Travelling as a family allows experiences to be shared. It can add interest to family time together away from the pressures of work and education. You can gain different perspectives on places when travelling in a group with children. It is often easier to get to meet local people, people can be friendlier, and when picking educational experiences for children you often learn something yourself.
However, it also often means extra preparation to ensure that you can all enjoy the experiences. You have to balance the needs of everyone in the group, and try and avoid many of the additional expenses that can apply to travelling as a group. You may have to deal with bored children in airports or on long trips, extra luggage when they get tired, and some frustration when they complain after going to all the planning effort when you could have left them at home with the grandparents.
Luckily, when you return home the crisis times seem to fade, and the memories of the activities together get remembered.
Who qualifies as a child?
You know what a child is, but when travelling the definition of a child varies. Normally it is based on age. There may also be minimum or maximum weight and height restriction on some attractions for safety purposes. It is also worth noting that often the definition of a child will differ for hotels, flights and travel insurance. For example while generally we accept that someone may be considered a child up to the age of 18, travel insurance may sometimes let a child remain on a parent's travel policy well into their 20s, depending on whether they are full-time students etc.
- Infants and toddlers under 2 to 6 years – often no charge.
- Children under about 12 or sometimes 14 years – child rates normally apply.
- Young People/Teenagers 14 to 18 years – child rates in some cases, often there are special youth rates, otherwise the normal adult rates apply.
- Young Adults 18 and up – full-time students under 26 can qualify for discounts with an International Student ID. Some discounts apply to all people under 26.
Articles on travel with children to specific destinations:
- North America
In general, flying is the most uncomfortable way to travel both for children and their parents. However, it is the usually the fastest and often the only way to get to certain places, and for some trips you'll just have to brace and prepare for the inevitable. Try to find a direct flight to your destination, at off-peak travel times. The less time you spend walking through airports and clearing security check points, the better. You are going to have to carry plenty of extra baggage, and this will become a nuisance if you have to keep unpacking. A crowded airport is full of stimuli that can upset/ excite/ bewilder a young child, so travelling at a quieter time will make the journey easier.
Unaccompanied minors are children, typically 12 or younger, for whom the airline assumes some duty to care for them. They usually sit in a row down the back of a plane where a flight attendant will check on them during the flight. They will disembark last, and will only be handed over to the person identified on a check-in form. If the assigned person does not meet the child from the flight, the airline reserves the right to return the child to the origin immediately at the guardian's cost.
On some airlines such as Air New Zealand, children who are flying on the same flight but in a different travel class to their guardians (e.g. parents in business class, children in economy class) are deemed flying alone.
Some airlines (mainly low-cost carriers) will not accept unaccompanied minors, and impose restrictions on the supervision that must be provided to younger children, often that children 12 or under must be accompanied by a guardian 18-years or over.
Some airlines may charge a specific fee for the service, or may charge indirect fees by not allowing online booking, or not allowing child discounts.
Generally a child must be over 5 to be accepted as an unaccompanied minor. Some airlines require all children under 12 to travel this way, while airlines like KLM require it of all children under 15. Usually it remains an option for children until 15 or 17, depending on the airline.
Sometimes the minimum age for a connecting flight is 8 years or over. Airlines never allow unaccompanied minors to transfer between different airports in the same metro area via ground transportation.
Some airlines, most notably British Airways, Qantas and Air New Zealand, do not permit male passengers to be seated next to unaccompanied minors. If you were assigned a seat next to an unaccompanied minor, you will be made to swap seats with a female passenger.
- See also: Planning your flight
Age policy around child and infant tickets varies between airlines. As a general rule children under 2 often have the option of traveling sitting on your lap and not being assigned a seat. Lap infants can travel free on domestic flights in some countries and sometimes at a 10% fare on international flights. Airport and government charges are usually not applied to children under 2, thereby reducing ticket price further. They may not have the same baggage allowance as adults. Commonly when adults are allowed 20 kg, infants are allowed 10kg but exceptions exist and on "low cost carriers" nothing is included.
