Going on holiday is such an exciting time, whether you plan to laze on the beach, take in the sites or experience new cuisines and cultures. Every member of the family will benefit from the new experiences, not to mention the quality family time you will spend together without the stresses of every day life.
But there is one potential barrier to your period of bliss, and that is the travel. We have all seen the stressed parents at the airport, the over tired children waiting for a transfer and the babies crying on the plane.
So we at Portugalholidays4u.com have asked a great selection of industry professionals and bloggers to compile the best tips for making travelling with children easier and less stressful.
Travel with your children should be a time for making lifelong memories, and those should start as soon as you leave your home.
We hope these tips help you to start your holiday relaxed and happy.
Before you set off
Matt Woodley from Mover Focus has this great tip for families: Everyone make a travel list together, sit down as a family and make a travel list. Everyone should be packing several of the same things, and each individual should be responsible for packing a couple of things that are important to him/her. If your youngest can't sleep without a favourite stuffed toy, and your oldest needs to constantly charge his/her phone, make sure these items are on the family list.
Jenny, the founder and manager of Portugalholidays4u.com has some great advice about how much to pack for your holiday. As an avid traveller, as a couple, a parent and now a multi generational traveller, she believes one of the biggest issues with traveling is packing too much, how many times have we all taken a suitcase with a big selection of clothes, shoes and toiletries?
Each suitcase has to be carried or checked in and more often than not, many clothes are brought back unworn, hair dryers not used and toiletries left behind in hotels. Her advice is to check what facilities are in the accommodation, do you need that hairdryer or iron? Unless you have a skin condition and require specialist toiletries, buy your toiletries when you get there and do you really need 3 sets of clothes for each day? If you are staying in a villa, often there are washing facilities, nobody wants to wash on their holiday, but if it means taking one less suitcase, then have a think about it.
Preparation, planning and packing
Tangela Walker-Craft from Simply Necessary Inc . has a great tip (for anybody travelling, not just with children), have a purse sized spray bottle filled with alcohol this can be used for: sanitizing hands, spraying and wiping down surfaces before eating, and even for cleaning public toilets before using them.
Travel and airports can be a stressful experience, don't make it harder for yourself by having to rush, almost certainly something will go wrong. Toilet accidents, climbing on something and falling off, loosing a favourite toy. You need it up your sleeve to super-parent save the day and still make it through check in, security, immigration and finding your boarding gate.
And when Brett’s daughter was young, he bought her a pilots’ costume. She felt so important at the airport and on-board. Crew asked her for help doing the public address and handing out items. It will make it memorable for them. You can also buy flight attendant outfits too.
Diane Vukovic from Mom Goes Camping has some personal experience about preparing for a trip, which will be really helpful for first time family travellers.
The first time I flew with my young daughter it was a nightmare. She overwhelmed me with a zillion questions. I was worried about losing her in the crowds when checking the gate. She freaked out when going through the metal detector…I realized the main issue was I hadn’t mentally prepared her well enough. Now, before going on a trip, I tell her what to expect during the travel portion.
For example, in the days leading up to the trip I tell her exactly what will happen – how we will get to the airport, how many lines we will have to stand in, that we’ll take our shoes off and go through a metal detector separately, and how long the flight will be. I tell her that, yes, a lot of it will be boring but it’s worth it to go on an exciting trip.
Since she will forget a lot of this, on the day of the actual flight I’ll go over each step in detail before it happens. As we stand in line for security, for example, I tell her exactly where to stand after passing through the metal detector while I gather our carry-on.
You’ve got to realize that young kids don’t understand what is happening around them and it can be really scary. Even things like putting their teddy bear through the x-ray scanner is terrifying because they don’t know if they will get it back. If you tell them what to expect ahead of time, then the ordeal is less scary and overwhelming. My daughter still doesn’t love the travel portion of going on a trip, but she goes through it without any tears or complaints.
Andre Robles from Voyagers Travel Company has some great advice about your medications. It is important to carry prescriptions and medicine in your handbag, flights can be delayed and luggage can be lost, some medicines are not easily found in other countries. For example, in the Galapagos, the flight from mainland Ecuador is only 2 hours, but you do not see your luggage until the end of the day, so anything you do not have at hand is unreachable until you board your yacht or reach your destination.
This is great advice for any location or country.
Ian Martin Ropke, Founder & owner of Your Japan Private Tours has some great tips for dealing with how to get to the airport and what to expect once there. Before leaving, ensure luggage is all zipped up and double checked (at least one hour before leaving the house).
One parent has ALL the relevant travel documents in one location. In my opinion, military or fishing vests are ideal for this: multiple pockets outside and inside the vest and key pockets with zippers or velcro. And the other parent should be designated as the luggage expert: where is the medicine bag, the toys, the electronics, the games, the snacks.
Once everyone is in the car or taxi, Mom & Dad should congratulate everyone but also signal the next step: The airport. Throughout the A to B transition, parents need to signal and frequently act calm, in control and totally relaxed. Not so easy but the acting helps . . . and focus!
Once everyone gets past check in and security, an obvious base camp hang out location should be clearly established. The kids can be given longer leashes now but Mom & Dad will have to keep eyes peeled throughout.
If every body knows what is expected of them and the children know what to expect at every step, the travel will be much easier.
