You’ve scrimped and saved, you’ve counted down the days and finally your holiday is here! We want to make sure that you remember your precious two weeks for all the right reasons, and so we’ve scoured the internet, asked our members and drawn on our own experience to compile our top holiday tips for making sure that travelling with children is a delight and not a disaster this summer.
Before you leave there are several things that are worth thinking about to make travelling as stress free as possible, from the type of holiday you choose to organising passports, visas and vaccinations – even packing can be a trial when you’ve been used to hurling a toothbrush, a pair of denim shorts and a couple of t-shirts into a backpack!
Type of holiday
This sounds obvious but happy children = happy parents. By choosing the holiday that suits your children, you in turn will be able to relax and enjoy your time away. Are you happy to fly or would you prefer to stay closer to home? Would the independence of a villa holiday or the convenience of a hotel holiday suit your family best? What time will you be travelling? It can be a good idea to travel at night, get the little ones into their pyjamas and snuggled up with their favourite cuddly toy so that they can sleep while you’re on the move.
If you like to relax by the pool, enjoy soaking up the sun or even just want some time to yourself, you may want to look at a holiday that provides Kids Clubs. In the right circumstances Kids Clubs can make a holiday a great success, but there are some questions that are definitely worth asking:
- Do the nannies speak English?
- What activities are on offer and are they the kinds of things that your child likes to do? Whether they are 1 or 15, the more activities there are for them to enjoy, the happier they are likely to be.
- What age groups are the children split into – if you have two or three children, will they be in the same group or will they be split up?
- Look at how confident your child is and be realistic about whether they are likely to settle in a kids club before paying extra for it.
- Does the club work on a morning/afternoon basis or on an hourly drop off? You may not want to put your child into the club every day for every session, but a quick hour whilst you pop to the spa for some well-deserved luxury can be very handy!
Once you have chosen your holiday, preparation makes a huge difference! It’s a good idea to check out the facilities close by or on site. Make sure that you can buy nappies, formula, baby food etc locally if you don’t want to pack them. A top tip if you are going to buy nappies locally is to make a note of your baby’s weight in kilos – much better than estimating in the local Supermercado! Another option, if there are no local shops and you don’t want to pack a fortnight’s worth of nappies and formula is to look at companies that specialise in delivering baby products to your holiday destination like traveltotsuk.com or babiestravellite.com.
These companies supply all kinds of equipment too, so if your hotel or villa doesn’t come equipped with travel cots, stair gates or high chairs, they are a great alternative to excess baggage!
If you are travelling abroad, you will of course want to check what, if any, vaccinations your family may need; a great one-stop site for this is the NHS website or of course your local GP. In the same vein it is comforting to know what medical facilities are available should you need them and your travel company will be able to advise you. If you are travelling in Europe, it is advisable to apply for the European Health Insurance card. The EHIC is completely free and entitles you to free or low cost emergency treatment whilst abroad, again the NHS website has all the information you need to apply.
Should you require a visa or new passports, make sure you do your homework. First passports take longer to process and can’t be ‘fast tracked’ like existing passport renewals and there is nothing worse than finding yourself with your holiday date almost upon you and no passport to travel with. In general the UK passport office recommends that you apply at least 6 weeks in advance for a first passport and 3 weeks in advance for a renewal, but we’ve heard many horror stories of families being kept waiting for far longer and not getting their passports in time. Our advice is apply way ahead of the recommended guidelines, and use the ‘Check and Send’ service to make sure you have everything in order before you send your application. If you need visas for the country that you’re travelling to, explore the costs involved and the time the visa will take to process, you may also need to look into the logistics of collecting your visas as in some cases collection is required in person, even for children.
