Top tips for Travel with kids: A parents guide to family-friendly vacations

Travel with kids, doesn’t always feel like a holiday for the parents and can run the risk of being more work than it’s worth. But with a bit of compromise and flexibility, there’s no reason to miss the thrill of new horizons during this chapter of your life.

View from Llandudno skyrail Atlas Introspective

“Two of the greatest gifts we can give our children are roots and wings”                                                                                                                                              

Hodding Carter

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Travel with kids

Remember the days when you set off with a one way ticket and a backpack? A paltry beer budget and even lower standards? Booking in advance was for geriatrics or those without a sense of adventure. You were a traveller, a purist and on a mission to find the path less travelled. But now you’re a parent and need to plan family-friendly getaways.

Set your worries aside, travel with kids can be an enriching experience and an opportunity to create unforgettable family memories. For those wanting a family and a life, here are my top tips for travel with kids.

Ryokan Kyoto child Atlas Introspective

Pack Light for travel with kids (within reason)

Believe it or not, people have children in other countries and most things you need will be available at your destination. Pack wisely, the ease of travel is indirectly proportionate to the size of your luggage. But don’t leave home without the following things:

  • A comforter, be it a teddy, blanket, book, dummy-whatever. Something familiar, but preferably not irreplaceable or bulky
  • For flights and day trips, pack a spare pair of clothes in your handbag- always. Murphy’s Law dictates that a nappy will leak or an unpressurised yoghurt container will explode one hour into a long haul flight like a modern day tar & feathering
  • Always have food. It can be difficult to follow a schedule on the move, and toddler’s are rarely forgiving of a missed meal. Avoid an attack of the hangry’s. Always leave the hotel with snacks
  • Many airlines allow you to take a car seat on the plane, if the child has a paid seat. It’s safer, and your kid may be more likely to sleep in their familiar seat. However, if you have a scheduled stopover, consider how feasible it is to carry a fractious toddler, car seat & all your carry-on. Some airlines offer a Child Aviation Restraint System or CARES seat. This is not always advertised so you may have to ask & book in advance.
  • If your children are old enough- make them carry their own backpack / suitcase. Train them young
  • When it comes to travel toys the key is small, light, and on the plane: quiet. For those staying at their destination a bit longer, register with the local library &/or toy library, or pick up some second hand toys at charity stores or markets
  • Child headphones for the plane and devices
  • Book a cot with your accommodation- most hotels provide them at no extra charge
  • Hand sanitizer and wipes. The last thing you want on the road is a sick baby
  • Mini first aid kit: thermometer, panadol/ nurofen and baby vicks. Hope for the best, plan for the worst
Stroller skateboard Atlas Introspective

Gear for travel with kids

Travel with kids usually includes a lot of walking and public transport. It’s not always practical for young children to walk the distance so a stroller and / or sling are a must.

Stroller

Maclaren

There are many strollers on the market which are great for travel with kids. Maclaren make excellent umbrella strollers and are ideal for those prioritising size and weight. I used one when we went to Venice, probably the least stroller-friendly place I’ve visited. The Maclaren was easy to carry over bridges and light enough to carry when my son wanted to walk.

Bugaboo Bee

However for all other trips I use a Bugaboo Bee. Unlike the Maclaren, you cant take it right up to the boarding gate as it’s slightly too big. But the Bugaboo travel bag accessory is well worth buying. It’s large and rarely weighed at check-in. I often pack bulky or heavy items in the stroller bag such as nappies, shoes, toys etc.

The Bugaboo Bee is narrow enough to fit through most gates at train stations, the extendible handles are much more comfortable to use than most strollers on the market and there’s under-seat storage. We’ve taken the Bugaboo Bee to big cities like London and Tokyo, road trips around Australia, UK and Iceland; and it’s our every day stroller at home. It’s suitable from birth, light & easy to push, and collapses in one piece.

Stroller Travel Bag

I highly suggest getting a stroller travel bag. The travel bag is often unweighed at check-in and is great for storing all your child’s extra nappies, toys and clothes. The Bugaboo strollers are excellent, but they are expensive. So it’s worth spending that little bit extra to protect them from damage in transit. The travel bags are often in demand and easily sold second hand when you return home.

Stroller Skate Board

If you have more than one child, the Comfort Wheeled Board is another excellent stroller accessory. It can buy you a bit more time when little legs start getting tired, without the bulk of a double stroller.

Hiking Iceland w ergobaby Atlas Introspective
Sling

My ultimate, must-buy item for travelling with small children is an Ergobaby. Honestly, just buy one. If you’re pregnant, have a small child or know someone with a young family. These are invaluable for travel with kids. There are many slings on the market but I chose Ergobaby because they are suitable from birth to 20kgs, meaning many years of use. They are great for going through customs (not all airports have courtesy strollers), settling your child on a plane, hiking or navigating the London tube. For destinations that aren’t always stroller friendly a sling is a godsend. If you are travelling with a small baby, you may choose to take a sling and leave the stroller at home.

