A lot of people would rather stick bamboo under their fingernails than travel with children, but I enjoy travelling with my kids. It’s certainly different to travelling alone (and there are certainly less margaritas involved) but it can be great fun.
So, this week, here are my top 20 tips for travelling with kids…
1. Go with the right mindset. Travelling with children is certainly harder than travelling alone, but if you think positive and take your sense of humour, it is easier than you think. Make it fun and everything else will fall into place.
2. Think about the best time to go. Young babies are usually good travellers, while children over two can be distracted with inflight entertainment. Between six months and two years is probably the hardest age, although teenagers unimpressed about travelling with their parents can present their own challenges!
3. Plan a realistic itinerary and consider travelling off-peak to avoid crowds. Accept that children will not tolerate long-winded guided tours or endless museums. It is important not to devalue the things that children find exciting or always try to turn their attention to what you think is important – let them experience it in their own way.
4. Do not leave home without travel insurance. This applies to everyone but is doubly important with children, who are more prone to accidents and illnesses.
5. Find out about the medical facilities and health standards in your chosen destination and seek advice about vaccinations and medications well in advance. Some travel medicines are not suitable for children.
6. Without taking the fun out of your holiday, keep children in routine as much as possible, particularly concerning meal times and bed times. This is the only way for children to set their body clock and helps with overcoming jetlag.
7. Choose your airline carefully, by researching what they offer for children. Look for airlines that feed children first, have plenty of inflight entertainment, offer good activity packs and help out with things such as loan strollers in airports.
8. Ensure you are pre-seated. Make sure you have a confirmed bassinet booking for infants. Airlines say strapping an approved car seat onto the airline seat is the safest way for a child to travel.
9. Hungry tummies are the enemy of peaceful travelling. Carry a good supply of snacks and keep children hydrated with plenty of drinks. A drink or something to suck on helps relieve ear pressure during take off and landing.
10. Explain everything. Remember that children are venturing into the unknown. Tell them where you are going, what you are going to do when you get there and where you are going to stay. If you are visiting relatives or friends, show the children photos before you arrive.
11. Engage your children in the journey. Encourage kids to keep a diary, create a scrapbook, take some photos of their own or download relevant podcasts or music onto their MP3 player before they leave home. Go to a restaurant to try the cuisine of the destination before you leave home, pin up a map of your route or perhaps try teaching the kids a few words of the local language.
12. Plan ahead for accommodation, to ensure you can get an apartment, interconnecting rooms or other accommodation with plenty of space. Hotels that are a bit of town but on a public transport route are often a cheaper alternative.
13. Self contained accommodation helps keep meal costs down and shopping for ingredients in local markets can be great fun. For meals out, markets and street stalls with freshly cooked food and restaurants that offer cheaper prices for early sittings are good options.
14. Double check car hire or transfer arrangements if you have children needing car seats. Be specific about the ages and sizes of your children. And when hiring a car, satellite navigation can be a relationship saver!
15. Provide some constancy, whether it is a favourite blanket or teddy, a night light or your pram from home. A friend of mine took a pop-up play tent for her baby daughter to sleep in, so she had the same sleeping environment wherever they went.
16. Pack a couple of small presents, such as new books or toys, for emergencies or to reward good behaviour.
17. Carry a good medical kit, including bandaids, a thermometer, antiseptic, rehydration sachets and plenty of children’s paracetamol. Keep children away from animals, especially dogs and monkeys, when travelling.
18. Travel as lightly as possible. There is lots of walking in airports and you can end up carrying both bags and children while negotiating lifts and escalators. Whatever the age of your children, one thing worth carrying is a large pack of wet wipes.
19. Give kids a chance to recover at both ends of the journey. A couple of quiet days and time to run around in a park will pay dividends later.
20. If things are not going well, re-read tip number one.
Copyright Jane E. Fraser