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High days & holidays: The challenge of travelling abroad with young children

Travelling abroad with young children can be unpredictable and rather challenging. Heather Large is here to help. . .

Great escape – make sure your family holiday is a happy one
Great escape – make sure your family holiday is a happy one

The family holiday can be fraught with stress and drama. But while it may, at times, leave parents screaming ‘why have we done this?’, it can also be an enjoyable and fun experience.

Like most things in life, it just needs some forward planning to ensure you’ve factored your child’s needs into your travels sufficiently to avoid most crises.

You obviously can’t prepare for everything a trip abroad might throw at you but you can do enough to make it easier and allow you to make the most of your time together in a foreign country.

And don’t forget, there is sure to be plenty of rewards along the way to make taking them overseas for the warm sunshine and cultural experience feel worth it in the end.

Travelling as a family to a foreign country means you can spend a lot more time together – gone are the usual distractions like their favourite television shows or phone calls interrupting meal times.

But one of the biggest benefits is that your child gets to experience a new environment and culture whether it’s hearing people speak a different language or being exposed to new cuisine, it’s a great learning opportunity.

When it comes to planning your first excursion abroad together, it’s wise to take the time to do thorough research on your holiday destination. Make sure you choose somewhere that is child friendly with lots of different activities for kids to do. You don’t want to be hearing complaints about being bored.

Check that all adult passports are up-to-date and apply for any child ones well in advance to avoid last-minute panicking before you go.

Ensuring each member of your family has travel insurance ahead of your trip is also recommended and can give you peace of mind in the event of an issue.

When it comes to packing essentials, national family support charity Family Lives says: “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 anything you might need for travel sickness, especially if you are unfamiliar with the local medicines.”

Also, don’t forget the plasters for cut knees and elbows from falling over along with insect repellent to reduce the risk of painful stings and bites from the local bugs.

As well as clothes, pack some of your child’s favourite toys and comfort items like a blanket or teddy bear to remind them of home and help them settle in your hotel or villa.

If you are flying then you will also want to bear in mind that you might need to travel light and when it comes to looking after exciting children in an airport, the fewer bags the better, especially if you end up having to run around after them. Book flights in the evening when possible as this will coincide with your child’s natural sleeping time.

To help keep them entertained for the hours you’re going to be in an aeroplane seat, use their hand luggage allowance to pack their favourite toys along with colouring books, pens and crayons. You could also try downloading a few apps and games on your phone or tablet for them to play. One potential issue on board the plane will be the problems associated with your ears popping due to the on board pressure. This can be very uncomfortable and even very frightening for a youngster. To reduce the risk of ear ache occurring when taking off or landing, make sure your little ones have plenty of water to hand, and if they are a little older, a lollipop or sweet to suck on can take away some of the effects.

Once you arrive at your destination, familiarise yourself with the local area. If you’re staying at a hotel, find the toilets, restaurants, children’s areas and medical facilities when you get there so you know where everything is located from the start.

If you’re staying in a villa, find the nearest park or playground as youngsters love to explore their surroundings. If the children are old enough, make use of any kid’s clubs that are run at the hotel as this will give you and your partner the opportunity to enjoy a bit of time together.

When planning your day’s activities, don’t make the schedule too rigid because, inevitably, something unexpected will come up while travelling with children. It might be an exhausted toddler needing a longer nap time or a desire to spend more time at the beach, be flexible.

Above everything else remember that something is bound to go wrong, even with planning, but there is no point worrying about it until it does otherwide you won’t relax.

Have confidence that you can cope with whatever situation crops up and be determined to enjoy yourselves no matter what happens. And don’t forget to take lots of photographs. Safe travels!


So it’s finally time for your summer holiday – all that stands between you and the beach is a five-hour car journey with your kids. Cue panic! Travelling with children, especially young ones, can be more than a little daunting so here are some tip tips for surviving the trip:

  1. Set your alarm clock – Consider setting off before the crack of dawn so that children sleep through most of the journey. Make sure they have a nice comfy blanket to cuddle up with and hopefully by the time they’re awake you will be much closer to your destination.

  2. Make the most of the car – As you’re driving, you’re not faced with any airline weight restrictions meaning you can take as much as you are able to fit in your car. If you think there is a possibility that a particular item might come in handy and there is room to take it with you then pack it.

  3. Take drinks and snacks – If children are kept fed and hydrated the happier they will be. You don’t want a hungry or thirsty child on your hands while you’re stuck on the motorway so whether the snacks are healthy, naughty or a mixture of both, pack plenty.

  4. Consider audio books – These can be great to listen to as a family and give you all something to talk about. Pick a dramatic story, which everyone can understand, to keep their attention. If you have children of different ages then don’t worry if the book is slightly beyond the youngest’s reading capacity as they will still be able to listen.

  5. Take an iPad or portable DVD player – yes, you might be giving them far more screen time than they would normally have but make an exception this time because it will help to keep boredom at bay. Download some movies and your little ones’s favourite CBeebies programmes from BBC iplayer to keep them entertained for hours.

  6. 6Play some games – There are plenty out there to choose from such as road cricket where each child chooses a colour and all oncoming cars in their colour passing you on the road counts as a run. Go online before your trip for ideas of what games you could play to make the time go quicker.

  7. Get in tune – a good family sing-along can be a great way to pass the time and really get into a holiday mood. Pick some favourite tunes everybody knows or teach your children some from you when you were young.

  8. Stay clean – To stop hands and the car from getting in a mess, take plastic bags for rubbish, wet wipes for any spills, and hand sanitiser to keep hands clean. Have a spare set of clothes handy too.

  9. Surprise them – To help them forget they’ve got to spent hours in the car, you could get them a new toy or sticker book to help pass the time. It will be a nice surprise for them and a great way to start the holiday.

  10. Finally, just remember that despite the numerous toilet breaks, squabbling siblings and the question of ‘are we there yet?’, it will be worth it when you arrive at your destination.

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