Travelling with children needn’t be a nightmare. Plan well and you and your family will have an A C E time, whether you are holidaying in the UK or abroad. Here is my A-Z of Top Tips for any first time family traveller.
A – Airports
There are a number of extremely helpful and free services you can take advantage of to make your time at the airport more bearable.
Check-in online. This saves queuing at the check-in desks and means you can (hopefully) whizz through the baggage drop.
Check your airlines restrictions on hand luggage before you fly – in particular in relation to liquids, especially when travelling with a baby. Currently you are not to carry over 100ml of liquid (per any one item) although exceptions are sometimes made with regard to younger children.
Consider paying extra for ‘speedy boarding’ to prevent more queuing with children. Some airlines let passengers with children board first but do check.
Most airports provide an assistance service which can be a god send if you are travelling as a single parent with more than one child. You can arrange to be met by an airport representative and escorted right up to the gate. This service must be booked in advance.
B – Budget
Don’t think you have to spend lots of money to have a great time. Stick to your budget and don’t feel forced to overspend. A holiday in itself is exciting for children and will be more than enough to keep them happy.
C – Camping
Self-catering holidays on camp and caravan sites are often the best option when it comes to holidaying with children. Not only are they less expensive, they are also renowned for being the most child friendly. Plus it’s exciting for children to stay in a tent or a caravan! Lots of places have on site entertainment as well as restaurants and bars. And camping needn’t be restricted to the UK either.
D – Driving
Driving long distances needn’t be stressful. Plan to cover the longest routes at night, once the kids have been fed, bathed and put into their pyjamas. Then they can sleep for the majority of the distance and you won’t have to worry too much about toilet stops and leg stretching.
If you are driving during the day, make sure you do so in daylight so that the children can entertain themselves in the car.
Make the journey part of the holiday, not just a means of getting from A to B. Plan stops for meals and so that your children can have a run around and burn some energy! Remember that it’s more than likely you’ll need to make impromptu toilet stops too.
Always have a complete change of clothes for each child easily accessible in the car in case of spillages or if anyone is travel sick.
E – Entertainment
Pack toys, books, snacks and a portable DVD player if you have one. New toys (which needn’t be expensive) are a good idea for the novelty value – distribute them at different times during long journeys, not all at once. Invest in chair pockets to store the books and toys, or tie toys to the car seat so that they can be easily picked up when dropped. Story tapes and children’s music for the CD player can be a good idea – if you don’t mind listening to Madame Gazelle from Peppa Pig singing the Bing Bong Song over and over again!
Bribes are also useful – both edible and non-edible ones! Keep some treats aside for when you really need them.
F – Food
If embarking on a long car or train journey, it’s definitely worth over packing on the snack front. Food carts on the train are notoriously expensive and don’t sell particularly healthy foods, and it’s not always convenient to stop off on the motorway.
Sampling the local cuisine (and wine!) may be one of the best bits of travelling for grown-ups, but most kids will disagree. Bring some fail safes with you – cereal bars, fruit pouches, even tins of baked beans! – so that they are happy and well fed too.
If you are bottle-feeding your baby and are considering taking Steribottles abroad with you (so that you don’t have to sterilise your normal bottles) try them out at home first to make sure your baby will happily drink from them.
G – Games
We all remember playing “I spy” on long car journeys when we were growing up. Well now “I spy” has had a makeover for the 21st Century! Make a check list of things for your children to look out for and offer prizes for the first child to tick off everything on the list! Hand held games consoles are also very convenient.
H – Hotels
Think about how you want to spend your evenings and book accommodation and childcare accordingly. Make sure you investigate thoroughly – a hotel that is described as being ‘child friendly’ may only mean that children are allowed to stay there! Book adjoining rooms unless you and your partner want to spend your evenings sat in the dark, whispering to each other or going to bed at the same time as the children!
Although holidays are much more relaxed and child friendly hotels will allow children into their bars and restaurants, if you want to have a child free night out then look into the hotel’s babysitting services.
An alternative to staying in a hotel would be camping, caravanning or staying in a self-catering apartment.
I – Insurance
If you are travelling within Europe, make sure you have your European Health Insurance Card packed. This entitles you to free emergency medical assistance and you can apply for a free card online. You will need additional travel insurance to cover anything else - make sure you take your policy documentation with you.
J – Journeys
Whether you are driving, flying, training or walking, plan ahead, research your routes, take snacks and entertainment and enjoy yourselves.
