Our travel writer Kate Gibbs gives her top 9 tips when it comes to travelling with children. With a bit of extra planning - you'll be on your way!
If folklore and (literal) wives’ tales had any sway, we wouldn’t travel at all with our little angels. The near disasters, the tears, the mid-flight dramas: these battle scars make for excellent edge-of-our-seats dinner party fodder. With a bit of know-how, the mere presence of small children needn’t put us off worldly adventures for the next twenty-odd years.
Plan to move slowly
If finding the second shoe, swabbing the sticky fingers, packing snacks and forcing sunscreen on bare arms gets you out the door 20 minutes late when you’re headed to the local beach, that trip to Fiji is going to take some military-style planning. Children slow things down. Give yourself more time to get to the airport, more time to check in, more time before connecting flights, and so on.
We’d all love to explore the world with children, show them inspiring places and give them all the experiences they’d love asap. But the reality is that travelling can be stressful. In the planning stages, stick to one or two destinations per trip - the less packing, unpacking, waiting around at the gruelling luggage carousel, the happier everyone will be. Keeping family holidays closer to home means less time flying and generally traipsing, and more watching little people play on the beach while you order a sneaky cocktail. The discerning travel site, Smith and Family, is a great resource for child-friendly hotels and family stays.
Trains, planes and hotel deals
If travelling by train, well-advised families with a couple of small children book out an entire compartment on trains, when possible. It gives the children space to play and parents space to breathe. When booking tickets, ask about family deals, it’s a bonus for the travel budget. Many hotels offer children clubs, but some involve plonking said children in front of the television for a few hours. Check it out first, ask how many children are included, what they do, what they eat (and be strict on what you don’t want them eating), and even hang around for a while if it makes you feel more comfortable.
Whether it’s two hours or 22 hours, most parents need a game plan for flights with baby or child. What food to feed them, how many bottles, pacifiers, extra clothes and nappies, and (importantly) super fast access to everything, is imperative. Place games, the tablet, the pacifier, the spare tee in very clear and easily accessible places to reduce rummaging time when baby is on the brink of tantrum. Snacks themselves (see next point) need some serious attention to detail.
Pack lots (and lots) of snacks
Snacks are a vital distraction on a plane, and many well-travelled parents will tell you to pack as many as possible to keep children of all ages content and sated. Pack low-sugar snacks, the last thing you want is a high-energy peak mid flight. Mandarins and bananas are sweet but without the sugar hit, and have their own very convenient packaging. Cherries, strawberries and blueberries work when stored in little hard cases. Squares or slices of cheese, carrot and vegetable sticks, avocado for smashing over rice crackers; it’s all good. Think twice about anything spillable, and go for those (low sugar) yoghurts in squeezable pouches in place of the peel-lid variety. Use snap-lock bags to keep snacks separate, and keep some for different times of the flight so there’s always something new and exciting to offer. Children are prone to dehydration, so carry additional water, and breastfeeding mums should drink even more water than usual on flights (and hot destinations) to ensure baby and mum don’t get dehydrated.
Load a tablet with favourite shows
It’s one thing to shun the tablet for long periods at home, but when you’re in the confined space of a plane, car or train, it’s a must for self preservation. Kids get bored flying, so stock a tablet with Peppa Pig, Mickey Mouse, the Octonauts, Frozen, all the favourites, and make sure devises are fully charged and ready to go. Have a portable charger on hand for those long-haul flights.
Use a baby carrier
Carting around a suitcase and carry on is tricky at the best of times. Add to that your child’s personal Dora the Explorer suitcase they insist on bringing, the actual child, all the additional toys you thought you’d need, and travelling with children is the nightmare you never wanted to have. A baby carrier gives parents free hands, while a tote bag can be slung over one shoulder. One suitcase per adult is more than enough to handle. Baby slings keep your hands free and fold away into no space at all (best for children under 3.5kg). Another great travel companion is the Babyzen Yoyo Stroller, which folds up and fits in the overhead locker on a plane.
Check the rules
Check the latest restrictions on hand luggage before travelling. Liquids, gels and creams often carry restrictions internationally, although exceptions are made for essential medicines and supplies for children under two. Decanter necessary milk and drinks and invest in no-spill cups for the journey.
Other people be damned, you’re doing the best you can. We’ve all witnessed the yelling toddler on the plane, the terrifying child whose ears just won’t pop and so makes the flight unbearable for everyone (parents: tug their ears and give toddlers something to suck on), the sleepless baby determined to mortify his parents for five hours straight by grizzling. And we’ve managed. It’s parents who have it toughest, and you’re trying your best. Don’t worry about everyone else. Babies cry, toddlers squirm, and nobody is worse off on that plane than the parents. Take a deep breathe, we’ll get there eventually, and we’ll all enjoy the destination even more for the journey it took to get the
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