When we become parents, we accept that we’ll have to make a few changes to the things we love to do. Sunday lie-ins are replaced with early morning stomps around National Trust sites. Spontaneous trips to the cinema turned into carefully planned outings to watch the latest Disney offering. Brunch at the weekend is now a visit to a farm, downing a cup of tea while the kids are let loose in the soft play.
Having kids forces us to make changes to our tried and tested routines. And travelling with children is no different. Sure, care-free jaunts around the world may be a thing of the past — but travelling with the kids in tow can be the best kind of travel. And, like most things child-related, you’ll struggle to remember what travelling was like before they came along.
To help you handle effective trip planning with a family, we’ve put together a handy survival guide. Covering planning, packing essentials, where to go, how to get there and where to stay, here’s our rough guide to travelling with kids.
Where to go with a baby
Babies are portable, easily entertained, and won’t even remember going on holiday. This means you shouldn’t be afraid to take the kind of trip you’re used to taking. Once they’re eating solids and are on the move, things need to be a little more considered. But as long as you don’t head anywhere unsafe or unsanitary, you’ll be fine.
Long-haul flights aren’t out of the question, either. Most long-haul airlines have a bassinet by the bulkhead seats for passengers travelling with infants on a first-come-first-serve basis.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is temperature. Young babies don’t cope well in hot weather and you don’t want to spend your whole holiday worrying about whether they’re overheating.
Our travel picks for babies
Make the most of being able to travel during term time and escape the UK for some winter sun. Bali is incredibly family-friendly and while flights may be pricey, your budget will stretch far once you’re there. Closer to home, consider the Canary Islands — temperatures average around the low 20s between November and February, perfect for babies and parents alike.
Dolphin watching in Lovina, Bali © Piotr Kala/APA
Where to go with young children
You may find yourself inexplicably drawn to the kind of all-inclusive resorts that you would have turned your nose up pre-children. There’s certainly no shame in discovering a new love for buffet restaurants, round the clock entertainment and on-site childcare.
If more adventurous options still call to you, child development experts reckon that once children turn five, travel can help them learn life skills that they won’t get at home. So don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone a bit, all in the name of giving your child a totally new life experience.
Our travel picks for young children
Sri Lanka is a ready-made family holiday paradise. Not too big, it’s easy to travel around and has that all-important mix of culture, delicious food, wildlife and beaches. Closer to home, Jersey is ideal for a holiday with little people. A 45-minute flight from Gatwick, or 4.5-hour ferry ride from Portsmouth, it’s a home-from-home with a French influence and plentiful, beautiful beaches that never feel crowded (perhaps because there are so many).
Where to go with teenagers
Your teens may not be thrilled at the prospect of two weeks with their parents. You might change their mind with the promise of a bustling beach resort full of people their own age, or somewhere adventurous and exotic. You could even use travel as an opportunity to complement their education: nothing puts a history lesson into context like visiting where it all took place.
Our travel picks for teenagers
Croatia has a perfect balance of gorgeous beaches, adventure, history and a Game of Thrones location tour. For added adventure (and lower emissions) you can get the whole way there by train from the UK – adding some great scenery into the mix. Across the Atlantic, New York is cool no matter how old you are. Being immersed in a city they’ve seen in films and on Instagram will raise a smile from even the surliest of teens.
Waterfalls in National Park Plitvice Lakes © Vadym Mun/Shutterstock
When to book a family holiday
When you’re travelling with kids, it pays to be an early bird. Many well-known holiday providers offer free child places if you book bright and early and most airlines release flights up to 11 months in advance.
If you’re avoiding the package holiday scene, booking well in advance can pay off if you want to secure a particular child-friendly hotel or a city-centre location.
At the other end of the spectrum, last-minute places often go cheap as operators scramble to fill up empty places. So if you can bear to hold off booking until a couple of months before you want to travel, you could grab a bargain.
