FAMILY TRAVEL: 10 must-dos for travelling with kids

11 September 2017
Reading time2 mins

Thinking of getting away with the fambam? Don't do anything until you have read this!

Although travelling with kids can be a wonderful experience, it’s important to remember that kids will be kids – and holiday time is no different. They may get sick, they may get bored, and they may not enjoy or appreciate the same activities as you do. Be flexible, have patience and travel slowly is the advice from Caz Makepeace, creator of popular travel blog yTravel, and other local families we spoke to agree.

Slowing down the pace of the holiday is key, according to father-of-two Shane, whose family recently toured Europe together. “Racing around to see as much as possible with the kids in tow just doesn’t work,” Shane says. “They need some regular time to just be kids – to play at a park or go get an ice cream.”

Brisbane dad Greg travelled to the USA with his young family and recalls getting a lesson in patience when his children were completely underwhelmed by the Grand Canyon. As he and his wife admired the view, the kids saw only “a big hole in the ground”. Kids will always have their own personal list of the things they’ve found amazing on your holiday. It just may not be the same as your list!

So, as much as you may be longing for a dream holiday yourself, remember that your trip needs to be enjoyable for the whole family. Whether it’s a major overseas trip or just a weekend at the beach, finding family-friendly options for accommodation and activities, as well as the big ticket tourist attractions, will probably make your trip easier for everyone.

Here are a few ideas:

1. Consider your accommodation

It’s always tempting to save money on a family holiday by opting for a one-room apartment or smaller sized beach cabin. While you may all physically fit in a smaller space, try to determine whether you’re likely to get a good night’s sleep there. Overtired children (or parents!) can really spoil the next day’s activities.

2. Be safe

Nothing spoils a holiday like having your cabin broken into or feeling that you can’t allow the kids to safely explore the local area. While you can’t plan for every eventuality, you can take the time to ask your accommodation about their child-friendly safety features like fencing, balcony structures, pool rules and proximity to main roads or beaches. When it comes to valuables, check whether there are room safes or lockers at reception to avoid leaving things lying around while you’re out sightseeing.

3. Plan meals ahead

Do you ever feel as though your children have bottomless pits for stomachs? Well, they are often hungrier than ever when they’re enjoying an active holiday! Choosing an apartment with its own kitchen or opting for camping puts you in better control of your meals. Plan each day’s dinners ahead and pack plenty of healthy snacks that can be grabbed on the way to the pool or tossed into a bag for a bush walk. Be sure you know where the nearest general store is for when you need to refuel. Eating out is fun, of course, and a great way to get to know the local area. Just keep in mind that it can become costly and unhealthy if you’re doing it every day. Greg and Shane both suggest advantages to travelling with other families. This provides instant company for the kids, adult conversation for the grown-ups and potential babysitters if you’d like to take turns getting away for dinner or a show. Just be prepared to compromise on a few activities, give each other space when needed and get in early for tour or restaurant bookings to ensure the whole group can be together.

4. Get ready to pack for the whole family

Packing for a family holiday can make you feel as though you’re moving house rather than getting away for the weekend. Gone are the days of popping a few things into an overnight bag and heading for the airport. Now you’re considering clothes (for all weather eventualities), toys (some for the pool and others in case it rains), prams, nappies…the list goes on. One good tip is to remember that you’re not (usually) travelling to Timbuktu; there will probably be shops where extra nappies or emergency toys can be purchased, rather than trying to squeeze absolutely everything into your suitcase. Our essential family packing checklist will be a great starting point to get your head in the right space. 

Other smart packing ideas include:

  • Pack washing powder. Do a quick load during the week rather than packing seven days’ worth of clothing.
  • Invest in a travel first aid kit. This helps avoid midnight dashes to the shops and takes up less space in your bag than whole packets of Band-Aids or Panadol.
  • Bring your prescriptions. Finding a doctor and then seeing a doctor who’s not familiar with your health history is stressful when you’re away from home. The more information you have to hand, the better.
  • With all the gadgets we now rely on, don’t forget your chargers, power boards and adaptors.
  • Caz says her must-have item for road trips is a set of scooters for the children. “This will be a life-saver when you want to go for walks and will save your back from months of chiropractic work!” she says.

