22 Essential Tips for Traveling With Kids
Traveling with kids? Avoid the tantrums and get yourself prepared with these 22 essential expert tips.
Take your time
The greatest thing you can take - whether at the airport, sightseeing or getting from A to B - is extra time. Kids love to explore and don't care for the time pressures of travel, so you're more likely to all retain your cool if you factor the faffing, gawping, stalling, toilet stops and tantrums into your timeframe.
Whether you're camping or staying in hotels, it pays to book ahead. Trying to retain the spontaneity of travel BC (Before Children) doesn't pay off if you arrive at your destination to find you can't bag a bed or pitch and have to hit the road again with tired, hungry kids melting down in the backseat.
Give them a camera
Giving children their own (robust, child-friendly) camera encourages them to observe their surroundings and focus on what interests them. You might be surprised at the results from their knee-high view.
Be prepared for the climate
It's simple advice, but children dressed comfortably for the weather and terrain will be happier in a new environment. With all the gear available, there's no excuse for dressing toddlers in ski-suits four sizes too big, forgetting their gloves, or leaving them barefoot on a beach where sea urchins lurk.
Thanks to kid-friendly apps, there's no need to cram a toy box into your hand luggage when travelling by plane. By all means take a book and a magic scribbler (crayons just get lost down the side of seats), but the most compact form of entertainment is a device loaded with apps and games.
Brand ‘em and track ‘em
If you’re worried about your child getting lost, you can brand them by writing your name and phone number on their arm. That way, if they are found, you can be contacted easily. You could also invest in a GPS tracking device. Attach it to your child’s wrist or bag, and follow along via the app.
Keep bugs at bay
Whether you're travelling to Mountain areas, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer are handbag essentials. A wipe of the cutlery in restaurants where you're unsure of hygiene, or a squirt of hand sanitizer when there's no washing facilities, can zap a few germs and prevent toddlers catching some common bugs.
Don't forget the medicine
Whether they're out of routine, jet-lagged, or eating less healthily, kids always seem to get ill on holiday. Dampen the impact of broken nights, frayed temperaments and fevers by packing an easy-to-swallow medicine. Other basic ingredients in your first aid kit should include antiseptic wipes, plasters, sting treatment, and a thermometer.
Don't let the children pack their own backpacks
My colleague once went on a trip with her eight-year-old, who complained incessantly that her backpack was too heavy. The reason why? She'd brought along her entire collection of fossils "just in case". Do let the children have input but remember to edit this heavily before departure.
Keep activities coming
If you're heading out on a long journey have a collection of toys to be handed out once an hour. Handheld puzzles, tiny colouring books, stickers, wordsearches and even tiny packs of Plasticine will pass the time on a long flight or car journey.
Have a number of family games ready in case of delay.
Punch-buggy and padiddle are popular, if violent, favourites for car journeys, whereas more cerebral ones like the Alphabet game are safer for air travel.
Resist the temptation to keep them going on a long journey by feeding them sweets. Pack a mixture of savoury snacks like cheese cubes, breadsticks, fruit and bagels - anything to avoid arriving in a strange city with children in the middle of a sugar rush.
Encourage them to keep a travel journal
A lot of it depends on where you’re going. Will the streets be even and paved or will there be potholes and off-roading involved? Will it be extremely humid or fairly cool? What is your child used to? An all-around good option is a light stroller. They’re easy to travel with and can be taken right up to the gate; they can be used as a temporary bed for afternoon naps; they’re light and breathable but can also be insulated with blankets and a rain cover; and they’re good on almost all terrain.
Remember the baby wipes
Even if all your children are long out of nappies, don't forget the baby wipes. They're useful for washing hands, cleaning toilet seats, and wiping down restaurant tables. In the same spirit, little bottles of hand cleanser can be a lifesaver in some countries, but check the travel regulations for liquids well in advance.
Engage and involve older children
The best way to avoid a soul-destroying sulk from your teenager is to involve them in the planning of the holiday and ask them for input on what they'd like to do. You might be surprised to hear it's not spending all day on the internet.
Hotel or vacation rental?
Hotel rooms and resorts can be a great deal of fun, but everyone sharing a room can prove distracting at bedtime, and extra costs can mount up quickly if there is a mini bar or room service. Many families instead turn to apartment-rental or swap services like Airbnb, One Fine Stay, or the children-oriented Kid & Coe. An extra room is always a plus so you don’t have to go to bed at the same time, and having your own kitchen for early risers or fussy eaters is great, too.
Baby carriage vs. stroller vs. sling
Get your kids drawing and listing things they've seen and interesting foods they've tried. Who knows, this might also encourage them to try different foods. Collecting postcards from places you visit and asking them to write themselves a message on the back means they can reach adulthood with a library of memories all their own.
Plan your flights
Try to plan your flights around bedtime. Evening flights can be more expensive, but if ease is what you’re after, a sleeping child is a blessing for everyone. If you have to make a connecting flight, be sure to leave a good amount of time – the last thing you need is a mad dash through an unfamiliar airport.
Is low-cost worth it?
While it might be tempting to make use of low-cost carriers now that you’re a family, bear in mind they often fly into remote airports, which could mean more travel. It might be worth ditching the low-cost airlines and paying a bit more for ease and peace of mind (not to mention the fact that the price difference, once you factor in the extra transport from the remote airport to the city center, is often minimal).
Explain the journey
“Are we there yet?”
If your child is new to flying and traveling in general, talk them through it. Let them know what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen, like when they have to fasten their seatbelts and why. Most children think flying is fun, so the best thing you can do is encourage it. It is an adventure after all!
Don’t overload your itinerary, but let everyone pick an activity.
Packing an itinerary with insane amounts of activity, or booking reservations at restaurants that won’t make you feel comfortable with children is a common pitfall. Try to do just one or two big excursion a day, and left time for pony rides, beach, or walk by the river. It’s also important to know your child’s personality. They aren’t going to be a different character on the road, or at least don’t count on it. Super calm kids, who are quite shy and reserved, aren’t going to become gregarious party animals just because you’re traveling. And vice versa — those crazy rambunctious kiddos are not going to suddenly become pillars of decorum at the Sistine Chapel.
Keep calm and enjoy yourself
If your child chooses the worst possible time to turn into a screaming beast from another dimension, take a deep breath and try to keep calm. Leave lots of time, pack well, and make the travel part of the journey. Just remember that you’ll be OK, and you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself!