When you tell people you travel often with your children, it tends to provoke strong reactions. From the journey itself to fighting siblings and just the general amount of STUFF you have to pack, it can be a pretty daunting experience.
I can’t say that I’m a travel expert by any means, but as a family, we take a lot of flights. Through trial and error we have figured out what works best for us. So along with the help of some lovely Instagram friends, here is the Teach Investigate Play guide to travelling with kids. From the initial planning stages to the holiday itself, here’s everything you need to know:
Do your research:
For now, unfortunately, your days of lounging poolside are well and truly over! Use Trip Advisor and pick locations based on how kid friendly they are. Trust me when I say, a luxury resort in the middle of nowhere just doesn’t work (for now!)
Our recent trip to Uluru and Alice Springs was the perfect family mix of adventure, discovery, learning and relaxation – we even got to ride Milo the camel, which was a memorable experience for sure!
Air BnB it:
Now it’s fair to say that some Air BnB properties are better than others, but 95% of the time, we’ve had a great experience. One of the major benefits of course is having a home away from home. Washing machines mean less packing and having a kitchen means avoiding stressful restaurant experiences.
On our latest trip to Alice Springs, we chose a property with a pool so we could cool off after hot mornings doing touristy things.
Time your flights:
OK so on long haul flights, this goes out of the window, but where you can, try and coordinate flights with naps or sleeps. In theory, this will make your life on board the plane a million times easier. This is very much an ‘IN THEORY’ piece of advice – a Qantas air hostess once told us that babies often fall asleep during landing!
Soon we will embark on Zoey’s first long haul flight. We have booked the first flight for 11pm, so we are hoping for a peaceful journey. I will report back with how that goes!
Prep first time travellers:
Flying for the first time is a huge deal, especially for little ones. There are plenty of ways that you can prepare for air travel, from reading books to creating an airport role play.
Whether you have a mini or junior traveller, one of the best things I think you can do is prepare them for journeys by reading. Now the type of book will depend on the age of the child in question: for Zoey who is 18 months, we have used one of the Usborne classics ‘That’s Not my Plane.’
For pre-schoolers or those just learning to read, you can’t really go wrong with ‘Going on a Plane’ which is part of the Biff, Chip and Kipper Oxford Reading Tree series. In fact, we read this with Harrison when he was 5, ahead of our big trip over to Australia (and incidentally, the first time he’d ever been on a plane!)
The airport small world shown below helps mini travellers understand the airport processes. I’ve seen some great examples of role play online too. Both of these types of play will make the whole travel situation less daunting, especially if they already know what to expect at check in, security and even take off and landing (aeroplane seat belts are one of Zoey’s least favourite things!)
Turn travel into a learning point:
Now that Harrison is 8 and a complete pro at flying, we have moved onto atlases and maps to study where we are going. We will look at the destination city or country to find out facts. We also like to calculate how long the journey will be so that he is prepared.
‘Lots’ is fast becoming one of our favourite travel books, so many interesting facts and the illustrations are just gorgeous! Others to look out for are: The Atlas of Animal Adventures, Wonder Garden, The Map Colouring Book and Mini Adventures. In fact, I feel inspired to write a whole new blog post!
Prepare Activities in advance:
Whether you create handmade resources, or take a range of activity books, the key is variety at an age-appropriate level. In the past, we have bought travel activity pads only to find that they are far too difficult. The result, complete disengagement!
Jacinth from Our Little Playnest makes fantastic resources for her kids. Here’s a sample from her travel bag:
The family that packs together, stays together… or something like that! I would never pack Harrison’s carry- on bag myself, nor would I allow him to pack entirely on his own (I tried that once and he came out with the entire contents of his room!)
Pictured is what we have packed for our latest trip. Note we’ve succumbed to the fidget cube trend. We have a good mix of games, toys, books and activities. Not pictured is his Nintendo 3DS which is a complete lifesaver on long haul flights or the spare clothes – ALWAYS pack spare clothes!
Now Zoey is a lot harder to pack with, mainly because she can’t talk properly yet, but we give it a good go. Everything goes in, then gets flung out again but eventually we come to an understanding. In most cases, no matter how much I actually pack for Zoey, she is invariably more interested in the flight safety manual so let’s hope i’ve got this all right for our long haul!
