Travelling with a family
Going on holiday with your family is a wonderful way to bring you all closer together and enjoy a wealth of new experiences and cultures. Although preparing for this time away can be stressful, particularly with babies or toddlers, with the correct planning you can ensure that your trip goes as smoothly as possible. With the help of tips and ideas from real parents, we've put together this guide to preparing for your family holiday to help make your trip as easy as possible.
- What to pack
- Researching and booking a holiday
- Booking a flight
- Getting to the airport
- At the airport
- On the flight
There is so much to remember when packing for children on holiday, especially if they are different ages. Make sure to put together a list of everything you need to pack well in advance so that you have time to make additions and ensure everything is clean and ready.
What to pack in your hand luggage:
Take an extra-large bag as hand luggage, but make sure it's within the airline's size and weight restrictions. Check with your airline for any specific hand luggage policies and the number of items of baggage that can be taken onto your flight. British Airways hand luggage, for example, should be no more than 56cm long, 45cm wide and 25cm deep.
"I take a guide to where we're going with me so that I can talk to my son about the animals we might see and what we'll do when we're there."
Stefan, father of 3 year-old Jacob
Prepare hand luggage a few days early and make sure you have everything you need to hand. Consider what food or medicines your children will require, but be aware of liquid restrictions. Keep enough nappies handy for the whole trip, along with the necessary creams and disposal bags. Pre-sterilise bottles ready for the journey.
Pack a change of clothes - at least a clean top each and some underwear - for you and your children, just in case there are any spillages or accidents. Dress the family in layers for the flight as this will prepare you for fluctuating airport and flight temperatures, as well a difference in temperature between your start and end destinations.
Packing tips for parents with toddlers:
- Consider buying a few new toys to reveal one-by-one on the plane. Babies can be kept happy with new interactive picture books and stuffed toys, plus don't forget to include comfort blankets and spare dummies.
- Disposable potties, such as the Potette, don't take up too much space and are handy to include in your hand luggage in case your little one gets caught short at an awkward moment.
Packing tips for parents with older children:
- Let older children carry their own backpack or bag with some basic entertainment items - not only will it encourage them to take an interest in their own packing, but it will give them a sense of responsibility and will save you from carrying everything! Encourage your child to pack it with you and include books, toys, colouring books and pens, or any electronic devices like MP3 players or hand-held game consoles.
"When they're a bit older a Nintendo DS is like a gift from god for the parents because it keeps the children quiet for hours!"
Jo, mother of 7 year old Grace and 10 year old Harry
What to pack in your main luggage:
If you don't want to pay extra to check in your luggage then be careful with the weight as each airline has different allowances. Look at their specific website to confirm. British Airways, for example, has an allowance of 23kg.
Ensure you pack a variety of medicines, antihistamines and a first-aid kit so that you're covered for all eventualities if anyone gets sick or has small accidents. Calpol can be particularly helpful if your little ones struggle to sleep in new places.
"Children get through so many clothes, that unless you are planning on doing washing every day, you need to pack loads"
Wendy, mother of 4 year old Gary
Don't forget the chargers for everything you're taking with you, including the children's toys or hand-held devices. It's worth picking up a couple of universal adaptors so that you can plug everything in abroad.
Perhaps consider taking a mosquito net to hang over a bed or cot to protect little ones from any nibbling bugs. A baby monitor can be handy to include on your packing list, as can a baby carrier or sling. The main things to remember are irreplaceable items like comforters or favourite toys so that your little one still has their favourite items with them.
"Pack sterilising sachets so you can sterilise anything, anywhere"
Kathy, mother of 2 year old Kayan and 4 year old Woody
Packing tips for parents with babies:
- Unless you're visiting a developing country you should be able to get most things you need when you reach your destination, so don't worry if you forget to pack a few bits. It is sensible to pack some spare nappies and food, but as most of these items can be bought in supermarkets and pharmacies abroad, there's no point stuffing your luggage with them. Likewise recognisable brands of formula and baby food, as well as many medicines are available in most places.
Applying for a child's passport:
All British travellers, including children, need passports and kids below the age of 16 are issued with a child's passport when flying or journeying overseas. In May 2011 a child's first passport and all consequent renewals cost £49 each and last up to five years.
The Directgov website has all the information you need to purchase passports, as well as application forms and information on other nationality groups. Give this plenty of time, as the application process can take a few weeks. If you find you have left it too late then there is a one-day service available, but you will need to make an appointment and visit the passport office. If it has been lost or stolen then you can't use this fast service and will need to apply well in advance.
