There are two things that are synonymous with the British summer – rain and travel. Whether you’re going on a daytrip or travelling to the other side of the world to escape the rain, at some point you’re going to be stuck in a metal box with windows for what may seem like eternity with your little bundles of joy.
Not long after my son Sebastian was born, we started dragging him all over the world. His first trip, at 10 weeks old, was to visit my family in Australia, a 30+ hour journey door to door. We booked it when we were in the pre-child denial of ‘How hard can it really be?’. The upside is that we had to just do it and deal with whatever travelling with a child threw at us.
Thankfully the trip was fine, and it didn’t put us off travelling again. Since then we’ve been on short and long-haul flights, driven across Europe and seen parts of the world by train. With every trip we learn something new that makes travelling easier.
So here are a few of my tips for surviving summer travel:
Plan, plan and plan
Gone are the days where we can throw some clothes in a bag, grab your passport and go somewhere for the weekend. If you haven’t already figured it out, kids suck most of that youthful spontaneity out of life. They force you to plan for things that may or may not happen.
Try to embrace this and think about the trip from start to end. Where could something go wrong? What haven’t you thought of? It’ll help remove some uncertainty and give you at least one answer to the million annoying questions.
When planning your trip, it’s worth taking into account your kids’ ages and personalities. If you have an active child, plan a drive that has extra stops. If you have a child that needs naps plan your journeys around them.
We don’t tend to book package holidays so when we travel, we book every bit separately. I use Tripit.com to put all the details of the holiday in one place. I then carry a printout of the full itinerary. I store all documents and copies of passports on Dropbox.com and they’re synced to my phone so I can access them without the internet.
Keep time on your side
Feeling rushed adds unnecessary stress, so always build extra time into your plans.
To be honest, it’s taken us a while to fully appreciate this. For me, the holiday only starts when we arrive at our destination. So, spending more time to do the travel part feels like I’m doing less holidaying.
But, allowing extra time means the wife and I are more likely to still be talking and Sebastian isn’t wearing his food where I’ve tried to shovel it into his mouth in time to board the plane because he eats… so… flipping… slowly.
Think about extra time for toilet breaks, snack breaks, leg stretches, nappy changes, strops and removing all the luggage from the boot to retrieve the marble that rolled under the back seat.
Divide and conquer
When we travel, I’m generally the logistics manager, I take care of bookings, documents, how to get from A to B, liaison with anyone outside of the family, and paying for stuff. My wife is generally in charge of well-being. She manages the snacks, entertainment, distractions, toilet breaks and the general mood.
Make sure it’s clear who’s doing what and stick to it. If something that’s my responsibility gets moved, all of a sudden, the whole trip has gone to pot because whoever did it gets blamed for everything that goes wrong from that point.
Time for ones and twos
I don’t know how many times the seatbelt sign has lit up on a plane and it’s immediately followed by ‘I need a wee wee!’. Take every opportunity to use the toilet. It’s worth the fight to get them to try.
We had one occasion where, instead of a wee, Sebastian needed a poo as we started taxiing onto the runway. The plane then stopped, and we were informed that we were being held on the runway. We spent about an hour employing every distraction technique to a 4yo who had a number two turtling. The challenge was not to be too distracting that he lost sight of the end goal and let it slip out. We still talk about our shared parental achievement of holding that potential disaster off.
Although I’m not sure how good they are at holding number 2s we recently bought some TravelJohns. A TravelJohn is a little bag with a conveniently shaped nozzle that absorbs liquid. Great for child emissions from either end. On our last trip we even got to test it with both!
However you are travelling, and at whatever age your children are, wet-wipes are vital. They can also help you make friends with other parents. Although I’d question the parental abilities of a parent not travelling with wet-wipes.
After a few unfortunate experiences we now always keep an extra change of clothes accessible. For everyone. If we’re flying, they’re in our carry-on. If we’re driving, they’re in an easy to access part of the car.
Snacks and water will also help stop people, my wife included, getting hangry. Between motorway services and inflight meals fend off the hangries with snacks they like and are happy with.
Pack like a pro
While we’re sorting out which luggage is coming with us, my Dad brain starts mentally packing the boot like a game of Tetris. So when it’s ready to load into the car I know where everything goes. If it’s a long drive making sure things like snacks, changes of clothes and the potty are accessible is super important.
Also think about the types of bags you’ve got. As good as it feels to stroll through the airport terminal pulling your wheelie cabin bag, like that scene in Catch Me If You Can, a backpack will leave you with two free hands to drag a kid out of the way of a runaway trolley if you need to.
Keep them entertained
Successful travel entertainment is all about how close you can get to the destination before hearing ‘Are we there yet?’.
You’ll have the best idea of what’s going to entertain your child but it’s best to have a range of options. Think about using sandwich bags to contain types of toys.
Kindles and iPads are great for a period but for some children there’s a limit on how much they can watch in a car. We’ve heard that the limit can sometimes be indicated by a deep gutteral noise followed by the feeling of your child’s lunch dribbling down the back of your neck. Something we’ve not experience, yet.
There’s also nothing wrong with letting kids get a little bored. A bit of self-entertainment can bring out all kinds of interesting games, songs and stories.
Stay calm and enjoy the journey
This sort of goes without saying. But think about how you can make the trip easier for yourself at every stage. You might need to be a little more relaxed about your rules for sanity’s sake. If mealtimes or nap times need to be earlier or later it’s ok, accept that life might be a little different until you get back home.
Most of all remember that you’re going on holiday! This is the start of a fun family time away and having a well–planned trip and happy kids means you’re going to enjoy it even more. If things do go wrong take a deep breath and think about how to solve it, after all you’ve factored in the extra time 🙂