I get asked this a lot. How to travel with kids is the most popular topic in my inbox right now so I thought I had better tell you guys what this sort of travel is really like. I have plenty of experience. We travelled a lot when there was just the two of us, and then the three of us, then the 4…. you get the drill.
We have done all kinds of trips with:
- a 6-month-old baby,
- then an 18-month-old and a pregnant belly,
- then a 2-year-old and a 7-month-old,
- a 2, 4 and 6-year-old and another pregnant belly,
- and most recently with a 10-month-old, a 4, 6 and 8-year-olds.
- We also spent a whole year travelling around Australia with an infant, a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old in our caravan.
So you can see I probably know a bit about how to travel with kids.
What’s it really like?
The reality of travelling with the kids is that it does take hard work, planning and a whole lot of patience but you can have so much fun and I believe the kids really enrich our travel experiences. It’s certainly not relaxing, by any means. But then, there are ways to have a relaxing time where everybody wins. We do not do kid’s clubs, or babysitters while on holidays. It’s all us, all the time. One of the things we try to do though is to have a little individual kid-free time daily, even if its just a quick solo swim or surf, or a yoga class.
The kids don’t always cooperate. This much is true. But that’s not their fault. As parents though, there are things that we can do to try to minimise the hard times when travelling.
- Don’t expect too much of them. Where you and I can wander around the streets from sun up to sun down and not miss a thing, the kids need to be fed and watered regularly.
- Give them plenty of rest. Sit down and take it slow. Don’t rush their footsteps. If you want to instill a love of travel in your children, make it as much about them as you.
- Let the kids make some decisions. Ask their opinions and allow them to express themselves. We like to let the kids some autonomy in deciding what to do next. When they know they have made a choice, they stand by it and seem to enjoy it all the more.
- Green open spaces will have a healing effect. When their little feet are tired from pounding pavement, or you feel like they have been shushed too often, find a park and let them run free. Little people need to relax and be kids regularly. The whole purpose of travel is to find amazing places and to find yourself.
- Timing is everything. We like to head out sightseeing or for activities first up in the morning so that we are home by early afternoon for a rest, and then we can be ready for more action in the evening. If you have a 2-year-old, make sure you let them rest at rest time, or pay the price of an unhappy toddler!
- Keep them comfortable. Keeping the kids comfy keeps you comfy. Consider taking a neck pillow and blanket on the plane. Some airlines charge extra for this. Whether it be a stroller, a baby carrier, a blanket or well-fitting shoes. Making sure the kids are comfortable will result in a more pleasurable experience for all.
As I have said before, I love a good flight sale. The downside to cheap flights, however, is that they can come at a cost. Before booking any flights, double check the arrival and departure times. I have caught flights at 1 am, or arrived at my destination at 2 am, or 4 am. This sucks with kids. Another negative can be the number of stopovers, and the length between connecting flights.
- Check flight arrival times. You may have to book extra accommodation close to the airport if you arrive in the middle of the night.
- Stopovers may either be a good or a bad thing depending on if it’s a long-haul flight. A 10-hour flight, followed by a 3-hour stopover followed by a 5-hour flight might just work. I went on a trip from Brisbane to Honolulu though, ordinarily, a 7-hour flight with no stops…. with 3 stops it turned into over a 20-hour trip! But at least it was cheap.
It’s often worth paying extra to get seats in the bulkhead or with extra legroom if you are travelling with toddlers. It is nice to be able to spread out, especially if your kid doesn’t get her own seat yet. Some choose to travel with their young children in a car seat attached to an airline seat, I have never seen this work successfully. With babies, long-haul flights and bigger planes have a row of bassinettes in the bulkhead which your sleeping baby can veg out in. It is certainly a relief for the parents!
Unless you pay for a seat, under 2-year-olds can sit on their parent’s lap with a child safety restraint which is a seatbelt that attaches to your own. The hostesses are usually extra accommodating making sure you and your baby are secure and letting you know where the change tables are located. They will even heat up a bottle or baby food if you ask them nicely.
Dress Them Right
- Consider the temperature of the departure and arrival airports. We recently left Cairns in 30-degree Celsius and arrived in Tokyo which was 7 degrees. We had a whole carry on bag dedicated to warm layers.
- We avoid buckles, belts, and zips or anything that has the potential to be uncomfortable.
- Remember the airplane toilets are a little cramped so dress the baby in easy to access clothes, and use pull up nappies for older babies.
- Take a change of clothes for everybody. If your luggage ends up being delayed, or somebody vomits or spills their drink, at least you will be covered!
Some airlines charge extra to watch movies, some provide movies, games, colouring in packs and more. Check with the airline you fly with, but in my experience paying extra for in-flight entertainment with kids my age, is worth it. There are a million blogs written about keeping the kids occupied on the plane. Gone are the days of visiting the pilots in the cockpit, unfortunately.
I bring iPads, colouring in, a book to read, and I wrap small presents to give the kids too. Little ones aged 1 to about 5 really love getting surprised with a gift that takes minutes to unwrap and then an hour to play with. Another thing that works well with a 1 or 2-year-old is to give her a wet wipe and she likes to clean the seats and the tray tables and window etc. Older kids need a pen and a diary type of book as well and we encourage them to write in this about their day with some regularity.
Food is so important to my kids. On a plane, I make sure we have plenty of healthy snacks to fill in the gaps between meal services. And some unhealthy snacks too. We have quiz time using tiny treats such as M&Ms for the correct answers. My kids are healthy and well-balanced and I am not afraid of sugar so we do use sugary snacks as treats sometimes, even on a plane. I like to reward them with the things they love, and they behave for the most part. If your child is adverse to sugar or prone to hyperactivity, please try to avoid sugary food on the plane.
Kids cry. Sometimes they run up the aisles. They might kick the seat in front, or pull faces through the gap at the passenger behind. But that’s ok. It happens. Airlines usually try to seat the families next to each other, have you noticed? It’s no accident that you are surrounded by other kids and parents on the flight. The idea is that other parents ought to be more understanding of other children’s behavior. In my experience, kids are disruptive because they are bored, or tired or hungry. I don’t get frustrated with disruptive kids, but I do get annoyed with parents who are not trying to solve the problem. We are responsible for our kids on the flight. I know our kids don’t always make it easy on us, but sometimes we’ve got to do whatever it takes just to keep them happy.
Another thing, those people who are on the flight with you, you are likely never going to see them again. Take any dirty look or remark with a grain of salt. Like water off a duck’s back. Kids are just kids at the end of the day and they might test us mid-flight, but it’s totally worth it.