If you're planning a family trip – get in touch with us! Rough Guides can connect you with a team of travel experts to plan the ideal holiday for the whole family.
The best times to travel with kids
You’ll get much better prices if you travel during term time — so make the most of those preschool years. In England, the law states that parents can’t take their school-age kids on holiday during term time without risking being fined £60 per day, per child – so you’ll need to weigh up the benefits of when to go if your children are of school age. Different rules exist worldwide, so it’s best to check directly with your child’s school.
If travelling from the UK, the spring and autumn half terms and the Easter holidays often offer better value than the summer break.
April is a great time to visit Bali – and prices can be cheaper too © Elizaveta Galitckaia/Shutterstock
What to pack on a family holiday
Most of us take far too much stuff just leaving the house for a few hours with our kids, let alone for a whole holiday. But, though an entire industry may want us to think differently, (whisper it) kids really don’t need that much stuff. Here are the things we reckon are worth making space for.
What to pack for babies and toddlers
- Even if you’ve got a preschooler who loves to walk, holidays can be tiring for little ones. Taking a buggy will save their legs and give them a place to nap without the need to head back to your accommodation. Airlines will usually let you take a buggy (and car seat) free of charge. Some travel buggies fold down small enough for you to put in the overhead lockers, but otherwise, it’ll be going in the hold. Consider getting a protective bag or taking a cheaper umbrella stroller that you don’t mind getting a little damaged.
- Baby carrier
- It could be a long walk from the plane to baggage reclaim, so a baby carrier or sling is a must-have until you’re reunited with your buggy. It’s also useful on long-haul flights for getting your baby to sleep.
- You might feel a tad silly enveloping your child’s buggy in a black-out sunshade, but trust us when we say these are a holiday essential. Useful for daytime naps, they really come into their own in the evening if you want to head out for a drink or dinner with a sleeping baby.
- Microwaveable steriliser bags
- If you’re bottle-feeding or using dummies, microwaveable steriliser bags are a fuss-free way to sterilise while saving on baggage space. Each bag can be reused several times, too.
- Pop up beach tent
- If you're heading to the beach, this can be worthwhile. Guaranteed shade, somewhere to zip up your belongings while everyone goes for a swim and a place for the children to chill out and nap…. The power of a beach tent should not be underestimated.
- Paddling pool
- Sounds strange, but taking a little paddling pool is a great shout if you have a young baby. You can fill it up with water from the pool or sea and place it next to you in the shade while baby splashes around happily.
Travelling with children doesn't have to mean packing the kitchen sink © Ramon Espelt Photography/Shutterstock
What to pack for school-age children
- Time to lower your screen time standards: a tablet is a must-have to stave off journey boredom no matter how old your children. You can add more educational games, or for keen readers, an e-book version of the Rough Guide to your destination so they can get involved with ideas for activities.
- If you’re planning a road trip, ask your children to choose an audiobook each to listen to – be it Harry Potter or a Roald Dahl classic.
- Keep school-age children entertained by engaging them in the trip itself. Bringing a scrapbook for each child to stick in tickets and postcards, write down the things they spot along the way is an easy way to keep them entertained – and might count as one lot of homework too!
What to pack for teenagers
- Teenagers can pack for themselves of course, but asking them to create a playlist or list of podcasts that the whole family can enjoy might get them to remove their headphones for an hour.
- Wifi hotspot
- Nothing will cause a sulk quicker than not being able to access the internet - so consider investing in a portable wifi hotspot. Most have connectivity for multiple devices and will mean that Instagram and Snapchat are still accessible in the car or at a restaurant.
What to include in a first aid kit
Children are germ magnets at the best of times, so the chances they’ll get sick on holiday aren’t exactly low. To avoid having to converse with a pharmacist via Google Translate, a well-stocked family first aid kit is a must for your suitcase.
Calpol and Nurofen come in sachets which are handy for taking out and about, while plasters, a thermometer, saline nasal drops and Sudocrem should get you through minor health mishaps.
