Travelling can be stressful at the best of times but when you take your children on holiday with you that pressure can be magnified tenfold. No matter what your mode of transport is – plane, train or car – keeping the kids happy while you concentrate on getting from A to B with kids consists of much more than simply sticking a movie on the iPad and letting them get on with it or fending off the endless cries of “are we nearly there yet?”.
So, we’ve rounded up the 10 most helpful tips for travelling with children to ensure the whole family can enjoy your holiday from the moment that you close your front door.
1. Always book ahead
Travelling without an itinerary may have been fun when you were Interrailing around Europe in your gap year but if you try to do it with a young family you are courting disaster. It doesn’t matter whether you’re camping in France or staying in hotels in the US, you should always have all of your stopovers covered. If you turn up in a town late at night to find all the hotel rooms booked or the only campsite full, how are you going to cope with tired, fractious and hungry children as you hit the road again?
2. Check their passports
Youngsters’ passports are only valid for five years. When did you last check your children’s. Make sure they are still valid months ahead of your summer holiday to give you time to get replacements from the Passport Office.
3. Leave extra time
Always build in extra time with children than compared with travelling alone or as a couple. Children love to explore, need the toilet more often and can quickly get stressed and confused if their parents are clearly anxious and in a rush. This starts before you fly – allow at least an extra hour when travelling to the airport to make sure you’ve built in enough leeway for the youngsters’ pit stops.
You might be able to survive with a couple of T-shirts and a pair of shorts when you step off the plane but your children are going to need a lot more. Keeping packing to a minimum is essential to reduce stress and excess baggage charges but travelling with youngsters requires extra care when loading up suitcases. Cut down your kids’ clothes to mix and match outfits and try to ensure that you include items that they can use for more than one purpose. Make sure that you take clothes that are easy to wash and don’t need ironing so that you can recycle the kids’ outfits when you’re away. Pack a tube of travel wash.
5. When you get there, use public transport as much as possible
Children love large things that move – particularly trains and buses. You can increase their enjoyment of your visit while at the same time reducing your stress levels by using public transport when you’re away. Children love memorising the names of stations and stops and then repeating them back in the right order and travelling by train or bus is also an excellent way to introduce them to different cultures.
6. Take medicine
One bug can ruin an entire holiday so make sure you pack some children’s medicine to soothe tempers and cool fevers at night. There are plenty of children’s variants of the main over-the-counter remedies and make sure you also include plasters, antiseptic wipes, handwash, insect repellent and a thermometer.
7. Get a child locator
Your child is not a Labrador so don’t trail round the sights with them on a lead. Instead, get a locator which straps onto a belt or other item of clothing while you hang on to the transmitter. If they stray too far away you will be able to sound an alarm and locate them quickly.
8. Pack the tablet
You might not want them spending hours on the iPad when they’re at home but packing it for the holiday and making sure it’s got their favourite apps and games on it is a must. You can then cope with any unexpected downtime and head off the potential for boredom.
9. Steer clear of sugar
A giant bag of sweets might seem like a good idea for a long journey but raising your children’s blood sugar levels is a surefire way to increase everybody’s stress. Instead make sure there are plenty of healthy savoury snacks and fruit to keep them happy.
10. Encourage them to keep a diary
Keep their interest levels up by encouraging them to write a journal of your holiday, keeping it updated every day that you are away. If they have a large enough scrapbook for this, they can collect postcards and other reminders of the trip alongside their memories.