Taking the family on holiday or for a special day out is always an exciting prospect – but enduring the journey to get there can be somewhat less appealing.
Whether you’re travelling by car, train, ferry or plane, we’re all familiar with the potential pitfalls: bored, whinging kids, sibling squabbles, toilet emergencies and travel sickness, to name but a few.
But don’t panic: we’re here to help with (almost) failsafe ideas to keep your child – and the rest of the family – happy when you’re travelling.
1. Be prepared for toilet breaks
Kids often choose the most inconvenient times to need the loo – like when you’ve just passed the last service station on the motorway.
To avoid accidents in younger children, stick a potty in the boot: you can get portable potties that are great for travelling.
Put an absorbent seat cushion in their car seat, just in case, and always pack a change of clothes.
If your kids are older, work out where you can conveniently stop for comfort breaks.
And if you’re travelling by plane, make everyone go to the toilet before boarding: you’re likely to be stuck in your seat for some time before you can use the loo.
2. Combat travel sickness
Nothing strikes fear into a parent’s heart like a wail of, ‘Mum, I feel sick!’
Fortunately, there’s a range of travel sickness preventatives available for kids, including acupressure wristbands and tablets that are suitable for older children: ask your pharmacist for advice.
Encourage your child to look ahead at a fixed point, and open a window for some fresh air. If you’re on a ferry, the middle of the boat is the best place to sit.
Don’t forget to take a plastic bag (check it for holes!), a packet of wipes and a drink of water with you in case your child does throw up.
3. Turn to tech
Long journeys are an occasion where it’s OK to relax your usual screen time rules to prevent those ‘I’m bored!’ whinges.
Depending on your child’s age, a phone, tablet or laptop could save your sanity.
Why not equip them with some classic or contemporary Disney films to keep them entertained? There’s a huge selection available to download and watch instantly and on the go.
Digital downloads can be purchased through all digital retailers including Sky Store, Prime Video, Googleplay, iTunes TV app, Virgin Media Store, Rakuten, BT TV Store, Talk Talk TV Store, Microsoft and Chili.
4. Stock up on snacks
Kids often confuse hunger with boredom, which means they’re likely to badger you for food every few minutes when you’re travelling.
Keep a plentiful supply of low-mess snacks in an easily accessible place: breadsticks, rice cakes and cereal bars are ideal.
Make sure you’ve got drinks on hand, too: if you’re travelling by air, buy them after security so you don’t have to throw them out for exceeding the 100ml liquid limit.
5. Defuse sibling squabbles
Imagine chaining up two angry pitbulls within two feet of each other: that’s basically the equivalent of brothers and sisters in the back of the car or next to each other on a plane.
Defuse sibling squabbles by providing plenty of distractions, such as sticker books, reading books and tablets with headphones. If you’re in the car, consider buying organisers that hang off the back of the front seats so they can each keep their own stuff close at hand.
For longer journeys, think about physically separating your kids: sit between them on the plane or train, or, if they’re old enough, put one in the passenger seat of the car and sit in the back with the other one.
6. Keep track of your kids
Airports, train stations and ferries are big and busy places, and it’s easy for kids to get lost in the crowd.
Avoid parental panics by making sure your child has your phone number somewhere about their person.
You can buy identity wristbands that you write your contact details on, or just write your number in biro on the top of their arm so someone can contact you if they wander off.
If your child is older, make sure their phone is charged and consider downloading a tracking app so you can see where they’ve gone if they stray.
7. Travel light
If you’re travelling by boat, plane or public transport, it helps to have your hands free for buggy pushing, carrying a tired toddler or holding your child’s hand.
Keep luggage to a minimum so you haven’t got too much to drag around: many family-friendly destinations and holiday resorts will provide items like travel cots and highchairs so you can travel as light as possible.
8. Be ready for spills
Kids of all ages are prone to spillages, especially in a moving vehicle, so be prepared by taking the necessary kit for mopping up.
Wipes are a must-have, as are clean clothes for your child – and remember to pack a spare outfit for yourself in case you end up in the firing line.
9. Pre-book where possible
Avoid the stress of wondering whether your family will be split up by pre-booking as much as you can, from plane and train seats to cinema and theatre tickets.
You may pay a bit more, but it’s worth it for peace of mind.
Another insider tip is to look into booking a cabin if you’re travelling by ferry, even if it’s a day crossing: cabins are often cheap on daytime voyages, and having a space to chill or put your toddler down for a nap could be invaluable.
10. Treat them to something new
When boredom sets in, being able to whip something new and exciting out of your bag could stop moans in their tracks.
Whether it’s a (quiet!) new tactile toy for a baby, a sticker book for a toddler or a magazine for a tween, the novelty should distract them and keep them occupied, at least for a short while.
Yes, it’s easier said than done, but try to lower your expectations when you’re travelling with kids.
It’s highly likely that there will be spills, squabbles and stress, but think of the journey as a means to an end – and keep reminding yourself of the fun that awaits once you’ve reached your destination.