Tokyo Disney child on J shoulders Atlas Introspective

Destinations for travel with kids

Consider the logistical challenges of the destination when planning for travel with kids. Is there public transport available and is it stroller-friendly, would it be more feasible to hire a car, is it culturally appropriate to breast-feed, are the local restaurants likely to have high chairs, will baby-change facilities be available etc. It can also be worthwhile noting the locations of GPs and hospitals near your destination in case of emergency. Travel insurance is non-negotiable. If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford to travel.

If your destination is unlikely to have high chairs, consider whether a portable high chair / booster seat is needed. They’re often lightweight and compact and we just stored one under the stroller. I dont always travel with a portable high chair, but in Venice, the smaller restaurants didn’t always have high chairs available and it was handy. After the holiday, a portable high chair can be great to store in the car for visiting friends and family who don’t have kids.

Babies

Certain destinations will better suit children of certain ages. I probably wouldn’t take a baby somewhere with a high risk of contracting malaria. Australia, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Europe, the UK, the USA, Scandinavia, Iceland, are all places that are safe for travel with kids.

Tweens and Teens

Destinations less suitable for babies and toddlers may be perfect for tweens. Take the opportunity to learn about and appreciate new cultures together. It won’t be long before they’ll be taking trips of their own (terrifying as this idea may be), and they’ll have a better chance of making smart choices on the road with a bit of experience under their belt.

The Pinnacles Atlas Introspective

Open Your Wallet

Travel with kids doesn’t have to be expensive but a flexible budget in a few select area’s will ensure everyone enjoys themselves, including the parents. Purchase a plane ticket with the better departure/ arrival time. The red-eye may save a few hundred dollars, but may cost you in wasted days with grumpy, jet-lagged children. A true midnight horror.

Accommodation

Book two-room lodging unless you want to spend your evenings tip toeing around a sleeping baby or (worse) lying in a darkened room until your toddler falls asleep. Family holidays already revolve around a child’s schedule, leave the evenings for the adults. It’s likely the schedule will tend towards early nights to accommodate children’s bed times, so at the very least have your own space. Believe it or not apartments are not always as expensive as you’d think, and can be competitive against hotel room prices if you consider the price per person. Research trip advisor, booking.com and airbnb.com for ‘holiday rentals’ and ‘holiday apartments’.

Transport

If your holiday involves more than a few stops, consider a hire car. Public transport isn’t always the most economical choice when you travel with kids and if you weigh up the additional time it often takes to catch public transport, not to mention the inconvenience, it may not make the most practical sense.

Give yourself plenty of time

Allow more time: to get to the airport, to pack for every move, to stop along the way. Do not underestimate the amount of time it will take to get through customs with a toddler. Stretch your trip out a few extra days so that all those afternoon naps and early nights don’t prevent you from seeing all a place has to offer. If you’re travelling with a partner or extended family, take turns to be alone so that you can return rejuvenated. It is a holiday after all!

Booking centrally-located accommodation can reduce daily travel time which is essential when working with the limited attention span of a two year old.

Touch-Stones from Home

Some things are sacred and will keep your child settled when surrounded by the unfamiliar. For some it’s the evening routine, for others, it’s a favourite teddy, or access to preferred foods. Consistency is so important for little ones to feel safe. Incorporate little touches throughout your journey where possible.

Disney Tigger Atlas Introspective

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!”

Dr Seuss, Oh, The Places you’ll go!

And for When it All Goes to Shit….

On a flight from Reykjavík to Manchester, I lost my cool. My son was crying, I’d hardly slept. The nappy bag had exploded and the ever present judges of the Mothering Olympics were critiquing my every move. My husband took a photo of me -mid weep- and cracked ‘this is what I call having it all’. Said photo is not available for display because the camera was hurled through economy class.

Mugdock castle Atlas Introspective

“Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo”                                                                                                          

al gore

Bring a sense of humour… the stress is infinitely more bearable when you can see the funny side. Then again Mark Twain said “Humour is tragedy plus time.” Don’t berate yourself when today feels more tragic than comedic, there’s always tomorrow…or their 21st.

What are you waiting for!

Travel with kids is never going to be the same as when you were younger. But there is no need to forfeit your passport. The slower pace of travel with children can offer greater insight into your destination. And what better way to meet the locals than to bring along the worlds cutest icebreaker? If given the choice of travelling with children versus staying at home, it’s the glorious struggle of jet-lagged toddlers all the way! Boldly approach the boarding gate, relinquish the pretentious philosophies of your formative years and show no fear.

You may also be interested in Iceland with kids and Venice with kids.