5 Ways to Make Travel with Kids Easier (by Plane, Train or Automobile)

Have you thought about taking your kids on a long trip? Or you’ve done it and it was a nightmare?!

This article gives you some practical tips on how to make it easier and more fun!

After a whole year travelling through the New Zealand, USA, Ecuador and the UK I’ve learnt a thing or two about helping kids (and therefore parents) enjoy travel! 

Here are my top tips to enjoy the ride a lot more:

Airplane travel

The best ages to take kids on planes are: when they’re a baby before they begin to walk, or from about 2.5 onwards. Toddlers around 18 months or so just can’t sit still or focus! They also don’t fit in the plane’s baby bassinet.

So if you have a choice, take your kids on a long plane trip when they’re outside the toddler age!

But here are some tips to make it more fun whatever their age:

1.     Always order a special meal for your kids (e.g. vegetarian or gluten free) – the special meals come out much earlier than the regular meals. You can order the actual children’s meal and that will come early too, but I’ve found it to be full of rubbish food that you may want to avoid (e.g. chocolate breakfast cereal!). But if you’re OK with this, your child will think it’s fun! NB I always bring some kids snacks on the plane in case they don’t like the plane food (which is likely!).

2.     Get to the airport early and let your kids burn off energy in the play-area – nearly all airports have them. Your kids will be calmer and happier when they get on the plane – and you’ll be more relaxed having got to the airport early!

3.     Breastfeed your little ones on take-off and landing, and take something chewy for older kids e.g. dried fruit – to help their ears pop!

4.     Create and take your own “activity pack” for your kids and give it to them as a surprise on the plane. Depending on their age you could include: colouring-in, card game, sticker activity book, scratch art or paper-model kit. International airlines have activity packs for kids, domestic ones do not. 

5.     Buy a seat extender (flight hammock) - this allows small children to have their feet up and to lie down and sleep, without taking up your seat for their legs!  Here’s one example.

Car Travel

My daughter (and therefore we) find car travel a bit harder than planes, trains or buses because she can’t walk or move around. And we aren’t sitting next to her.

So we’ve had to work hard on making it more fun. Here’s what we’ve found to help.

1.     Have an activity organiser hanging on the back of the car seat – fill it with your child’s favourite small toys, activity books and travel games. And their water bottle and healthy snacks!

2.     Bring plenty of kids’ music CDs and audio books – I found that my daughter got carsick if she did very much colouring or activity books in the car. So the only way to absorb her attention for long was audio storybooks or music CDs she could sing to. (NB most cars allow you to switch the sound to the back seat!)

Of course, if your child is into movies or TV shows and you’re happy for them to watch it, an iPad will also do the trick! (We don’t offer this to my daughter so I’m not sure how screens are for car-sickness.)

3.     Have some word or scenery games ready to go – see below for five of my faves.  Borrow a book from the library with car games to play.

4.     Stop Regularly for breaks – naturally kids need to stop and burn up some energy. But don’t forget they actually need to stop for a cuddle and some focused interaction from you - they can feel cut off from you while they’re in the back.

5.     Schedule the driving around the kids nap and sleep schedule – you can get a lot of driving done with a sleeping child, so consider driving at night if you know they’ll sleep through it (my daughter would just stay awake the whole time so we only drive in the day!).

6.     Bring healthy snacks – food you can buy on the road is notoriously bad, especially in the USA and Australia, in my experience! So pack things that will help your child feel good and calm: think fruit salad, cheese sticks, sandwiches, crackers and peanut butter, and travel yoghurt. (Our back-up when we ran out of food was always Subway – when you’re desperate a sandwich is not a bad option!)

5 Games to Play on any Transport – No Equipment Needed!

I love word or story games for my daughter - you can play them anywhere and you don’t need anything at all. These games keep my daughter chatting for hours!

1.     Character Sketches – choose a car and check out the people in the car. Make up a story about who they are and where they’re going! Embellish it by asking “What are they feeling? What might they be thinking about?”

2.     Round-Robin Story-Telling (Word-at-a-time) - tell a story one word at a time, with each person taking a turn to add a word. Or you can do this with a sentence-at-a-time (my daughter’s favourite!).

3.     I Spy – an oldie but a goodie! “I spy with my little eye something beginning with A.” Or you can do it with colours for little kids who can’t spell yet.

4.     Find the coloured cars and trucks (for car or bus travel) – name some colours and the kids have to find cars or trucks in those colours.

5.     I went on a picnic and I brought… (a banana, a chocolate cake etc) A great memory game where each subsequent person had to list all the things said before them and add to the list.

5 Best Ways for Parents to Stay Calm and Enjoy Travel

Here are some tips to make travel more enjoyable for you too!

OK some of these are going to sound really obvious to you, but it’s amazing that we (myself included) often don’t do them as it makes our experience so much better! So this is a friendly reminder:

1.     Go to bed early the night before travelling – you don’t want to be tired as everything is 20x more difficult!  Even if you’ll be getting on a plane with plans to sleep, still get a good night’s sleep before you travel.

2.     Pack at least 2 days before you’re going  - this allows you to see if there are any gaps of things you’ll need to buy. And you’ll feel less stressed!

3.     Pack light – don’t take too much stuff as it makes travel harder. When you pack 2 days ahead, pack everything you might possibly need. Then take some time the day before the trip to take at least one third of the stuff out again to leave behind!

4.     Take something light and fun to read or do – for those 5 minutes here and there waiting or when the screens don’t work on the plane (during take-off and landing) make sure you have a fun, easy thing for yourself to read or do – think page-turner novel, crossword book or magazine.

5.     Take your own “pamper pack” – pack a few small things to pamper yourself on the journey. I like things like: essential oil spray, fave chocolate or treat, hand cream, eye mask, ear plugs!

(Remember on international flights you can only take liquids of 110ml or less and you’ll need to empty your water bottles before going on the flight. Domestic flights you’re fine.)

I hope these tips make your next trip with your kids a lot calmer and more fun! Happy travels!