15 Tips for Travelling with Kids (& Keeping Your Sanity!)
March Break is just around the corner (!) and we know a lot of people are prepping for a trip. Whether it’s a whirlwind escape some place overseas, a quick jaunt somewhere south or even a hop, skip and a jump to somewhere close, travel can be stressful. Don’t worry…we’ve got you covered.
Planning Your Trip
1. Manage your expectations
Before kids, a typical vacation for us would involve spending a couple of days in each city, packed to the brim with sightseeing. We now try to pick 2-3 locations to visit during a 10 day–2 week vacation. This allows us to settle into a bit of a routine and to really get to know the area. We try to focus on one attraction a day and use the rest of the time to wader around and soak up local culture.
We have also found that 3 restaurant meals a day can be challenging with little ones. We try to pick one nice meal to eat out a day. Lunch is often a better option, in particular in Europe and other parts of the world where restaurants don’t open for dinner until the kids’ bedtime. Most of the good restaurants are open for lunch, other patrons tend to be more tolerant of children during the day, and the kids are often a little less cranky than they would be come dinner time.
2. Plan ahead, but also be patient and flexible
Investing in a bit of upfront planning can lead to a much more enjoyable holiday. The reality is that when you travel with kids, you can’t be as spontaneous as you might have been in your single days. Booking your flight tickets, accommodations and transportation ahead of time is guaranteed to reduce your travel stress. Landing at your destination knowing a driver is ready to take your exhausted children to a comfortable hotel room will be the glimmer of hope you need after hours of flying.
But remember that no matter how much you meticulously plan, something is going to go differently than you expected. Prepare for plane delays and getting lost and all those “maybe’s” in between. A simple flight delay or cancellation won’t ruin your entire vacation, and a rainy beach day can always be substituted for a fun-filled day in town. Travel always comes with ups and downs, and the best way to endure them is to roll with the punches.
3. Travel time matters
Not all travel times are made the same – especially with kids! Children are creatures of routine and taking that into account while you travel is a good idea. Try to avoid flights that have layovers which can make everything more complicated. Choose flight times that aren’t during the crazy evening time just before dinner, if possible, and if you’re driving, make plenty of time for stops.
4. Don’t overcrowd your days, and do things they love to do
Every traveler wants to make the most of each getaway, but that doesn’t mean packing days with activities is the most effective way. Limit your family to seeing two sites or experiencing one big adventure each day. It always takes longer than expected to get from one destination to another, and you could easily find yourself with exhausted kids and cancelled plans (which can be costly).
We like to scope out the good parks in advance when visiting big cities since our kids can only put up with so much of the Jardin De Luxembourg in Paris and the Borghese Gardens in Rome. A bonus is that while your kids play with local children you can chat up their parents for tips on what to see and where to eat.
5. Look at alternate lodging arrangements
Renting an apartment or villa can be a great way to travel with kids. You end up with more space (and room to hang out after the kids go to sleep), you have a kitchen to prepare meals and you often get to experience the neighbourhoods where people live. Resources like homeaway.com and airbnb are great ways to find apartments, even for short weekend stays.
Preparing For Your Trip
5. Connect with your airline and hotel in advance
No matter how you bought your tickets, connect with your airline before you travel to find out about any rules and inform them about any accommodations you might need. Find out if your airline offers online check-in so you can save yourself the hassle of lining up at the airport. And remember that flight times are subject to change; check your status regularly during the days leading up to your trip.
With so many people booking tours and hotel rooms, it’s also a good idea to double-check important reservations before your departure so you have time to handle any mix-ups. This is especially true if you’re going to be arriving later than expected; call your hotel to let them know you’re delayed and ensure they hold your room.
6. Educate and prepare your kids
For kids that have never travelled by plane or like to follow a routine, the airport can be an overwhelming experience. Be sure to talk with them in detail about what they will experience (bright lights, lots of people, loud sounds, line-ups, security…). Pack travel essentials, toys and travel games and other entertainment items like a tablet, or a smart phone, books, crayons, pencils or markers and paper. Bring along their favourite stuffed animal and blanket, pillow or lovey.
Before we went to Italy last summer, we spent a lot of time with my son, who was 3 at the time, talking about what we would see and do and looking at videos online of the different sites. We also gave him a storybook on Rome which familiarized him with the various sites. He was so excited when he visited sites that he was already familiar with.
7. Triple check your paperwork, and make copies
Traveling, depending on where you’re going and how you’re getting there, can require a lot of paperwork. Avoid unwanted stops and a whole lot of stress by doing the research before you leave and triple checking that you have all the documents you need – for you and your children.