5. Be prepared to travel

To enjoy travelling in a car, train or plane, kids really need to be kept engaged, fed or asleep! Plan ahead to ensure you have a few tricks up your sleeve to alleviate boredom and help everyone feel excited about the journey. Some ideas include:

  • Choose a flight or set off in the car at a time when the children would normally be asleep. This way they can nap through the most ‘boring’ part of the journey.
  • Space out meal breaks. Flights tend to do this for you, but if you’re driving, plan periodic rest stops for food and leg stretching.
  • For flights, if you have more than one adult in the group, Greg suggests ordering a special meal (i.e. vegetarian) for one of the parents. Special meals arrive with the kids’ meals, so one adult can eat in peace whilst the other helps the kids. Afterwards, when the regular meals come out, the other adult also gets to eat with minimal interruption.
  • Invest in a map or app that helps kids follow your travel journey. Some apps include nifty interactive tools that link from the map to local tourist sites or notifications if there is heavy traffic ahead. This way everyone knows exactly how much longer there is to go!
  • Speaking of apps, while tablets and game devices can provide excellent entertainment for short periods of your trip, they’re also very stimulating. Consider popping a few audio book versions of the kids’ favourites on their gadgets to keep them occupied, but still relaxed.
  • Browse online before you leave for easy travel games. Eye Spy is just the beginning! Consider downloading and laminating a free game of travel bingo or jotting down ideas for travel-related word games.
  • Shane suggests comfortable clothing for the kids and keeping sugar intake to a minimum on long journeys. For entertainment, his family encourages journals where the kids can write or draw about the things they’ve seen that day – or the things they’re looking forward to seeing when they arrive.
  • Download some fun kids' travelling books.

6. Role model patience!

Try to keep your cool when inconveniences impact your trip. For minor issues, take the opportunity to show your children that changes of plan are okay and little mishaps are not the end of the world. When it comes to more serious problems, remember that succumbing to road rage or abusing a flight attendant will only cause additional stress for your family, not to mention potentially landing you in legal trouble.

7. Have a ‘Plan B’ in mind

It’s always disappointing if the weather turns nasty or the main attraction in the town is inexplicably closed for maintenance. Try not to hang all your expectations on only one aspect of your trip. For example, track down a list of local museums to visit on a day when it’s too wet for the beach. You never know what you might discover!

8. Don’t fixate on routines

Some parents find it very stressful when their children stray from their usual home routine. It may be worth letting the kids have a little more screen time or stay up an hour later than usual if it helps the holiday run smoothly. Talk to them about the fact that holiday rules are different from home rules, and the usual routines will still apply when your break is over.

9. Make it special, no matter what

Try to make the holiday ‘special’ even if it’s not what you expected. Grab some popcorn and settle in for a family movie night, or get out and take that bush walk even if it’s raining. Years from now, your family will thank you for funny memories of making the best of a bad situation rather than cancelling the whole trip. 

10. Be brave

Most importantly, don’t write off the possibility of family travel because it seems all too hard. “My perspective is that parenting is hard regardless of whether you are travelling or not,” says Caz. “The difference is the parts in between. When you're at home you're trying to fit in busy schedules amongst the challenges and ordinary moments. But, when you travel you turn those ordinary moments into extraordinary ones.”

Have you been away with your kids? What do you find helps the holiday to run smoothly?

You might also like 8 ways to travel with a baby, how to have a family holiday on a budget and 10 of the best holiday parks for families.

Written by

Jessica Jane Sammut

Jessica Jane Sammut is a writer, editor and journalist, who has worked for national media and high profile global brands for nearly 10 years. A former London commercial lawyer, Jessica is now living her zen-life in Noosa, spending her days in the surf and nights on the deck of her palm-inspired shack with her tribe of boys.

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