Travelling with children

Your travel life needn’t grind to a halt just because you’ve become a parent

Travelling with children

travelling with children

Your travel life needn’t grind to a halt just because you’ve become a parent. But the reality is, much of your trip will be spent soothing and entertaining your baby. So much for dreamily staring out the window and taking in the passing scene.

But while travel will never be the same, it has its upside as well. You may discover the world is a friendlier place than you knew. There’s no easier way to meet people than with a baby in your lap. And if you keep in mind the cardinal rule for traveling parents — create a home away from home wherever possible — it may become an experience you can all enjoy.
Here are some strategies for making travel with your baby a success, contributed by family travel authors, pediatricians, child development experts, and fellow parents.

 

Where to go?

We’ve consulted six leading family travel experts and come up with these winning family-travel destinations:

  • Bed-and-breakfasts
  • Beach scenes
  • Big cities
  • Bike touring
  • Family camps
  • Family resorts
  • Nature camps

But you’ll want to avoid these activities with your little one: rafting, theme parks, foreign travel, some country inns, and long stays with friends.

 

What to bring?

 

We’ll help you organize your trip with our packing checklists for your baby or toddler. You’ll also want to print out a first-aid kit for the road, and an emergency checklist — just in case you run into trouble.

 

Create a home away from home

Once you get to your destination, consult our ten tips to help your baby adjust:

  • Bring a blankie and cuddly toy
  • Start — and end — your day early
  • Establish a routine and stick to it
  • Eat familiar foods
  • Stay close to home base
  • Schedule running-around time for toddlers
  • Expect the adjustment to take several days

and to help you cope. Finally, you’ll find answers to your questions about traveling with small children, such as traveling with a baby if she’s colicky or has an ear infection, where to rent strollers, how to babyproof a hotel room, and more. For more, see below:

 Travelling with children

Bedding down

No one sleeps like a baby, and babies generally sleep very well on the road. The rocking, lurching, chugging motions usually knock them right out. Still, having a familiar bed or bed gear reassures infants and small children. For infants, we travel with a small portable crib that can fit under our legs on public transportation, or on our laps. We’ve also used (and like) little zip-up buntings that keep baby in a cozy, manageable bundle.
By the time the baby is six months old, it’s time to graduate to a portable crib. Portable cribs are also very handy for taking to the beach or pool.
A familiar blanket and toy can make all the difference for traveling children. As they get older, they can continue to treasure their favorite blanket.

 

Getting around

We like child-carrying backpacks for traveling with kids up to 3 years old. Also, you should travel with the lightest umbrella stroller, which we push right onto the plane and store in the overhead compartment. Wheeling the baby or toddler aboard can really save your back on a half-mile long concourse.
We find it much more convenient and cost-effective to take our own car seats with us on vacation. They are also handy for keeping junior in one place in the hotel rooms during feedings and quiet time.

 Travelling with children

Diapers

It’s best to travel with at least a dozen cloth diapers for when you settle down in a spot. Disposable diapers can be very expensive in developing countries, so we recommend starting out with a good supply from home. Don’t forget the rubber pants, and carry a packet of wipes and rash cream in your day bag to make diaper changes easier. We like creams containing Vitamins A and D because they’re good for sunburn and other skin irritations as well.

 

Clothing

Keep it simple and keep it to the minimum, for both you and baby. You can expect to be doing some laundry every few days anyway, so why burden yourself with too many changes of clothes? We usually figure on four changes of clothes, two sets of pajamas, one dress-up outfit and an all purpose jacket, suited to the climate you’re traveling in. Add socks, underwear, one pair of shoes and a swimsuit, and you’re ready to go. For maximum convenience, take mix-and-match separates in dark and bright colors. In hot climates, all cotton is definitely more comfortable. Be sure to bring a hat that protects baby from the sun. Pack the bags, and then don’t worry about it. If you find you’re missing some crucial item, you can always pick it up along the way, for a more intimate souvenir.

 Travelling with children

Toys
Take a few small favorites and maybe a favorite book. When those toys have lost their appeal, stop in at a local toy store and buy new playthings along the way. Check them out closely, however, as safety standards vary.

Travel tips for travelling with toddlers

Take your time

The greatest thing you can take – whether at the airport, sightseeing or getting from A to B – is extra time. Toddlers love to explore and don’t care for the time pressures of travel, so you’re more likely to all retain your cool if you factor the faffing, gawping, stalling, toilet stops and tantrums into your timeframe.

Book ahead

Whether you’re camping or staying in hotels, it pays to book ahead. Trying to retain the spontaneity of travel BC (Before Children) doesn’t pay off if you arrive at your destination to find you can’t bag a bed or pitch and have to hit the road again with tired, hungry toddlers melting down in the backseat.

