists, from five-star hotels to premium airlines.
Ms Betty Wong, vice-president of in-flight services at SIA, says: 'Our young travellers are as important to us as the grown-ups. We believe that keeping children entertained and well-nourished contributes to a memorable flying experience for both children and adults.'
Almost every airline now has bassinets and diaper changing facilities. And when these Very Important Poppets fly, they have Disney in-flight entertainment, Pixar toys, special meals and even Sky Nannies - as seen on Gulf Air - who cater to their every need (see facing page).
Resorts and hotels have babysitters on their staff, and kids' clubs to keep the young occupied. Some, like the Swissotel in Sydney, go one step further by redecorating hotel rooms especially for children.
So the bottomline is this: The family holiday is no longer a chore and bore.
Madam Rose Wong, 35, a housewife and mother of a two-year-old boy Caleb says: 'My husband and I will be taking our first trip overseas with our son in December. We intend to find a nice resort in Thailand where we can leave Caleb with babysitters on some nights, and have our second honeymoon.'
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Are we there yet?
ABOUT five years ago, Alex Ow and Barbara Hun were 'crazy enough' to take their then one-year-old daughter Victoria and her stroller to the bustling Chatuchak market in Bangkok.
Ms Hun, 33, who manages her husband's commercial photo studio, recalls with a laugh: 'She was screaming all the way.'
Victoria is now four and they have a son, Ian, aged two, but the family still says no to long-haul flights and shopping trips though they travel twice a year.
Far from seeing children as extra trouble and extra cost is another globetrotting family.
Ms Christina Leong and Mr Calvin Yeo, parents of Daniel, seven, and Dawn, five, first headed to Perth when their first-born was one. They have since travelled to Bali, Sydney, Gold Coast, Bintan, Port Dickson, Kuantan and Genting.
Tricks to keep the young ones from getting testy on flights include asking them to pack a backpack full of goodies like drawing materials, books and games that they can dip into when bored, says Ms Leong, a public relations manager.
To preserve the memories of a family holiday, she recommends getting children to discuss what their favourite part of the day was, or to start a travel diary.
'It really helped us as parents to understand their perspective and also to be reawakened to the smaller, finer things in life.'