If you’re able, pack some food for the journey. My nutritionist friend Liz from Well Nourished Club, swears by organic pouches for pure ease. Also top of her list are homemade flapjacks and the humble banana – see it doesn’t need to be complicated! You can find more information on her recipes here.
If you’re looking for lunch box ideas for the journey, please follow Nourish and Move over on Instagram. If you’re a parent just follow her anyway as I’m in complete awe of her kids lunches on a daily basis!
At the Airport:
Many airports have tuned into the fact that waiting around for hours can be a little dull. Changi airport has a butterfly garden and Sydney has a Qantas museum – I’m sure there’s more that we haven’t discovered yet!
It’s worth finding out what the airports offer beforehand (along with the opening times) so you can occupy the kids during longer waits. We’ll be heading straight to the Butterfly Garden in Changi airport when we reach Singapore!
Now, I swore I would never buy what is essentially a dog lead for my child but here we are! Zoey is at that rather difficult stage where she wants to walk most of the time, but absolutely does not want to hold hands. I relented and bought one of the Little Life backpacks which has been a real game changer at airports.
I’m pretty sure that older kids would not appreciate being on a lead rein, so here’s a nifty idea from @hmklambert over on Instagram. These genuis duct tape safety wristbands contain key contact information. Even better was the fact the kids helped to make them so we’re completely aware of what they were for.
Invest in a baby carrier:
Whilst most airports do provide complimentary strollers, we just find carriers heaps easier. Our sporty ergo baby carrier has been a lifesaver on more than one occasion, especially if Zoey ends up fast asleep as we’re due to leave the plane (which is most of the time!) What’s more, they’re also fabulous for exploring new places – we couldn’t have done most of our Uluru trip with a stroller.
If you don’t have one already and are now thinking of buying a carrier, it pays to do your research first. I’ve got a fair few slings, wraps and carriers, but we only tend to get on well with the Ergo Baby. A good place to start is at your local ‘Sling Library’ where you can loan out different types of carriers to try.
Pack homework for school aged learners:
Whilst I am a huge believer in learning through experiences, when we’re missing a lot of school, Harrison will complete daily homework tasks.
Every evening, we get Harrison to write in his journal – this is literally just a sentence or two along with a picture! This task is really so he can look back in years to come at his own experiences.
In terms of classwork missed, we have a discussion with the class teacher and then i’ll plan out what to take with us. If you aren’t a teacher and don’t feel confident, most class teachers would be happy to photocopy worksheets for you, providing you give them enough notice!
We usually work on a skill whilst we’re away – this is normally something that doesn’t require many resources. For example, learning to tell the time. Whilst I much prefer to use a ‘hands on’ approach to learning, these workbooks are just so much easier when we’re on the go.
On the plane:
This is where all the preparation and packing comes into its own. Rotate the games, books and activities you have packed – whilst Harrison has his 3DS, he’s not allowed to play it for an entire flight.
What to do with a cranky toddler? I find that distraction techniques work best. Again, constantly rotate the toys/ games you have and even go for a walk. Get out a few key items before take-off so you’re not constantly reaching for the overhead locker!
What I have found from experience though, is to try and stay calm even during meltdowns. Toddlers are like predators: they sense your fear and meltdown even further if you get anxious. On Pinterest I’ve seen parents make little party favours for fellow passengers, but it’s not something we’ve personally tried.
On the holiday:
We tend to find that you need to balance tourist attractions and down time. Don’t go expecting to pack everything in as you will all invariably end up cranky and miserable. This is where the research comes in again: what is on your must see list? How much time do people typically spend at a particular museum, place or attraction?
We split up our days so that we’re busy in the morning visiting museums, parks or going on long walks, then we’ll chill at the pool after lunch. It’s a formula that works well for our family, but you need to go with whatever is best for yours.
Finally, have fun!
Travel is an amazing experience and personally, I think it’s even better with kids. The journeys we’ve been on create memories to last a lifetime. So don’t worry about your toddler melting down on the plane or your 8 year old having car sickness, because in the end, they won’t be the defining moments of your trip!
Please comment below if you have any other words of wisdom for fellow parents. If you want to share to Pinterest, please link back to this website 🙂