It’s time to dust off the passports here in the Carr household as very excitingly I managed to win some holiday vouchers at the start of the half term holiday – just hours in fact before we headed off on our first family holiday in ages! Having now tested the theory that we can get further than the local supermarket with two children and all their kit I’m determined that this is just the start of our family holiday adventures. But, as any parent knows travelling with children isn’t always straightforward so here are my top ten tips for making it as stress-free as possible.
1. Plan, plan, plan!
Travelling with children is different to just heading somewhere as a couple so do think ahead about what you’re going to do and how it will work for everyone. After all a whole family won’t necessarily enjoy a city break looking at museums and art galleries, but a trip round a couple of carefully chosen museums interspersed with a couple of parks to run off some energy will hopefully lead to a happier family.
2. Remember the journey is part of the adventure
Whilst for us grown ups the flight and getting to your holiday destination is just something that has to be done, for children, especially young ones it is very much part of the adventure. Take your time and leave time for them to marvel at all the planes they see at the airport, the novelty of eating on an aeroplane, even just the bus transfer at the other end. Public transport is another exciting thing to be explored and young boys love writing a list of all the different ways they have travelled whilst on holiday. For slightly older children way not look at different ways of getting to places? Train or boat maybe?
However you’re travelling do think about whether or not you need any extra equipment to make thing safer or easier. Possibly take your own car seat for very young children (check with your airline for how much baby equipment you are allowed in the hold) or invest in travel booster seats for older children. If you have a child that still needs carrying I found an Ergo amazing for carrying little people on to aeroplanes after you’ve handed over your buggy. For a bus transfer with no suitable car seat I was also able to keep him strapped to me for safety in it.
3. Milk and purees for flying with babies
Many parents get worried about carrying formula for babies onto aeroplanes in light of the rules about carrying liquids. There are no rules about carrying formula powder though, or empty containers so both of these can be taken without any problems and you can usually get boiled water on the flight or at one of the airside restaurants. It is also worth knowing though that Boots airside sells formula and to be sure of getting the exact type you need you can order in advance to be collected there. Be aware that you do usually need five days lead time for this, but I have known parents get it sooner. Pureed food falls into the same category of liquids in security’s eyes so also order pouches of food in the same way. There are no limits about liquids being carried in your checked in luggage.
4. Try to find a local parent online to help with your questions
Wherever you go in the world there will be children and parents who are bound to have answers to so many of your questions. Try to find a local parent online before you travel to ask about things like local parks, what brands of nappies and formula you can buy there, good attractions to take children to. Local parents Facebook groups can be incredibly helpful – but if there is a language barrier why not try asking your own contacts or parents networks. Everyone is so interconnected nowadays that you’re bound to know someone who knows someone.
And if that fails have a look for a local business that serves parents. I recently came across Hotel Momcierge in Turkey which aims to meet the needs of travelling parents and their children (and was by fluke set up by someone a couple of years above me at school!) and I’m sure that if you search in the right places there must be similar in other parts of the world.
5. Don’t try to do too much
Travel and all the new and exciting experiences that go with it can be exhausting for adults, let alone for children. Remember that they are likely to get tired and to need some down time too. Try not to pack your days with too many activities and late nights as experience has shown that it may well lead to meltdowns, and no one wants that on holiday!
6. Toys and activities
Children like familiar things so do take with you a few small reminders of home. A favourite cuddly toy will definitely help younger children sleep at night, but a handful of toy cars or a good colouring book can also help them relax and stay calm when tired or having to wait somewhere. When we travel I always seem to have a handbag full of wax crayons and toy cars and drawing some parking spaces on the back of a menu recently kept my two year old son amused for an hour whilst waiting for food in a restaurant.
Also, don’t be afraid of having an iPad or similar loaded up with age appropriate games, TV shows or films. There are some great guides out there to help you find the best apps for your kids. These can be brilliant for keeping children entertained and can give mum and dad a break too!
I’ve found that hotels just don’t work when travelling with young children. Adjoining rooms can be expensive and if you’re all in one room it is hard for the adults to know what to do with their evening once the kids are in bed. Self catering apartments, cottages, villas and houses work so much better. Parents can stay up in a living space after the children are asleep and it also gives you the flexibility to have some of your meals at a time that suits your family better.
8. Passports, documentation and insurance
Adult passports last for 10 years, but children only have 5 years’ validity on them and as all parents know time can pass in a flash. Do make sure that you have in date passports for your children in advance of travelling. Also, some countries do insist that there is a certain length left on them beyond your trip, so bear this in mind. If you apply for a new passport you are usually allowed to add on up to 9 months validity from your old one.
A passport isn’t the only thing you need though – especially if you are travelling with children with a different surname to you. Again, exact requirements vary on a country by country basis, but if there is no adult with a matching surname some parents have been asked to provide children’s birth certificates or letters (sometimes legally witnessed) from the absent parent stating that the child has permission to travel with that adult. It’s not a hold up you want at the airport so do try and cover this off in advance.
9. Planning for things going wrong
We all hope that things won’t go wrong whilst we are away, but it helps to set your mind at ease to at least have a few things planned for if they do. Travel insurance is always recommended but with children I think it is vital. Make sure your policy covers the whole family and sufficiently accounts for covering an accompanying adult if something happens to a child. You also don’t want to be stranded somewhere with tired young children and not be able to afford to get accommodation or alternative travel.
When travelling in Europe a European Health Insurance Card is needed for each person to access any state provided health care. These can be obtained very easily before you travel online and are NOT an alternative to travel insurance, but still very much worth having.
On a smaller scale remember to take with you any medicines that your family usually need as well as common things like Calpol. You can easily buy this in sachets rather than taking a whole bottle with you and having some on hand at 2am when it’s needed is far preferable to trying to find an open pharmacist in a foreign country!
10. Remember to have fun
Holidays are for the whole family so make sure that you all have fun and enjoy yourselves. Childhood memories often revolve around holidays and shared family experiences and to children any holiday will be a huge exciting adventure. Try to see it all through their eyes and enjoy it with them.
Disclaimer: This post is my entry into the Clickstay Travel Tips with Children Competition and if you like it you can vote for it here. This post contains affiliate links.