Travelling abroad with children

Excitement is in the air! The countdown to your holiday, be it a short weekend journey or a longer trip, has started. Yet, a little voice, at the back of your mind, keeps reminding you of the last time you got home after travelling with your children and you felt like you needed a holiday to recover from your holiday.

Travelling with children, especially younger children, can be a stressful experience for parents. On the other hand, the change in environment and disruption to their routine can also make holidays a stressful period for children.

There are, however, a few basic things that you can do to make travelling with your children an enjoyable experience with happy memories for all of you. It is good to remember that things will not always go as planned, because they sometimes never do with travelling or children. Before you get underway, it is useful to think about planning your journey and travel games for the journey itself. 

Travel by air

Try to book a night flight – it might help your children to sleep through the journey. Contact the airline you will be flying with and inform them that you will be flying with children. Check the air fares for children and their baggage allowance. Check what ‘necessary items’, such as food, nappies, clothes, buggy, you can bring on board.

Check check-in times and try to be among the first to check in on the day. Try to get bulkhead seats on the plane. The bulkhead is the partition that divides a plane into different sections, for example between business and economy class.

Make a list of things you need to take on the plane with you – food, snacks, water, wet wipes, few toys, a book and an extra set of clothes. The air in planes is very dry, so it is a good idea to take a spray-nozzle container filled with water to spray on children’s faces, however, you will need to ensure it is empty as you board, as you are not allowed to carry fluids onto the plane.

Think of ways to protect your child’s ears during the flight. They can suck on a bottle, dummy or chew gum during take-off and landing. Placing a hot towel on each ear might relieve pressure on the eardrums.  Eat small bland meals before you fly and try to get the whole family to go to bed early the night before.

Decide on what you are going to wear – comfort should be your main consideration! Try to cover all weather possibilities regardless of where you are going in case of an unexpected stopover. Layering is a good idea.  Think of ways that your children can get rid of some of their energy before you board, like playing a game in the waiting room that involves some mild activity.

Making travelling fun

Remember that every journey is different. There are, however, quite a few things that overlap whether you travel by air, car or train and every journey completed is practice and experience gained for your next journey. Spread the entertainment out, i.e. don’t give them all their toys at once. Otherwise you might run out of ideas within the first hour. It is also wise not to pack any special blankets and toys in your main suitcase – rather take it with you on your journey. Plan for travel sickness and have plastic bags, medication and a clean set of clothes handy. Also pack medication, such as child paracetamol, rehydration fluid and those mentioned for travel sickness, if you are unfamiliar with the local medicines. It also helps to think of journey as an adventure in itself, as opposed to just the means to get to your destination. To this end there are many fun ways that children can record the journey – they can:

  • collect things (stamps, postcards, shells, souvenirs) along the way and glue them into a journal.
  • they can draw maps and pictures of what they see and maybe even write down the things they liked best
  • take photographs – smart phones are great for this
  • record sounds they hear or talk into a mobile voice recorder if they are too tired to write.
  • older children and teenagers can email their friends along the way and keep printed copies as a record in their journals

Travel by train

If a trip is a really long one, try to book an overnight sleeper – it might be exciting for your children to sleep on the train. Make a list of things you need to take on the train with you.  Take food, snacks, water, wet wipes, few toys, a book and an extra set of clothes.  Take a blanket or warm clothes if you are travelling overnight.  Be sure to keep an eye on your children as train journeys (and bus journeys) can sometimes experience unexpected lurches or stops.

Travel by car

Travelling by car means that you will have more space for luggage.  If you have a long drive ahead consider the possibility of driving through the night. Or, you might leave early in the morning when your children are still asleep.  Don’t forget to take food, snacks and water. Plan your stops and breaks en route.

Make sure your baby’s car seat is properly installed and use removable window shades to keep your car cool and the children out of the sun.  En route you can also let your children rotate seats every now and then. Older children could swap so that an adult is in the back with the kids.

Plan your in-car entertainment – bring along books, colouring-in books and toys. A good idea is to make a pocket bag that can hang on the back of the front seat in which they can put their toys and books. They can also have their own daypacks.  You can take a talking book and let them bring or choose their own music – take turns to choose music.

Children can get rid of their pent-up energy if you stop at parks and playgrounds along the way. You could also pack a football or frisbee for these stops. 

How we can help you

If you would like support and advice, you can talk to one of our Family Support Workers by calling our confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222. You can also share experiences and advice with other parents on our Forums. Family Lives is here for you and you can contact us about any family issue, big or small.

Did you find our advice helpful? Help us help more people by filling in our survey