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Top Tips for Travelling with Kids

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Top Tips for Travelling with Kids

Ask any adult about their memories of childhood, and many will immediately think back to their favourite childhood trips as a family – whether by car, train or plane. Why? Because for a child, a long trip is always a grand adventure. It stands out in the memory because it’s different from normal life and chock-full of new experiences.

For parents, though, travelling with children can be a challenge that will test negotiating skills, patience and the ability to function simultaneously as tour guide, squabble referee and entertainment director. Perhaps the most important advice is this: adopt an adventurous mindset from the beginning. If you plan ahead, travelling with young ones can be a treasured experience instead of a hardship, and you’ll enjoy it just as much as they do.

In the Car

It’s a classic scenario: Dad’s trying to avoid an insane tailgater while worrying if he’ll find a suitably-priced motel to stop at before the kids go ballistic. Mum is trying to read a map and stay awake at the same time (because she was up until midnight packing for everybody), the 9-year-old and 11–year-old are trying to outdo each other in obnoxious and distracting behaviour in the back seat, and the baby (who, in an ideal world, would be sleeping peacefully) is wide awake, hungry and wailing like a banshee.

Car journeys don’t have to be like this if you’re well-prepared and make sensible decisions while you’re on the road. One of the biggest mistakes is trying to cram too much into too short a time.

One of the biggest mistakes is trying to cram too much into too short a time. One advantage of a car trip over a plane trip is that you can stop and let the kids out at regular intervals to play, look at the sights or just release a bit of pent-up energy

One advantage of a car trip over a plane trip is that you can stop and let the kids out at regular intervals to play, look at the sights or just release a bit of pent-up energy.

Plan your trip to allow for lots of breaks: toilet breaks, sightseeing breaks, picnic breaks, running-around-in-the-park breaks and any other excuse for a break you can think of to alleviate the stress and boredom of being cooped up in the car for hours on end. Estimate your travel time and then double it – this should turn out to be just about right to allow for unexpected stops, essential breaks, delays in departure, flat tyres and whatever else the world throws at you. A rushed, panicked trip is never a fun trip.

Preparation

A week or so before your road trip, list what you’re planning to take and start collecting it. Leave yourself plenty of time to pack – take a day off work if necessary to get the packing and other last-minute prep chores done. Charge your phone and all electronic devices and toys just before leaving, and don’t forget to bring the chargers. Pack lots of water, some healthy food (not sweets – the last thing you want is four kids in a car, all on a non-stop sugar rush), and basic safety items like a first aid kit, a torch or two, etc.

If you have smaller children, must-pack items include toilet paper and a portable potty, a plastic bucket or similar container for carsickness emergencies, a Frisbee, soccer ball or plastic cricket set for rest stop activities, plastic zip-lock bags for storage, their favourite electronic games or books, stuffed animals/security blankets and a nightlight for those extra-dark hotel rooms along the way. Ideally, each child should have their own pillow. Audio books can be an excellent way to pass the time for young children: narrated versions of Harry Potter, Nemo or other similar stories or fairy tales can keep their minds engaged for long periods. And you can’t go wrong with some Wiggles songs either.

Pack strategically, putting ‘outdoor items’ in an easily accessible and separate bag. This will contain hats, jumpers, raincoats, a change of clothing for each child, towels and togs for swimming, sunscreen and insect repellent so you’re fully prepared for outdoor fun when opportunities arise along the route. Budget Direct’s ultimate packing list can be useful for your packing.

Ensure that child car seats and baby capsules are properly installed, and that older children wear their seat belts.

Pack strategically, putting ‘outdoor items’ in an easily accessible and separate bag. This will contain hats, jumpers, raincoats, a change of clothing for each child, towels and togs for swimming, sunscreen and insect repellent so you’re fully prepared for outdoor fun when opportunities arise along the route

Around 80 children die in Australia each year and an additional 4,000 are injured annually in car accidents1, with some of these tragedies caused by children not being properly secured in the vehicle during travel.

Getting a good night’s sleep is the best preparation for a serious car journey. It’s not just the children who will benefit from plenty of pre-trip rest – you’ll be less stressed (and a safer driver) if you’ve had a solid kip the night before as well. Let kids nap on the way if they feel the need. If you leave just before lunch and feed the kids during a trip’s first hour or so, there’s a good chance one or more of them will nod off shortly afterwards.