During take-off and landings infants on your lap should be held in an upright position facing you and against you, with your hands supporting their back and neck. Some infants are more comfortable nursing during these periods and most flight attendants will allow it. Saving a feed for the descent can make the baby much more comfortable. With some carriers a lap belt is available that loops into the adult belt and then around the lap infant for take-off and landings.
Consider putting infants with their own seat in an approved car seat appropriate for their age and weight. This is compulsory n the USA, and recommended in other jurisdictions. Still, best to confirm with your airline about it, as some airlines try to restrict carry-on, and other airlines will not permit an unsupported infant in a seat without a car-seat.
Some airlines do not have the facilities for infants to be booked through their website, and you must contact the call center or a travel agent. Your infant is recognized as an individual passenger on a flight and therefore you must book their ticket before flying. Turning up at an airport with an infant who has no ticket will cause difficulties at check-in.
Infants younger than two weeks may require a certificate from a doctor saying they are able to fly.
If you have infants under 6 months old on a long-haul flight you may be able to request a bassinet (baby bed) which attaches to the bulkhead. Needless to say, this can make long flight much more comfortable for the parent and child. The age, height and weight requirement for using a bassinet depends on the airline. Requirements are usually listed on the airline's website. There are also limited bassinet seating options depending on the aircraft itself. If you check-in after they have been allocated then it will unfortunately not be an option for you.
For older infants, consider a bulkhead seat Arm rests don't go up (the tray is in the armrest), and you have to stow your carry-on bags in the overhead compartment during take-off and landing since there is no seat in front of you. On the plus side, bulkhead seats have more legroom, often enough for moving around without disturbing the occupant of the aisle seat, and there is no seat in front for the child to kick. Some airlines will let you book these when you purchase tickets, others give them out at a first-come-first-served basis at check-in only. Airlines won't let you place infants on the floor at your feet to sleep.
Children between 2 and 12 must have their own ticket. Children this age are usually given a discounted rate (typically 75% of the adult fare) on full service international airlines, but usually have no discount on discount international or domestic airlines. Discounted children's tickets may have different baggage allowances so check before showing up. Children's meals are available on some flights offering meals. The usual rules for special meals apply, and they must be ordered in advance. Picky eaters may prefer a bag lunch.
Unaccompanied children are usually children under 12 traveling without a supervising adult. Not all airlines accept unaccompanied children, especially discount airlines. An unaccompanied child may be required to travel on a full adult fare, and additional fees may be charged. Unaccompanied children will need to be collected at their destination by a named caregiver and may be returned to their point of departure if not collected. Some airlines do not permit connections and no airlines permit connections to different airlines. In Russia a special official document is necessary that states that the child has permission to travel alone.
Seat allocation is important. At a minimum you want to be seated next to your child, but few airlines will actually guarantee that you are. Make sure you and your child are on a single reservation. Try and reserve your seats in advance, if the airline or agent permit it. Check-in early, and if you are not seated together make sure the flight manager is aware you are travelling with a child. If you still can't get a seats together, just make sure you get a window or an aisle seat, as these are easy to swap on board, whereas swapping a centre seat can be a nightmare. Some low cost carriers may require one adult in the traveling party to pay for a reserved seat next to the child while the rest of the party is assigned random seats unless they pay for seat reservations.
At the airport
- See also: At the airport
Airports often have play areas as well as nursery or parent rooms with changing tables and rocking chairs for nursing.
Parents with smaller children can keep their hands free with a baby sling or baby backpack. Slings can be used on the plane with small infants and can give some privacy when nursing. Many parents find a stroller a lifesaver when flying, especially since it can carry not just the baby, but also some carry-on luggage. Some airports and airlines will let you keep a stroller with you until boarding, and the stroller is brought to the gate at arrival. Some airlines allow one stroller to be checked at the gate, in addition to normal baggage allowances. Check with your airline for size and weight limits. Baggage handlers don't like having to carry strollers down the narrow stairs included in jetbridges, but if you're boarding by bus, you yourself have to carry the stroller down the stairs and the extra work required of baggage loaders is minimal.
