Top tips on travelling abroad with young kids
Travel is rewarding for children — and that’s official. A survey by the Student and Youth Travel Association, of just under 1,500 teachers, found that international travel had a positive effect on young people in many different ways.
Benefits of travel
The survey was carried out in the United States but its results are just as relevant for families in other countries around the world. The 10 key benefits (in order of relevance) are:
• Increased desire to travel
• Greater tolerance of other cultures and ethnicities
• More willingness to know/learn/explore
• Increased propensity to try different foods
• Greater independence, self-esteem and confidence
• Enhanced intellectual curiosity
• Increased tolerance and respectfulness
• Better adaptability and sensitivity
• More outgoing
• Improved self-expression
So, armed with this latest confirmation that travel is good for our children, how can we ensure the actual experience is beneficial for them – and stress-free for us?
Choose an appropriate date… and destination
With non school-age children, there is more flexibility choosing the dates for a holiday. Check that weather conditions will be favourable at that time of the year, and that the destination is popular with other families posting their views on travel portals.
We adults might be able to cope with hot summer days by the sea (helped by a cold beer and shaded sunbed); not so much younger travellers. Also, there will probably be some complaints if it’s raining most of the time.
Share responsibilities… and decision-making
If they are old enough encourage personal responsibility by giving them them own checklist before travelling, so they can feel they are part of the whole process.
Being involved with the decision-making and planning of hotel, activities, excursions, etc., will generate excitement and enthusiasm for the trip – and also help prepare them for travelling on their own later in life.
Familiarise them with the different cuisines they are likely to encounter, by introducing them to the destination’s traditional dishes before they travel.
Plan a preliminary programme
A couple on holiday will often be happy just to chill out around the hotel pool for most of the time away, enjoying the respite from work and other everyday pressures back home.
Most children, however, will soon become bored with this extended inactivity, so make sure you study the family-friendly options (activities, venues and excursions) before leaving and at least prepare a provisional schedule.
Children tend to be more adaptable than we give them credit for, so no need to over-plan things. One of the wonderful aspects of travelling is being spontaneous and discovering new places and customs. Really, it all just gets down to having fun.
Finally, when double-checking your passports and other documentation, make sure you are fully aware of what you can take on board (pushchairs, travel cots, etc.) at no extra cost. And bring along all child medical and healthcare products you might need. You will probably be able to find them in local pharmacies, but best to stick with the products you are familiar with.
Make sure the flight is comfortable
Avoid sugary drinks and anything else that might make them hyperactive and before and during the flight.
An iPad with games and educational apps is the ideal modern entertainment for travelling youngsters, but nothing noisy that will annoy other passengers. Just as pleasurable, in a more classic way, are cards, books, stickers, Lego, and a favourite toy.
Take advantage of airport facilities for families
Most major airports have ample amenities and services for families and children, from special baby-feeding rooms to monitored play equipment areas.
For instance, if you choose to travel to Italy, Milan’s main international airport, Malpensa, is well-equipped with a “baby pit stop” (private and peaceful area for breastfeeding), play areas and a special family lane.
Set aside some relaxation time after the flight
On arrival at the hotel or other accommodation, take time to relax briefly, freshen up and settle in to the new surroundings before beginning your initial explorations.
Your young companions will no doubt be keen to head straight to the beach, pool or playground, but flights (even shorter journeys between European cities) are tiring – for both adults and children.
You will no doubt have chosen the accommodation based on its children’s facilities, so also take the time to check that everything is provided as promised (cots, milk-warming facilities, etc.) and in proper working order.
Bear in mind that meal times might vary significantly from back home. Most top hotels these days have extended breakfast, lunch and dinner schedules to cater for different nationalities. However, it is always a good idea to keep some nutritious snacks in your bag for those moments when they have become hungry (and a little cranky) and the buffet still hasn’t been set up.
Make sure they are safe at all times
When eventually venturing outside the hotel complex or gated residential community, be more vigilant than usual. If your children wander off at home, they will be in familiar surroundings and less likely to become lost.
In a new country, it will be much easier for them to become disoriented if they somehow find themselves separated – albeit temporarily and still relatively close by – from parents or older family members. If there is any time for giving them your undivided attention, travelling abroad is top of the list.
Now pack those bags – and enjoy a safe trip and new family experiences.