Travelling with babies, children or both is not easy and this could be something that new parents would be anxious about if they have not done it before. However if you follow the tips in the kids travel how to guide below there is no reason why your trip won’t go smoothly and you can all have an enjoyable holiday.
For more tips on keeping your kids safe and well when travelling also see Child travel health and safety
Planning your travel
Passport requirements for children
You will need a passport for your child if they are under 16 and you are going abroad on holiday. This includes young babies. It can take several weeks to process a passport application so apply in plenty of time before your travel date. In the UK someone who knows you as parents and the child must countersign passport forms and photos. In the US you need to apply in person at your passport agency office. Check your home country government website for more information on passport applications.
Here are a few useful website links as a starting point:
Visa requirements for children
If you are travelling to a country where you as an adult require a visa then it is likely you child will require one also and the fee could be the same as for an adult. Check your home country government foreign office website for the latest advice. Like passports, visa applications can take several weeks so apply for one in plenty of time. Also, some countries require you to go to the embassy of the country you are visiting in person with your child to collect your visa.
Any other documents required for travelling with your child?
When travelling with children there may be times when you need extra documentation to prove that you are the rightful parent and the child is yours. Such circumstances could be:
- You are travelling alone with your child and the other parent is not present carry a signed letter from the other parent as you could be asked for proof of consent. Carry the child’s birth certificate as proof of their identity. Also carry a marriage certificate, if applicable and if you partner is no longer alive, proof of that too.
- Your child is adopted take their adoption papers with you. This is particularly important in countries where children are adopted overseas or worse child trafficking is prevalent.
- The child travelling with you has a different name on their passport to yours will only increases the chances that you will need the proof documents above.
Book accommodation in advance when you travel with children
When planning a trip that involves lots of travelling around and staying in multiple places, perhaps you are going to spend only one or two nights in each location, book your accommodation for the first few nights in advance. That way you are certain of a bed for the night after you have made the long journey from home and will not find yourself trying to find suitable accommodation with tired children in tow when you get there. You can at least get your bearings before moving on. If you are planning to stay in a hotel check for any family deals the hotel may have when you book your holiday. These may include free meals or discounted hotel rates for kids.
Discuss where you are going with your kids
Chat to your kids about where you are going well in advance of the trip. You can get them learning about it beforehand. Help them with a search of the internet and they can make a list of everything they would like to see and do before you go so they have a list of ‘must do’ tasks to look forward to.
Bring electronic device with lots of games
Whatever the mode of transport you are using to get to your holiday destination, if it involves a lengthy journey your kids are likely to get bored sitting in one spot so bring along an electronic device like a kids tablet loaded with their favourite games and movies to help them pass the time. For the young ones, colouring books and crayons will keep them occupied or if you are afraid the crayons will get lost down the back of seats bring and electronic scribbler device.
Bring the wipes
Even if your kids are no longer young babies bring along the antiseptic wipes as these are always useful when travelling to wipe down hands, faces, cutlery and other objects that need to be clean for handling purposes.
Air travel tips for kids
At what age can babies travel on aircraft
Most airlines will let you travel with your new baby when they are at least two days old, although some airlines say 2 weeks old. However that will only be OK on domestic flights where a passport is not required. If you are going abroad you’ll need a passport which can take several weeks to obtain – see Passport requirements for children section above. New babies can travel well if they feel secure and are feeding properly.
Any child under aged 2 on the day of their return travel will either go free or pay a small charge. However they will not be allocated their own seat and be expected to sit in your lap with a lap belt. Children between aged 2 and 11 are normally charged a reduced rate of 60 to 80% of the adult fare, this isn’t always the case and sometimes children occupying their own seat a charged the full adult fare. Children aged 12 and over always pay the full adult flare.
Book seat beforehand and priority boarding
If you want to sit on the aeroplane in the seats that you feel most comfortable with in terms of position on the aircraft for getting on and off and dealing with your children on the flight, book your seats in advance. Parents with children are usually given priority boarding by the airline to give them time to board the aircraft and get themselves settled. This is normal whether you have booked a seat or not.