Check out your route beforehand for parks, tourist attractions or playgrounds so you’re already aware of potential stopping spots along the way. That way, when kids pipe up with “Are we going to stop soon?” you can reply with a ‘when, where and why’ answer. It’s unrealistic to expect small children to sit still in a car for 2-3 hours at a time. Give them plenty of opportunities to take a break and escape from the confines of the vehicle. It is easy to plan your road trip with the help of Budget Direct’s comprehensive and interactive Road Trip Planner.

Food and drink

The best in-car snacks are the kinds of things that won’t create a disaster if they’re spilled. Sandwiches, nuts, sultanas, sliced apple, rice crackers, bananas, muesli bars and grapes are usually pretty safe, but try to avoid yoghurt, juice boxes and messier types of fruit. Non-spill drink containers are definitely the go. With children in the car, food performs several functions: it occupies some time, provides some nutrition and can often calm agitated kids. This calming effect doesn’t work if you’re stuffing them with jelly beans, chocolate and cordial, however. The occasional treat is fine (you don’t have to turn into the ‘health police’), but for your own sanity, keep sugary snacks to a minimum. Have some wet wipes on hand to clean sticky hands afterwards.

Choose restaurants with a play area for the little ones, and preferably with designated kids’ meals, which will save you some money on a stretched budget. Stopping for sit-down meals should be a relaxed affair, not a ‘hurry-up-so-we-can-get-back-on-the-road’ job.

That’s entertainment

Children are designed to be active, so if they’re going to be happy on a long car trip, you’ll want to make sure you have a range of options to keep them occupied and entertained for the duration. If you have brought a baby or toddler along, get in the back seat with them for awhile and tell them a story, read them a book or give them some new toys to play with. One useful trick is to create your own audio books at home by reading books aloud into a digital sound recorder, so your baby hears a story in your voice rather than the voice of an unknown narrator.

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Toys that are made up of lots of small pieces (which inevitably get dropped on the car floor) don’t work as well as simpler distractions like doodling boards, sticker sets or magnetic story boards. Depending on the child’s age, electronic games can be a good option, but be aware that carsickness is more likely to occur when a child’s head is pointing down for long periods while concentrating on a game. Make sure they take plenty of breaks from the digital world and stop to look out the window for awhile – otherwise you’ll have a car full of nauseous, headache-afflicted kids on your hands.

Depending on the child’s age, electronic games can be a good option, but be aware that carsickness is more likely to occur when a child’s head is pointing down for long periods while concentrating on a game. Make sure they take plenty of breaks from the digital world and stop to look out the window for awhile – otherwise you’ll have a car full of nauseous, headache-afflicted kids on your hands

Moderation is the key. Have them count the birds, sheep or bugs that get splattered on the windscreen while they’re in between turns on the electronic gadgets.

For older children, bring along a magnetic chess set or a travel version of Battleship, Scrabble or a similar game. These sorts of games will occupy them longer than simpler choices like Connect Four. The best travel games are ones that have pieces that slide/lock in place or are magnetised. An inexpensive digital camera can be fun too, with each child allowed a turn at taking photos of whatever they like, either from the car or at rest stops (you can always delete the unwanted ones later). Let older kids listen to their own music players, so they don’t have to suffer through Mum and Dad’s ‘lame, old-people music’ on the radio.

No matter how hard you try to keep everyone happy, squabbles are bound to develop at some stage (multiplied exponentially by the number of children in the car). The younger the child, the less inclined they will be to share, so make sure there aren’t too many ‘communal’ toys, but that each child has their own. Pillows can provide a handy barrier between cranky siblings. When backseat disagreements become too heated, that’s the time to pull over and take a break, and perhaps change up the seating arrangements when you resume the journey. Prevention of conflict is better than cure – a well-fed, well-rested, engaged child will always be more agreeable than a sleep-deprived, hungry one.

There are two ploys that can be useful in keeping children relatively quiet during car trips. The first is for the non-driving adult to pretend they’re sleeping, which can (sometimes) have the effect of quieting down the whole car. Another idea is to prop a timer (you could use the one on your smartphone) where children in the back can easily see it. As soon as you get the inevitable question “Are we there yet?” you can just point to the timer, which lets everyone know exactly how long it will be until the next stop. Naturally, you’ll want your timer to match anticipated stopping periods – otherwise you lose all credibility!

Airplane travel

If you don’t already own one, a stroller/car seat combo for your toddler is a very worthwhile investment. Make sure the seat is approved for use in both cars and planes. The stroller is stowed when you board at the gate, and the seat is carried to your designated seating row. If you’re bringing a car seat, you’ll need to pay for an airline seat for it.

