How to prepare for travelling with children

Family holidays can be fantastic fun, but many people find the idea of a long journey with small children so stressful that they are completely put off straying far from home. But there are plenty of simple ways to make long journeys – whether it’s by plane, train or automobile – a more pleasant experience for parents and children alike. Here are some of our top tips.

Keep the snacks coming

If you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the car, don’t underestimate how many snacks and drinks will be required to keep boredom at bay. It’s bad enough having to make regular stops for loo trips, but if you need to break up your journey with endless visits to shops and cafes, it will take much longer and become more expensive. Obviously lots of drinks will inevitably lead to more toilet stops, which isn’t ideal, but a steady stream of healthy snack foods can help stave off strops and tantrums. You probably will end up with a back seat covered in crumbs and squashed raisins, but that’s a worry for another day!

Embrace technology

Handing your child an iPad every time they’re bored isn’t ideal in normal circumstances, but on journeys – whether it’s a long trip in a car, or a lot of sitting around in an airport – smartphones and tablets can be a real godsend. Remember that you probably won’t be able to connect to wifi, so downloading some of your little one’s favourite kids’ TV programmes or films in advance is a good idea: even free sites like BBC iPlayer let you keep downloaded episodes for up to a month.

Also consider adding some kids’ apps and games to your phone or tablet before you set off. If you want your child to be occupied with something stimulating, there are some great free colouring-in apps around, and lots of educational early maths and phonics games. Remember, though, that whether the activities are educational or purely for entertainment, screen time should be limited to 20-minute sessions with breaks in between.

Planes and airports can be noisy, so if you think your child will struggle to hear the tablet, or might disturb others, invest in some over-the-ear children’s headphones for your trip.

Bags of fun

Packing a small bag full of little treats and surprises to produce throughout the journey can help the time pass more quickly. They don’t have to be expensive presents – good ideas include small party-bag type toys, boxes of raisins, small packs of pens or crayons, mini pads of paper, a children’s card game, finger puppets or stickers. Wrapping each item in tissue will prolong the excitement and make it seem like more of a treat.

Keep your essentials close

We’ve all heard stories of families who have arrived at their destination to discover that their luggage has ended up elsewhere. This is an unusual occurrence, but it doesn’t do any harm to be prepared for all eventualities, and keep a change of clothes, some pyjamas and a small first aid kit packed with essentials in your hand luggage, just in case.

Give them their own bag

Small children love a bit of responsibility, and giving them their own small backpack or wheeled mini suitcase can lighten your own load. My own children tend to want to pack 72 soft toys and all of their Lego, so some guidance on what to pack will be needed; and bear in mind that if they’re in charge of their own very favourite cuddly, you should check, check and check again that it’s still in the bag after every stage of the journey, otherwise your first bedtime on holiday could be a bit fraught!

Flight restrictions? Don’t panic!  

The rules about not taking liquids through security for flights can be a bit daunting when you have children, but don’t panic about drinks etc. There are always shops on the other side of the security checks that sell bottles of water, so there’s no reason that you can’t pack an empty beaker or water bottle so that your child will be able to have a drink on the flight, and refill it when you get through the security checks. A beaker or child-friendly water bottle will come in handy after you arrive, too, for days out.

If you have a very small child and are still using baby milk, you can actually pre-book bottles of milk at many UK airports including Gatwick and Heathrow; order it up to seven days before your journey and collect it from Boots stores on the other side of security. Major airports also have buggies you can borrow on arrival, which can be returned at baggage reclaim when you’ve collected your own from the plane.

Written for the Pre-school Learning Alliance by Siobhan Godwood.