Prams and seats that can be brought on board
Prams or strollers need to be checked in as hold luggage but you can use it to transport your child around in the airport until you reach the aircraft door. Just don’t forget to ask for a luggage label for it at check in. Some car seats can be carried with the infant inside, so check with the airline if there is a free seat next to you where you can use this as a car seat on the plane and check with the airline what they will allow regarding car seats.
Carry cots and slings
You could always use a child sling as a convenient and safe way to transport your child particularly if you have checked in the pram or you are not using a child seat carrier. Some airlines provide cots on board for longer flights on a first come first served basis. These are a fold up cot that attach to the front bulk head wall. You will need to request one of these when booking your seats.
What to pack/take on the flight
You need to check with your airline whether your baby will be allocated a baggage allowance. If not then it may be advisable to pay for the extra luggage allowance. If you child has a seat they are allowed the normal baggage allowance. For the latest hand luggage restrictions for USA, UK and EU countries take a look at this Wikipedia page. This give details of the type of items you can take on board regarding baby food.
Don’t let your kids pack their own bags
Don’t make the mistake of letting your children pack their own travel bags or you could end up with their bag full of their toy collection and missing a lot of travel essentials. Inspect the contents of the bag before setting off on holiday.
Paying to send bags in advance
If you need to take a lot of heavy luggage with you, it may be cheaper and more convenient to send some of your luggage in advance using a door to door luggage delivery service company such as www.carrymyluggage.com.
Child monitors are an easy way for parents to keep track of their children when they wander off. The child wears a device on their wrist and the parent has a monitoring device where they can set the distance in metres and if a child exceeds that distance away from the parent an alarm will sound.
Write your mobile number on your child’s arm
Use a Biro or a similar type of pen that is not easily scrubbed out, to write your mobile number on your child’s arm. Explain to your child why you have done this and to not rub the number off their arm. Tell them that if they get lost to show the number to another adult so that person can call you.
Ask the airport for assistance if you are travelling alone with your children
If you are travelling alone with your child or children and laden down with bags ask the airport for assistance to get you from check in to the gate. This can usually be requested when booking your flight.
If you can afford the extra cost, airport lounges are a good place to wait for your flight with your kids. You get free drinks and snacks included in the price and are smaller than the main departure lounge so it is easier to keep an eye on the children. Try using a price comparison website such as Holiday Extras which will show you the best prices for booking airport lounges.
Consider other passengers around you when travelling with kids
It is difficult enough travelling with children but you may get some passengers who are not very tolerant of the noise your kids are making. Everyone appreciates that babies cry and can get upset by the strange sensations that go with flying, but with toddlers and older children you need to consider other passengers who may not appreciate an unruly child in the confined space of an aircraft. If your child is kicking their feet against the seat in front this can be very irritating for the person sitting in that seat. So do your best to control what you kids are doing or the noise they are making.
A combination of the pressurized cabin and air conditioning can cause dehydration when travelling on an aircraft. This is true for children and adults alike, so drink plenty of fluids during and after the flight.
Painful ears due to cabin pressure
Cabin pressure changes during ascent and descent can cause pain in the ears. Toddlers should suck on something and older children can be given a sweet to suck which helps equalise the pressure in the ears.
Fly at night so kids can sleep
If you have a long flight ahead of you, it can help if you fly at night so your kids will be naturally tired and fall asleep during the journey. Plus it gives you a chance to get some rest too.
Jet lag for kids
Regarding Jet lag the same applies for children as it does for adults. Adjust to the local time as quickly as possible using sunlight in daylight hours and darkness to do this. In other words get up at the normal time even if you are tired and go to bed at normal time even if you are not sleepy. It the fastest way to adjust to local time. For more information see the section on Jet lag on the Travel health and advice page.