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Some airlines are more child-friendly than others, but most are quite efficient at catering for babies and small toddlers on long-haul flights.

Your travel doctor can make recommendations about how children can best clear their ears during take-off and descent. If they’re old enough to safely chew gum, this can work well in many instances to help young ears adjust to changes in air pressure. You can also buy non-prescription ear drops that numb the eardrums and help with pain. Encouraging your child to eat or drink during take-off and landing can help clear sore ears too.

Don’t be shy about accepting all the assistance that’s offered. Special meals for younger children are often available, though you’ll need to arrange these before the flight.

School-age children quite like having their own ‘personal’ suitcase. Pick one that’s a convenient size for your child and comes with wheels for rolling/dragging along. Your travel doctor can makerecommendations about how children can best clear their ears during take-off and descent. Checkout Budget Direct’s tool to find your nearesttravel doctor. If they’re old enough to safely chew gum, this can work well in many instances to help young ears adjust to changes in air pressure. You can also buy non-prescription ear drops that numb the eardrums and help with pain. Encouraging your child to eat or drink during take-off and landing can help clear sore ears too.

With a baby, try to get a bulkhead seat with a bassinet (the built-in crib attached to the wall in front of you). Booking an overnight flight that matches up with your baby’s sleeping habits can also make life easier for all concerned.

Boarding

If you have the kind of child that loves to run off at every opportunity, dress him or her in bright clothing so they’ll be easier to spot in a crowd. Modern technology has also come up with some great digital tracking devices that can be worn on a child’s wrist.

If you need to change your baby’s nappy, try to do it before boarding: airport changing areas are much roomier than the inside of an aircraft toilet.

Once aboard the plane, make sure children (and you too!) stay well-hydrated; plain water is the best beverage. Older children are usually pretty happy with the window seat, but whoever has the weakest bladder should probably take the aisle. If you need any assistance from the flight crew, ask away – they’re happy to warm a bottle, bring some drawing paper or do whatever they can to ensure your children have a pleasant flight.

Once you’re settled into your accommodation, keep in mind that it can take some children four to five days to fully recover from jet lag, so your first few days should be fairly laid back without too much rushing around. Save the more energetic activities for when everyone is feeling livelier.

Dress your children in a couple of light layers to offer some adjustment options if they get too hot or cold. Have a jumper handy – airplane cabins can get quite chilly. Slip-on shoes are more convenient than lace-ups for toddlers.

Where available, in-flight movies are an excellent way to keep children occupied over the course of a lengthy flight. Always have some books or toys at the ready for other times. There are plenty of toddler-friendly iPad apps around these days as well. Make sure you and the children get up and walk around now and then to stretch muscles and keep circulation moving.

Yes, kids, we’re finally there

International arrival halls can be crowded, noisy places with lots of standing around in long queues, and both children and adults can be exhausted and short on patience. Keep reminding your children about the exciting hotel you’re heading to, the great sites you’re going to see or anything else you can think of to prevent them having an end-of-flight meltdown. Once you’re settled into your accommodation, keep in mind that it can take some children four to five days to fully recover from jet lag, so your first few days should be fairly laid back without too much rushing around. Save the more energetic activities for when everyone is feeling livelier.

All aboard the choo-choo

Train rides – whether in Australia or in an exotic foreign land – are a wonderful adventure for children. Many of the travel tips that apply to car and plane travel also work for trains, but rail excursions do have a few unique features.

One huge advantage of train travel is the option of booking a sleeper car. Many kids struggle to sleep sitting up in an airplane or in the backseat of a car, but stick them in a mini-bed on a moving train and it’s lights out in no time – making for a more restful and relaxed journey for all.

First is the safety aspect: keeping children away from tracks and well within the platform safety zones is crucial. You can’t let a child run around a railway station the way they do at an airport – a much tighter rein is necessary.

One huge advantage of train travel is the option of booking a sleeper car. Many kids struggle to sleep sitting up in an airplane or in the backseat of a car, but stick them in a mini-bed on a moving train and it’s lights out in no time – making for a more restful and relaxed journey for all.

Another great thing about train travel is the dining car. Being able to take bored children from your cramped compartment to a spacious dining car for a meal, a game of cards or just a change of scenery is a welcome option. The further the dining car is from your cabin, the more exercise you’ll all get!

Train tip: you’ll often save a bundle on train fares by buying your overseas train tickets online in Australia, months before departure.

 

1 http://babyology.com.au/out-and-about/what-the-statistics-say-about-car-seat-safety-in-australia-join-the-discussion.html