Make life easier, especially if travelling by train to the airport. Photo credit: Portugalholidays4u.com
Dale Janée from Savvy Sleepers Luxe Satin Pillowcases recommends giving your children some responsibility. I let my 2 and 4 year old hand over their boarding ticket as we enter the plane. I have them walk on first and help find our seats and try to put on their seatbelts. It helps them feel important. And once on the plane avoid alcohol and coffee on the flight. It is impossible to enjoy a glass of wine with kids on a flight and hot coffee is just too risky on the tray table next to kids. Stick to water for everyone in case they spill, it's not a sticky mess with apple or orange juice. It's also the best to stay hydrated.
Keri at Bon Voyage With Kids recommends parents provide a carry-on (backpack) for each child, because not only does it contribute to the family by having each child carry their own, it fosters independence as each child can easily access what they need.
Inside, I always recommend the following: - sketchbook and pencils (or for the younger ones, a magic ink pad) - water bottle - snacks - blanket (and maybe kids travel pillow) - change of clothes including a sweatshirt (no matter the age) - headphones - book - tablet if appropriate - Ikea freezer bags to keep everything organized - use a backpack!
This fosters packing and travel independence in children and makes it way easier for the parents. Rather than having to reach across aisles or dig through their bags to access what the children need, the children can easily access their food, water, entertainment and even layers of clothing themselves! They feel proud and parents are happy to have the help.
Carry on ideas
Federico from MaiTravelSite suggests, if flying long haul, carry a set of kids headphones. Most long haul flights have independent TVs, with cartoons and other entertainment. Earbuds will fall of their ears, are uncomfortable, and have a poor sound quality, but the headphones will remain in place and let the kid enjoy what he's watching.
Danielle Jacobs-Erwin, podcast host with Everybody’s National Parks podcast has some advice about carry on bags from her experience of travelling with her children, they get to pack their carry-on with their essentials to keep them happy during their trip.
Whatever they bring, they carry and it must all fit in the bag. Mom gets final veto power. (this is so important; you don’t want bags that are too heavy or have unsuitable items in them!)
Before the trip, they download their favourite podcasts and shows from Netflix on the iPad. They know that they have to earn the right to have the iPad during the trip. Mom holds onto the iPad. They first need to read, play, maybe take a nap, and no fighting or whining. Then they may watch some shows.
This is great advice as you don’t want to get on the plane and find out they have already watched everything or ran out of battery power!
Toys and entertainment
Katie Dillon from La Jolla Mom regularly travels with her daughter and has an excellent suggestion for keeping children entertained on a long journey. By far my most valuable tools were inexpensive wrapped presents to surprise her with on the plane to reset her mood when she started to become fussy. This worked well during the toddler years when I could wrap inexpensive trinkets found in store dollar bins (toys, books, crafts) in multiple layers.
Lollipops are another must-have when they become age-appropriate. Not only do they also help quiet meltdowns but they can also help kids relieve ear pressure on take-off and landing. Speaking of lollipops, they do make ginger flavours that aren't too pungent for kids that may double as motion sickness helpers.
When you have older children travelling, a concern maybe how much time they spend on their electronic devises and social media, Lea Nielsen from CIE tours , has a solution to keep tweens and parents happy. Meet ‘tweens in the middle on social media. If screen time is a concern, give them a creative project to guide their phone use. For example, challenge them to create an Instagram story about their trip during the travel home (think of it as the 21st-century spin on journaling).
Kristina from Million Miler Mom has some helpful tips for entertaining the children, as she says, we like to get to the airport early, especially as a family of 5 - if we don't have lounge access, we try to find an empty gate and let the kids run around a bit so we can save books and tablets for the plane. A simple scavenger hunt or a list of things to find (ex. a red suitcase) can quickly distract kids from the boredom of waiting around.
A scavenger hunt can be made for each age group of children and can be as fun or as educational as you wish.
Jennifer De Luca, the owner of Luxury Adventure Travel offers some excellent advice in relation to meals on airplanes, especially if travelling with younger children. Request a child, toddler or baby meal at the time of booking. On most long haul flights and with most airlines this is an option. It will include meals that are more child friendly than what are being served on the regular menu.
Just because you have booked a child ticket does not mean a child meal is allocated. This is something that you will be glad you did once you are on-board, no one wants their child to see other children eating yummy pasta and then have to deal with a tantrum.
Linda Nelson from Kindercare has some helpful tips regarding food and snacks, she says the most important thing is to remember the snacks - Low blood sugar can turn even the sweetest kids into champion tantrum throwers, so be sure to bring along plenty of healthy snacks in case delays disrupt regular mealtimes.
Consider options like homemade granola or protein bars, fresh fruits and veggies, sandwiches or almond-butter pouches. If your flight is long, try to pack snacks that won’t create lots of crumbs you’ll have to live with until you arrive at your destination. Also remember a spill-proof cup or water bottle you can fill before boarding.
Boarding the plane
Elizabeth Schroeter Co-Founder of Simple Thrifty Living has some excellent advice. Divide and Conquer - If traveling with two adults, have one board early with carry on's and car seats etc. Then the other adult will board with the kids once everything is prepped. I'm also a huge fan of car seats on airplanes, it's a signal to young children that we don't get out.
Kathleen Porter Kristiansen, mother of two and family travel expert behind Triple Passport and Instagram account recommends using seat extenders - these have saved us many times and are blow up seat cushions that convert an economy seat into a lie flat bed for children up to 8. It can be nice for older children as well. I often pop my legs up on it.
There are many of these devices available on the market, including bed boxes, research which will be the most suitable for your children, and remember they will need to be carried.
We do hope your trip goes with well without any hitches, but as any body with children knows even with all this advice, children are children and so the final word goes to Judy Kwon, co-founder of CALPAK:
"Overall, be flexible and expect things to go wrong or to forget items, but that’s okay!"