Summer is coming:
A survival guide to travelling with children.
Summer is coming and so are the school holidays. A special time for bonding, bickering, daily ice creams and if we’re lucky, quality time together on a family holiday.
The dream and the reality of travelling with children
Family holidays are precious. There’s a lot of pressure for them to be perfect because of the months of dreaming and planning that go into them. We spend hours shopping around for the best places to stay and drooling over the Airbnb instagram feed. Or scouring Trip Advisor and imagining what a much better, more relaxed person (and parent) we’ll be after a few days by the pool. Perhaps that’s just me?
The reality of travelling with young children can be a little more…challenging. So whether you’re going by car, boat, train or plane, you’re going to need back-up. That means packing entertainment, activities and an endless supply of snacks. Gorgeous sun-dresses and swimsuits will have to make-way for breadsticks and sticker books. Only then do you stand a chance of returning a happy, relaxed family rather than one on the brink of divorce.
Making it easier
Ok, so it’s not always that bad, but it is common for parents to return from family holidays more exhausted than when they left. Travelling with children can be stressful and meeting everyone’s needs without your home comforts is a challenge.
We’ve gathered tips and advice for travelling with children from some well-travelled parents and created a basic survival guide. Try some of their suggestions and perhaps you’ll get the relaxing family holiday you would like. And your kids will have a brilliant time too.
Stage one: Planning your perfect family holiday
Pick your destination carefully.
Consider doing yourself a favour by choosing the child-friendly apartment or hotel over that super trendy Airbnb pad you’ve been lusting after. You can relax instead of spending your well-earned hols worrying about stuff getting broken or your child falling down that amazing designer staircase. And they can splash about in the kiddy pool and drip ice cream on all the wipe-clean surfaces. Win, win.
Check and double-check routes and distances.
Sounds obvious, but it’s really easy to make a mistake from just looking at a map. Discovering the airport is actually 5 hours rather than 5 minutes from your hotel or getting lost with tired, screaming children in the back of the car should be avoided. Ask your host or hotel as local knowledge is always best.
Check the season.
It’s easy to assume summer will be the same everywhere, but seasons and weather conditions vary wildly in different parts of the world. Beautiful beaches in April might be dangerous no-go areas due to Spring tides in August. Make sure you know what you’re heading into and therefore whether it’s suitable and what’s appropriate to pack.
Check baggage allowances.
Carefully and give the children their own luggage. If they are old enough to have a seat on the plane they’ll usually get a cabin luggage allowance. They’ll enjoy having their own bag and it can be really handy for all those extra toys and snacks.
Check airline small print.
If you’re travelling by plane with a baby or young child read your airline’s small print on extra luggage allowances. Most let you take two extra items of baby equipment like a buggy or car seat. Some also allow additional hand luggage for a change bag, but it varies depending on who you’re flying with. Don’t forget to also check the latest Government policy on taking baby milk through security so you can plan feeding.
Ask about baby equipment.
If you can, book somewhere with high chairs and travel cots so you don’t have to take them yourself. Check when you book in case you have to request or reserve these in advance.
Travel at night.
A lot of parents find this works even if their children are bad sleepers. So if you can book night flights or ferry crossings give it a try. Engine noise and vibration can be a great sedative. If your little ones are fed, watered and in their pjs with their favourite snuggling things they will probably snooze through large chunks of the journey.
Don’t plan to do too much.
Remember you’re going to have a break. You may have back-packed around the world in your twenties, but it’s a whole different ball game with small people in tow. There’s no shame in just hanging out, playing with sand and splashing in the pool. It will make your children giddy with joy and keep them entertained for hours.
Don’t be afraid to break routines or try new things.
Ok, I know I just said to take it easy – but don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Kids are adaptable. Rather than just staying in your hotel or complex, plan a few outings to nearby interesting places. Introduce them to all the different smells, sounds and colours. Let them stay up late so you can have dinner out as a family. They’ll find it fascinating.