You're often permitted to carry more liquids through security than would be otherwise allowed if they're clearly intended for the use by a child or infant.
In the air
- See also: On the plane
Once in the air, flight attendants should be able to heat milk or water for a bottle, and point out which lavatories have changing tables. Pack a small grab-bag with one or two diapers and wipes for changing, since there's not a lot of room to move around in the lavatories and you won't want to bring your whole diaper bag. Flights with meals can include an infant meal with baby food, but you'll want to bring some favorite snacks in case this is not available.
Young infants are often content to nurse and sleep through a flight, while older babies will require some entertainment. Bring small bags of snacks and toys and dole them out every 10–15 minutes so there's always something new to play with. Small amounts of playdough, books, and crayons are good ideas. Avoid anything messy or with small parts that can get lost under foot. Anything too noisy will probably not be appreciated by other travellers. Take walks up and down the aisle every half hour or so and look for other babies and young children. Making a friend (and talking with other parents) can make the flight go faster. Infants dressed too warm for the cabin temperature might begin to cry.
Flying in a group can be fun as children can keep each other busy. On a large plane such as a Boeing 747 or Airbus A380, you will want to reserve the four seats in the middle. The armrests move up allowing for children to sleep. Another option if you're flying Air New Zealand or China Airlines is the Skycouch or Family Couch: a row of three economy seats which can convert into a flat "couch" by raising the legrests and retracting the armrests. It costs extra, and is not available on all aircraft models and flights, but it does give more room for children to lay down than buying regular economy seats. On smaller planes, pair one parent or older child with each of the younger children, and make sure everyone is supervised at all times.
Time also passes more quickly for children with video entertainment, like a familiar TV show for younger children.
If intercontinental flights seem too long for children, try planning a stopover or two in between. For example, Air Canada has a five-hour flight from St. John's, Newfoundland to London Heathrow for a trans-Atlantic trip. Trans-Pacific flights are a bit more challenging, but Hawaii and Guam (or in some cases, Anchorage, Alaska) are possibilities. Look at a round globe (not a flat map) for more ideas. Keep in mind this will involve more take-offs and landings, as well as getting from one flight to another, so it's a trade off. In addition, it will probably cost a lot more as well, especially if you can't keep the trip to just one airline and its affiliates.
- See also: Flight and health
Airplanes have internal pressure that while higher than ambient pressure at cruising altitude is lower than air pressure at the departure point. This means that during a flight, pressure will slowly fall, remain largely stable and rise again upon descent. Adults can usually deal with those pressure changes by swallowing. For infants, the buildup of pressure in the ears is painful and screaming is a natural reaction that somewhat mitigates the problem. Babies should nurse or drink something to help with the pressure. Teach older children to yawn and offer them gum for take off and landings. For toddlers, bring a spill-proof cup and have them drink something during take-off and landing. However, if they're asleep, don't wake them; they'll be fine.
You may not be able to keep your child from screaming but a small apologetic gesture towards fellow passengers can go a long way.
You may want your children to use appropriate child car seats when travelling by car. They are as important as seat belts are for you. Some countries require this. In some countries child seats can be rented along with a vehicle, but you may still need to bring your own. It is well worth researching well ahead of time what you need to do and checking with your travel agent or car rental company to see what is ideal.
Tips for a long car trip
- Try to break the trip up into small sessions. Keeping a young and energetic toddler confined to a car seat can be as stressful for them as it is for you. On the other hand, having a lot of sessions in a row is not necessarily better.
- Take a music collection your child enjoys. From time-to-time children are more than happy to bop along to your choices because at that age they don’t have a say, or an opinion, but when they’re distressed, over-tired or just plain bored – you need a better trick up your sleeve. Soundtracks to films such as Jungle Book and Mary Poppins seem to do the trick for younger children as well as a selection of fun children’s stories on CD. When all else fails, try soothing classical music to keep baby cooing. An alternative way is to scan the local radio for music stations.