Travel vaccinations for your family:
It is important to protect yourself and your family from any tropical illnesses when travelling, particularly if you're visiting a developing country. See your GP at least six to eight weeks before you intend to travel to enquire if any vaccinations are needed. The jabs required for children can vary depending on their age and state of health. Take your child's Red Book (official health record) to your GP so that they can see which vaccinations have already been given and record any new ones administered. It's worth taking photocopies of this book away with you, just in case your little one gets sick.
The NHS provides most immunisations for free, but there may be a small charge for some. See the NHS' Fit For Travel website for destination-specific information.
Researching hospitals and healthcare:
"I always call the tourist office of the area I'm thinking of visiting - they give you a great idea of what you can see and do, but more importantly can check if there's a hospital or English speaking doctor nearby."
Roanne, mother of 11 year old Harry
Hopefully you won't need them, but make sure you research the healthcare facilities in the area before you book a holiday - you'll be grateful to know what's nearby if there's an accident or if anyone falls ill. It's worth making a couple of phone calls to the local tourism office or researching online before you book.
If you're travelling within a European Union country, apply online for free European Health Insurance Cards - this will ensure that you and your family can receive free health treatment on the continent.
You're likely to get the best rates for travel insurance by buying online, so search for cover on the Internet. Make sure to compare prices of various travel insurance companies rather than settling for the package offered by a tour operator, as these basic packages will often be no-frills and can be more expensive. Even if you're only going on holiday for a week or two, get quotes for a year's insurance, especially if you're planning more than one holiday within 12 months. Surprisingly, sometimes the cost of one year is almost the same as a week or two. Insurance is also cheaper if you buy in numbers so enquire about what savings you make for covering your whole family at the same time.
If your home insurance covers personal possessions then your travel insurer may discount your overall cost by around ten per cent, so make sure you're not doubling up. Don't let insurance companies sting you with excess charges though - sometimes these can be as high as £200, so confirm the claiming process before you buy.
Child-friendly hotel facilities:
It may seem obvious, but call ahead to ensure that your accommodation is adequately kitted out for your family. Check that high-chairs and cots are available, as well as sterilisation equipment. If your hotel or villa doesn't provide these then look into hiring options nearby.
Enquire about child-friendly swimming facilities and pool safety - it can be worth preparing your child in advance so that they know whether or not they can only be allowed to swim if you are with them. Some hotels also provide babysitting services to allow you time to enjoy an evening meal or an afternoon nap.
Child and even baby meals are available on many airlines but need to be booked in advance. Even if you've booked a child's seat, you should make sure to check that they have a child's meal arranged too - as sometimes these won't be organised automatically.
Travelling with babies:
For little ones up to the age of 18 months you can pre-order bulkhead seats with a bassinet (baby cot) for the flight. These seats can fill up fairly quickly, so try to book as far in advance as possible, as this will save you carrying your little one on your lap for the entire journey. You'll appreciate the extra space,particularly on long-haul flights. It's worth bearing in mind that they can be quite small - the standard size is 71cm long by 31cm wide with a weight limit of 11kg - and are generally only recommended for those up to the age of 8 months.
Travelling with children:
For slightly older babies up to the age of two or sometimes three, some airlines allow you to take a car seat on-board to keep them comfortable and secure while flying. From two years old, all children must have their own seat. Before that age they can sit on your lap, saving you the price of an extra seat. If you're holding them throughout, ask if the flight is full when you check in - if there are spare seats then some assistants will block01/12/2011 out the seat next to you or offer you the option of seating next to a vacant chair.
"When booking a long haul flight with a baby under a year, ensure you reserve a bassinet- that way you have a bed for your baby to sleep in and you get great seats with leg room!"
James, father of 9 month old Charlie
Check restrictions on hand luggage:
"When flying, airlines allow you to push your buggy all the way onto the airplane (so you technically have an extra piece of hand luggage), and they will store the buggy for you, so you don't have to put it in the hold. You can put your baby in it when you get off the plane immediately so you at least have two spare hands to deal with other children and luggage."
Florence, mother of 16 month old Lenny and 4 year old Izzy
Pushchairs are usually permitted in the cabin on most flights, but they need to be security-screened first. Make sure you're familiar with folding and unfolding your buggy so that you don't end up getting flustered when you're about to board a flight.
If you're taking a car seat, ensure it's either EU or FAA approved and be aware that some airlines will only let you take either a car seat or pushchair on-board as hold baggage, not both, so check their regulations first.
"I really would say go for concierge parking -I've always found it to be the quickest and easiest option for me and my kids."
