Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

Get the most out of travelling with kids

Do the adult-orientated thing in the morning, then you have the carrot in the afternoon

Carry Calpol, wipes, nappies and a teething ring in case you need to soothe a teething baby on a flight Getty
Carry Calpol, wipes, nappies and a teething ring in case you need to soothe a teething baby on a flight Getty

It’s not a terribly pretty picture: the figures in the Polaroid are slightly out of focus and the colours are grimy, but there I am aboard an Etihad flight nine years ago with a baby in my arms. My smile is fixed and, in truth, I look a little bit delirious. I can still remember staggering off the flight and almost throwing my 12-week-old daughter into my awaiting sister’s arms. We’d made it. My daughter had a passport and her travelling life had begun.

Looking at the photographs on our mantelpiece, it’s clear that travel has been an important part of our family life ever since. My second daughter had a tiny pink emergency passport when she first boarded an aeroplane at six weeks.

We’ve stayed everywhere from five-star hotels to guest houses with no hot running water, and I would not swap any of our experiences for the comfort and security of my bed at home. That’s not to say travelling with kids is easy, however, so here are some tips gleaned from experience and fellow expert family travellers.

Be brave

Travelling with a baby isn’t difficult, but it does require confidence and some common sense. First off, don’t panic and weigh yourself down with a two-week supply of nappies and other basics – there will be shops where you are going. Once in the air, babies are easily lulled to sleep by the vibration and constant hum of aircraft noise. Just make sure you feed your baby during take off and landing to ensure that their ears can equalise. Carry Calpol in your hand luggage along with baby wipes, nappies, a teething ring and clean clothes, just in case the dreaded screaming starts and more milk cannot soothe. On landing, a breastfed baby requires no extra equipment for feeding and can sleep anywhere in a pushchair, so what are you waiting for?

Tick off the basics

Make sure the whole family is covered by appropriate travel insurance, vaccinations are up to date and there’s a decent medical kit in your luggage, along with wipes and sanitising hand gel to keep tummy bugs at bay. Then, there’s the mandatory homework. Don’t just rock up to a destination, advises Katie Drew, one half of Lijoma – a travel advisory service that aims to inspire families to be more adventurous. “Even if you are staying in an all-inclusive resort, beyond those doors there is so much you could see. If you haven’t done your research and don’t have any information with you, you are just going to stay in your hotel, and that is such a shame.”

Give yourself an easy landing

I’ll take a daytime flight and a 10-hour stint of colouring, hangman and in-flight movies over a night of broken sleep, or the screaming of an overtired baby every time. While it’s tempting to fly at night to gain another full day at your destination, the strategy doesn’t work if day one is blighted by exhaustion and arguments.

Fixed schedule or go with the flow?

That’s a tricky one, says Keith Drew, Katie’s husband, partner in Lijoma and father to Maisie, 11, Joe, eight, and Lilah, six. He spent years on the road with Katie and then with their family when he worked as a writer for travel publisher Rough Guides. “We tend to plan our trips very carefully,” Keith tells me. “Travelling with children, it’s partly about booking accommodation. If you have travelled quite a distance, say you’re in Sri Lanka and you have travelled a few hours up to Kandy, and you spend the next hour and a half trying to find somewhere that’s got room for four kids, that is a lot more stressful, than sticking to an itinerary.”

Make sure it’s an all-inclusive family holiday

This summer we are going island-hopping in Greece for three weeks, but which islands to choose? The process of whittling our options down to three, with a city break in Athens, was a fairly arduous task made more fun by my children’s forays into guidebooks, Google Images and ferry routes. Now we are all raring to go and no one can complain if a destination doesn’t come up to scratch because we all agreed on the shortlist. That happy consensus need not end at the boarding gate, Katie says.

“Our days are always planned with a reward for the children,” she says. “There is nothing we love more than to wander around places and properly see a destination and if [Maisie, Joe and Lilah] are coming with us to do that, we’ll always do something they really enjoy as well, such as an afternoon at the pool or an ice cream. That way you are getting the best of both worlds.” Or as Keith succinctly sums it up: “Do the adult-orientated thing in the morning, then you have the carrot in the afternoon.” Happy travels.

Updated: March 24, 2019 12:42 PM

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