With state borders opening once again, and flights between capital cities resuming, many of us are looking to travel again. Maybe it’s for a well-deserved holiday, or to visit family and friends that you could not see during 2020. For some, the mere thought of travelling with children long distances can be enough to make us groan.
James and I relocated from Sydney to Melbourne when our eldest was two, and I was 7 months pregnant with our second. This means regular trips back to Sydney to see our parents and friends – approximately a 12 hour drive. We both knew we needed strategies so neither of us would arrive at our destination completely neurotic! We did not always get it right; I have done 5 hours in the back of a car at the end of the day with a screaming child. Or there was the time we went on a winding road in the Snowy Mountains after letting our son drink a milkshake (I’ll let you imagine what happened!).
Here are some tips on what we did when travelling with children in the car:
- Leave early in the morning. Do a good, long stint of driving before it gets too hot, and whilst the kids are half asleep/at the ‘happy’ time of the day. We would start our trip to Sydney around 5am.
- Drive for no more than 2 or so hours at a time, and have in mind where you will stop for a break. Your break stop will need toilets, a playground, and a shop that sells food that your kids like to eat. We would use the “Golden Arches” as it was a one-stop-shop, and the playground had a fence! Or go off the highway and into the local regional town to a grassy, less busy playground. I especially wanted to feel I could breastfeed somewhere I felt comfortable. While you are stopped run the kids ragged before they have to sit in the car again for another couple of hours! Even take a bat and ball, frisbee, bikes, etc.
- If it’s a long trip, consider breaking the drive up over more than one day. Whenever I drove to Sydney on my own, I would stay halfway at a motel or caravan park (with pool, jumping pillow etc). My parents would sometimes even drive to that point too, so we could drive the rest of the way in convoy and share the driving.
- If your child has completely lost it – pull over! There is no point continuing to drive to your destination with a screaming child. It’s unpleasant for all in the car, and can be quite distracting for the driver and therefore dangerous. My mantra was ‘There is no rush’.
- I packed little bags of surprise activities/snacks, etc that the kids had not seen before. Every 30 minutes or so, I’d whip the next thing out and pass it back to them. In the afternoon (the arsenic hour) we would put a movie on, and/or encourage sleep.
- Have a few games up your sleeve. ‘I spy’, or ‘Spot the yellow car/truck’ etc. Numberplate words is a good one (making up silly phrases using each letter from the number plate in front).
- Play audio books, or music that your kids like – car karaoke is the best (yes, Colin Buchanan and The Wiggles were family favourites, and I still know all the words!).
- Tell your kids where you are going, when the next stop is, what’s at the next stop to look forward to.
Travelling by plane can take longer than in a car, especially when you factor in waiting time at the terminal. As a family, we travelled to the USA when our youngest was 3. Twenty-nine hours from door to door, with two stopovers. My tips for travelling with children via plane are:
- Make the most of everything that the airline has on offer for kids. Kid meals, aisle with a cot/bassinet, seats near the aisle, travel toys and activity packs, the movie and game channels available. Take up any offer to move so your family can have more space.
- Read up on the airports when you will use or stop over at. Is there an indoor playground, if so where? Where will the toilets, food court etc be?
- Explain to your kids how Customs and Immigration works. I had my three sons briefed to take off their shoes, walk through the detectors, then sit and wait on the other side while I came through.
- Take only hand/onboard luggage if possible. It means less wait time at the carousels after your flight. If your kids are old enough, have them carry or pull their own bag along. A three-year-old can do it (and they’ll get lots of cute looks and words of encouragement from people in the airport too!).
- Take sweets for your child to suck on, or chewing gum, or a bottle. This helps if their ears are affected by the air pressure upon take off and landing. It can be very painful for little ones, and a screaming child is not much fun for you or the other passengers.
- Take spare clothes, nappies, first aid kit, and anything that you might need in hand luggage; especially handy if your luggage goes missing in transit (heaven forbid!)
Although travelling with children can be hard work, remember to keep it fun and light-hearted. Be excited and look forward to what lies ahead at the destination. Lots of cuddles and words of affirmation will go a long way to remind your kids that they can do it (and so can you!) Happy travelling!