- For toddlers and up, tablet computers can be a godsend. Pre-load them with child-friendly entertainment and games as you may not be able to get an internet connection while you are travelling. If your child already has a tablet and is familiar with it, buy them some new games that they haven't played yet and introduce them as you're travelling. Keep in mind that some children can get travel sickness using these while on the move.
- Drive early. Adults are a lot better than kids at adapting their daily rhythm. If you start your tour before sunrise the kids might still sleep for a few hours in the car.
- Take a selection of toys to keep them occupied. Keep a little rucksack in the car filled with books and toys and keep a selection of "non-toys" to pull out in an emergency. A bicycle tyre pump and a glovebox road atlas are good and safe options to raise a smile as well as make them think they are playing with something that they are not usually allowed.
- Frequent stops for fresh air, nappy changes and just plain freedom, are essential on road-trips. Pack a blanket and a sandwich to make these stops more fun for all.
Children do occasionally get travel sick and vomit on long car trips, especially when the road winds. Sometimes they do not give enough notice to pull over properly. Preparing for this eventuality will enable you to recover should it happen, just having water, soap and a cloth stop this being any more unpleasant than it has to be. Consider carrying travel sickness bags if you have older children who can use them. Otherwise a small bucket or ice cream container will suffice in a pinch, and even young children can often manage to make less of a mess.
Sharing a seatbelt with a child is dangerous. In the event of a collision or hard braking you will jolt forward and the weight of your body will crush the child against the seatbelt. Even if you hold a baby or toddler tightly in your arms, the force of the collision could catapult them.
Several companies make small, portable, restraints that act as travel-carseats. These can be folded up and packed in a day bag for use in rental cars and taxis. These only work, however, if there are adult lap or shoulder belts. In more developed countries, an imported child car seat may not have the connections or be certified for use in the destination country, and again you may need to request one when you rent a car or hire a taxi.
Car seat regulations are lax in many developing countries and you may choose to carry your own. However, in many countries, especially in South Asia, taxis may not even be equipped with seat belts. In these countries, you will either have to learn to live without a car seat and safety belt, or carry your own car seat and hire a car equipped with working seat belts.
If you are renting a car, most rental companies rent you a child and infant seats at an additional cost. Check that what they offer is adequate.
The availability of carseats and the legal requirement to use or provide one in a taxi varies from city to city and country to country.
Many cities in the United States require the use of a child car seat in a taxi but some (New York City is a prominent one) exempt taxis from these requirements. In London, black cabs are exempt from the carseat regulation but minicabs must provide one on request. If you want your child to be in a suitable restraint, either carry your own or check local regulations before traveling.
By bus or train
Make sure your children are seated and/or holding on to something in case of sudden stops (for trains: switches). Also be aware of travelling at peak times when public transport can get very crowded – try to learn when these times are and travel outside them.
Like when travelling by car, a little rucksack with books, toys and similar may save your day on longer journeys. Something to eat and drink is also good to have, although try to avoid overly messy or smelly food for the sake of your fellow passengers and yourself. Don't forget the baby wipes!
Public transportation buses, for the most part, don't have seatbelts. This often leads to children, especially younger children, wanting to climb on seats and run around. Try to (calmly) emphasize that this is dangerous and that they should sit down or hold onto something, especially as some bus drivers will brake and accelerate sharply. Even small children have no problem in behaving well on short rides (and less problems on long rides), if this mode of transport is a familiar one – otherwise train at home if possible.
If you are on a double-decker bus, such as the famous red buses of London, going up to the top deck of the bus and sitting in the front seats can be a lot of fun! The views are often great and you can pretend you're driving the bus!
Long distance buses usually have quite cramped seating and don't allow any running around. The only advantage they have over a car is that you don't have to focus on the road and thus can keep your children entertained. You should try to ascertain whether the bus has a toilet or how often it makes bathroom breaks before booking.
