Our resident family travel writer, Karla Courtney, has visited more than 35 countries with her young son, Marshall. From booking and packing to exploring your destination, her practical tips make travelling with kids a breeze.
1. When booking your flight, request a child, toddler or baby meal.
Even if the airfare is a child’s ticket, this type of meal is not automatic; you must specify it when you book online, when managing your booking online or when you book through a travel agent. If your child has allergies you’ll need to specify that, too. Note: for children under the age of two who have allergies, you may need to bring your own food.
2. If you’re taking a long flight, consider a night flight.
If the flight takes place when your child would normally be sleeping it’s likely they will sleep for a large part of the flight.
3. You must reserve an infant bassinet at the time of booking your flight.
The bassinet attaches securely to the wall in the front row of each section in the aircraft, giving your baby a place to lie down and freeing up your arms for a time. There are limited bassinet seats on aircraft and some don’t have them. Travelling with an infant doesn’t guarantee a bassinet seat and you’ll need to request it at the time of booking. Note: the weight limit for a bassinet is generally 11 kilograms.
4. Check the sleeping arrangements and children’s facilities at accommodations before choosing where to stay.
Many hotel websites say they have cots, but you need to find out the type of cot and make sure it suits the age of your infant or child. Some hotels also have prams and child seats (which meet local standards) available to use during your stay. Ensure your accommodation has a lift if you’re staying on an upper floor or request a ground-floor room.
5. When packing your carry-on baggage, make a checklist of all the things you may need during your flight.
Medical: Children’s pain-relief medication in case of fever or ear pain (check with your doctor and remember to pack the dosing device that comes with the medication); nasal aspirator.
Entertainment: A few favourite toys; children’s headphones; a surprise toy/game.
Food: A few extra snacks; food to accommodate any allergies.
Personal care/cleaning up messes: Spare clothing for you and your baby (remember, spitting up has no aim); wipes; more spare nappies than you think you’ll need.
Comfort: Extra dummies; the special cuddly toy they can’t sleep without.
6. Do your research into child safety restraints.
Different countries have different rules and availability regarding child safety seats. Do some research into how infants and young children can travel in taxis, buses, trains and so on if you anticipate using these methods of transport at your destination. You need to decide if you feel comfortable with the products available at your destination (for example, some taxi companies may carry booster seats) or if you feel you need to bring your own child seat. If you bring your own child seat, enquire with your airline about whether it can be used on board or if you must check it in with your luggage.
7. You can take your own pram or stroller.
If you want the comfort and convenience of using your own pram or stroller at your destination, you’ll need to check it in with your luggage (some airports provide a loan pram until you board your flight) or check it in at the departure gate, depending on the airline’s policy.
8. Check the accessibility of your destination.
Some cities are incredibly hilly with very uneven walkways or have underground transport that doesn’t always have lift access. If you’re considering using a stroller or pram, the terrain may determine your travel plans. For young babies, an alternative to a pram may be a sturdy baby carrier.
9. Get older kids involved in packing their own luggage.
Give them guidance about the type, size and number of items they can bring. If your kids are old enough to carry their own things, buy them roll-around luggage and a small backpack. If they know they’ll have to carry their own things on holiday, they’ll be more likely to be critical about what they pack.
10. Bring something new and don’t tell your child about it until you need to activate its powers.
Buy something small and exciting – such as a toy, activity book or game for their entertainment device – and don’t tell them. If they start getting antsy while waiting to board the plane or during the flight, produce the surprise item to provide a fun distraction that helps to keep them happy and focused.
11. You need kid-sized headphones.
If your child has trouble using the headphones or earbuds supplied by the aircraft, buy a pair of volume-limiting, child-safe headphones and an airplane headphone socket adaptor for two-pronged outlets.
12. Look at a map and learn about the destination.
To help your child get the most out of the holiday, show them where you’re going and talk about the distance and the destination. If you’re going to a country that speaks a different language, use the opportunity to learn a few basic words and phrases before you arrive.
13. Get your child excited about air travel.
Chat about what it means to go in an airplane. Explain the limitations (they will need to sit, listen to the crew and be respectful of the other people on board) and the fun side (watching movies, eating special meals, being up in the sky, going to a new place) so your child knows what to expect.
14. Sip during take-off and landing.
The change in altitude can be hard on the ears. Have a drink ready for your child and encourage them to sip during take-off and landing. If you’re breastfeeding, ask the staff if you can safely breastfeed your baby during these times. If not, see if your baby will breastfeed as soon as you’re in the air or back on the ground.
15. Keep busy in the air.
Take advantage of the time when the seatbelt sign is off. Let the little ones walk along the aisle, take them to the toilet or change their nappy, and use the time to stretch your own legs. Back in the seat, if they tire of the in-flight entertainment, channel their focus and energy using storybooks, colouring-in books and portable games as well as the children’s activity packs supplied by some airlines.
Kids feed off your energy. If you become anxious or stressed they will, too. Speak calmly, believe your own words and the little ones will follow.
17. Adjust to the local time zone.
Travelling between time zones can be tricky but here’s the rule of thumb: it’s easier to keep children awake a bit longer (though they may be grumpy) than to get them to sleep at a time much earlier than their usual bedtime. Arriving at your destination in the morning or early afternoon helps everyone get over the time-zone change more quickly – your mission is to keep everyone entertained and awake for that first day and then it’s easier to fall into the rhythm of the local time for the rest of the trip. Also, get in sync with the mealtimes of your destination as quickly as possible. When all else fails, summon a glass of wine (for you) and movies for the kids. Relax – you’re on holiday and you shouldn’t worry too much about the time. Besides, you’d be surprised at how quickly babies adapt. Just keep their daytime naps short if possible.
18. Don’t cram too much into one trip.
Consider visiting just one city or destination for your holiday. Think about what you would do without kids in one day and then cut that itinerary in half (maybe even a third) for a more kid-friendly day. If you’re holidaying in a city, mix it up with plenty of kids’ activities among visits to museums, galleries and restaurants.
19. Make a game of it.
Give your child rewards for reaching certain milestones during the journey. Get creative and turn it into a game. For example, when we took our son, then aged four, hiking on a long, remote part of the Great Wall of China, I told him to keep an eye out for a golden coin while he was walking. I had a golden chocolate coin in my pocket, which I secretly dropped close to the end after climbing a very steep peak. Not only did it get us through many kilometres of walking, the excitement on his face when he found the coin was priceless.
20. Let the kids take pictures and keep a diary.
Consider purchasing a kids’ digital camera or an iPod touch they can easily hold and operate. It’s a great way for them to document their own journey. If your child can write or draw, get them to make notes and illustrate what they’re doing and seeing. If they’re having trouble remembering the details, ask them specific questions, have them look at the photos they’ve taken and get them to describe what happened (kids say the cutest things). You’ll love revisiting their photos, notes and drawings in years to come.