Travelling with children is challenging, but a bit of forethought can help reduce parental stress. If your child is old enough, involve them in planning for the trip so they can get excited about it. Make sure to include enough family events and child-oriented activities to amuse them while on holidays.
In many cases, keeping your trip simple will reduce the number of problems. Remember that young children have short attention spans and get tired very quickly. Complicated trips requiring lots of travelling, jam-packed itineraries or too many visits to adult-oriented attractions, such as museums, can be difficult for children and aggravating for parents.
A) PLANNING THE TRIP
Explaining everything you can to your kids ahead of time will (hopefully) ease the thousands of questions they will have before travel day. Tell them all about how the plane works, what is expected of them, where they are going, etc. You can pull up a map and show them where they are going on the map or show them pictures of what your destination looks like.
You can also print out fake plane tickets and have a practice run of what will happen in the airport so they know exactly what to expect when the day arrives. You can even have the plane “take off” and explain the loud noises and fast motion that happens during takeoff (fake clouds to sit alongside your fake plane, optional).
1) If this is your first trip with your children, plan for a slower pace than you might usually attempt. If you want to see more than one place, be realistic about what you can cover with little ones in tow. The less you feel you have to pack in, the more enjoyable and stress-free the holiday – and you’ll be better able to take the odd day indoors in your stride if the weather is bad or the kids need to rest.
2) If your children are still of napping age, try to schedule flights right around nap time so they are good and tired for the flight. Even if they only get a short nap in, it still makes the time pass quicker.
3) If you are travelling with another family, or adults, before you go, discuss what each person wants to do, agree how to split chores or take turns minding the children, and talk about the balance of spending time together and apart. Come to an agreement about the way you’ll split the bills (taking into account the smaller share of expenditures for the children).
4) If you’re going down the hotel route, always check for special family deals, from discounted rates to free meals for children; many international chains offer these. Most hotels and guesthouses provide breakfast, but unless it’s included in the room rate, it’s often a waste of money for children, particularly if they only eat a piece of bread or a bowl of cereal. If breakfast isn’t included, try asking for ‘complimentary’ ones for the children. Alternatively, you could take along something to snack on for the first day, and buy in a simple breakfast to eat in your room thereafter.
5) If you’re going overseas, see your doctor at least two months before you leave to discuss your plans. When making the appointment, mention the ages of your children and ask if they need to come to the appointment; when you go, bring everyone’s vaccination records, and ask the doctor to note down their blood groups for you. If any of your children has a pre-existing medical condition, ask for help in identifying a doctor in your destination who specialises in the same condition. Children under 18 months won’t be given any travel-related jabs.
1) There are a number of instances where you might need to carry extra documentation when travelling with children. If you have an adopted child, you must take their adoption papers; and if you’re the only parent travelling – regardless of your marital status – you might be asked for proof of consent from the other parent for your child to travel. This is more likely in countries where overseas adoption and/or child trafficking is common. If the name on your child’s passport is not the same as yours, or if your child bears little resemblance to you, the chances of this being an issue increase.
2) If you’re heading for the heat, choose clothes made from natural fibres – sweat irritates delicate skins and can lead to prickly heat or sweat rash. Expect to change your baby up to three times a day – particularly if they’re not used to the heat and will sweat a lot. Children will need two sets of clothes per day, moisturizers, sunscreen and sunhats with wide brims and neck flaps are worthwhile when playing outdoors. Equally, don’t overlook the fact that children’s eyes are more vulnerable to glare than yours; get them sunglasses, with elasticated straps, which stay on better.
If you’re heading towards the cold climate:
– A snowsuit is an easy option that you can throw one your baby’s clothes to keep him/her extra warm.
– Keep their fingers warm on the slopes or when they’re playing in the snow with a warm pair of gloves with elastic cuffs to keep the cold out.
– Thermal underwear is great for layering when it’s extra cold outside.
– Pick up an extra warm hat to ensure their heads stay warm in the cold. This one even comes with ear flaps and has fleece lining the inside.
For wet climate:
– Keep the kids warm and away from the rain with an umbrella.
– Don’t forget their raincoats.
– A sturdy pair of rain boots, like these Chooka boots, can definitely come in handy for unexpected rainy days. Have the kids wear them on the plane to save room in your suitcase.
3) 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, bread sticks, dry fruits– anything to avoid arriving in a strange city with children in the middle of a sugar rush.
4) Don’t forget to pack 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.