In general, many parents prefer travel by train over most other forms of travel as it enables children to run around (do make sure that the children do not disturb other passengers), there is more space, bathroom breaks are no major problem and the changing scenery provides a conversation topic and/or distraction. Furthermore there is usually more space than on a bus or a plane to play board games or employ electronic entertainment and not having to focus on the road means you can engage with the small travelers much better. Trains are also inherently fascinating pieces of technology to many children and adults alike and there are both numerous works of fiction and things published by railway companies themselves to satisfy the curiosity of little train enthusiasts while on a train. With the exception of tilting trains, motion sickness – which can be a major problem on planes, buses or cars – is also much rarer on trains.
Some trains have children's cars, with playing space, entertainment, a place to heat food for infants and a well equipped toilet. Get a ticket with seats in or near that car.
In some countries trains have "quiet carriages". These are, as they are labelled, carriages for people who do not wish to be disturbed by needless noise. Ensure that, when booking, you do not book these carriages as trying to keep most children quiet is a fool's errand and will earn you scorn from your fellow passengers.
If your train is late for a transfer, talk to the conductor, as your ability to run or adjust your plans are limited. They are often understanding. Some railroads (e.g. Deutsche Bahn) have a tool on their online booking system to select only connections with transfer times over a certain margin when booking, but you can certainly ask an agent to select such a train when booking at the counter.
While the problems in tunnels in terms of pressure in the ears are not entirely unlike on planes, most travel problems children encounter are lessened by trains having more space and running at or close to ground level.
Of all modes of public transport, trains also generally have the most generous luggage allowance (though you might wish for some help loading and unloading) which can be a godsend if you have small children that need more stuff than you could ever carry in a small carry-on piece.
Going by boat can be a great way to cover a lot of ground with young children or a fun way to relax with the whole family. Before booking you'll want to find out some specifics, at least on some journeys:
- Are there child and/or infant rates? Do they include any activities?
- How safe is the boat for children? What sort of railing is there on the main decks and/or cabin balconies?
- What sort of child-friendly food is there?
- Is it possible to request an early dining time?
- Is there a children's play room and/or children's club on the boat?
- Is baby sitting service available? In the cabins? In the evening?
When aboard, find out if there are life vests and other safety/emergency equipment available for smaller children (they may be at a separate location).
Keep children close by at all times and always check whether there are dangers, such as insufficient railing.
While some cruises are specifically geared towards families and children, almost all cruise lines now have some services for families. Before booking a cruise you'll want to find out some specifics:
- Are the excursions suitable for children? How much walking is involved? Is it possible to visit the sites unaccompanied?
You may want to put some thought in how you are moving around when not using vehicles. Are your children used to walking moderate distances?
Are you planning to bring a pram or stroller? The models differ quite a lot in versatility, in easiness to pack in tight spaces, in what luggage can fit, in usability in cobblestone streets or on beaches, etc. Old towns were quite emphatically not designed for strollers or the likes and can be more of a hindrance than anything. Similarly, getting a stroller into a full metro can be impossible, so avoid rush hour.
A baby sling can be a good alternative, especially if streets and roads are in bad shape. Some slings can be used to carry even quite big children (up to school age and more). If considering this, be sure both you and your child are used to the sling you choose. Specialized backpacks are also available, mostly for quite big children.
- See also: Border crossing
Increasingly, any child, including a newborn baby, needs their own passport, rather than being able to travel on their parent's passport. Check with your local authorities in plenty of time to get a separate passport for each of your children. You may also want to allow time to check into requirements for children's passport photographs, as some countries apply the same restrictions to photos of babies as they do to photos of adults. (For example, the United Kingdom used to require that a baby had a neutral expression on its face and was looking at the camera with the colour of its eyes visible—a difficult feat for newborns!)