A passport is the preferable piece of identification for travel outside of Canada. If you share custody of children and the other parent is not travelling with you, or if you are travelling with minors for whom you are not the parent or legal guardian, have a consent letter to provide authorization for you to take them on a trip and leave and then return to Canada.
Nothing can ruin a trip quite like a forgotten passport or lost ticket. Take photos of all your important documents and email them to yourself including birth certificates, boarding passes, letter of travel consent, hotel confirmation numbers, etc. Keep one copy in your carry-on luggage and leave one with friends or family back home. Then, if the worst happens and you lose any of the documents, you’ll have an easier time getting replacements with photographed copies. If you’re planning to show your ticket on your smart phone, it’s still smart to have a hard copy on hand somewhere.
8. Know travel regulations for infants (if you have one…or two…or (!) three)
Only one infant is permitted per adult passenger (16 years of age or older). Transport Canada encourages passengers to use an approved child restraint system (car seat) when travelling by air with infants or children. Although an infant under two years of age may be held in an adult’s arms, using an approved car seat during a flight protects your child; ensures their comfort while travelling and brings a car seat to your destination. Formula, breast milk, juice and baby food (in small containers) are permitted in carry-on baggage. Because onboard refrigeration may not always be available, bring these in a small cooler to keep them at the desired temperature.
9. Know what you can bring home
Souvenirs can be a fun way to remember your trip abroad, but certain goods are prohibited from entering Canada, including some food, plant and animal products. Be aware of what goods are prohibited from entering Canada by consulting the I Declare brochure.
10. Pack smart
No one really likes to pack for their trip, and when you have more than one person to plan for, it can seem really daunting.
Every destination requires different clothing and gear. Trips to tropical destinations require plenty of sun protection and water shoes, while mountain adventures mean packing a lot of layers. Research your destination to understand the clothing your little ones will need. Most importantly, pack a full day’s worth of clothing in each traveler’s’ carry-on bag in case of spills or travel delays.
If you have to pack diapers for a long journey, contact the hotel, you’ll be staying at and see if you can ship them directly there, so you don’t have to take them on the plane with you. Consider using a baby carrier in place of a stroller to help cut down on bulky items.
On Departure Day
11. Leave plenty of time
Travelling with a child with can take more time than you expect, so plan accordingly. Allow time for bathroom breaks, purchasing snacks and other hold-ups that are likely to occur between check-in, security, and the walk to the gate. March Break is one of the busiest travel weeks of the year, so you’ll want to have plenty of time to manage traffic, long lines and unexpected surprises.
12. Dress your kidlet like a crazy person
We’re not kidding. Brightly patterned hat? Easy to see. Bright backpack? Great for grabbing them and again, simple to pick out in a crowd. Also, take a pic of them as you’re leaving for the airport, in case they get lost. Remember: one of the first laws of parenting is that f you have it and you’re prepared it’s less likely you’ll need it.
13. Backpacks for each kid
It might seem easier to pack light, but when you have children, that’s not going to protect your sanity. Have a small backpack for each of your little ones so they can have easier access to the things that will keep them calm and happy, boost their self-esteem, and even lighten your load! Include their games, toys and a spare change of clothes. Also stash some extra surprises that they’ve never seen before so their interest is in those. New activity books, puzzles, small little cars and new books to keep their attention when they need a little distraction.
14. Snacks, snacks and snacks (but ditch the sweets)
Remember: a hungry kid = a grumpy kid, so pack healthy snacks. Low blood sugar is a quick way to ruin your travel so plan to keep that from happening. Even with roadside stops and airport amenities, you never know when you won’t have time to grab something to eat. Pack a lot of snacks – healthy vegetables and protein to keep their energy up. It might be tempting to give them sugary treats, but be mindful of how much sugar they’re getting – the short-lived energy or mood boost provided by candy and other sweets will come back to haunt you when they crash later on.
15. Download plenty of apps, but bring paper options too!
There are times and places for kids to use smartphones and tablets, and during flight is one of those times. Instead of packing a bag full of toys and games, a simple toddler-friendly tablet or smartphone, loaded with kid-friendly apps, can save your arms and your sanity.
Unfortunately, not all planes are outfitted with power outlets, and electronic devices don’t always have enough battery power to endure long flights. This is when books, whether they’re storybooks, comic books, or coloring books, can occupy hours on the plane, train, bus or during other “boring” times.
Stress is going to ruin any trip and the more frazzled you are, the more your children are going to feel it too. The whole point of getting away is to enjoy your family so make sure some big deep breaths and make some memories.
Are you an avid traveler with little ones in tow? If so, what are your must-have travel tips?