Don’t forget to add your children to your travel insurance and get them their own European Health Insurance Card if you’re travelling in Europe.
Travelling by train is one of the highlights of Sri Lanka © Alex_alladin/Shutterstock
Planes, trains and automobiles – which is best?
While your default travel option before you had children may have been flying, consider a road trip, ferry ride or train journey when travelling with kids. It can be cheaper, for a start, particularly once your child turns two and you have to fork out for their own seat on the plane. A ferry ride can be an adventure in itself, especially with these tips to make the crossing as smooth as you can (pun intended).
A bonus of taking the car is that your children are very likely to fall asleep, especially if you feel up to driving through the night — worth it for not having to put up with hours of back-seat squabbles and car games.
If you do decide to fly, make your time at the airport as easy as possible: use the family lane at security (most UK airports have one); check whether there’s a children’s zone at Departures (usually a soft play-esque area complete with cartoons on the big screen); and, if you have a buggy, keep it with you until you get to the gate.
You can take enough baby milk, food and sterilised water for your journey in your hand luggage. There’s no legal limit, but each item will need to be screened as you go through security in the same way as liquids.
Where to stay with kids
It’s easy to think self-catering is the best option when it comes to a holiday with children, especially if you’ve got picky eaters or young kids who eat dinner early. But bear in mind that it may not be a break for you if you’re preparing meals just as you would at home.
An obvious perk is that you’ll be able to book an apartment or house: putting the kids to bed in a different room and relaxing in the evening, rather than tiptoeing around a hotel room, is a definite plus.
Make sure you suss out whether your self-catering find is child-friendly before you commit. The owner may welcome children but it could still be full of things like glass tables or (shudder) white fabric dining room chairs.
Hotels with kids are great because they’re usually in good, central locations and able to provide baby equipment like travel cots and highchairs. Some also have inter-connecting family rooms so you can be close at hand while enjoying a little more space and privacy. The downside of hotels is often a lack of food preparation facilities, although you can find options with fridges and kitchenettes.
There’s usually something to please even the fussiest of eaters at a breakfast buffet. Pop some Tupperware in your suitcase and you can stock up on snacks to keep your kids going all day.
Mont Orgueil Castle, Gorey, Jersey, Channel Islands © Bildagentur Zoonar GmBH
Three accommodation rules to live by
- Location, location, location — staying somewhere central will save little legs from walking too far and lets teenagers safely go off and explore by themselves
- If in doubt, book somewhere with a pool. Kids of all ages love the water and it’s an easy way to keep them happy, even on a city break where swimming may not be an obvious activity
- A kitchenette is not a must-have — it’s amazing what you can achieve with a bathroom sink and travel kettle.
Tips for keeping children entertained in your destination
Tours, classes and more
Things like local cooking classes, traditional dance performances or homestays can enrich your kids’ holiday and help them truly appreciate the destination they’re in. Rough Guides trips can customise your holiday to suit everyone in your family.
Tips for eating out on holiday
Dining out, once considered the highlight of a trip, can be a stressful event with overtired babies, toddlers who won’t sit still, fussy eaters and teenagers who refuse everything but pizza.
If you’re travelling with a baby and want to enjoy a meal out, feed them at your accommodation. Then get them ready for bed as you normally would and pop them in the buggy. If the baby Gods are looking down on you, you’ll be blessed with a sleeping baby while you enjoy dinner in peace.
For wriggling toddlers, as many distractions and breadsticks as you can get your hands on are the order of the day. You might be surprised what your normally picky eater will chow down on holiday, away from the confines of their normal routine.
And who cares if they eat nothing but ham and cheese rolls from the breakfast buffet for a week? You’re on holiday! Relax and enjoy it. As someone really irritating once said: the days are long, but the years are short. Make the most of this precious time travelling with your family.
Top image: Walking through Candi Bentar gate near Bedugul, Bratan lake Bali, Indonesia © Elizaveta Galitckaia/Shutterstock