5) Child monitors can be a real help to keep an eye on young children in crowded places such as airports and shopping malls. The parent carries a tracking device – about the size of a TV remote control – while the child wears a watch-like contraption. Should the distance between the child and the tracker exceed the user-defined range, or if the bracelet is removed, an alarm sounds. Furthermore, once the tracker sounds the alarm, you can push a button to set off a bleeper on your child’s bracelet to help you track them down.
6) 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.
(i) AIR TRAVEL
1) Depending on the age of the kids, have each child bring a small backpack filled with their toys and goodies for the flight, with his or her name on it, and identical snacks, so everyone knows exactly what is theirs.
2) Avoid those really cute pull bags, as inevitably they turn as the child pulls, the child gets upset, and you end up carrying a very unmanageable bag in addition to your own carry-ons.
3) When possible, load their bags with some of the other things that you need, such as bottles, diapers and wipes. Even very young kids can carry a small backpack filled with their own diapers. This saves you space in your bag and makes the child feel like a “big” boy or girl.
4) Pack many more diapers than you think you will ever need, and two packs of wipes (one in the main bag, and one that is readily available.)
5) When traveling with a baby, always make sure to have an extra bottle and formula in case you lose one.
6) In addition to the main carry-on that will most likely end up overhead, pack one small bag with absolute essentials that will always be with you. Make sure to have enough formula for one bottle, spit up rag, one diaper and a few wipes and one small toy. This way you do not need to search overhead for a diaper change.
7) If you nurse, make sure to wear something that is loose and bring a light blanket or make sure to get a blanket on the plane when you board.
8) ALWAYS bring an extra pair of clothing for all the children and for you as well. Trust me, you do not want to spend the flight covered in vomit or anything else that seems to happen when traveling.
9) Make sure to have plenty of extra plastic bags for soiled clothing and throwing away food and trash during the flight (bring the fruit and veggie bags from the grocery store as these take up no room.)
10) I know that some people give their kids medication to relax them for the flight. I personally can’t suggest this one as some had a bad experience with a reaction where not only didn’t it make the child sleepy, but did make them throw up the entire flight. If you do want to give medication, be smart and try it out ahead of time. And definitely make sure to check with your doctor to give the proper amounts as sometimes with flying amounts differ.
12) If your children still crawl around on the floor, one way of keeping them reasonably clean is to take a plastic sheet that you can put down anywhere for them to play on.
13) If your child is on bottles, bring what you need to make up fresh ones along the way; to save space, fill spare bottles with water, then add milk powder and top up with boiling water when you need them.
14) Check the latest restrictions on hand luggage before travelling. The more stringent regulations relate to carrying liquids, gels and creams, which includes baby foods, drinks and nappy cream. The standard instructions are not to carry over 100ml of any single item, although exceptions are usually made for essential medicines or supplies for children under two. You can also get away with more (up to 400ml) in the way of milk and drinks so long as these are decanted into bottles and no-spill cups; if you carry the same in the original cartons or bottles, you’ll be asked to leave them behind. There are also discretionary limits for baby food – these are generally kept vague, but as long as you don’t have more than what security staff deem to be a reasonable amount for the flight, you’ll usually be fine.
The best way around the restrictions is to decant creams into small bottles, and bring just powdered milk; you can get hot water to make feeds on most flights, and as soon as you pass security, you can buy bottled water too.
(ii) RAIL AND BUS TRAVEL
1) When booking tickets, make a point of asking for deals for families and young people. In many instances, a family travelcard reduces the cost of ordinary tickets by so much that it’s worth buying one even for a single trip. Such deals are usually restricted to travel outside rush hours. To buy a railcard, you usually need to show identification for one or both parents, and have photographs with you.
2) If you’re travelling with more than one child and you want space for them to play, it’s a good idea to buy more tickets than you need, or book out an entire compartment. This might sound elitist, but sharing a packed carriage can be overwhelming when you’re with small children.
3) When you’re boarding a bus or train, decide who is going to get on first, who will go last and who is stowing the luggage so as to be sure nothing and no one gets left behind. If you’re on a train, establish limits in terms of how far older children can stray and how long they can be away for, emphasising that they always need to come back to you when the train slows down to stop.
C) HOW TO DEAL WITH THE MOTION SICKNESS IN CHILDREN
The symptoms of motion sickness include blanching (becoming pale), headache, dizziness, complaints of feeling sick and, ultimately, vomiting. Motion sickness can occur on any mode of transport, but is more likely when travelling by boat.
Suggestions to reduce the risk of motion sickness include:
1) When travelling by car, take frequent rest stops.
2) Make sure your child looks out the window, rather than at a stationary object inside the vehicle (such as a book).
3) Fresh air can help, so open a window if possible.