Be informed, stay safe.
Almost all parenting is about making informed decisions and holidays are no exception. Read-up on where you’re going and make sure you understand local customs and political issues. Likewise, check if there are any scary diseases, man-eating spiders or crazy weather conditions. Everywhere has it’s problems so don’t be put off – unless it’s the man-eating spiders or something similarly horrendous. They’re a deal-breaker.
Check if there’s a play area in the airport.
Another thing to look out for is a play area at your airport. Lots have them these days but they’re not always obvious. So handy for all that waiting around.
Take care in the sun.
Pack ALL the suncream and UV clothes you own and make sure you have any essential medications to hand (you may need them to throw at man-eating spiders!) Read our hot-weather blog for more tips on staying cool.
Bring games and toys (but no small pieces.)
There may be days when the weather forces you inside and your kids need entertaining. Buy a few, small toys just for the holiday and wrap them up. Or make a little ‘travel bag’, party bag style as entertainment for the journey and activities for inside days. See our ‘Travel Essentials’ list below for more ideas.
Consider taking a nanny.
Believe it or not you can hire a holiday nanny. Or if you already have or are considering hiring a nanny, see if they would like to travel with you and write it into their contract. There may be kids clubs or a créche where you are staying, but you’ll know your nanny’s care and qualifications inside out. Worth thinking about.
Stage two: Essential items for travelling with children
Once you’ve planned and booked the perfect holiday and are looking forward to the big day here’s a few ideas for the journey.
- ipads or devices – I know we all want to limit our children’s screen time, but if there’s ever a time for them to zone-out to Peppa Pig this is it. They probably won’t be watching much TV on holiday and it will keep them occupied and in their seat. Download some fav programmes, free learning apps and games that don’t need wifi, like Cbeebies Playtime.
- Earphones – the ones on planes can be a bit rubbish. Get some children’s ones that have volume limits so they can’t turn them up too loud.
- Colouring pens and paper – small pens/pencils that pack away easily. And colouring books that don’t take up much room.
- Water pen colouring – rather than taking lots of pens, try water pen colouring. Just remember to fill the pens after security if you’re flying.
- Maybe invest in some song and story CDs or download podcasts. There are some brilliant ones out there. I highly recommend the Julia Donaldson collection, it’s got us through many long car journeys.
- Snacks. ALL the snacks.
- Cards and card games. They are easy to pack and fun to play as a family.
- Practice your eye spy. Still a winner for long car journeys, as well as looking at cloud shapes and counting cars of different colours.
- Stickers and sticker books – hours of non-mess fun.
- Likewise, books and magazines are fun to choose at the airport, easy to pack and full of entertainment.
- Post-its – for drawing, writing, sticking on seats and faces. Fun and easy to clean up.
- More snacks. Because you can never have enough.
- Something to drink or suck if you’re flying. Yes a gin and tonic is good, but we actually meant for the little ones. It helps to release that painful pressure in the ears at take-off and landing. Water or milk in a bottle, a dummy – whatever is age appropriate.
- Travel sickness and accident kit. If your children get car sick there’s a chance they will get other kinds of travel sick too. Try travel sickness tablets if they’re old enough. Leave a decent gap between eating and travelling. Have windows open and if they’re older don’t let them read as that makes it worse.
- A change of clothes for everyone (see above) in case of accidents, spills, vomiting etc.
Finally, relax and have fun
It’s not easy finding the perfect holiday. And whilst there will always be an element of the ‘unknown’ when travelling abroad, especially with children, hopefully these tips will help. Like most of parenting, you can only do your best and the rest is in the lap of the gods (aka your children). And above all, try to relax and enjoy your break, no doubt you’ve earned it!
Here is some extra homework, check out our brilliant Pinterest Board on travelling with children.
Wishing you all safe travels and happy holidays.
The Happy Nest Team