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Tips for Travelling with Children

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by Lucy Watson (subscribe)
A stay at home Mum who doesn't stay at home much; too many exciting things to be discovering in this city...
Published March 15th 2012
Going on long journeys with kids is not something one generally looks forward to. Yes, the whole being there part of it is great, but the getting to and from – not so wonderful. I speak from experience, after having done the Melbourne - London, London - Melbourne journey twice with my son. The first time he was 4 months old, so spent a significant amount of time sleeping which helped hugely. The second time, without any help from hubby who opted to stay behind, the aforementioned son was almost 2 years old. Man that was tough.
Whether your journey is in a car, on a train or aboard a plane and whether it's a 2 hour hop or a 24 hour marathon, you might find the following advice helpful, particularly if it's your first time travelling long distances with your little ones. Happy travels!

Prepare little ones for their first flight by talking about planes and taking a trip to an airfield or airport before you go.

• Set your Time to Kiddie Pace (Read: Slow)
Don't expect to zip through airport queues or do long stints in the car without stopping. Plan for things to take longer than expected. You will need to stop for emergency toilet breaks. You will need to take time for little legs to do those long treks to the airport gate. And you will need to factor in at least 5 minutes for each tantrum to run its full course before you can scoop your toddler up off the floor at the train station. Leaving extra time for the unexpected will mean you won't stress out when things don't go exactly according to plan and you won't be stressing the kids out by constantly hurrying them along.

• Stick Roughly to your Usual Routine
With younger children, this can mean the difference between having or avoiding a full on melt down. When I flew to London with my then toddler, despite the many time zones we were flying through, I stuck to Melbourne time until we touched down in the Motherland. I gave him his snacks and meals at the times he would usually have them, gave him toys and activities in between these times and began nap and bedtime at the same times he was used to at home. I say 'began' because despite all your best efforts there are going to be tricky moments. My son didn't manage to fall asleep until 3 hours after his usual bedtime and that was after a full scale screaming fit because he was overtired. Despite this, having a routine to follow was a saving grace for both of us.

• Be Organised
Being well organised on a long journey will make life a lot easier. I get teased a lot for my love of lists. You can't beat a nice, neat list with plenty of crossing off. After deciding what you need to take for the journey, list it so you can check you haven't forgotten anything. Then pack all the items in an organised way. On a long car journey for example; have a bag which you can access easily for things you might need to get your hands on at any time. Have a separate bag for things you will only need to access when the car is stationary. Each child can have their own small, special bag too, which they can get to themselves. Bags with plenty of pockets are great as long as you remember where you put what; you don't want to be hunting for passports at the check in desk.

• Pack Food and Plenty of Drinks
You don't want to be stopping every half hour to buy food or find yourself stuck on a plane with nothing suitable for your wheat free, egg free, dairy free, nut free child. It's worth preparing snacks and meals in advance to some extent and maybe a few treats to keep the kids sweet. You can dole out supplies as and when needed, or for slightly older children, make them their own snack pack similar to those you get on long haul flights. Little boxes of dried fruit, containers with grapes or nuts, and cheese and crackers snack packs are all well suited for travelling. Bottled drinks are better than those in cartons because you don't have to drink them all in one go. If you're travelling with a bottle-fed baby on a plane, just take the formula with you and you'll be given hot water on the flight to make up feeds.

• Pack a Range of Simple Activities and Toys
Sticker books are my all time favourite for entertaining little ones on the go. They appeal to toddlers, pre-schoolers and school aged children. They're portable and don't take up a lot of space. Pure genius. Activity books are also great (although not for those who get travel sick in cars) – think dot-to-dot, word searches, colouring, spot the difference and so on. Story CDs are a great way to kill some time or CDs with action songs are great for the littlies. Lacing cards and magnetic scenes will also keep little hands busy for a while. On long haul flights when you reach the stage of wanting to tear your hair out, a good idea is to present a new toy which your child hasn't seen before. The novelty factor will keep them quiet that little bit longer. I did this with little toy cars on our flight to London and it worked a treat. These Zoom Packs are a great idea and you can always make one up yourself if you don't fancy the expense.

• Play Games
Okay, so eye-spy is mind-numbingly boring by the time you reach adulthood, but it might help kill a bit of time. There are tons of these sorts of 'quiet' games which will keep the kids entertained for a while. This website has some great ideas for these sorts of games. Another game which I remember from my childhood, is when my Dad would print out a sheet for each of us kids, containing pictures of about a hundred different road signs. These were covered in contact or something similar and when you spotted one of the road signs you could cross it off on your sheet. The first one to cross off all of them or whoever had crossed off the most when we reached our destination, was the winner.

• Use the DVD Player
Whoever invented the humble portable DVD player deserves a medal. If there was ever an occasion to stick your kids in front of the telly, long distance travelling has to be it. I could not have survived those 20 hours without our DVD player and copious amounts of Wiggles DVDs. Now don't get me wrong; back to back DVDs for an entire day is probably not a good option – the kids will get fidgety and restless and their eyes may turn square. But add this into the mix with other games, stops, snacks and activities and you have a much needed break for yourself and a 'last resort' option when all else is failing. Let the kids take it in turns to choose the DVD and you can always get them to wear headphones if you can't stand the sound of Dora The Explorer's voice.

• Be Aware of Time Differences
Time differences can cause havoc with the kids' circadian rhythms and make a mess of otherwise well laid plans. You can play this one of two ways. If there is a time difference of only an hour or so, you might want to keep your children on local time. For example, we had a 3 week holiday in New Zealand when the little one was 18 months old. Melbourne is 2 hours behind Auckland so we decided that rather than adjusting his schedule to the time difference, we would keep him on Melbourne time so that he was waking up two hours later than usual and going to bed two hours later than usual. This fitted in much better with our plans, because who wants to be up at 7am every morning on holiday? Plus we could go out for meals in the evening and not have to rush back for a 7.30pm bedtime. If you're doing a long haul flight with a considerable time difference, there are some things you can do to help everyone adjust to the new time as quickly as possible. Click here for some advice from the experts.

• Break the Journey
If you're travelling in a car, make stops every two or three hours so everyone can stretch their legs and have a run around. If you stop in a town there's bound to be a playground where the kids can let off steam even if it's only for 15 minutes. If you're travelling by plane you might want to include a stopover part way through the journey, which will allow for a break from the plane, as well as a chance to change your body clock more gradually. If travelling by train, you might want to stop off at a point of interest for a short while to break the journey. However you do it, it may make the journey a bit more manageable.
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Why? To keep your cool when travelling with kids
Your Comment
Great tips! I'll bear this in mind when we have to travel with our little muppets. I'm big on lists too. Just the act of writing everything down like that makes me feel more organised and less stressed out. Also, activitiy books are great, as are quiet books and toddler "busy bags".
by Jennifer Muirhead (score: 3|1241) 3194 days ago
I’m with you about lists! No trip (even to the grocery store) is complete without a list. I stay away from activity and sticker books because you never know where that crayon or sticker will end up or on. Instead I opt for my tablet; it’s loaded with some kids’ games, interactive books, and the Remote Access app from my employer, Dish. The app lets them watch kids’ shows and movies, they can play a variety of games without the mess, and it takes up less room than books. Thanks for sharing; I’ll definitely be using the sheet with the signs.
by techi (score: 0|2) 3387 days ago
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