14 Brilliant Tips for a Better Family Travel Experience (2023)
Traveling with children doesn't have to be so stressful! Check out some tips and tricks we've come up with to help you plan a calm, hassle-free family holiday.
Tips for flying with kids:
1. Have snacks for takeoff and landing
You know that pressure you feel in your ears, especially during takeoff and landing? Kids feel that too, and even if you’ve explained to them how to equalize (hold your nose and blow gently) they may not be able to. If that pressure builds up, it can be excruciatingly painful and lead to tears. A hack for adults who have trouble with this is to chew gum since the jaw motion helps open the eustachian tube. But giving children gum isn’t always a great idea considering it can end up stuck to their clothes, the seat, or in their (or someone else’s!) hair. Instead, have some snacks on hand, especially chewy ones, to give them during take off and landing.
2. Keep a portable video player/tablet handy (and charged)
Never underestimate the power of electronics. Video players and tablets are perfect for keeping children calm and occupied, especially during long flights. Every kid would be happy for the chance to play their favorite game for 8 hours, completely oblivious to the fact that they’re soaring halfway around the world. And, while there’s (usually) kids movies and TV shows in the in-flight entertainment, they might not have that comfort movie or TV show that your kid has seen a thousand times. Many streaming services let you preload, so you can have ol’ faithful ready to go in your time of need.
3. Bring paper towels and wet wipes
Even the most seasoned travelers occasionally spill something on themselves. And children spill things even when securely planted on the ground. So your chance of a mess when flying with children is exponentially higher. Have a stack of paper towels in your carry on so when a spill does happen, you’re prepared. You can even preemptively set some out as a napkin. Round out your arsenal with some wet wipes for those sticky situations.
Tips for taking the train with kids:
1. Look for family carriages
Some (though not all) trains have cars specifically for families traveling with children. These can have small play areas to give them room to move so they don’t get antsy on long rides. These also tend to not fill up as much, so there’s less congestion if you need to walk the aisle. Since you don’t have to worry about unexpected turbulence on a train, you’re free to move around with your kids for basically the whole ride. Just keep an eye out at stations as people come through the car with luggage.
2. Enjoy the view!
Train rides are absolutely terrific sightseeing opportunities. Play tour guide by pointing out passing scenery to your children to keep them entertained. You don’t need to know the details of what’s passing outside the window, but “Look at the pretty mountain” and “ooh cows” are timeless crowd pleasers.
3. Have backup entertainment
Sometimes play areas and sightseeing aren’t enough to hold a child’s attention. So just like flying, have a tablet, phone, or other form of video player ready so they can play games or watch their favorite movie or TV show. Many trains offer free wifi, so streaming is possible. But, this is tied to cell service so isn’t 100% reliable. As an extra precaution, you preload their media of choice just to avoid any loss-of-service tantrums.
Tips for car trips with kids
1. Keep them engaged
We’ll go ahead and say it: being stuck in a seat for hours isn’t fun. And for kids, being in the back seat makes them feel separated. Make them feel included, and keep them preoccupied by engaging with them during the car trip. Talk about what they’re looking forward to on vacation, and what you’re excited about. Point out things that you’re passing (everyone loves seeing animals), or play road-trip games like I spy, bingo, or a scavenger hunt (you can find sheets online to print out).
2. Take rest breaks
One of the biggest benefits of taking a car trip with your kids is you have complete control! If your kids start getting antsy, pull over at a rest area to let them run around. Or even better, plan a detour for a fun family activity to give them something to look forward to during the ride. Either way, they’ll appreciate the freedom to move around. And it’s a good way to tire them out a bit so they take a snooze once they’re buckled back in the car.
3. Equip their battlestation
Car seats are made to keep your kid in place. But that also means they can’t do much moving around if they want a drink or snack. Instead of constantly having to reach back to pass them things, or, if you’re traveling with your partner, playing chauffeur while they sit in the back, put necessities within their reach. If the car seat you’re traveling with doesn’t have cup holders or trays, you can buy storage options like clip-on cup holders and backseat trays to bring with you so your kids can be independent in the back seat.
General tips for traveling with kids
1. Choose family-friendly accommodation
Don't assume that everywhere is family-friendly. Even if the accommodation you’re looking at doesn’t specify “no kids allowed”, that minimalist-chic boutique hotel might not be the best fit if you’re traveling with an energetic toddler. So always do your research beforehand to make sure your accommodation is a good match for you and your family.
Kids want to unwind just as much as you do after a hectic day of traveling, so a swimming pool, bathtub, and a TV can go a long way. Or, even better, look for family-focused hotels. These will have more child-centric amenities from playrooms to mini-waterparks to keep the kids occupied and happy for the full course of your stay, and many have reliable on-site babysitting for when you need a night out.
2. Eat in
Eating out is not only expensive, but can be stressful for young children (and parents too!). If your accommodation has a kitchen, consider buying groceries instead and creating your kid’s favorite lunch/dinner at least once. This will keep the costs down and avoid potential restaurant meltdowns. Plus, shopping like a local is an enriching experience in itself. You get to see how their grocery options are different from your own back home, sample snacks that you wouldn’t know about, and can try your hand at making local dishes.
4. Dress your child(ren) in bright clothing
Remember how scared you were as a kid when you lost your mom in the grocery store? As a parent, getting separated from your kids in a crowd is even worse. So short of being one of those parents who use an actual leash to keep them in line, one of the best things you can do is to dress them in brightly colored clothing when traveling. If you get separated, a tiny head is easy to miss in a crowd, but a neon yellow hat and day-glo jacket will be easy to spot! It also makes them easy to describe if you need to ask for help.
5. Don't forget their favorite toy!
Bringing a suitcase of toys is a bit excessive, especially since many could end up getting lost or left behind. However, bringing just a few of their favorite toys, like that bunny that they always sleep with and their favorite bedtime story book, pull double duty while traveling. Not only is there that emotional attachment, but those cherished companions will give them a sense of home and keep them calm during the travel day.
6. Look into hiring a private transfer
Train rides are nice, but getting to and navigating large, busy stations is not. Driving gives you more freedom, but navigating foreign roads with unfamiliar signs can be stressful. If you’re going to be moving around during your vacation, especially with kids, hiring a private transfer service like Daytrip makes traveling so much easier. You’ll travel door-to-door with a professional, english-speaking driver who will happily cater to your needs en route. You get to sit next to your kid to keep them occupied (and help if they drop their toy), and you can even add optional sightseeing stops so the whole family can stretch their legs.
What are some of your go-to tricks for a better family travel experience?