Travelling on your own or in a group can be a stressful experience. Check-in, passport control, flights, transfers, language barriers and other such encounters can negate all the joy holidays bring.
Now imagine doing all of that with kids.
Oh the carnage. I’ve been there, I’ve had a five month old vomit into my lap during take-off. However travelling with children doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. If you’ve got the time to plan a few simple things before you go, it may help reduce your blood pressure and increase your kid’s enjoyment.
We’ve been lucky enough to take a number of trips, both long-haul and short-haul with our little boy, and we’ve picked up a number of tips and ideas along the way that have made for a much easier ride (for him and us). (But mainly for us). And now we actually enjoy the travelling – even a 24-hour trip to Australia.
So here are our top six tips for travelling with a toddler that won’t guarantee to take all of the stresses away, but should make your experience that little bit easier.
1. Use a reward system
It can be difficult to keep your kids from melting down when you’re travelling, particularly with the excitement, new experiences and tiredness. One way to manage this is to use a reward system for good behaviour.
After a number of trips with varying degrees of success (spectacular failures in some cases), we nailed a sticker system that has worked a treat.
We set a challenge for our boy to behave well during stages of the holiday. This could be the check-in process, during takeoff, or while we’re at a restaurant and should he behave, he gets a sticker. For every three stickers, he’ll get a reward, which might be ice-cream or a chocolate or something more substantial like a toy.
My wife is amazing at preparing for trips, which has saved us on many an occasion. She’ll get a number of small, easy to pack presents (TK Maxx and Amazon are great for these), wrap them, and then take them away with us. These don’t take up much space in hand luggage and are hugely effective as a reward.
It’s even got to the stage where our boy has asked us whether his behaviour has warranted a sticker, and that’s when we realised we’d hit on something great!
2. Teach your child basic words in the native language
Teaching your child a few simple words in the language of the country you’re visiting is a sure fire way to win friends, as well as keep your kids entertained. A simple hello and thank you goes a long way and immediately scores you points with locals.
Check out language tutorial videos on YouTube before you travel, or even while you’re travelling, to get your kids engaged.
3. Make travelling part of the holiday
Someone once said that it’s not about the destination, it’s all about the journey, and how you get there. However when you go away on holiday with kids, it really is all about the destination.
However, a great tip for going on holiday with toddlers is to turn the travelling into part of the experience.
It’s tempting to tell your children about the beaches and swimming pools and all the activities you’ll do when you’re on holiday, but that means the journey is considered a hindrance to the good times. It’s blocking your kids from having fun. And that needn’t be the case.
Talking about the travel means that the moment your child sets foot outside of the house, they’re experiencing the holiday. Tell your kids about the plane, train or boat and what the captain and cabin crew do and how they’re taking you to your destination etc. This should introduce that element of excitement at the start of the holiday, not when you’re arriving.
4. Plan your flight times accordingly
Rocking up in a new country at 8am after a long flight might give you the opportunity for a full day’s exploring or chilling on the beach, but it might not be the best time for your nippers.
While it’s not always possible to choose the most convenient flight times (I’m looking at you Ryan Air), it’s worth planning your take off or arrival times. Of course this depends on the length of the flight, however the last thing you want is for your child to fall asleep during the journey and then be completely wired for when you arrive at your hotel at 10pm.
I remember checking in to a Bangkok hotel just before midnight and after a pleasant, sleep-filled flight, our boy was wide awake while we were exhausted and with no hope of getting him down.
5. Use a backpack for your hand luggage
Perhaps the most simple tip in this list. Using a backpack is so much easier than holding a bag – it means you have free hands for all the extra stuff you need when travelling with a child!
I made this mistake on my first trip away with my son. Carrying him in one hand and my bag in the other, and then his emergency bag (packed full with spare clothes, nappies, wipes etc.) around my neck wasn’t pleasant.
6. Have something organised for your first day back home
This is rarely planned yet so effective. I remember the days before child (BC) when our first day home was a mix of washing and chilling. And as any parent knows, chilling + children doesn’t go together.
Therefore in order to keep the kids entertained, it’s always a good idea to plan out your first day back so that you can keep their energy levels high and saves you from scratching around for ideas in that first-day-back-from-holiday-daze.
We also tend to do an online grocery order for delivery for our first day back (ensuring any delays are taking into account) so that we’re stocked up and don’t have to drag our kids around the store.