Travelling with children this Summer? Yes? Wow, you're brave! Wendy Shand of child-friendly travel specialists Totstotravel.co.uk has come up with a list of tips for parents to help them have a stress-free holiday this summer. Wendy is a mum of two (pregnant with her third) and has been featured on radio and TV as a travel expert.
Holidaying with children is an art form. Most parents have experienced a screaming baby on a plane, a bored child on a long car journey, holiday accommodation that's unsafe for a small child, or a toddler that's wandered off in a foreign supermarket. The list of horrors goes on.
Here is my advice for achieving not just a safe, but a stress-free holiday this summer.
The key comes down to good planning.
Choose your holiday wisely
- Pick a travel operator that's family friendly.
- Ask questions – for example, is the pool fenced or alarmed, is there a pond nearby; is the property near a main road?
- What equipment will you need whilst on holiday – cot, bed guard, steriliser? What can your holiday company provide and what do you need to take?
- Check your passport is valid and make sure your children have them. Last minute passport applications are stressful and more expensive. Check them now and put a reminder in your calendar six months before they expire.
- Don't forget adequate travel insurance.
Travelling by air
- Do allow plenty of time. Children don't have a sense of urgency when you're running late!
- If possible, check in online and choose your seats ahead. This ensures you sit together as a family.
- Time your baby's milk feeds for take off and landing.
- Put all essentials in your hand luggage. This should include nappies, baby milk, plenty of wipes, change of clothes, drinks, snacks, comforters and so on!
- Pack surprises for the journey. For example, a new DVD if you have a portable DVD player, crayons, small toys or a disposable camera for them to record the journey. Avoid toys with lots of small pieces!
- If you're flying on your own with several children, ask the airline if it's possible to provide an assistant to help you through the airport and onto / off the plane.
- Pre-book children's meals for your flight.
- You may think you know it, but when flying with children, take notice of the safety briefing.
Travelling by car
- Be organised. Do write a list of things that you need to pack and run through it before you leave.
- Avoid last minute stress. Don't leave packing the car until the last minute – it always takes longer than you think and adds stress.
- Fill up. Likewise, try to remember to fill the car up with petrol a few days before your journey. It's one less thing to do!
- Snack attack. Put together a bag of snacks and drinks that are easily accessible, likewise keep your nappy changing bag, pram and coats near the top so that they are easy to find when you stop for a break.
- Mapwork. Have a good up to date map close at hand.
- Plan your route. If you do not have a Sat Nav then do use one of the online route planners such as www.viamichelin.com or the AA route planner. Getting lost is very stressful!
- Are we there yet? Your Sat Nav or online route planner will tell you how long your journey is and will allow you to plan enough time to get there and plan for breaks en-route.
- Night drive. Consider driving overnight so that your children can sleep for most of the journey (but make sure you plan to share the driving)
- Plan a picnic. Stopping at a restaurant or at a service station for food is expensive, time consuming and often very disappointing. Consider packing a picnic instead. The kids will think it's all part of the fun.
- Do split the team! Car hire queues can be very long so it is worth sending one adult through passport control to sort out the car.
- If arriving late, make sure you've packed everything you need to get the children into bed at the top of the case – pjs, cot sheets, toothbrushes. However, the reverse is true if arriving early – swimming costumes, shorts and beach towels!
- If driving, it's worth packing some basic food to see you through the first few hours before you stock up at a supermarket. Or, ask if your holiday company can arrange this for you.
Whilst You're Away
- Keep your mobile number in your child's pocket. If you get separated and someone finds them, they can call you.
- Arrange emergency meeting points in case you get lost whilst out and about.
- Check that any medication you take abroad is legal in the country you're visiting.
- Make sure your specific brand of baby milk is available where you're going.
- Do your research and plan some activities ahead. Get the children involved and excited.
- Last but not least have fun – you're on holiday!