Happy Holidays: 10 expert tips to make your family holiday a happy one
Are you ever really on holiday when travelling with kids? It’s a good question. In all honesty, I have to say I often feel like I need a holiday to recover from being on holiday with mine! But that doesn’t mean family holidays can’t be happy. Personally, I think the answer to everyone having a lovely time comes down to a magic formula of forward planning and being able to relax and go with the flow.
Sounds simple, but as most mums know, relaxing isn’t always our strong point. Especially when we have little munchkins running around sticking their fingers in everything and demanding constant snacks! And we all know who the burden of forward planning tends to fall on….
But, if you can find a way to negotiate those sticking points, then a relaxing (or more relaxed, anyway) holiday with children is possible – here’s how.
How to have a happy family holiday with your children
There’s no denying that holidays are never the same once you have children. Gone are the days of chucking a few essentials in a bag and winging it.
When you have children everything is more complicated and well, just more! More planning, more money, more luggage, more time to get from A to B!
But all that aside, we look forward to those precious weeks of the year when we get to spend quality time with our families. And you deserve to enjoy them. So whether you’re travelling far or staying closer to home, we’ve put together a few pieces of advice to make your holiday easier and happier.
Holidays with children – what to do before you go
When holidaying with children there are a few essential things to tick off your to-do list before you even set foot on the boat, train or plane. Get organised well in advance of take off and you’ll make your life much easier.
The Government Foreign Travel Advice site is a great place to start. You can look up everything you might need to know about where you’re going. They can advise on visas, vaccinations and the latest covid restrictions.
But here are a few things to kick-off your to-do list:
1 – Travel documents
If your baby is very young and this is their first trip abroad, make sure you apply for their passport in plenty of time.
Processing times vary, but at busy times it can take up to 10 weeks to get your passport. There’s nothing worse than an emergency dash to the nearest Passport Office when it doesn’t turn up in time, or you’ve left it too late, so give yourself more time than you think you need.
If you’re doing a paper application I’d advise using a professional to get the right photograph, so your application isn’t rejected. And using the checking service at the Post Office to make sure all your documents are correct. Alternatively, do it all online so you know you have all the boxes ticked before pressing ‘send’.
And if you have taken your little one on tour before, just remember to check that you know where those passports are! And that they have plenty of years left on them. (Don’t ask about the time I lost the whole family’s passports and had to replace them all, only to find them a few weeks later – not my finest parenting moment!)
Depending where you’re going, you may also need a visa. Make sure you do the paperwork well ahead of time, as some can take weeks to be approved.
2 – Travel insurance
There are lots of different types of travel insurance out there. Make sure you have all the types of cover you need. This might include cover for reimbursement if something goes wrong with the journey itself. But you may also need medical insurance and cover for any other specific needs you might have while abroad.
If you’re travelling to Europe, you can apply for a EHIC or GHIC card for all the family. The conditions are slightly more complex since Brexit, so do double check you’re covered and what for. There are some exemptions and you will still be liable for some costs in most countries, as not everything that’s free on the NHS is free elsewhere.
Don’t forget to also check your car insurance, if you’re planning to take your own car, and any documentation you might need to be able to drive abroad.
3 – Vaccinations
Use the Travel Health Pro or NHS Fit for Travel website to check what vaccinations you and your children might need where you’re going. And give yourself plenty of time to get them, as some require multiple doses or time to kick-in before you travel.
Be aware that you may need to pay for some vaccinations, although it’s worth checking with your GP if they offer family travel vaccines for free. Boots and other Travel Clinics also offer them, but you will have to pay.
4 – Book ahead – get your holiday accommodation and activities organised in advance
My advice would be don’t choose accommodation that you won’t feel comfortable in, especially if you have toddlers and very young children.
You don’t have to be boring, but you also don’t want to spend your whole holiday stressing about what they are doing every moment. There’s no holiday fun to be had in spending two weeks terrified of sticky fingers ruining the designer furniture in your swanky airbnb. Or not being able to leave your child alone for a second in case they fall down the gorgeous spiral staircase.
It may sound like the end of adventure, but there are many advantages to choosing somewhere safe, child-friendly and with extra family perks if you can afford it.
There’s a lot to be said for someone else cooking all the meals at an all-inclusive venue, for instance. But, if you’re happier being able to do your own thing when you want to, choose a self-catering place that you can all enjoy with all the family-friendly stuff you need so you don’t have to pack it (like a washing machine! Not kidding!)
Accept the stage of life you’re in and you will all probably enjoy your holiday a lot more. Let’s face it, it doesn’t last forever. And there’s plenty of time for more adventure when the kids get a bit older.
It’s also worth booking any tickets etc for special days or outings you want to do before you go. That way you don’t have to stress about the wifi not working, or the events being sold out. And you can get the times and options that work best for you and the kids.
Just make sure you still factor in plenty of free days and down time to relax too, so you don’t feel like you’re on a strict itinerary. Your child will thank you and you will have a much more relaxed time
Getting there – travelling with kids
Once you’ve got all your pre-travel organisation sorted, it’s time to pack for the journey. As well as all the essentials like spare clothes and nappies, you’ll need more snacks than you could ever imagine and a multitude of wet wipes.
Here are ten essentials we’ve picked out to stick in your carry on case, or bring with you when holidaying with little ones.
- Snacks, snacks and more snacks
Never underestimate the need for snacks when travelling with children. Dried and packaged things are easier to transport long distances and less messy. Avoid too much sugar and make sure you have ways to keep everyone hydrated, with milk or water.
- Take a lightweight travel buggy
There are quite a few on the market, but they can be expensive. Instead of paying out for a new one, why not grab a second hand umbrella or folding buggy? You can often pick them up on ebay or other second hand sites for a bargain. Then you don’t need to worry about it getting damaged in transit and don’t feel like you’ve spent a fortune on something you only use a couple of times.
