At TravelOnline HQ we love family travel. We love the intense periods of bonding, the challenges and unanticipated stories that weave themselves into family lore (hindsight is a wonderful thing). We love watching our kids learn like crazy as their eyes are opened to a world that is so much bigger than home. We love the friendships made in the resort pool, the funny food and the foreign words that enter their lexicon.
That said, travelling with kids is daunting. Especially the first time. How will they react when stuck in an airplane for hours? Will they eat the food, adjust to the rapid changes, cause tantrums in the seemingly endless queues?
For the most part, the idea of family travel is more overwhelming than reality, but we totally understand the apprehension. So, for our first-timers, we've compiled our top tips for travelling with kids - the little things guaranteed to make a big difference to your holiday and allow time to actually, you know, relax.
This is for the long haulers. Book your flights at night, pop your kids in their pyjamas at home and do what you can to tire them out prior to departure (games at the airport are a good trick). Once on-board, use pillows and blankets to make the seat as homely as possible. Quiet stories may also help encourage them to sleep sooner.
If you need a bassinet for bub, make sure to request when booking. Most airplanes have just one or two on-board and some none at all, so it's an important one if you don't wish to hold baby for the duration of the flight.
Before departing, talk the kids through the transit stage to help prepare them in advance. Explain the check-in process, security, customs and the long periods of waiting they can expect. Talk about stop-overs and flight changes and how you plan to get to the hotel. These short conversations are going to go along way in quashing antsy behaviour and "are-we-there-yet?" type questions.
Those with little ones who have just discovered the wonders of walking may be concerned about the crowded airport situation. As a simple measure, we like to write mum or dads name and number on their arm. Alternatively, some parents might like to attach a small GPS tracking device to bubs clothing to prevent any adrenaline inducing moments in the terminal.
Purchase a number of little treats (think toy cars, mini colouring books etc) and wrap them up before you leave. Without telling the kids beforehand, offer the treats in times of strife (i.e. when tracking down lost baggage after hours in transit) and as a reward for good behaviour (i.e. settling in on the plane with little fuss). While it might not be your normal strategy, long flights are all about keeping the peace.
While avoiding overly sugary substances (we don't need to encourage excess energy), a drink to sip or hard lolly to suck on during take off and landing is a major life saver. Reducing the likelihood of popping ears, we can't recommend this suggestion enough.
Early on when you're still choosing destinations and booking hotels, make sure to research their accessibility first - you'll thank us when arriving at your sea-level resort as opposed to the picturesque mountain villa 465 steps above. Speak with your Travel Specialist for advice on kid-friendly, accessible locations and accommodation options.
Back in the planning stages, get your kids involved and encourage their excitement. Show them a map of your destination and talk about some of the cultural differences they might encounter. Introduce a few choice phrases of the national tongue and talk about the food, history and places they can look forward to experiencing. Involving the kids in the preparations and giving them some ownership in their holiday should make a big difference in keeping energies and enthusiasm high!
Be ruthless and cut down the scheduled sites. Pick your must do's and give the rest of the time to impromptu exploration, afternoon naps and local cafes with mouthwatering cakes. With a light itinerary you can say no to queues and disengaged, cranky kids and yes to spontaneous leisure! Trust us, slow down and experience more.
Encourage your kids to take photo's of their travels or keep a diary as they go. Sketching or photographing the things they see is a great way to keep their attention focused and engaged. Not only will these kind of projects help them recount the things that happen on their busy days but they're also make for awesome momentos down the track (and a nice way for you to see the holiday from their perspective).