3 years, 9 months ago
Travelling with kids takes the skill and cunning of a wolverine wrangler combined with the patience of the type of saint other saints go to for saintly advice. But it can also be the best fun you’ve had, since you were young enough to think a full airport meltdown was an appropriate response to anything – up to and including, just feeling like it. Here’s how to big up the good times and keep tears, tantrums and tough moments to a minimum.
1. Check your kids’ passports
It takes up to four weeks to process a UK passport application and under 16s need new passports every five years. Check everything’s in order at least six weeks before your departure date.
2. Scan hand-baggage before you leave home
Kids love to pack their own bags, but always do a swift final check yourself. An eight-year old’s idea of ‘essential’ probably isn’t the same as yours and airport security isn’t where to find out a Wolverine action figure is classed as a weapon.
3. Pack extra sweaters for the plane
Cabin air is always cool, pack sweaters in your hand baggage to stop kids getting chilly. If you’re lucky, they might be cosy enough to doze off for the entire flight.
4. Don’t forget the BF or blankie or else
Remember to pack the favourite toy, blanket, scrap of old cloth, balding Barbie or whatever it is your child can’t live or sleep without. Many potentially great holidays have perished on this oversight alone.
5. Download a load of favourite movies before you travel
Download some tried and tested movies on a memory stick and keep it handy. Good for distracting kids in-flight (with headphones) and almost miraculous at calming the over-tired on too hot holiday nights.
6. Keep track of your kids at all times
We know ‘full-alert’ will be your default position, but some kids have an almost supernatural ability to evade even the most watchful eye. A VitalID bracelet with your contact information is a good idea for an inveterate wanderer. FlashMe Sydney wristbands contain your details on an easily scanned QR code. And, for older kids and teens, a basic phone tracker like LociLoci doesn’t cost much, gives a bit of freedom and some welcome parental peace of mind.
7. Relax screen-time rules for in-flight peace
You’ll be pleased to know, phone apps for over-threes are now more involving than relentless headrest kicking. Avoid ‘talking’ apps – kids love them, no one else does. Think puzzles for five-year olds and up. And keep the ‘fun sounds’ switched off, unless you really want your fellow passengers to hate you.
8. A little gentle travel-bribery goes a long way
Phone apps work in-flight for older kids. But, entertaining a toddler, takes low-down parental cunning. A tried and tested trick, is to wrap a dozen tiny ‘presents’ and pack them in your hand luggage. Ration them out during the journey every time a new distraction is needed. Hide all the gifts on arrival so they’re forgotten, then simply re-pack and repeat on the flight home.
9. Build extra time into all your plans
Everything takes longer when you’re travelling with kids. So get to the airport early, leave plenty of time for carpark to terminal dramas, go through security as soon as you can and always double-check public transport times.
10. Book online and in advance anywhere you can
Booking tickets for theme parks and attractions online is just about the only way to save and almost always means no-queueing and avoids disappointment – a ‘nice walk’ is never an alternative to Disneyland, trust us.
11. Carry snacks but avoid sugar
Kids can go from fine to famished in five seconds. Cereal bars, boxes of raisins, packs of dried fruit and nuts are your best friends if lunch is late or the beach isn’t as close to town as you thought. But avoid sugary snacks and sweets – hyped can be just as bad as hungry.
12. Carry hand sanitiser, tissues and baby wipes
Whatever you think, you’ll occasionally have to use public toilets on holiday and it won’t be a life-enhancing experience. Always carry tissues and baby wipes – even if you’re well beyond the baby stage. And hand sanitiser goes a long way to cutting down the chance of tummy upsets, for everyone.
13. Be water wise by pools and on the beach
If your kids are non-swimmers or unused to water, talk about the dangers. Don’t take your eyes off them. Opt for recommended swim-vests by the pool instead of arm bands or rings. And think about ear-plugs anywhere near water – ear infections are misery on holiday.
14. Kids need holiday downtime too
Activity packed holidays look great on paper, but in reality they’re exhausting. Break up the action with relaxed days on the beach or by the pool – even teens appreciate a bit of quiet time.
15. Be weather wise
Know your holiday weather and plan ahead right from the packing stage. And it’s always a good idea to check temperatures if you’re going to be walking about or spending a day on the beach.
16. Teach your kids a few basics in the local language
A few words in the local language are very cute, great for queue skipping and a fantastic in-road to making new friends on holiday – even if it’s only ‘hello’ and ‘my name is…..’
17. Use bottled water and pack rehydration sachets
Water in other countries isn’t usually dangerous, it’s just different and that can be a problem. Using bottled water is the best plan, avoid ice in drinks and buy rehydration sachets before you go – they’re available in most UK chemists and great for restoring normal after tummy upsets.
18. Learn to live on local time
Strict lunch hours, late dinnertime, shut-down or no-bus Sundays, public holidays, all take a bit of getting used to. Adjust as quickly as you can. Get into the European 4.30pm small-snack habit (it’s how kids in France, Italy and Spain survive without eating until 8pm). Know the shop opening times and download local transport timetables on your phone.
19. Protect little heads and feet on the beach and beyond
Kids hate sunhats and beach shoes, but they’re essential. Buy hats with chinstraps and neck protection for babies and toddlers and let older children pick their own. Neoprene swim shoes protect feet on hot sand and in the sea.
20. Put local emergency numbers into your phone
Find out local emergency numbers the minute you arrive (even Sunday pharmacies) and put them into your phone, just in case.
And the final and best tip we know is tricky: stay calm. Whatever your kids throw at you, bend like a reed in the wind and don’t get into it with them. They’re younger than you are and can keep going much longer. Plus, if the worst comes to the worst, they can just chuck a tantrum and you can’t – or at least you shouldn’t.
Good luck and happy holidays!