Travelling with children is a mixed bag. On the one hand, what you do tends to revolve around their sleep schedules, and their age does rule out many activities.
On the other hand, seeing the world through their eyes, and sharing your passion for travel with them is truly rewarding.
Either way, if you’re a parent and a keen traveller, you’ll be bringing the family along from time to time. Here’s what I’ve learnt along the way.
1. Using packing capsules to drop your baggage count
If you’re on a multi-stop holiday that means plenty of wheeling bags around (and standing around baggage carousels). But packing capsules can help drop your baggage count without the hassle of having to sort through three or four family members’ clothing.
Under-bed blanket bags provide inexpensive, large “capsules” that keep each person’s clothing separate within the one suitcase. When you arrive at the hotel, each blanket bag can be easily slipped into their own drawer for easy access.
2: Ensure everyone is security-line ready
Getting through security has become an often lengthy ordeal.
Travelling with kids sometimes means being bumped to the front of the line. But with more than just your own electronics to separate and put into the plastic containers, and multiple sets of socks, shoes and jackets to get off and on, cut your time by thinking ahead.
Don’t dress kids in things like belts which will need to be removed, and put them in easily-removed shoes and jackets.
A large ziplock bag can contain everyone’s electronics for quick removal and return to your carry-on bag.
Check your children’s carry-on bags before you go; they may not have the same idea of essentials as you – or a good understanding on just how many items will have to be removed from bags at the security line.
3. Look beyond the basics for kid-friendly activities
Deciding on what you want to see and do ahead of the holiday is a no-brainer, but you’ll reap further rewards by taking your research beyond simply choosing what attractions you’ll visit.
Check out websites including tourism boards, attractions’ social media pages and TripAdvisor for tips and tricks on avoiding peak times, scoring discounted entry fees, and dos and don’ts other travellers have learnt from experience.
For example, planning to splurge on a theme park restaurant lunch and have budgeted accordingly? A simple search through reviews could reveal extended queues at main meal times, so you can either get in early, or bring a picnic instead, saving frustration and “hangry” toddlers.
4. Invest in airline lounge passes
Beg, buy or bluff your way into an airport lounge if you’ve got a lengthy stopover.
While some lounges require membership, other international lounges offer the option to purchase a day pass, or may have a reciprocal agreement with your airline.
Check out apps including Lounge Buddy, which you can search for a list of lounges by airport and the airline you are travelling with – including pay-your-way and those offering reciprocal deals.
5. You won’t get to do what you want when you want
If you go into a holiday with your children expecting “me time”, you’re setting yourself up for failure and frustration.
There will be times when you can do what you want when you want, but the trick is to grab these moments by their schedule and not your own – when your kids are otherwise occupied, with no expectations on how long it will last.
6. Suspend your expectations and let them be kids
While failing to plan may be planning to fail in most ways of life, overdoing it when it comes to travelling with children is a recipe for frustration.
While researching places to see and do ahead of time is a great idea, planning too specifically about what you’ll do, and what kind of experience you’ll have at each attraction is a bit like a super-detailed birth plan. It’s lovely to have and it may well pan out, but unless you’re relaxed and willing to go with what happens in the moment, you’ll wind up stressed and feeling like you’ve missed out.
Instead, be led by your children’s abilities (including sleep and food requirements.)
If they are showing signs of needing a day off, resist the urge to push them beyond their capabilities – and consider if a half-day relaxing at the hotel and shorter jaunt to an attraction is better than being accompanied by screaming, complaining offspring.
7. Avoid school holidays
This one is not always possible, however other countries often have different school holiday dates, so you can plan to be there while their children are filling classrooms instead of tourist attraction (and theme park) queues.
And if your kids are not yet school-aged, enjoy the benefits of cheaper flights and hotels while you can!