Travelling with children? Here are some tips

Do you travel with your children? It’s a wonderful thing to be able to show your children the world and enjoy travel experiences together. There is a but though – it can be tough and often stressful. There are a lot of factors at play when you travel and often things happen that are out of your control.

My approach to this over the years has been going prepared, trying to think about some of the what ifs, but ultimately learning to flex.

There are some things you can do when travelling with children to make life a little easier. I’m going to share some of those below. Think of them as hacks to enjoy a stress-free journey – as much as that is possible of course.

Your mode of travel can throw up different challenges when travelling with children. There will be different things to consider depending on whether you are travelling by plane, train, boat or car. Some trips may involve a combination of these. When we travelled to Canada with our children we had long flights both ways but then also lots of driving to consider.

For some children, experiencing different modes of transport for the first time can be fun and exciting, whereas others may find it stressful and boring. 

Tips for travelling by plane: 

  1. Pack sweets 

Chewing or sucking on a sweet can help children to balance the change in atmospheric pressure and alleviate the symptoms of pressure changes when descending. This can help little ones who are affected by the changes and complain about ear, sinus or head pain.  Sweets and lollipops can also be a wonderful distraction during a stressful situation. Do not travel without them!

  1. Timing

Early departures and late arrivals can play havoc with a child’s sleep pattern. Given that sleep deprivation can often be a cause of tension, it is always best to choose convenient flight times. As a general rule, you are less likely to be delayed when taking a morning departure. Jet lag can also be a factor when travelling East so factor this in when planning long-haul flights too. 

  1. Fast track 

Any families with bad experiences of waiting in queues with young children should consider paying extra for ‘fast track’ which allows you to whisk through airport security with ease. A lot of the time it won’t be a large additional amount and can be invaluable when it comes to a smooth journey through a busy airport. We have done this in the past and it was well worth it as one of our children gets very anxious and frustrated in long queues.

  1. Stay comfortable

Parents should remember that the cabin environment often feels quite cold when airborne. This is especially true in the post pandemic world where the air filtration systems are constantly blowing fresh air into the cabin. It is therefore sensible to wear several thin layers when on-board which you can quickly adjust. Consider taking a blow up pillow too to help children catch up on much needed sleep. 

flying with kids
  1. Plane position 

Families picking their seats on the plane should consider where would be best for their children.  Always ensure you sit together even if this means paying extra. Avoid sitting near the loo if possible too. Aside from aircraft toilets being very noisy, the constant queues or back and forth of passengers could cause disturbance to a sleeping child. Also make sure to keep little ones away from aisle seats to further avoid nap disturbances. Children that are susceptible to travel sickness should avoid sitting at the rear of an aircraft – choose a seat near the centre of plane’s wings or closer to the nose (front) of the aircraft where the ride is typically more stable.

  1. Make the most of in flight entertainment 

Most long-haul aircraft now offer every passenger on-board thousands of inflight entertainment channels. Whilst this is greatly appreciated by young and old, be aware that the hardware that  drives this system often resides in boxes underneath window and aisle seats. This may restrict  legroom for adults in the group and impede under seat storage space. Always carry noise cancelling headsets too as these can also help a child to sleep when the inflight entertainment is switched off. 

Another tip is to take a back up. On our last long haul flight the entertainment systems in 10 rows of the plane (including ours) didn’t work for the entire flight! It was so disappointing as the children had worked out what they wanted to watch. Make sure your devices are charged up and there are some things downloaded just in case.

7. Busy bags

Airports can be boring places if you have to wait around long. When our children were younger I used to pack them each a ‘busy bag‘ which basically consisted of a series of things to distract and entertain them should we need it. They generally included: their favourite toy; some of their favourite snacks; some new snacks; a game; a fidget toy; a book; a small ‘gift’ wrapped up – whipping this out as a meltdown starts is a gamechanger!

Tips for travelling by car

  1. Have a list of stops

If you are travelling a long way by car with children, it’s a good idea to have a list of potential stop offs. One good tip is to use Google Maps to locate play parks and green spaces along you route, if these have public toilets, so much the better. This means that your road trip ultimately includes a huge park tour, which children will love.

2. Take plenty of snacks

Snacks are a must for any road trip. If you are one of those parents who doesn’t allow children to eat in the car, no doubt you are rolling your eyes at me now. As soon as you start driving any significant distance with children in the car things change pretty quickly. If you are expecting children to road trip with you, you need to flex on the drinking and eating in the car.

3. Rubbish bags are a must

Off the back of the point above, you need to take some small bags that can be used as rubbish bags in the car with you. There is nothing worse than sitting in discarded packets and debris. Keep your surroundings clean and you will enjoy the trip all the more.

4. Old school games

Old school games like eye spy can be great for road trips. Get everyone joining in and you can easily pass 45 mins minutes. You can also make up games where each person has to spot 20 (or more) of something. Car colour is a good one. Just allocate everyone a different colour and the first person to spot 20 cars in their colour is the winner.

5. Have devices on hand

My tip would be to have their devices on hand but don’t start off with these. Encourage children to look out of the windows and enjoy the scenery – after all, on a road trip the drive is part of the experience. Bring the devices out when you are stuck in traffic and really need a distraction.

Tips for travelling by train: 

  1. Direction of travel

When booking train tickets, some train operators will allow you to reserve seats with certain criteria such as forward/rear facing, seats with power, seats with fixed tables, quiet carriages or ones that are near to the buffet car. It is always a good idea to select seats facing the direction of travel as this will help any children who tend to fall victim to travel sickness. Seats that surround a large fixed table are always a good idea for families too.

  1. Be prepared

Many trains are equipped with plenty of power / charging points. Make sure to pack any device chargers in an easy-to-grab area for use when needed on long train journeys. Hand sanitiser an and toilet roll are always a good idea for train journeys too as the bathrooms often run out of these items during busy periods. Always ensure you have enough food and drink too as aisles can sometimes get blocked during peak-travel periods thereby preventing access to the buffet car.

  1. Pack surprises

Kids on long journeys can get bored very easily, even with all of their favourite toys and games. This is why it is important to pack a new, exciting toy. Giving them something new to unpack can keep them busy and entertained for hours. 

Tips for travelling by boat:  

travelling by boat
  1. Time your travel well

When booking travel by ferry, consider the time you are travelling in order to suit your family. Booking an overnight ferry and booking a cabin can be the best idea for parents hoping their children will sleep throughout the journey. Most car ferry cabins will have a private bathroom too. 

  1. Explore 

Cabin space can be small, especially for families with lively little ones. Take the time to explore the ship and the many child friendly facilities that can usually be found on-board. On longer ferry journeys it is not uncommon to find soft play areas, cinemas and amusement arcades. The facilities on cruise ships will be far more elaborate and some ships will even have water slides, zip lines, bumper cars and crazy golf. Many cruise lines will also have ‘Kids Clubs’ onboard such as Oceania Cruises’ Alaska Explorer Youth Program.    

  1. Pack snacks 

Keep kids happy onboard by making sure to pack plenty of snacks. For children who tend to get travel or sea sickness, consider packing foods which are said to alleviate sickness symptoms like crackers, apples and bananas. It is always a good idea to pack travel sickness medication for unexpected bad weather. Brands like Sugeron or Kwells can be purchased from most good pharmacies.

4.  Get outside

If the crossing is not rough and you can get outside, it’s worth taking the children. A blast of fresh air can de-fuse a fractious child and grumpy, stressed out parent. Obviously be mindful of safety whilst doing this!

Happy travels!

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