Stephen Heard is the publishing coordinator for Stuff Travel.
It was a total shock to the system setting off on holiday for the first time with our newborn.
We were only heading two hours down the state highway, but managed to pack most of our living room into the car. And then once arriving and unpacking the living room into another smaller version of the one at home, the usual mind-numbing daily routine played out as per usual.
Four years and several international adventures later, plus the addition of another ever-moving baby, I have certainly learned a few things about holidaying with kids.
Firstly, there’s no such thing as holidaying with kids. I prefer to call it destination parenting. But it can also be an absolute joy if you learn to go with the flow.
* Travelling with family, or maybe looking for adventure? There’s a cruise line for that
* The tourist attractions that are better experienced with kids
* 10 tips for travel bliss with kids from a dad who spent 300 days on the road with his
Things will go wrong
There’s no question that travelling can be stressful, but it is particularly nerve-racking for those with unpredictable small people clinging to their ankles. No matter the amount of planning, it’s almost guaranteed that something will go horribly wrong.
You can’t control everything, especially when you’re in an unfamiliar and sometimes overwhelming environment. Keep your cool and your offspring will (hopefully) follow.
Be prepared for all circumstances: delayed and cancelled flights, lost luggage, forgotten documents, illness and inevitable spillages. Additional clothing for both child and parent is key.
You’ll need extra time at the airport
You can expect the journey to take much longer than your solo travelling days.
Give yourself an extra hour at the airport for unexpected situations like leaving your carseat in the carpark, catching the wrong terminal bus, misplacing passports and the usual hold-ups like unscheduled bathroom and snack breaks.
You’ll also need time to drop oversized check-in items at the appropriate location. Travelling by car? That’ll take a while, too.
You can’t please everyone on a plane
Is your child causing a fuss and you’re on the receiving end of a deathly stare from strangers across the aisle? Not your problem. Everyone has an opinion about kids, especially those without them, but you can’t please everyone. There’s a good argument for the inclusion of children-only zones on planes – I’m all for it, but imagine the crumbs.
Kids’ natural curiosity and perpetual need for movement can often be misinterpreted as bad behaviour in the confined space of an airline cabin. Expect to encounter the greatest hits of emotions and come well-prepared with activities, entertainment and snacks.
The bulkhead is key for long-haul travel
If your child is the right age and dimensions make sure you pre-book the bulkhead aisle so they can snooze comfortably in the provided bassinet. Airlines provide them free of charge.
Plan your trip around their regular sleep schedule and you might just score a decent chunk of mum and dad time on the plane.
Bring something to relieve air pressure
That screaming you’re hearing down the back of the plane is probably a kid struggling with the build-up of air pressure in their tiny head.
Hard-boiled sweets and lollipops are a brilliant way to avoid and relieve the uncomfortable sensation. Or simply get your child to sip water during take-off and landing. It happens to adults, too.
Flying comes with sweet perks
Count the perks that come with family air travel as small wins.
Travellers with babies and toddlers are often given special treatment at the airport, such as streamlined security screening and priority boarding so you can set yourself up and find room in the overhead bins.
The perks continue with extra snacks and the occasional activity pack. Depending on the airline’s security policy, you might just be able to have a look inside the flight deck.
Some hotels also come with sweet perks like welcome gifts and themed menus
Save surprise treats for travel days
Bring activities and toys your child has never seen before for long travel days so there’s some element of interest and to fill in time.
It could be a new colouring or sticker book, activity pad, travel card games or a new toy car, all depending on the age, interests and attention span of your child. Wrap them up individually like presents and then make a big deal about each new item.
Some tourist attractions are better with kids
It’s true that some sights are even better when accompanied by your offspring. Where adults tend to contain their excitement because of underlying insecurities, little humans have no problem holding back their pure heart-melting joy.
That excitement is contagious, bringing out your inner ten-year-old and otherwise mediocre attractions, like fountains, animal parks and museums, to life.
You can lighten up about food choices
If you plan on sinking pina coladas every day or visiting the buffet more than 40 times, then it’s absolutely fine to let your kids eat hot chips or sneak in the odd glass of sugary orange juice with a meal. It’s a holiday; it’s supposed to be fun and a treat for all.
It pays to take it slow
There’s no need to rush around and tick every attraction off your list.
New sights, sounds and people can be overwhelming for kids so take your time and don’t worry about cramming everything in and sticking to the clock.
Aim for one activity per day and then factor in some days off to splash about in the hotel pool or visit the park across the road. It’s a good idea to spend more time in one location.
Sleeping arrangements are important
I’ll never forget our time in Fiji when we sat in the dark with the TV one volume click above mute so our infant wouldn’t wake up.
Thinking about sleeping arrangements is important if you fancy some respite. Consider the room size and layout when booking and call your accommodation provider ahead to see what options are available for port-a-cots and fold-out beds.
It’s worth paying that little bit extra for a junior suite so you can have separate sleeping and entertainment areas. Interconnecting rooms are worth it, too.
You can’t beat second-hand joy
Imagine the pure unadulterated delight seeing a kid taste ice cream for the first time. Take that feeling and multiply it by 100.
New sights, sounds and smells when travelling open up an entire can of delight and intrigue. Even the plane taking off becomes a thrill ride, while the explosive vacuum flush of an airline toilet can be an awe-inspiring experience.
Travelling with children is hard work but absolutely worth it for the second-hand joy and its ability to spark imagination and curiosity.
What lessons have you learned travelling with kids? Let us know in the comments.