Jakarta: a guide to surviving a big city with your child

Travel date December 2015- January 2016

If someone were to play a quick word association game with me and the word Jakarta came up, there would be only one word to best describe Jakarta, TRAFFIC!!

For all of Jakarta’s wonderful street food options, sprawling shopping malls and tourist attractions, the city is crippled by the slow moving traffic which contradicts the fast-paced needs of the people of Jakarta. In this blog, I provide tips to survive a big bustling metropolis using my daughter’s experience within Jakarta. The challenge presented to you and your child is your ability as a parent to practice the art of patience.

As we collected our bags and drove out of Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, the immense gravity of the roads leading to the centre of town encapsulated my daughter to peer out her window at the largesse of the buildings, traffic and business of the bustling Jakarta metropolis. I must admit traveling within a bustling metropolis is an intimidating but not impossible experience. How do you survive the unique logistics of a city like Jakarta with a potentially fussy child?

The famous Bundaran HI roundabout is usually best seen from the seat of your car.

Preparation is key

Unfortunately, you need to anticipate and prepare for long spells in your car due to Jakarta’s traffic congestion. Hence your patience (I’m going to repeat this word throughout this blog) is key. If you are traveling with your partner make sure you take turns entertaining your child, whether it is via word association games, engaging your child about the surroundings outside your car and/ or doing everything possible to avoid your child being subdued by an iPad screen.

Ensure lunch and breakfast meals are packed before every journey, you will have no time to stop and eat if you are caught up in traffic. This also includes doing nappy and clothes changes in the car. To our western ears, this may seem very foreign, but a long spell on the roads of Jakarta means you need to adapt to the traffic congestion.

When we travel with our daughter we ensure we always pack her breakfast, lunch and snacks. Spare nappies and a change of clothes, for unfortunate ‘accidents’. If your child is a little bit older, pack their favourite bedtime books, as they will certainly feel the urge to doze off during your drive. Play your child’s favourite Wiggles tune or any other music preference that you’ll likely need to play 100x to appease them.

The key is preparing for your drive, and ensuring you normalise the drive for your child’s needs (of course sprinkled with a large dose of patience!!).

Driving out of Soekarno-Hatta International Airport

Hire a driver? Won’t you just be adding to the road congestion?  

Yes, yes and yes. Unfortunately, car travel is the best way to get around Jakarta whilst you travel with your child (my tips on Indonesian transport). Jakarta’s public transport capabilities are not on the same prompt levels of London’s tubes or efficiencies of Tokyo’s rail network. Even though (as of writing) there are efforts being made to improve the bus and train networks, the transport system is unfortunately not on equal parity with the needs of the people. Hence as a tourist, your best option is to hire a driver whether it is via a driver hire service or Uber.

Otherwise, if you are in a big city which has an efficient and prompt public transport service, then, by all means, ensure you take the public transport option over any taxi/ driver option.

Hold on tight to your child!!

With a population of close to 10 Million people (source), walking through a shopping centre, market or park can be a daunting experience in Jakarta (especially if you have a lot of people concentrated in one area). This is not to imply that your child is at risk of being kidnapped, rather with the bustling nature of the city, it is quite easy for you to lose your child if you take your eye off them for even a second. Ensure you strap your child close, whether it is to your stroller, Baby Bjorn, or closely tight around your hand. Although realistically this is going to be impossible, so have a heightened sense of attention when you are with your child, as most children (just like my daughter was) tend to run off.

An important tip is to ensure you prepare your own child by conveying the extra importance of sticking close to you. Advise your child, that this is another country, not their local shopping centre which they frequent every week. Ensure you compel your child to realise the unfamiliarity of their surroundings and using that to compel your child to stick close to you so that their sense of familiarity is maintained (i.e. making them feel uneasy about being lost in a foreign city).

Take breaks, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

If an opportunity arises to relax at a restaurant for a quick bite to eat or toilet break, then ensure this is done. Regardless of how much you try to normalise being stuck in Jakarta traffic, it is inevitable that your child will become fussy being confined to a vehicle for hours.

Take time to take a break, even if it is for a quick bite to eat.

The art of patience, not war.

If there is ever a time to practice patience, it is when you are with your child in a bustling city. Parenting should never be about ‘the easy option’ (no disrespect). The easy option is allowing your child to be consumed by a screen and not invoking conversations with their parents, smacking your child to teach respect or belittling your child as “brats” if they become fussy due to your stress of travel. Your child may become less confident in themselves if you allow your trip to be consumed by the easy options (i.e. making your child think there is no alternative to entertainment apart from screens, smacking and belittlement leading to a lack of self-awareness and over-reliance on their parents to define right from wrong).

The key here is not only to prepare your child but to prepare yourself as a parent. Ensure you are prepared to take on the stress of big city travel, resist the urge to smack, belittle and rage against your potentially fussy child. You need to avoid your child having lasting memories of travel being a stressful journey.

Happy Traveling!!

Chris & Ariana



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