This may seem like a mammoth task and let’s face it, it is! But there are ways to make the packing a little easier and stress free. You’ll already have worked out what equipment is available at your destination and what you’ll be taking and there are so many travel alternatives to every baby product that you use at home that you’ll be spoilt for choice! In order to get your head around what you really do need to take, it’s a good idea to make a list of the things that you use in a typical week, from sterilisers, to medicine, from wipes to washing powder, cross off any of items that you can do without whilst away, that are provided by your holiday company or that you can buy while you’re away and use what remains as the basis of your packing list. If you add to the list as you think of holiday essentials such as sun cream, swim nappies and mosquito repellent, you’ll have made a good start in producing your packing checklist.
In addition to your luggage, if you are flying or travelling by train or ferry, you may want to consider your hand luggage. Whilst perhaps not the most stylish accessory, a backpack is a great idea because it leaves you two free hands for holding onto little ones or pushing a buggy. It can be helpful if you’re travelling with a partner for one of you to carry all the documentation (passports, tickets, visas etc) , whilst the other is responsible for the children’s supplies (food, drinks, nappies…). It’s a good idea to think about packing the following in your hand luggage:
- Spare clothing, whether its food, drink, wee or worse, something is bound to spill and having a spare set of clothing will make it less of a disaster
- Medication: Calpol and Nurofen are both available in travel-friendly sachets for any unexpected ailments and a good supply of plasters is a must, tired little feet tend to get blisters.
- Disposable travel bibs, wipes and tissues make on the move feeding less of a hassle.
- Sterilising tablets if you need to sterilise dummies en route.
- Snacks, snacks and more snacks to keep the children’s hunger at bay whilst travelling.
- Drinks and boiled sweets if flying to sooth aching little ears.
- Travel sickness bands/tablets if long car journeys, train rides or flights don’t agree with your child.
And we’re off!
With all the preparation, your journey should be smooth sailing. If you’re flying, it is well worth checking with the airline about their policy on liquids, in particular formula, so that you are prepared when you board the plane with either cartons or empty bottles and sachets if they provide water. Also double check how they will deal with your pushchair, some airlines let you take the pushchair to the door of the aircraft and have it waiting at the door when you land, others expect you to collect it with your luggage and this can be a nightmare if you have tired children, hand luggage and not enough hands! If you know in advance what to expect, you can make sure you are prepared. It’s also advisable to reserve seating if you’re travelling by train (definitely not in the quiet carriage!) or to check-in online and reserve seating if you are flying, this reduces the time standing around queuing in the airport and ensures where possible that you will be sitting with your family. Check also if the airline offers children’s meals as these almost always have to be booked in advance.
Whilst at the station or airport it can be extremely busy and grumpy travellers aren’t always the most considerate around young children. With a trolley and luggage to navigate it is easy to become separated and so it’s advisable to write your mobile number on your child’s arm in case you do lose each other. There are also a whole host of alarms, monitors and trackers available which, if you are anxious, are worth considering.
Escape the hustle and bustle
It’s a means to an end, we know, but the airport isn’t a whole heap of fun once you have little ones in tow. One option is to escape the mayhem once you’ve dropped your bags and head to a family friendly airport lounge. Yes, you’ll have to pay for the privilege but once inside you’ll have space, comfort, food and drink plus all important wifi, along with family rooms for keeping the children entertained. Somewhere to recharge and keep an eye on the children away from the chaos outside until your flight is ready to depart.
Whether travelling by road, rail or air, throw a child or two into the mix and it may not be all fun and games! Making sure the little ones are entertained has to be the single most important part of trouble free travel as a family! A great suggestion is to fill your child’s rucksack with new (not necessarily expensive) bits and pieces to them to play with on the journey – the novelty factor goes a long way! Pens, paper, colouring, card games, playdough (although some airlines don’t allow it), action figures, sticker books and the obvious technological wonders, DS’s, iTouch’s and iPads (preloaded with a selection of new games, apps and movies) are all fantastic and will keep the children entertained, whilst maybe even letting you relax; they also come in handy once you reach your destination.
So there you have it, our top travel tips for your family! We can’t guarantee that you won’t encounter some unforeseen challenges along the way, but we hope that our advice will help make both your journey and the holiday that follows just that little bit smoother.