Travelling with kids? Here’s what you should know

Master the art of holidaying with young kids to ensure your holiday is relaxing and stress-free with these tips from a well-travelled mum.

Holidaying with young kids is probably one of the most researched topics by parents all over the world. And it’s hardly surprising. Whether you’re taking your kids on their first or tenth holiday, it’s a bit like being a parent for the first time.

Daunting yet utterly exciting, you want to get it right from the get-go and you can’t help but frantically research all the things you need to prepare to keep them safe and happy. When you add in the notion of foreign places, new experiences, changed routines and possibly even a different time zone, an added layer of apprehension sets in and the stress levels can escalate before you even begin your trip.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. With the right preparation, good advice under your belt and perhaps, most importantly, the right attitude, you can sit back and enjoy the ride – and yes, that includes the plane ride too!

My husband and I have clocked up enough holidays with our young tribe (5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter) to work out how to eliminate the stresses of travelling with little ones. From forgotten favourite toys and monstrous tantrums, to hunger pangs and the ever-so-dreaded jetlag, we’ve been through it all. So, heed our advice, we’ve done the groundwork for you.

Family enjoying beach time, Byron Bay, New South Wales

Before you go…

Book a flight at a reasonable time. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of getting the flight time right to kick-start your holiday on a positive note. Flights at the crack of dawn or late at night can often be cheaper but the value of a well-rested child far outweighs the few dollars you’ll save. We’ve woken our kids up at 3am to make a 6am flight and, oh boy, did we pay a hefty price.

Research and prepare: As well as the usual search for kid-friendly hotels, restaurants and activities, make sure you pre-organise things such as cots, car seats and transport to avoid waiting around, especially if you are arriving at your destination at odd hours. Also, kids’ passports are only valid for five years so if you’re heading overseas double-check the expiry date, and whether visas or vaccinations are required.

Pack smartly: Arrange items according to when they will be needed. For example, if you’re heading straight to the hotel to sleep, avoid having to painstakingly rummage through an entire suitcase for those PJs - pack them on top of the pile instead. And rather than a mile-long checklist of things to pack, compile a list of your family’s absolute essentials (the ones that would turn your holiday upside down if forgotten). For us, it’s things such as the kids’ headphones for the plane and the scruffy toy permanently attached to my daughter’s cheek. I always advise packing Children’s Panadol, too. Hunting for an open chemist at 11.30pm in a foreign place is not fun, trust me.

The journey (at the airport and on the plane)

Allow some buffer time. Fact: everything takes longer with kids. I denied this for a long time and almost missed a flight due to a long toilet stop for my son. I also misjudged how fast a 3-year-old could sprint over 500 metres. Never cut it fine and always allow an extra half an hour on top of your estimate to get from A to B.

Master the art of distraction: Long plane rides and queues are often a forum for tantrums and ratty behaviour. Kids play up due to boredom but there are ways to make these periods fun for them. I always have a few games such as ‘I spy’ or’ rhyming words’ up my sleeve. Kids love to learn so I always explain how and why things are happening around us. Beware however, as this game often prompts tricky questions that you might be forced to answer in front of an audience. I’m sure I heard a few passengers snigger as I offered my incorrect, albeit entertaining, explanation of how a plane takes off.

Always have snacks on hand: Children are always hungry and will ask for food at the most inconvenient time. Make sure you pack lots of snacks and have easy access to them. I try to keep it as healthy as possible but hey, it’s holiday time, so I allow a few sugary treats too, just not straight before bedtime! Good and easy foods to pack include apples, bananas, muesli bars, carrot sticks and, my kids’ favourite, Tiny Teddy biscuits.

Take a backpack: Ok, so it may not go stylishly with your outfit, but you’ll look more ridiculous chasing your little fugitives around the terminal and bellowing down corridors. Leave your hands free so you can either carry them or hold their hands. It also helps to have hands ready to pass them a water bottle, tie up their shoes, wipe their nose, hand them a biscuit … the list goes on.

During your holiday:

Jetlag: Try to adapt to your new time zone as soon as you arrive at your destination (don’t make the mistake of trying to adapt on the plane, the more rest they get, the better). That means eating and sleeping at normal times. If they crave Weetbix at 2am, refuse it as much as possible, offer a cup of warm milk instead and feed them an early breakfast. Organise fun outdoor activities to help them stay up. Low lights, no talking, no eye contact and maybe even some relaxing music in the background will help them get to sleep.

Kids enjoying yoga

Educate: Take the opportunity to expose your kids to different places, people and activities so they are constantly learning and engaged. My husband often takes our kids on a quick ‘magical mystery tour’ to show them interesting things such as the workings of a restaurant kitchen, the captain’s cabin on a boat or the busker on the street. This ties in well with mastering the art of distraction. We love nature so always organise fun outdoor activities such as surfing, bushwalking and even yoga (zen children do exist!).

Have fun and think positively: This is probably the most important tip. Accept that mishaps may occur however the way you react will dictate the vibe and tone you set for the rest of the holiday, and kids have a knack for picking up these vibes. Holidaying is all about having fun and relaxing. Make the most of your time away, maintain a positive attitude and take things in your stride. It’s all part of the fun and the learning process. And the more practice you have travelling with kids, the better you’ll become at it, so start planning that next family holiday!