Travel Hacks for Families with Young Kids
By Lauren Manuel McShane, www.thetravelmanuel.com
For most parents, just surviving a restaurant trip with an active toddler can prove quite daunting. So when the prospect of an overnighter, road trip or flight comes up, it’s no wonder that the thought alone sends many a parent into a sweaty mild panic. But after 17 flights, countless road trips and weekends away from our comfort zone with a baby in tow, we can safely say that with a bit of preparation, some clever packing and a sunny disposition ( plus deep breaths), you too can travel with your young kids and dare I say, enjoy it.
Here are some travel hacks that have helped us survive and even thrive with our son during his 17th months:
1. Check in heavy, Carry light
Most parents only think about the actual airplane journey, but most forget about the transit time. The journeys between gates and through security checks can be long and tiresome in themselves and that’s just before boarding. So to avoid lugging tons around, check in as much as weight limits allow and keep only the necessities on your person; as you’ll already be juggling a little person and all their goodness-knows-whats. Babies need an abundance of everything just to make it through a single journey: nappies, toys, entertainment, extra clothing, bottles and more, so pack as little as possible into a backpack so you’re hands-free with bub. Check the luggage allowances with an infant as some airlines allow you to combine their additional weight with yours whilst others specify that the infant needs their own bag.
2. Carrier and Stroller
There’s great value in each of these but for the first 14 months of Caleb’s life we found our African baby carrier invaluable especially when I travelled solo with him. He was happier, I could move faster and still have my hands free. Still to this day, we use the carrier along with the stroller ( now that he finally enjoys sitting in one). The stroller really shines as you can wheel said toddler all the way to the plane and hang bags on it in true camel fashion. Disembarking is not always such a winner as some airlines do silly things like make you collect at luggage instead of having it ready upon disembarking when you really need it.
If your child is old enough (and calm enough) to enjoy games and cartoons on a tab or ipad, lucky you! Run with this as it will give you seconds/minutes or possibly hours of free time to sit down, eat your own food and go to the toilet. Make sure you bring new toys to excite them, enough liquids, snacks and whatever else you need to make them travel and sleep comfortably. For long-haul flights; try fly overnight when they’d usually be sleeping and consult your paediatrician about natural or medicinal sleep aids in case things go pear-shape or their ears get sore as you’ll want a plan B when all else fails.
4. Ascent Suction
You want to make sure your baby/toddler is sucking a dummy, breastfeeding or bottle feeding whilst the plane is taking off. This is crucial in helping them to equalise and ensuring their ears don’t stay blocked. Not only will this go a long way to ensure they don’t experience pain in their ears and scream for the flight duration but breastfeeding often worked like a charm in getting my son to sleep for short flights.
5. Don’t worry, be happy
I’m pretty sure no parent ever started singing this song whilst aboard a plane with their children, but there are ways to save your sanity and give you some peace of mind. I know this will be a tough one to remember when your baby is crying uncontrollably but don’t worry about what other people ( the other passengers) think. At some point everyone on that plane will either have their own kids, have nieces/nephews or look after other people’s kids and then they too will understand your challenge.
I often get so stressed just worrying about ruining everyone else’s flight when I should be relaxing and deciding on the best way to soothe my son or keep him occupied. If you’re lucky, you’ll be seated next to friendly people who will chat/play with your child and help you if you’re travelling solo. And hopefully you’ll be with an airline who understands the challenges of family travel and assists you and your baby as this can really make all the difference along your journey.
6. Timing is key
We always try to time our journeys with our son’s nap times. For the first nine months of his life, he screamed blue murder in his car seat so we had to get clever. We made sure that when he slept, we hightailed to our destination but as soon as he was awake we made many stops and let him run, play and get some of his energy out. This will ensure you don’t arrive more frazzled than when you left home.
7. Snacks, music, toys
Bribery is something that all parents become naturally accustomed to and I’m pretty sure it all first begins in a car. As soon as there are squeaks and protests from the back seat, giving healthy ( and sometimes not so healthy) snacks can save your sanity. Keep teething biscuits, flings, juice and cut-up fruit on hand. We especially love apples as he took so long to bite and chew it, that it was an activity in itself.
And as sick as you are of the ‘Wheels on the bus’, if it gets your child dancing, singing and forgetting they’re strapped into a seat, then turn it louder. When it comes to toys, get creative and pack as many as your car can hold. And not just toys, but things they love playing with like bowls, spoons, plastic keys, things that sparkle, light up and bounce.
8. Less is more
We’ve learnt that we can’t pack as many activities into our itinerary as we used to. Just getting ready to leave the hotel with a toddler can take the better part of a morning, so don’t be too strict with your timeline, schedule only one or two activities per day and make sure there are some truly kid-friendly options squeezed in. While I can’t promise that your days will be relaxing, you can aim in that direction by adding beach visits, farm yard picnics and safe spaces for your kids to run around while you sit for a minute.
9. Hotel Rooms
Try book a room with a balcony/outdoor area or a suite ( if budget allows). During our couple travels, we would have entire evenings to explore a new corner of town, venture around for a romantic dinner spot or go sightseeing after dark. Now that we have a child who goes to sleep around 7-8pm, that means good night world and hello hotel room.
We are not keen on leaving an unknown hotel staff member to watch him as he sleeps so that means an early dinner outdoors or room service. With a balcony or private outdoor area it means we can still relax, chat and still enjoy the outdoors while he sleeps. Try call the hotel ahead of time to ask for a travel cot and also to remove all breakables and unnecessary decor ( in low places) from the room. That will save you running around and having to wrangle expensive antiques from your child’s grip.
Whilst travelling with kids is definitely not as care-free as travelling solo or as a couple, it’s definitely worth it. You get to experience the world through the eyes of your child which often reminds you to slow down and enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Your adventures morph into something so brilliant and you’ll get to bond even more as a family. Travelling is one of the best educations you could ever give your children, so pack smartly, enjoy the open roads and Good Luck!