21 Aug 2018
Holidays are meant to be a time to get away, relax, put your feet up and just focus on yourself. Or, for the more adventurous, a time to explore the big wide world and try some new things. But once you throw children into the mix, that ‘free as a bird’ feeling you get on holiday tends to fly away.
To make sure you still get to enjoy your next trip with the kids in tow, we’ve pulled together our top tips for travelling with young children.
Strategy over Spontaneity
Even if making lists or sticking to an itinerary is not really your thing, when travelling with kids you can’t just rely on your ‘happy wanderer’ instincts. Children are not known for being patient, especially when they’re young. If you’re well organised, with most of your travel plans already taken care of before you leave, it will be a lot easier to manage those unexpected situations.
First and foremost, book your accommodation before you leave. There’s nothing worse than a tired child crying in your ear as you drive around trying to find a room that can accommodate the whole family.
Work out how you’re travelling between locations before you leave. Do you and your children need a ticket for public transport? If you’re catching a cab, will there be a car seat available? If you’re driving, do you know where you can park at your destination?
Use Google Maps to locate public toilets, restaurants, service stations or other handy places where you can call in for a toilet break ahead of time. If you have toddlers who are only recently toilet trained, pack some pull ups just in case of accidents.
Always carry a variety of snacks and drinks that don’t need to be heated or kept cool. That way you don’t have to interrupt your activity to find a café or restaurant and you can keep fussy eaters happy.
Choose Appropriate Accommodation
Once you’ve selected your destination, take the time to research all the available accommodation options in the area. Luxury, resorts are lovely, but they’re not always kid (or budget) friendly. When looking for accommodation, think about your family’s unique needs. For example, if you have kids who are fussy eaters (or are still very young) you will probably want somewhere with a kitchen so you can prepare their meals. Maybe you have active kids who need some space to run around – how would they cope being confined to a hotel room? Don’t limit yourself to hotels – consider a range of properties, such as serviced apartments, vacation homes or cabins in a holiday park.
Also, look for accommodation that specifically caters to children. There are numerous hotels, resorts and caravan parks that offer school holiday activities or host ‘kid’s clubs’. These can be a great source of relief for the weary parent! Book your kids in for a few hours of play while you relax back in your room with a massage or soak in the bath.
Have Entertainment at the Ready
As much as we’d love it if our kids would just sleep through the whole journey, chances are their excitement levels will be high and sleep may not come easily. So, you need to be prepared to keep hands and minds busy.
A tablet or phone is a must these days but make sure your devices are pre-loaded with your kids’ favourite TV shows, movies and games. You may not have time (or the wifi connection) to be downloading things when you’re on the go.
Also, don’t forget about ‘old fashioned’ games that don’t need a screen. There are plenty of travel-sized board games or card games that can make your trip more entertaining. If space is limited, a quick search online will bring up loads of imagination or word games that can keep everyone occupied (I-Spy is a classic). Or you could make up your own game based on your surroundings.
Another option to give small eyes a break from the screen is to use audio books. These are great for the car or other places where you need to keep noise to a minimum. Plus, if you’re doing a longer trip, you can keep kids engaged by opting for a longer story that spans a few legs.
Finally, ask hospitality staff if they have any activity packs or items for kids (like colouring-in books, playing cards, etc).
Plan for the Unexpected
It might seem depressing to think about something bad happening while you’re travelling, but if you take precautions before-hand, your trip is more likely to be stress-free.
For example, if you have a child who likes to wander, make a plan with them about where to go and what to do if they should get lost while you’re out and about. Write your name and number on a wrist band or tag attached to their back-pack. Or, consider investing in a GPS tracker for that added peace of mind.
If you’re headed to the beach or the bush, brush up on your first aid and keep an eye out for warning signs. If you are travelling to a destination where bushfires occur, be prepared with an evacuation plan. If you’re travelling overseas, be sure to register with Smart Traveller and make copies of everyone’s travel documents.
Also consider investing in some insurance. Depending on your plans, this might be taking out road-side assistance that can be used interstate, or travel insurance to protect you overseas. You should also look at your life insurance and make sure it is up to date and that your loved ones know what to do if they need to make a claim.
Timing is Everything
Remember that trip you took through Europe in your early 20s where you ran through Paris Gare du Nord station and just managed to catch that last train to Amsterdam? Well it’s not quite the same when you have the little ones with you! Prepare to take your time as most things will take you longer than you expect.
If you’re flying, cruising or catching a train, make arrangements to arrive at your place of departure well before you need to. Use the time on solid ground to explore, eat, visit the bathroom and use up some of that extra energy (because once you’re in a confined space it will be much harder to manage restless kids).
If you’re driving, allow time for extra stops and consider breaking up your trip with overnight stays. This can be a good way for you to unwind after a stressful drive so that you’re refreshed and focused for the next leg.
Finally, don’t forget what it was like when you were a kid and went on a trip. Look at the experience through your children’s eyes and remember to just enjoy the moment.