If you are thinking of letting a child travel alone unaccompanied by you or another adult, check with the airline first before you buy the ticket. Each airline has different rules for unaccompanied minors and they can impose whatever rules they see fit dependent on a number of factors and some airlines will not carry unaccompanied minors. Generally an unaccompanied child is between 5-14 years old and any accompanying adult needs to be a least 16 years old. if the child is travelling alone you will need to specify an adult that will meet them at the destination.
Road trip with kids check list
Always use child car seats and safety belts
Even if the country you are in does not require by law compulsory use of seat belts for all passengers it is always advisable to wear one. This includes children travelling in the front or back seats of a vehicle. Child car seats should be used whenever children are travelling by car just as you would at home. Watch out for taxis that are not fitted with seat belts and just get a different taxi if that’s the case. Remember you have no idea how good or bad the driving is of a strange taxi driver when you first get in.
Bring electronic games, DVD players, MP3 players
On long car journeys to delay the inevitable question “are we nearly there yet” bring along electronic games or kids tablet devices loaded with their favourite games. DVD players or movies downloaded on the tablet device is a good way to pass the time but be sure to also bring along headphones and headphone splitters if more than one set is required, so that your driving is not distracted by the movie soundtrack. MP3 players are better for the older kids who may be happy to sit listening to music for hours.
Children’s travel games
Long car journey with a back seat full of kids can be stressful but needn’t be if you plan a few things to keep them occupied during the journey. For really young ones a large supply of toys that you can keep handing to them as they get bored with the last one and it ends up on the floor in the back. For toddlers and older children there are dozens of games that can be played in the car such as the car bingo (pick a colour and look for vehicles of that colour), the alphabet game (pick names, animals or places and find one for each letter of the alphabet), talk for one minute without stopping on a subject and of course the classic I Spy. There are many other so worth having a few in mind before setting off.
What extra things to carry in the car
You will need to carry a few extra items when travelling with children. Here are a few worth bringing along:
- Plenty of water or drinks in non-spill drinking cups
- First aid kit
- A change of clothes easily to hand and not buried in the suitcases
- Something to cover them like a blanket in case they feel cold
- For young ones a portable potty for emergencies
Plan your stops carefully and frequently
When planning your journey you also need to plan your stops carefully and allow extra time for the whole journey. Long distances between service stations might become just too much for your kids if they need the toilet, the next planned stop is half an hour away and you are stuck in traffic. In such cases it is worth having a B such as an alternative route, so check your route planning carefully. If you don’t have a SatNav, carry paper maps and use your mobile phone to get traffic updates. Finding an alternative back road and a suitable place to stop so they can go to the toilet in the open is one thing but city streets clogged with traffic quite another, so worth doing some planning to avoid the worst of the traffic.
Rear view mirrors to watch the kids
If you are travelling alone with you children, you are driving and they are sitting in the backs seats it might be worth investing in an extra rear view mirror that is set at an angle so you can keep an eye on them. Just be careful you don’t use this too much and not keep an eye on the road ahead, rear view mirrors are meant for a quick glance.
Travel with children on ferries
Pack day bags for the trip with all the essentials
Once you board the ferry and leave you car, the car deck is out of bounds for the duration of the journey, so you need to pack a bag containing all the essential items you will need for the journey and you can take with you to upper decks. Items such as spare nappies, wipes, change of clothes, food and drinks to name a few.
Cabins are great if they need a nap
If you’re ferry journey is more than a couple of hours it may be worth booking a cabin even if the journeys during the day. Not all ferry companies allow you to book cabin during the day but it’s worth checking. Cabin will allow your child to have a nap during the day and is also good to have some private space and somewhere to store your bags. Most cabins these days come with en-suite bathrooms.
Play areas and games rooms
Most ferries these days have play areas and games rooms for younger kids and older ones. The play areas are usually the dedicated soft type so the kids stay safe and some ships have games, toys, puzzles and colouring books available. Games rooms often have the latest video arcade games.
Cinemas and WiFi
Cruise ships often have cinemas showing latest films. While ferry companies provide on board WiFi that you can use with your mobile devices. Essential for teenagers to update their social networking status.