If you can get one that folds small enough to bring on-board the plane (check what your airline allows, but most allow a buggy or a car seat), even better, as they tend to get tossed around a bit in the hold. And if you’re travelling somewhere hot, it might be worth investigating a mosquito net and / or sun shade to fit it too.
- Remember the first aid essentials
Don’t forget to get extra supplies of any prescription medication. And pack a few other essentials like plasters, painkillers, antiseptic, insect repellent and Calpol.
You might also want to consider taking age-appropriate antihistamines, diarrhoea meds and insect bite treatment too. And in these Covid times, hand sanitiser and a few covid tests are probably also a good idea.
- Wet wipes, wet wipes, wet wipes
I really can’t stress this enough. Bring wet wipes! Obviously biodegradable ones are best. And if this was a different scenario, I’d highly recommend washable ones, as they’re so much better for wiping sticky faces, as well as the environment. But if you’re travelling a long way, packet wipes do make more sense. Stick big ones in the luggage and travel packs in your handbag at all times!
- Sun protection
Not just sun cream (although definitely lots of that) But also plenty of hats, UPF clothing, sun shades for buggies and light clothing to cover skin and keep the sun off when everyone has had enough.
- Books, toys and entertainment
Depending how you are travelling and for how long, there will likely be some sort of entertainment en route.
I know we’re all trying to keep screen time to a minimum, but even if you hate the idea of any screen time – if ever there was a time to let your children loose on the devices, travelling is that time!
They really come into their element for keeping small people busy while you sort out the big things, like finding the luggage or waiting in queues. Or just allowing you a moment to relax – and I wouldn’t feel guilty about that.
However, in an effort to keep screen time to a minimum, here are a few other entertainment ideas you can throw in the mix.
- Small books that you can stick in your hand luggage are fabulous entertainment for long journeys by plane, boat or train. Especially if you can tie them into the experience. Like a book about where you’re going or travelling by air or sea. We had a great lift-the-flap book about the airport that my children loved.
- Sticker books and water colouring also make great travel buddies. They will keep little fingers occupied, are easy to transport and very self-contained.
- Drawing pads and pens or pencils are great for travelling, but also handy for keeping the children occupied when waiting for meals to arrive etc once you get to your destination.
- Puzzle books, comics and magazines are easy, packable entertainment for older children.
- Card games like Uno are great for children over 5 and small enough to stick in your hand luggage.
Some people also suggest buying a few small things (like the above) to wrap up and give to their little ones along the way. And a few nice surprises can definitely come in handy when your child is about to melt down because you’ve been sitting in an airport queue for an hour! Just try to avoid toys and games with small parts that can be thrown, dropped or lost.
- Change of clothes
Layers are key when travelling with children. You need light layers that can be easily removed or added, especially if you’re travelling by plane, as the temperature can fluctuate.
You may also need a change for day-to-night or an emergency set for spills or explosive nappies!
A large muslin in soft cotton is also super handy for a light extra layer when napping, covering up in the sun or keeping the bugs away.
- Invest in some children’s headphones
Although airlines provide these, they tend to be rubbish. If your children are old enough, invest in some good children’s headphones so they don’t disturb others on their devices or get frustrated when watching in-flight entertainment. Most come in fun colours and with volume limitations to protect little ears.
- Take the stress out of mealtimes
Check with your airline if you’re travelling by plane to see if they do child-friendly meals. Most airlines are terrible at advertising this service, but they are perfect if your child is on a self-enforced bread and cheese diet! This will hopefully save any tantrums about a meal that (let’s face it) most grown-ups wouldn’t eat either.
Also underline (a lot!!) any dietary requirements when you book and at check-in – and always have a back up! Even when you’ve booked the right meal, it doesn’t always turn up, so a few sandwiches in your carry bag can be a lifesaver.
Depending on your final destination, you might also want to consider bringing a portable high chair. Most hotels will have highchairs of course. But if you want to enjoy eating out without having a wriggler on your lap every time, it may be worth packing one you can take with you to each table.
- The elusive gift of ‘more time’
We all know having children puts a whole different spin on how much time is ‘enough’ time to get out the door.
Give yourself plenty of time to get to everywhere you need to go. Set fake leaving times that add an extra half hour into the mix. Try to travel in the middle of the day, so you’re not waking grumpy children late at night or early in the morning. Or get travel times to coincide with nap times so they sleep through at least some of the journey
But also try to remember that there’s only so much you can do on this front. There will probably be some tired moments and tears (for you and the children) but that’s just part of the joy of travelling, right?!
Most importantly – relax!
As I said at the beginning, try to remember that this is your holiday too. It’s meant to be fun. Here are a few final words of advice just for you.
Try to relax and enjoy yourself.
Repeat after me “This is my holiday too. I am allowed to relax.”
Don’t try to do it all yourself.
Lean on your partner – or other adults that you are travelling with. Or even with older children, so they feel involved and aren’t asking you for things all the time. Share the planning, information and the responsibility, so you don’t feel like it’s all on your shoulders.
Accept that in all likelihood some things will go wrong
If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to get upset when your best laid plans go out the window. But you cannot be responsible for every eventuality. There are so many things outside of your control on a journey – especially when you have the little saboteurs with you. But there’s not much that a little planning – and a lot of wet wipes and biscuits (and a large gin and tonic!) – can’t fix.
Try to roll with the punches and stay positive
Because if you lead the way, others will probably follow. And if you relax and try to make the mishaps part of the adventure, everyone will have a much happier holiday, including you.
We hope this has been useful. Happy holidays!