How to survive holidays with kids

Did you come back from your last family holiday feeling all you needed was a break? Our tips will allow you to have a great time when holidaying with the kids - and hopefully even arrive home feeling relaxed and refreshed

If you look forward to the annual summer holidays with a sense of dread rather than excitement, you’re not alone! Travelling with kids can be hard work, but don’t get put off. Visiting new places and experiencing new things is great for little ones. And with a little forethought – and our tips – you can ensure that you all have a great time.

Prepare your child

Your child may be excited about your summer hols but will also likely worry about it, too. Young children like their routine; it gives them a sense of security. The knowledge they’re going to be sleeping in a strange bed in a strange place, without their familiar toys at arms’ reach, can be unsettling. You can help ease any anxiety by reassuring them that you’ll still be doing the same routine things – for example, the bedtime bath and story – while you’re away.

Get them involved in planning

Let them know how you’ll be getting to your destination – car, plane or train – and show them where it is on a map. If your travel destination has a website, you can show your older child what the rooms look like and what activities they’ll be able to do there. Get the children involved in the run-up by giving them a bag to pack with a few special things, so they'll have some of the comforts of home while they're away. If you think they might find it difficult to settle at night, it’s a good idea to bring their pillow from home, along with their nightlight, if they use one.

Chill out

When you’re on holiday, it’s tempting to try to pack as much into every day as possible, especially if you’re staying in a resort where there are plenty of kids’ activities. Keep in mind that trips can be very tiring for young children, mainly because they often do more and get up earlier. Factor in some quiet time so they can relax and take in everything they're doing and seeing.

Keep it kid-friendly

Yes, you may want to check out the museum and art gallery but your child will likely get pretty bored. You have two choices: either accept that you’ll have to lay off the culture until your child is in his teens, hit those places first thing and race around them in 20 minutes, or arrange a sitter if your hotel or resort offers this service so you can get some time to yourselves to do ‘boring’ things!

Fly right

Sometimes flying is the only option – but with young children in tow you face the very real prospect of a tantrum in an enclosed space at 30,000 feet. Before you book, think about your child. If they're older and likely to settle down and while away the hours with the in-flight movie, a direct flight might be best. With younger kids, who can’t sit still for as long, a stop along the way is useful to let them stretch their legs. As a rule, avoid peak travel hours: flights are less crowded earlier in the week and later in the day – although keep in mind that later flights are more likely to be delayed. Remember to arrange a kids’ meal when you’re booking, as you need to order these in advance.

Pack some new games and activities for your child in your carry-on bag – stickers and colouring books, word search and puzzle books, and small, cheap giftwrapped toys you can dole out at a rate of one an hour.

Avoid airport rage

Get to the airport in plenty of time to check in (if you’re lucky enough, you’ll be able to request bulkhead seats, which have more legroom and are closer to the bathrooms) and go through security. Warn your child about what is likely to happen at the security checkpoint – how their carry-on bag will be searched, they'll have to take off their shoes and step through the security scanner. Make sure older kids know they must not make any jokes about having a bomb in their luggage – this could result in you missing your flight. Some larger airports have play areas for kids, so head there before your flight to ensure your child burns off as much energy as possible. If your older teen wants to look around the airport shops by themselves, make sure they know where –and at what time – they need to meet you.

When the plane is taking off and landing, give your toddler or preschooler a sippy cup or juicebox, and your older child a piece of gum to chew, as this will help equalise the pressure in their ears. If you’re travelling with a baby, bottle- or breastfeed them, as the sucking motion will help relieve any pressure in their ears.

Hit the road

You may all be sitting down, but road trips can still be exhausting. If you can, plan to drive when your child would usually take a nap: one alternative many parents swear by is loading their kids into the car in their PJs and driving overnight while the kids sleep. If it has to be daytime, make sure each of your children has their own carry-on bag of things to entertain them in the car. Now might be the time to splash out on a tablet onto which you can upload films, or borrow one from a friend.

Car smarts

Plan to drive in three-hour stretches max – your kids will need to be able to get out and stretch their legs from time to time. Younger children in particular won’t be able to sit for long stretches. If possible, find places of interest, small towns, parks or playgrounds where you can pull off so you’re not parking by the side of a busy road. It’s also a good idea to pack a bag with sunscreen, insect repellent, bathing suits, towels and a change of clothes in case you pass a handy beach or swimming hole – it’ll save you having to root through suitcases to find what you need.

Keep them happy

If your child gets car sick, your GP might be able to recommend some medication but keep in mind that it may make your child feel drowsy or more energetic than usual. If they feel sick, encourage them to look out the window at a point in the distance instead of reading or playing games. Play ‘I spy’ or spot licence plates or certain coloured cars. Take a CD along to pass some musical time. And make sure they drink plenty of water to avoid getting dehydrated, which could make them feel worse.

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