Tips for Travelling With Children

Written by Kate Goldstone

Travelling with grown ups is a relatively simple affair, mostly a matter of getting yourselves to the right place at the right time. You’re perfectly capable of staying safe, not getting lost and entertaining yourself as much as you need to. Add kids to the equation and things suddenly get a lot more complicated. It’s an entirely different experience.

kids on holiday

Traveling with kids

Tips for travelling with kids – An overwhelming experience for toddlers

Here are some sensible tips for travel with children. Take these into account and you’re much more likely to hang onto your sanity. And it’ll help your young child enjoy this thrilling new experience to the full.

Top tips for perfect timing

Your first step? Get to the airport early. As an adult you can run for a flight, steam around the terminal at high speed and move super-fast whenever you need to. As a parent life is a lot slower, especially when they’re really little. You just can’t move as fast as when you’re on your own.

On the bright side, the extra time you spend chilling at the airport will give your child a chance to use up some energy between the journey to the airport and the flight itself, and most major hubs these days have an airport play area. Playing safely with other kids is an excellent pre-flight distraction for your child and helps tire them out!

child in cockpit

Child in the cockpit

Bear in mind strangers, crowds and loud unfamiliar noises can make toddlers feel totally overwhelmed. All that new, unfamiliar sensory stimulation can be a bit much for  little ones. The minute you and your tiny tots enter the terminal you’re almost immediately thrust into tantrum land. If your toddler is aged around three they may even be aware – on some level – that they’re going to fly in an aeroplane, which can result in even more tantrums because they’re scared.

The experts say it helps to introduce the idea early and create a relentlessly positive build up to the big day. Point out aircraft contrails and make a fuss about aircraft when they fly over your home. Buy your little one a toy plane to play with a few weeks beforehand.

If you can possible plan the timing of your flight so your child will be either asleep or napping at least part of the way, so much the better. And bring basic snacks to fill the gaps between mealtimes, especially if you’re crossing time zones.

Airport parking is a boon when you’re travelling with little kids. It means you can stash your car close to the terminal, enjoy a trouble-free, smooth, reliable journey to the concourse and your car will be waiting for you when you get back home, convenient and easy to access.

Happy toddlers = happy travellers!

Child psychologists recommend you take plenty of familiar toys with you to the airport but also buy something new and novel, since novelty goes a long way towards keeping a small child happy and distracted.

Aircraft toddler facilities

Aircraft toddler facilities

You – and everyone else on your flight – would prefer your offspring to sit reasonably still and stay reasonably quiet on the flight itself. If your child wants to run around the concourse and expend lots of energy before boarding the plane, that’s good news. Let them burn off as much as they can. If there are huge queues and there are two or more grown-ups in your group, your child can always run around supervised by one adult while the rest of your party hold your place in the queue.

Little kids get bored very easily and need a constant stream of entertainment to keep them calm and happy. You’re on a plane so they really can’t run around without driving everyone else nuts. So prepare yourself with books, gadgets and games. I SPY is an incredibly simple game but it’s endlessly absorbing for small people. Books are always brilliant, as is ad hoc storytelling. You could even make up a unique tale about the plane, the airport, the sky, the land below, your destination… and make your child the hero of the story.

What about pushchairs on planes?

Don’t check in your pushchair. Most airlines let you push it to the gate itself, then they’ll stash it for you and have it waiting when you disembark. It’s wise to label it with your name, address and mobile number just in case. Sometimes you can even bring a small pushchair on board, depending on how crowded the flight is.  And always check the airline’s baggage restrictions. Some international flights let you check in hand luggage for a baby over and above your personal allowance, others exclude baby stuff from adult baggage allowances.

push chair in plane overhead locker

Sensibly stowed push chair

Can you use electronic gadgets on board a plane?

While you have to turn off gadgets for take-off and landing, your child can play with their Gameboy or whatever on the flight, no problem. Some seats even come with an electrical socket but it’s probably best to fully charge all your gadgets before you leave home.

What if you’re staying at an airport hotel?

What if you’re staying in an airport hotel because your flight leaves very early in the morning? You can show your child photos of the hotel beforehand and make up stories about it together so it won’t freak them out too much. Explore the whole hotel experience with them, talking about the new people they might meet and how exciting, fun and grown up it’s going to be. If your airport hotel provides on-site airport parking, even better. The less time and hassle you spend getting from A to B, the better everyone concerned will enjoy the journey.

If you can possibly do so, travel off peak

Off peak travel means you’ll have a better choice of seats. If you’re lucky the plane will be less crowded in the first place. It also helps to steer clear of flights with long layovers or late-night connections. If you can actually pre-book or reserve seats in advance, do it.

What about baby car seats?

You can often fit a baby car seat into an aeroplane seat when it’s next to a window, but otherwise it can be tricky. If you can’t pre-book, turn up early so you stand a good chance of getting the seats you want.

Some airlines let you pre-board, going on board before the rush if you have small children with you. But it’s a mixed blessing. You might get family-friendly seats but it also means you might end ups spending an extra half an hour on the plane.  Depending on your child and the length of the journey, you might prefer to leave getting on the plane until the last minute.

Is it appropriate to medicate your child to a calm state?

Pets are usually tranquillised before travelling by plane. Some parents take an antihistamine syrup to give their child before the plane takes off. It makes them sleepy. But it’s never a good idea to drug your child when they’re in perfect health.

Ear infections can be very painful on a plane because of the dramatic changes in the air pressure. If your child has an ear infection or a cold, or has just recovered from a bad head cold, consult your doctor before planning a trip. If their ears hurt a drink usually does the trick, so have one handy just in case.

Flying dehydrates adults, and it’s potentially even more of an uncomfortable experience for children because they dehydrate faster. Make sure they get plenty of fluids.

Getting the sartorial bit right

Frequent fliers wear layers of clothes that are easy to take on and off. It’s good to do the same for your child so they don’t get cross and uncomfortable being either too hot or too cold, inside and outside the terminal, on the concourse and on the plane.

What about in-flight baby changing facilities?

With a bit of luck, if your plane is relatively modern, there will be clearly-marked baby changing facilities on board. But a lot of planes don’t, so check with a flight attendant where’s the best place for nappy changes.

Routine is a good general rule

It helps enormously when you keep your child’s routine as ordinary and everyday as possible, despite all the excitement. Let them sleep when it’s sleep time, play when it’s play time and eat when it’s meal time.

What’s your best tip for travelling with children?

If you’re a seasoned family traveller who’s fluent in travel for kids, we’d love to know your very best tips for travelling with kids.

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