Many countries will require that all adults who have a legal parental relationship with a child agree to a passport being issued to the child. Allow extra time for the application if you think you will have any difficulty demonstrating this.
Permission to travel with children
A parent travelling alone with their children (single parent or not) can often be asked questions at immigration about the status of the other parent. Usually a straightforward reply will suffice to satisfy the immigration official. A parent with a different surname to the child may have additional questions to satisfy immigration. Some countries recommend, others require, a letter from any legal guardian who is not travelling with you, agreeing to your travel plans, or documentation of court orders granting you sole custody or similar arrangements. Some countries have further legal requirements for a particular type of documentation, even for domestic travel. Check with the appropriate department of your destination to make sure.
Friends or relatives travelling with children should seek advice from the authorities at the origin and destination as to what, if any, documentation they may require.
In general, if court orders apply to the care of children, for example following a divorce, you may wish to seek legal advice as to whether there is any risk of them being challenged at your destination. Take particular care if your child or your child's parents are citizens or possible dual-nationals of the destination country.
Take your time. If you try to visit the city as in adult company, you will soon be miserable. Children often do not understand the grandness of the destinations: a toddler at the Rotterdam Zoo may well be most interested in the ants. A picnic, a nap, a visit to a small playground, all of which are simple things you could as well do at home, will help the children keep their good temper.
Attractions such as swimming pools and amusement parks generally require younger children to be supervised by an adult caregiver or responsible older child. Age limits vary but if the child is getting in at the child rate, expect supervision to be required. If in doubt, ask.
There are "family" tickets to many attractions and sometimes on trains etc. Always check this option, as they may in effect give the children free tickets. Often they include two adults and two children, regardless of relationship. However Deutsche Bahn is notoriously insistent that the "free children tickets" discount only applies to actual (grand)sons and (grand)daughters.
Trips to child-friendly amusement parks such as Disneyland, Legoland, or those at the Gold Coast may keep children keen and even be enjoyable for adults. Wildlife Sanctuaries where children can get up close with animals, or museums with dinosaurs or any other interests your child has can all keep kids occupied and may make them put up with the "boring bits" of the trip their parents want to do.
Breastfeeding is by far the easiest way to feed infants and young children on a trip. There's no preparation or utensils required and nothing extra to pack. While some places, including Canada, Scotland and several US states, have laws guaranteeing a mother's right to nurse in public, it may be unacceptable or illegal in others. Usually this just requires some discretion such as choosing a private place or using a sling for privacy, but it's best to be aware of legal and cultural issues before you arrive. Mothers with new or colicky infants should be aware of the effect of introducing new or spicy food into their diet, as this can change the flavor of their milk.
Preparing milk or formula for young children while travelling requires some planning. On an extended trip or road trip it may be worth bringing a small electric kettle for boiling water unless you know you will have facilities available. Bring a bottle brush and soap for cleaning bottles or pumps in bathroom sinks. Find out what to do if the water may be unsafe. Check the availability of formula at your destination, or bring your own. Travel may not be the best time to try changing formula. If your child has special needs (such as soy based or organic/wheat-free formula), check that these are available at the destination. Mothers who are expressing and storing breastmilk for bottlefeeding will need to check on appropriate refrigeration facilities.
Many restaurants can accommodate young children and serve children sized meals. However, checking before booking a table is always wise. Some restaurants cater especially for families and offer permanent special deals or activities such as paper and pencils or a playing corner. In some countries, such as Finland, it is customary to have a special menu with a few common and neutral dishes for young children. The restaurant may also accept your bringing food for children too young to appreciate the restaurant's offers.
Sweets and juice are a multi-purpose tool. They can be used as a reward system in boring times. For example. Child says: 'I'm bored!' Parent says: 'If you sit still and read your book for another half an hour, we can park at a rest stop and eat some cake.'
Chewy sweets and suckers are also great for relieving the pressure on a child's ears when landing and taking off in an airplane. Have these ready, especially for younger children who are flying for the first time.