K – Kids Clubs
Many travel companies and holiday parks have their own kids clubs, which provide craft sessions and activities for children up to around eleven years old.
L – Lightweight buggy
A lightweight buggy is extremely useful on holiday for more than one reason. Firstly a cheap fold up stroller is easy to transport (be it by plane or by car) and takes up much less room than the larger travel systems. Even if your child is beginning to grow out of his or her buggy they can still be invaluable on holiday and can be used to nap or rest in during the day and early evening when you are out and about.
M – Medicine (for children and yourselves)
Always pack a first aid kit in case of emergencies. Although a shop will always be nearby, taking supplies with you means you won’t have to go out searching for items, and can save lots of time when there is a language barrier to contend with!
A few suggestions of things to take are:
Indigestion and heartburn remedies
Calamine lotion and antihistamine cream for burns and stings
Travel sickness medication for car, ferry and train journeys
Calpol can also be taken on flights to help with earaches during take-off and landing. Sucking on boiled sweets or a bottle is also known to help. Flying is dehydrating so make sure your children drink regularly to prevent headaches.
N – Nappies
Don’t think you need to pack enough nappies for your whole trip when going abroad! There is no point wasting your baggage allowance when most foreign countries will still sell the same named brands as you can get in the UK. However it is advisable to check what they are called in the country you are visiting – for instance Pampers are sometimes known as Dodots or Dodotis in Spain. Also, make a note of your child’s weight in kilograms as they don’t use imperial measurements in Europe.
O – Organisation
Organisation really is the key to a relaxed and happy holiday. Research, pre-book, plan ahead. You don’t have to create a strict itinerary and stick to it all week but it is a good idea to see what baby/child friendly places/activities are nearby and book them if you can. Booking in advance is often cheaper, plus be sure to research 2 for 1 deals on popular tourist attractions.
P – Passport
Apply for your child's passport as far in advance as possible to avoid last minute panics. Take advantage of the Post Office's Check & Send Service - for an extra £8.17 on top of your normal passport fees they will ensure your application is correct and that your photograph is acceptable and the wait time for your passport is reduced by a week.
Q – Queue
Queuing is a very British thing to do, so this particularly applies to holidays within the UK. Be prepared for lots of waiting around – at airports, at theme parks, in traffic. Plan ahead and take entertainment and food as you think necessary.
R – Routine
Be flexible. Accept that timings are going to change. It's very difficult to stick to your usual routine when you're away - especially when you're abroad. Time differences will disrupt nap times and dinner (and subsequently bed time) is going to be delayed as restaurants don’t open until later. Again, plan ahead, and relax. It's not the end of the world. Things will go back to normal once you're back home.
S – Sun protection
This is a fairly obvious one but is probably one of the most important. Remember sun protection. Pack suncream, aftersun, sunglasses, sun hats and beach tents/umbrellas. Also pack aftersun in case it’s needed. Keep it in the fridge so that it’s nice and cold and soothing if it needs to be applied to anyone.
T – Time
Leave yourself plenty of time to do everything and get everywhere. Things take twice as long with children in tow. And even longer when you are somewhere unfamiliar!
U – Umbrellas!
Pack for all weather types. Just because you are going to Cornwall in July, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is going to be a heat wave. Similarly, wherever you are, the evenings can get chilly. Make sure you take long trousers and cardigans just in case. Although weather forecasts are notoriously unreliable, check them out before you travel for a rough idea of what lies in store.
V – Vaccinations
Ensure that all your children’s vaccinations are up to date before travelling and check whether any additional jabs are recommended if you are visiting a foreign country.
W – World Wide Web
The internet is a fantastic tool and it’s a great idea to use it wisely before you go on holiday. Research holiday destinations and the cheapest travel deal, look at reviews of places and products, and print money off vouchers for restaurants and tourist attractions you may visit.
X – EXpeditions and EXcursions
Every travel agent, holiday rep and hotel concierge will be more than happy to suggest family friendly expeditions and excursions. If you have access to the internet before you book then check out reviews from other parents and research the best offers.
Y – You Time!
Remember – it’s your holiday as well. Make time for yourself.
Z – Zzzzzzzz
Make sure everyone gets enough sleep so that every day is enjoyable. Get to bed early the night before you travel and if the kids have an especially late night while you’re away, let them sleep in the next day if they want to.
So there you have it. 26 tips for an enjoyable family break. Enjoy your holidays, lovely readers xoxox