By Guest Blogger Jo Karnaghan of Frugal First Class Travel.
My daughter Miss G has been traveling with us all her life – she took her first plane trip at 5 weeks of age and hasn’t looked back. Here are my top tips for traveling with children and living to tell the tale!
Tips for traveling with children
1) Get them involved in the planning of your trip.
Get them reading brochures, websites etc to identify activities they may be interested in doing. Buying or borrowing books or DVDs can help set the mood and whet your children’s appetite. Even very young children will love “finding” the places featured in their favorite films and stories.
2) Put your children into training.
Practice eating in restaurants (waiting, good manners), going on long trips, being quiet when it is time to, eating different food, walking long distances, going on public transport if they aren’t used to it. Make sure your children have excellent manners – this is so important in restaurants in Europe and on long plane trips – no kicking the seat in front, no running in the aisles etc.
We took MissG on her first resort holiday when she was 2 and a half. We’d always self catered on previous holidays, so this was her first real experience of restaurant eating. To prepare her, we took Miss G out for breakfast every Sunday morning for about 3 months beforehand. Not only did she get to practice sitting still and waiting, she also got to try different foods and get used to “different” bacon, scrambled eggs etc.
3) How to manage a long plane trip.
Long car trips are relatively easy, as you can always plan regular stops for a runaround. Planes are another matter…..
One way to overcome this is to book a stopover. I like to try and book a flight that gets us to the stopover destination late afternoon or early evening and then stays at an airport hotel.
Book a bassinet if you have a baby. It is a long way on your lap. Don’t assume you will be allocated a bulkhead seat with a bassinet. Check if the bulkhead seats are available to be purchased for a surcharge, and if so, buy one so you don’t risk getting “bounced” by adult travelers who paid for the extra leg room.
Take some food on the plane that you know your kids will eat if they are fussy eaters. While most airlines will offer a child’s meal (remember to book this in advance) they don’t usually offer a choice of children’s meals.
4) Always prepare for jet lag.
MissG has been to Europe twice. We have found that it really doesn’t matter how well she sleeps on the plane, and what time our flight arrives. What has worked best for us is to get an early start out for the day, eat dinner (very) early, or bring a picnic back to our hotel. We find eating our main meal at lunchtime and then just having a light snack for dinner and heading back to the hotel, together with a bit of patience, works best for our family in those first few days.
5) Self-catering accommodation can be a godsend.
Not only does a kitchen mean you can save money on eating out, an apartment or condo creates a more home like environment. There’s more room to spread out, and everyone will sleep better in separate bedrooms.
6) Tackle your sightseeing in small chunks.
Don’t try and do the whole Louvre for example – it’s a hard ask to expect most adults to do the same, let alone a child. Do your research and identify the key pieces or areas of interest and focus on those then leave. Do your museums, galleries etc early in the day when everyone is fresh and the queues are shorter then leave the afternoons for a rest and some other activities like playing in the park, going on a boat trip, carriage ride, or some other more “child-friendly” activity.
When we went to the Louvre, we went early, saw what we wanted to see then left.
7) Find somewhere to play and encourage play with other kids.
Even in another country on a big trip, your children need to be allowed to be kids, and that means letting them play. We take the time to find a park and let our daughter play everywhere we can and it is a great sanity saver for all of us. On a freezing cold day in Germany, we took our daughter to a park to play on the equipment. She ended up playing with some bilingual children she met and they shared a toboggan together until they froze. It was the first time she had ever tobogganed!
8) Encourage your children to do a journal of their trip.
This is a good activity for filling in time on a longer train or car trips. Smaller children can draw rather than write, and will enjoy cutting and sticking their treasures into their journals. A stick of glue and small scissors, some pencils and a cheap exercise book are all that are needed to give your children a great time filler and a lovely souvenir. If you are flying, buy your supplies when you arrive to avoid security issues.
9) What about a camera?
The holiday from your child’s eye view can be an exciting moment for your whole family.
10) Try to relax!
I think this is the real key to happy family travels. Don’t worry if you don’t get to do everything on your To Do list. Accept your children will live on junk food and that they won’t appreciate everything you have lovingly organized for them. Put the competitive parenting to one side and relax some of your rules. Everyone is on holiday, and it doesn’t make you a bad parent if your kids stay up late every night or don’t eat veggies every day.
With a little preparation and patience, traveling with children can be stress-free fun. Do you have any tips for happy family travel?