Tips and advice to travel the Silk Road as a family. We made a good start below with tips and advice from well-traveled parents (thank you all!), but there is more to learn. Your questions and reports are welcome in the Silk Road families forum topic.
For now, the information on this page mostly concerns young children. We are looking for more information on Silk Road travel with older children and teenagers.
A lot of the information below concerns long-term family travel. If you have just a week or 2 to spend, where should you go?
In Central Asia, we recommend Kyrgyzstan. The country has yurtstays and millions of fluffy sheep, endless meadows to roam and other kids hanging out in the open air. You can learn to ride a horse, or how to build a yurt. Distances are not too big, roads are decent and hygiene and accommodation are fine.
In general, Kazakhstan is too big, flat and steppe-y to drag the whole family through, but if you are planning on visiting Almaty, you can get out of the city easily and find similar landscapes to Kyrgyzstan, minus the yurtstays.
Why not the other stans? Uzbekistan is all about history, art and architecture (yawn). Tajikistan has some terrible roads and foreigners tend to get sick in Pamir: it’s a bit too rough for most kids too enjoy on a short trip.
Turkmenistan could be an interesting destination in principle: kids love the Darwaza crater, you can meet people living in yurts and the Karakum desert is a giant sandbox. But it is expensive and very hot. Kyrgyzstan is perfect.
If you would like us to work out a tailor-made tour for your family, get in touch. We are happy to help.
We have included visa information for minors in the Silk Road visa guide if we have it. If we do not have anything yet, please let us know if you find out. Thank you!
It has been reported that for a Russian business visa, not all companies know how to apply for that with accompanying children.
See Silk Road health for health rules that are valid both for children and adults.
Following these simple rules will go a long way to keep your family healthy:
- Only eat at restaurants that you know are good (sometimes you will have to gamble).
- Better yet: cook yourself and cook or peel vegetables (because diseases are on the skin).
- Have some type of water filtration system in place.
- Don’t stay with people who look seriously ill.
- Wash hands after everything and keep nails short.
- Check for ticks. Bring tick removal tweezers.
- Get properly vaccinated.
- In deserts, plan your day to avoid the noon heat.
It pays to research your health insurance options about a year before you go; you might receive some compensation for all the vaccinations your family will get.
Diapers are available in all major towns, in supermarkets, mini-markets and pharmacies. There are no trash bins, though, so use reusable diapers, or burn the used nappies (that is what they do in your country as well anyway, don’t imagine they are being recycled).
Most families traveling the Silk Road have their own transport. We highly recommend you have yours too. Distances are often long, roads are not always great, and local transport is far from comfortable at times. Not to mention the time you will spend waiting, haggling, figuring out where to go.
You also cannot stop along the way whenever a backseat rebellion breaks out, as you would with your own car. Besides, traveling as a family, you will need more stuff than what fits in a backpack: toys, books and other entertainment, diapers, cooking equipment, …
A van is the easiest option for smaller children. Do not rule out cycling (with the necessary safety precautions). For instance, we have met a single mom and her son tandeming the Pamir Highway, and this Swiss family with 2 girls aged 7 and 11 cycled the Caucasus and Iran.
Small children until the age of 3 (but possibly much higher) will go for free in almost any hotel. The same goes for any local transport.
You will be invited by locals to stay over in their house often: these are good opportunities for kids to feel more at home and get to talk to others. Hostels also provide a good opportunity to practice languages and talk to someone else than your (tired) parents.
Home-schooling your children may or may not be allowed in the country you live in: check the rules and try to comply. The parents we have polled so far have often felt compelled to break them, though.
The Tehran International School is inexpensive and happy to accept your children for a short duration. Great for them to meet other children, while the parents can finally do what parents do when the kids are safely out of the house.
Things kids like
Of course, children are different, they don’t all like the same things. We can generalise a bit, though, by saying little children are not very interested in old buildings and history. Majestic landscapes also do not have the same attraction on children as they do on adults. Children prefer the little things, like building a dam in a small stream, or tumbling off sand dunes.
Cities in Central Asia can be quite demoralising for kids: a lot of scary traffic, long walks, boring museums. Nature is much more fun: camels, lizards, playing with other children in the village.
Some more suggestions from our readers:
- Having an ice cream with mum, and comparing them between countries.
- Running everywhere, great in the desert areas, scary in big cities.
- Talking some English with other travellers in hostels, being polite to people in the local languages, and social exchanges everywhere.
- Being with other kids, any language: they always find games.
- Participating in everyday tasks
- Watching animals, insects, and cattle.
- Asking a million why-questions
Joost had the following to say:
Animals. In Kazakhstan, we saw camels, squirrels and snakes and caught tortoises and lizards. Catch fish, shrimp and lobsters in the Caspian Sea. Climb rocks and dunes.
Unfortunately, both of our kids don’t like hiking. But when you can climb ship wrecks in Moynaq or city walls and towers in Khiva, that’s fun. Rusty ferris wheels in Uzbekistan and marble and gold ones in Turkmenistan are great.
Discovering new rooms in hotels is fun, but not more fun than sleeping together in the van, talking about the day’s experiences with your sibling.
Receiving winter hats as a present in 35 degree Bukhara and wearing them all day long. Riding donkeys and catching beetles in the Uzbek countryside at Katta Langar. Children don’t care for the Registan for more than 5 minutes, but they love to catch toads once night falls in Samarkand. The only cultural attraction they were sincerely interested in in Uzbekistan was the petroglyphs of Sarmysh (editor’s note: bring some paper and pencils – you can make cool relief drawings this way).
The crater of Derweze was something that really impressed our children. It appeared in drawings and our daughter mentioned it long after. Our daughter does not talk about the trip often, but our son does. We did not know how much he would remember, being only 4 years old, but these experiences have shaped his life.
Indoor entertainment centres like in Ashgabat are appreciated, as are the occasional playgrounds, but certainly not more than swimming, eating ice cream or simply chasing butterflies in Iran. Water, sand and rocks are more fun than swings and seesaws!
Things kids don’t like
Museums: they never have anything good for children. Long walks in cities are also really dull. Cities in general are not so much fun because of all the traffic.
In post-Soviet countries, playgrounds can be found in the center of a block of housing estates. The safety of the playground usually reflect the state of the economy of the country.
In Uzbekistan, every town of some size has a super-fun entertainment park with kept-up Soviet-era rides and 7D cinemas.
Aquaparks are great fun too: they exist in many cities in Kazakhstan. There are plenty of lakes and rivers you can dip in as well, though. Almaty has a zoo, Tashkent has a puppet theatre, while Tbilisi has a mime show.
Shopping malls in more advanced economies tend to have extremely noisy arcades, as well as the occasional trampoline park!
Bazaars are filled to the rafters with plastic toys from China, but these toys tend to break very soon. Quality toys are hard to find, so bring your own. In Uzbekistan some handmade crafts are interesting and not expensive.
Exchanges with locals
Most families traveling the Silk Road tend to be populated with blond children, who receive an inordinate amount of attention.
Pictures, squeezes, hugs, kisses and candy, it’s pretty much non-stop, and no one is asking in advance. It’s wonderful, as everyone wants to have a chat with you, invite you, et cetera, but it can also get a bit much at times. Especially in Iran.
So far, no reports on children that look closer to the local standard, or kids that are a bit older.