OK, so taking children on holiday is on a par with a major military manoeuvre! The key to a stress(ish) free start to your holiday is … preparation, preparation … and more preparation!
Running a travel company for families (www.kiddycations.com), I know a thing or two about family travel. I have compiled my 10 top travel tips that you need to know before you fly off on your family adventures!
1. Visa and vaccinations (boring but essential!) First things first, check what visas and vaccinations are required for the country you will be visiting. Do this in plenty of time. Paperwork is always very stressful if done at the last minute! Vaccinations may require you to have them a month or so before you travel in order for them to give you protection from day one of your holiday! Sort out travel insurance. Double check everyone’s passports for clear pages and expiry dates! You don’t want to leave anyone behind! Once these are all ticked off you can begin the fun stuff.
2. Roll with it With some top tips and allowing yourself a bit of time packing needn’t be a painful experience! (OK, still a bit painful so as you pack say the packing mantra; “Beautiful beach, sunny sun, chirpy children” and repeat!) Avoid throwing things in randomly. Have a plan. Pack outfits together. For example; start with a pair of shorts, fold a t-shirt in half and place on top of the shorts, then place socks and pants into the middle of the t-shirt and roll all of the clothes together. This way you avoid constantly rummaging through the suitcase for a pair of socks orpants or a top that goes with a particular pair of shorts! (Been there done that, have the messy disorganised suitcase to show for it!) If you are having a beach break roll all swimwear, sun hats, armbands and plastic sunglasses into a towel. Keeping all the beach things together. The final thing to pack (and therefore the first thing you see when you open your suitcase) is pajamas for the first night. There is nothing worse than arriving at your hotel at night and trying to find PJ’s for sleepy children!! (By the way if you do not follow these tips and you are looking for PJ’s they will be right at the bottom of your suitcase for maximum stress!). Put your children’s toothpaste and brushes into a zip lock bag and wrap their PJ’s around them so you have instant bedtime routine at your fingertips!
3. Family travel gadgets and gizmos Check out the top travel gizmos and gadgets! There may be products that have been developed that you’re not even aware of yet! My top travel gadgets are; the Ben Bat Go Vinci Trolley bag, a bag for the little artist in your family. The Trunki Boostapak, a handy backpack that doubles as a car seat too. Luggage scales, keep your stress levels in check by weighing your bags before you reach the dreaded check in desk. The Track R Pixel tracker, never loose your passports again with a handy tracker system. A Grid it organiser, this has saved me from the endless search for things in my bottomless handbag! And finally, headphones for the children, with all my good intentions of not letting my children have any devices there is the odd moment (or two….!) that I just need a bit of peace and quiet.
4. Up, up and away! If you are flying, your holiday begins at the airport. Avoid tears and tantrums by doing some research before you go. Airports can be a fun family destination in there own right. Find out if the airport has an indoor play area, and what level these are on. Plan your airport adventure, split it into playtime, stop for a drink and snack, find a bookshop and buy a book for the journey and then head to the gate. Always allow plenty of time to get to the gate (in larger airports you may have toa plane with hand luggage and toddlers in tow is no way to start a holiday (take it from the expert – been there done that!). Airports often have strollers for rent, phone chargers etc., go to the information desk and see what services they offer that could help you out!
5. Parent prep A balance between spontaneity and research needs to be reached. Make a list of family activities in the area of cafes, parks, museums and galleries. Take note of their phone number, address and cost. Print off your findings and pack it in your luggage. That way you will have an idea of what’s on near you when you arrive and something to refer to if you find yourself without internet. Then you can explore your area but you have an idea of what you could do. Get your children involved in the research. Let everyone in the family choose an activity that they want to do (no veto’s allowed!). This is a great way to try things you normally wouldn’t and to gives the children a sense of ownership on the holiday. Teach your children a couple of phrases if a different language is spoken in the country you are visiting. Look at pictures of where you are going and discuss what they think about it.
6. Fun on the run! Buy some games and books to play on the move to keep everyone occupied. The Littlies (ages 2+) love snap, pick a pair memory games and bring the travel theme in with the Usbourne book ‘That’s not my Plane’. The Leapfrog books are also great for energetic explorers who cannot read yet (ages 3+) as they trace the pen over the words it reads the book aloud, games can also be played on it and they have a good variety of story books available www.leapfrog.com. Older children (ages 4/5+) will love ‘Sushi Go’ and ‘Dobble’ (both available on Amazon). These fun card games are really easy to learn and are great fun for all the family. Sushi – go had the added benefit of making my children want to eat sushi (a good game to pack if you are travelling to Japan). Dobble is a silly fast paced fun that is addictive but in all the excitement may get a little loud and animated (don’t say I didn’t warn you). Finally, The Loaded Questions Junior is a fun way to wile away a long car journey, or delay at the airport, with a selection of fun conversations you wouldn’t normally ask your children such as ‘What is the best thing about being really short? What is something you would never want? If you were a professional wrestler what would your ring name be? Allowing you a window into how your children see the world which can be both eye opening and very funny!
7. Keep it simple Before I had children, my holiday was all about seeing the sights and cramming as much in as I could. With children, these expectations have to be adjusted. We keep activities for the morning when our children are at their best. This is when you can go for that scenic walk, do some sightseeing or visit a museum. After lunch it is all about the ‘chill out’ factor. We tend to book hotels with swimming pools or on the beach so we still feel like we are doing something, even if it just building a sandcastle on the beach.
8. Nifty tricks We love walking as a family, and on holiday exploring on foot can be a great way to experience a place. Make the stroll around a new area much more exciting for the children by Geocaching (www.geocahing.com). This is like a grown up treasure hunt. Geocaches are small treasures carefully placed with the help of Global Positioning Satellites (GPS). There are 2 million Geocache hidden all over the world. Just download their App before your holiday. When you are on holiday look up which Geocaches’ are close by and then use your phone to navigate to them. Once you find it (difficulty levels vary) sign the logbook, which will be with the geocache, and sometimes you can even trade small nick knacks like a key ring etc. This revolutionised our walking experience, and rather than plodding at the back our children now bound ahead! If you have no Internet where you are going Fitbits are great to start a bit of family competition on who can do the most steps in a day. And trust me the toddler always wins!
9. Lil’ local Once you are at your destination pick up some of the local magazines. These are a great source of up to date information on what to do, what’s on and could equip you with some great local insider knowledge. It may also give you discounts to local companies and a heads up to any local festivals that may be happening. The magazines will also have an online version, if you want to do some research pre-trip.
10. Strike a pose Holidays are generally in beautiful parts of the world and you should all be relaxed and happy … with a bit of a tan, …. so the perfect time to get some family photos. Find out if there are any local photographers in the area and get some beautiful holiday memories snapped by a professional. Have a location shoot at your villa, on the beach or when you are doing an activity all together. Family holiday shoots are becoming more popular and a great way to capture the memories of a fabulous holiday!