Joe, father of 4 year old Milo and 6 year old Lottie
When you're travelling with a family in tow then driving to the airport is the easiest option, especially if you're departing or arriving home in the middle of the night, or would need to take multiple trains or buses. It saves you juggling you children and your luggage all the way to the airport and is more relaxing for both you and your little ones. The Purple Parking Meet & Greet service means that you can step straight from your car into the terminal and a driver will park your car and arrange to meet you upon your return.
If it's a long drive, make sure to carry plenty of drinks, games and toys. Children often sleep on car journeys or you can play music and sing songs to keep them entertained.
"First off, make sure everyone goes to the toilet before you leave, and that you've dished out the travel sickness tablets. Fill a bag with snacks and drinks. Don't then put this bag in the boot as I have done many times.
Have a few travel games on standby for when the kids get bored. I spy is still a favourite with my ten year old. She's also a fan of car bingo (where you choose a colour car and try to be the first to spot ten) but she's also a massive cheat. Another of our family favourites is the game where you have to spot number plates with consecutive numbers in, starting with just a 1 on its own, then 2, then 3 etc. This game can last for literally years."
Josephine from http://slummysinglemummy.wordpress.com/
Check in times:
Everything takes longer with kids in tow, so leave plenty of time to get to the airport and to check in, allowing at least 30% extra time for traffic and toilet stops. There's plenty to keep the family entertained at most airports and it's better to have extra time there than risk missing your flight. See our travel information section for individual airlines' check in times.
Check in and security:
It's best to check in and head through airport security as soon as possible, so that you can relax and enjoy the shops and restaurants on the other side having already dealt with the process of being screened. You'll also be closer to the terminals for when your flight gets announced, so won't need to run to catch your flight.
Make sure you're fully aware of the airport security restrictions, such as rules on liquids and baby food.
Airports often have children's play areas to keep your little ones entertained and give you a chance to relax, although sometimes you need to pay extra and book into lounges to access them. Check what's on offer at the airport before your trip so that you know what to expect.
Tips for travelling with toddlers and children on planes:
- Be aware of what your child is doing - are they kicking the seat in front or bothering other passengers? It's not always easy to keep them quiet and entertained, which is why it's worth having some new toys to reveal to them throughout the journey. If they have a hand-held game console then now might be the best time to introduce them to a new game.
"My two year old appears to have a 15 minute patience threshold. As the flight we regularly take lasts for two hours, it means having eight different activities to hand. These could be colouring, stickers, a book, a piece of chocolate or watching a cartoon on the iPad. But after 15 minutes, he is ready for something new and it's important to be prepared."
Rachel from http://threeyearsandonestonethenhome.com/
- If you can, prepare some colouring games, or puzzles for them. If you usually have strict rules on TV viewing, now may be the time to relax and let them enjoy any film or TV programs on offer. Travel games are worthwhile, although be careful with small pieces that can be swallowed or easily lost.
"We take a portable DVD player - now I'll take my iPad - plus a headphone splitter so two people can listen at once (don't forget the headphones too)."
Sam, father of 5 year old Charlotte
"My biggest tip is to take an iPad loaded with games, activities, books and movies. Plus an emergency power supply if you do long haul flights like we do to Canada."
Chrissie from http://mediocremum.com
Tips for travelling with babies on planes:
- For babies, consider taking a harness or sling on the flight with you - if they're bored or can't sleep then it may help to stand up and stroll around to settle them. Feel free to ask the flight attendant for help if you need it -they will have had plenty of parents with young babies on-board and should be able to help with things like providing extra pillows. Warming up milk can take a while, so ask an attendant a while before you need it.
- Keep some nappy bags and wipes in the pocket of the seat in front of you, as these will no doubt come in handy during the flight, especially if your little one is prone to travel sickness. If you're on a long flight then try to give them several (supervised) opportunities to stretch their legs - perhaps a walk to the back of the plane to look through the window.
"Breast or bottle-feed babies during take-off and landing to protect their ears from pressure change - it will help keep them comfy and save your neighbours from any crying."
Jack, father of 4 month old Elsie
- Once your plane has landed, don't rush to leave the aircraft - it can be easier to gather your belongings and family calmly once the plane is clearer, so let others go first.
- Ultimately, if your child is crying and you're worried about disturbing other passengers, then stay calm and focus on settling your little one before dealing with those around you. It is likely that your fellow passengers will have more patience if they can at least see you're trying your best. It's quite possible that your child isn't being as noisy as you think - children will be children and you should try to relax and enjoy your holiday too.
Date published 01/06/2011
If there are any airlines or information not included here that you would like to know more about, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll include the most popular.