Use this tool restrictively, though. Too much sweets is never good, and it can both cause travel sickness and upset the normal eat and sleep rhythm.
Places that serve only or primarily alcoholic drinks may prohibit children, either due to the local laws or due to the owners' belief that they'll make more money if they provide an adults-only environment. Check the local bylaws before entering bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. There may be a special family entertaining area that that can be used or an attached restaurant.
Many accommodation places are set up for adult singles and couples. Travelling as a group of three or more may require you to reserve an extra room or a special family suite. You should always reserve accommodation well in advance so that the proprietor can make appropriate arrangements, such as installing an extra bed. There may be additional charges for extra people as well.
Although there are hotels especially catering to families, most hotels built to be hotels, especially modern hotels, are often quite standardized to the two-per-room concept (often with the option of an additional bed) and optimized as to square metres per room. Older or odd buildings and other kinds of accommodation often have rooms more suitable for families. Some youth hostels have suitable facilities. Cottages are quite a safe bet, although you should check the standard (you probably want to avoid surprises such as lack of hot water).
In some locations there may formally be strict rules about number of persons in a room (enforced by booking software), while the proprietors could not care less and are happy to make needed arrangements. A phone call before doing the booking can help in such situations.
Hotels often offer in-house babysitting services or can refer you to a local service.
What to take for your trip
The physical environment when travelling may have a negative effect on your child. To be prepared, you should consider bringing a few helpful provisions:
- Child-friendly motion sickness pills
- Lip balm and moisturiser for dry skin
- Paracetamol (called acetaminophen in the US)
- Sunscreen (check suitability for children)
- Child car seat sun visor
Children are messy at the best of times. When they are in a car or on a plane, they make even more mess than usual. Do not give them full glasses of juice or watery puddings. Very importantly: keep your bag of cleaning essentials close by – not locked away in the overhead compartment, or in the boot of the car. Messy incidents will happen at the most inopportune times.
Here is a basic checklist to consider:
- Wet wipes – an absolute must
- A bag to throw rubbish in
- A change of clothes for you and your child, packed in a plastic bag – trust us, you could very well need it, and the plastic bag makes a nice place to store the wet or dirty ones.
- Extra wet wipes
- Spare nappies for the babies, and a travel potty for the toddlers
- A tea towel or two
- More wet wipes
- Have we mentioned wet wipes yet?
Don't forget plenty of materials to keep the kids entertained and fed. Bring more toys and snacks than you think you'll need, and load up a laptop or tablet with videos and games.
What to bring back home
- Magnets for a fridge are very popular with infants at 7-10 months. (They like to remove them from the fridge and then put them back on. This is an exercise for the arms.) Go for rubber magnets with no sharp edges, no more than twice the size of the child's palm.
For bigger children
- T-shirts with funny stamps.
- Various presents according to age.
Travellers, especially those on long trips for business or study, may have children born while outside their home country. Aside from making sure that local birthing or medical facilities meet your requirements, you will wish to make sure that your child's birth is sufficiently well-documented that you can at some point take them home! Check with your home country's embassy about how to register the child's birth and apply for or record their citizenship. Children born in some countries become citizens of that country by right of birth, but this is not necessarily the case: if not, you will not only have to establish their citizenship of your home country but also meet any visa requirements and so on for them to stay with you.
Your children should have age-appropriate knowledge of what to do when lost. Have an age-appropriate plan, and make sure everyone knows what they are going to do before setting out.
Younger children should always carry a card with their name, your name, contact details (hopefully including a mobile phone and accommodation details). It is too much to expect a young child to remember all this in an emergency situation. Children below school age may not even be able to tell strangers their names, especially if they're lost, frightened, and don't speak the local language.
Consider giving older children a mobile phone, or money and instructions on how to use a public phone.
An example of a plan could be for a child to go to last place they knew you were together, while the adult retraces their steps. Another plan includes nominating a particular location to meet on a particular trip.