Give them a camera

Giving toddlers their own (robust, child-friendly) camera encourages them to observe their surroundings and focus on what interests them. You might be surprised at the results from their knee-high view. Amongst pictures of feet and wheels, my three-year-old has shot flowers, animals, helicopters, boats, rocks and rabbit poo.

Be prepared for the climate

It’s simple advice, but children dressed comfortably for the weather and terrain will be happier in a new environment. With all the gear available, there’s no excuse for dressing toddlers in ski-suits four sizes too big, forgetting their gloves, or leaving them barefoot on a beach where sea urchins lurk.

Pack Pull-Ups for potty training

Planes and public transport during the potty training days can be a nightmare. As if you didn’t have enough in your hand luggage, now you’re expected to add a potty, three changes of clothes and bags of wet, stinky pants. Potty-training gurus may disagree, but if toddlers are still having lots of little accidents then I’m all for putting them back into Pull-Ups on the plane.

Be app-y

Thanks to toddler-friendly apps, there’s no need to cram a toy box into your hand luggage when travelling by plane. By all means take a book and a magic scribbler (crayons just get lost down the side of seats), but the most compact form of entertainment is a device loaded with apps and games.

Travelling with children

Use public transport

Most toddlers love the novelty of travelling by train, bus and boat, so ditch the hire car and use public transport where possible. In Switzerland, my two-year-old would repeat the names of the metro stops as they were announced – provoking ripples of laughter and making him even more excited about boarding the train each day.

Invest in a child locator

In my experience, toddlers aren’t fans of reins, backpacks with a leash, or any infringement on their freedom. Keep tabs on them at airports, train stations and crowded attractions with a child locator. The child wears a small unit (strapped to a belt or shoe) and you keep the transmitter. If you lose your child set off the alarm and follow the sound to find them.

Keep bugs at bay

Whether you’re travelling to Paignton or Peru, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer are handbag essentials. A wipe of the cutlery in restaurants where you’re unsure of hygiene, or a squirt of hand sanitizer when there’s no washing facilities, can zap a few germs and prevent toddlers catching some common bugs.

Don’t forget the medicine

Whether they’re out of routine, jet-lagged, or eating less healthily, kids always seem to get ill on holiday. Dampen the impact of broken nights, frayed temperaments and fevers by packing an easy-to-swallow medicine such as Calpol in the UK. Other basic ingredients in your first aid kit should include antiseptic wipes, plasters, sting treatment, and a thermometer.

Travel tips for older children

Don’t let the children pack their own rucksacks

We once went on a trip with our eight-year-old, who complained incessantly that her backpack was too heavy. The reason why? She’d brought along her entire collection of fossils “just in case”. Do let the children have input but remember to edit this heavily before departure.

Keep the activities coming

If you’re heading out on a long journey have a collection of toys to be handed out once an hour. Handheld puzzles, tiny colouring books, stickers, wordsearches and even tiny packs of Plasticine will pass the time on a long flight or car journey.

Have a number of family games ready in case of delay.

Punch-buggy and padiddle are popular, if violent, favourites for car journeys, whereas more cerebral ones like the Alphabet game are safer for air travel.

Avoid sweets

Resist the temptation to keep them going on a long journey by feeding them sweets. Pack a mixture of savoury snacks like cheese cubes, breadsticks, fruit and bagels – anything to avoid arriving in a strange city with children in the middle of a sugar rush.

Encourage them to keep a travel journal

Get your kids drawing and listing things they’ve seen and interesting foods they’ve tried. Who knows, this might also encourage them to try different foods. Collecting postcards from places you visit and asking them to write themselves a message on the back means they can reach adulthood with a library of memories all their own.

Remember the medicine

It should already be on your travelling list, but having kids along means carrying a small first aid kit is all the more vital: plasters, antihistamines and sachets of painkilling syrup can save a lot of stress later on. Antimalarials are also available in liquid form.

Brand them

If you’re going to be travelling through busy, crowded airports or transport hubs, write your mobile number on your child’s arm in biro in case they get lost.

Travelling with children

Check your passports

Children’s passports only last five years and they have a habit of running out when you’re not looking. Allow at least four weeks to renew one. The cost of a last-minute passport is astronomical, and particularly galling if you only realise it’s necessary when already in the ferry queue at Calais. Don’t ask us how we know this. We just do.

Remember the baby wipes

Even if all your children are long out of nappies, don’t forget the baby wipes. They’re useful for washing hands, cleaning toilet seats, and wiping down restaurant tables. In the same spirit, little bottles of hand cleanser can be a lifesaver in some countries, but check the travel regulations for liquids well in advance.

Engage and involve older children

The best way to avoid a soul-destroying sulk from your teenager is to involve them in the planning of the holiday and ask them for input on what they’d like to do. You might be surprised to hear it’s not spending all day on the internet.

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