Swimming pools on board
Some of the larger ferries on some crossings have swimming pools that you can use of these these are not available on all ferries. Remember children should be supervised at all times when using swimming pools.
Food and drink
Ferries have on board cafeterias, snack bars and restaurants where you can purchase a selection of hot and cold snacks and full meals. They are not always the cheapest so if you are travelling on a budget you can bring your own food in a cool box. At a minimum bring your own water is again this can be quite expensive to purchase on board.
Motion sickness for kids
Until your children have been on a ferry or other ship at least once you cannot tell how they are going to react to the ship’s motion in terms of seasickness. It’s also difficult to predict how rough the sea will be until you’re on board and moving. For more information see the article on Tips to give you motion sickness relief.
Other things to do on board
If the weather is fine going out on deck is a good way to pass the time. When the ship is leaving the port or arriving at the port there are quite often interesting things to see and other ships to look at which can be quite exciting for children. Being out on deck is a good way to just give them some fresh air away from the stuffy cabin.
Unaccompanied children are not allowed on board by most ferry companies. This is for obvious safety reasons.
Family rail travel and bus travel
Family travel card and deals for families
If you travelling by train to your holiday destination a family travel card will enable you to get cheaper deals on family tickets. Bus companies often run cheap deals for families too, with some offering free travel for kids with a full fare paying adult and family travel cards, so worth checking when purchasing your ticket.
Help children on and off trains and stay together when boarding/leaving
When boarding or leaving a train, particularly if a lot of people are trying to get on or off the train at the same time as you make sure you help your children on or off the train and that they are close to you while you find the seats. This this is not always easy when you are travel find a place the put the luggage and the seats all at the same time. Probably best to dump the luggage in the nearest luggage rack get the kids settled in their seats and then you can go back and sort the luggage out later.
Don’t let kids wander off on the train
A train can be very long with 20 carriages or more so is best not to let your kids wander off down the train where you can’t keep an eye on them. Even for older children if you do let them go up to the cafeteria or walk down the train make sure that they know to come back to you whenever the train is stopping.
Out and about when you are there
Here are a few things to consider when you are out and about during your holiday:
- Create a list of activities that you can do for different weather conditions. You need to have things to do when it is raining or cloudy as well as activities to do when the sun is shining. You don’t want to be stuck indoors with bored children just because you haven’t thought what to do on a wet day. If you search the Internet for local attractions before you leave home you should be able to compile a list and you can get the kids to help you to do this.
- If there is more than one adult travelling with the children then you may be able to arrange between you some time when you can go off by yourself. This can be useful if you want to go shopping for things that the kids would find very boring, you just need to attend to adult type things or to just give yourself a break and some peace and quiet for a short while.
- When you are out and about with the children and visiting local attractions allow some time for the kids to explore along the way. This may mean going at a slower pace than you normally would. By doing this the children will learn more about where they have been an experience more than just going from A to B and you never know they may find things you would have otherwise missed.
- If possible buy your children a cheap digital camera so that they can take their own pictures. This is a great way for them to learn about where they have been and to create their own memories. You never know they may see something from their point of view which you which you would never have spotted and create a great photo.
- For older children you could get them to keep a journal of where they have been things they have seen and what they have done. If they meet any local children get them to write about that too. Any experiences in communicating in foreign languages they can note the words they have learned. This all helps in recollecting experiences if required for school projects.
- Also for older children involve them in all steps of the holiday including planning to make them feel included so you don’t get a sulking teenager thinking they are being forced into going somewhere or doing something without their input.
- Some hotels, apart-hotels and other holiday complexes have kids clubs where you have childminders to supervise the children left in their care. There can be good and bad points to these kind of facilities. The good is that you have somewhere to leave your kids safely if you have other activities to attend to. The bad is that if there are not enough childminders the kids of all ages might be grouped together with little in the way of planned activities or watching the TV might be the only activity. Check the facilities and activities out when you get there and be prepared to make alternative arrangements if necessary.
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