Teach children who you would like them to approach. Consider whether you would like them to approach someone in uniform, which is something most children will recognise. Conversely, you should also teach your kids what kinds of people and situations to avoid.
Children may have special health needs while travelling:
- Very young babies may not be able to receive any vaccines, even routine ones, and will be very ill if infected with the associated diseases. Check with a healthcare provider about travelling with a child who is not vaccinated, either by choice or for age reasons.
- Your healthcare providers can advise on the suitability of travel vaccinations for older children, if they cannot receive them you may wish not to travel to some destinations. Some children have difficulty swallowing tablets, and if they cannot, it can make things like malaria prevention extremely difficult (many tablets cannot be crushed; while some can, always check with the prescribing doctor or a licensed pharmacist before doing so with any given medication.) Practice with M&Ms.
- Children may have difficulties swallowing pills without chewing them. It might be worthwhile to test and train at home, e.g. by using pills instead of liquids for things you give to your children anyhow (such as vitamin D during winter darkness in some regions).
- Children get cold faster than adults. If in a cold climate or participating in winter sports, your children may need warmer clothes than you do, and it's likely that by the time you feel the cold your children are already on the way to hypothermia.
- Children suffer motion sickness more easily than adults, particularly since they are usually relegated to smaller seats with less visibility. You might need to give them travel sickness medication and prepare to clean up if they are sick. Regular pit stops on car trips to let them get out and walk around help. If possible, choose seats with windows at the right height and in the front in buses.
- Children and especially babies have trouble equalising their ears on airplanes; see Pressure adjustment above.
- Train your child a couple of weeks beforehand to brush their teeth and rinse out of a water bottle (if appropriate) and to wear slippers in the hotel rooms as well as flip flops in the shower to avoid picking up any foot fungus. Spraying feet with a fungicide may be a good preventative measure, but ask your physician first. If the doctor approves, consider making it routine for a while before leaving.
Make sure your kids are well rested before any long distances of travel. You do not want to bring a tired and grumpy child through security, or have them squirming and complaining in the coach or car. Do not overfeed your kids before a trip either. You do not want to get up every ten minutes to go to the bathroom with them and you do not want them to vomit.
Make sure your child has enough to keep him or her busy, entertained and satisfied for the duration of the trip. Think about all the on-flight entertainment available for adults – drinks, food, movies, sitcoms, soaps, documentaries, newspapers and music. Now double that and you are somewhere close to what your child needs.
Pack a rucksack full of toys for each child (they will use it the whole holiday), including one or two new ones that are wrapped. These do not have to be expensive: a sticker book, a new matchbox-sized car, a small can of cheap modelling dough, or a book with mazes or other pencil-and-paper games will all work for different ages. Don't let them open them until they get on the plane or in the car. Build up the excitement for them. Versatile toys that can be reused in various ways, like craft supplies and construction kits, are better than single-function toys. Also consider making a toy wallet full of little surprises for the child to explore.
If you are packing something that needs batteries then make sure you have spares. If it is an item with rechargeable batteries, such as a handheld console, make sure it is fully charged before you leave and keep the charger handy. For items that can be charged via USB, such as tablet computers, it is worth investing in a decent external battery pack so you can recharge while on the move. There are also adapters for using the 12V system of cars.
If you think you might want to leave a toddler in a kindergarten or with a babysitter, it's always a great idea to first make such an experience in your home country, in less unfamiliar conditions:
- make sure a toddler is generally comfortable to stay without parents with a stranger [and with other children]
- escape a language barrier that is much more likely to be found when travelling
- avoid putting time-sensitive travel plans for a day at risk
Motion sickness, traveler's diarrhoea, or even just a bit of unexpected bump while your child is holding an open cup of juice can mean you may need to access and re-distribute your suitcase's contents pretty quickly. Think about how you could deal with dirty laundry if you need to, both while you're still en route and after you have arrived at your destination. Bringing lots of disposable plastic bags is recommended.
- Vacation camp, a way for children to spend vacation without their guardians