4) Anti-nausea medications are available, but check with your doctor first as some medications may not be suitable for children.
5) Make sure your child eats something before travelling, but avoid heavy or greasy foods.
DURING TAKE-OFF AND LANDING
The change in cabin pressure during aeroplane take-off and, in particular, during descent and landing can hurt a child’s ears. Swallowing eases the pressure, but the trick is getting your child to swallow at the right time.
1) Drops that numb the eardrum (Auralgan) can ease the pain. You can buy these without a prescription.
2) During takeoff and landing, make sure to have kids drink or chew gum. Make sure the baby is either nursing or drinking a bottle. Explain to them what is happening, and if they are too small to see out the window, play a game where they have to tell you when you are finally in the air or when you have finally touched ground.
3) Once you land, let the other passengers off first. Make sure you have everything and carry baby in carrier until you exit so your hands are free for the other kids.
4) If you need help, ask. In many airports, those little carts are available to help people traveling with small children.
D) AT THE DESTINATION
1) Most tourist accommodation isn’t particularly child-friendly, so once you’ve checked in you’ll probably need to make some adaptations yourself. Start off by checking locks on doors and windows to make sure the room is secure. Check the sturdiness of the fittings – wobbly balconies and railings are unsafe and mean you should change your accommodation straight away. Point out things such as loose towel-rails or curtain rails to the staff and either agree that you can’t be responsible should they fall down, or ask for them to be fixed or removed. Use insulating tape to cover exposed wires or sockets or block them off with furniture that’s too heavy for your children to move. It’s also a good idea to check the temperature of the hot water; it’s often scalding, so you may need to warn your children.
2) Once you’ve researched your destination, prepare a list of possible activities that take various lengths of time and suit different weather conditions. If you’ve more than one child, give each a turn to make choices from the activities list.
3) Breastfeeding in an unfamiliar destination can be a worry, and it is worth doing some research into local attitudes towards feeding in public before you go. If in doubt, try finding some female company, perhaps in a women’s clothing shop. Another idea is to head for the ladies’ toilets of a posh hotel; these are usually spacious, with seats and pleasant surroundings.
4) Apart from taking photographs, there are lots of ways to help your children preserve memories of your trip. You could buy a postcard for each destination and help them to note a single memory on the back, alongside the date or their age. You could also get them started on collections of things that can be found in most places, such as badges, paperweights, model cars and boats or toy animals.
5) If your children are keeping a journal, encourage them to draw and list things they see and eat; they could also collect autographs and doodles from people they meet as well as ticket stubs and labels to stick in. If free mini-maps of places you visit are available, get extras for the children to stick into their books, and help them circle the places you’ve seen. If you’re encountering different languages, put in lists of new words and add more as they learn one set.
6) Local toys are often worth seeking out, and make great gifts to take home. Apart from the novelty value, kids tend to like playing with the same things that local children have, and it can help with making friends.
7) 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.
(i) Meal routines for children during traveling:
Toddlers and young children are often fussy eaters. Travelling to unfamiliar places with new foods and different mealtime routines can further disrupt your child’s eating habits.
1) Relax and remember that a healthy child will never voluntarily starve them self. Trust them to eat when they’re hungry.
2) Try to keep a little bit of familiar mealtime routine, such as having breakfast in the usual way.
3) Don’t assume you’ll always find something they’ll like on a restaurant menu. Carry plenty of their favourite snacks and drinks when touring around.
4) Ring ahead and see if the restaurant you’re planning to visit has a children’s menu.
(ii) Travellers’ diarrhoea in children
Children with travellers’ diarrhoea are susceptible to dehydration.
Tips to reduce the risk of travellers’ diarrhoea:
1) Avoid risky foods such as seafood, undercooked meats, peeled and raw fruits and vegetables, and unpasteurised dairy products.
2) If you are unsure of the water supply, only drink bottled water, carbonated soft drinks or bottled fruit juices.
3) Use bottled water when brushing teeth.
4) Wash your child’s hands frequently.
5) Avoid eating foods from street vendors.
E) THINGS TO REMEMBER
1) Check in advance with travel agents, airlines and your accommodation for child-friendly suggestions.
2) Children have short attention spans and get tired very quickly.
3) Make sure there will be enough family events and child-oriented activities to keep them amused while away.
4) Take a medical kit containing items such as baby paracetamol, thermometer, anti-itching lotion, oral rehydration preparation and bandaids.
5) Pack plenty of toys and favorite snacks.
6) When flying, encourage your child to eat or drink during take-off and landing to prevent ear ache.