Travelling with children can be fun. It’s even more enjoyable if you’re all ready with what your children might need – especially for long trips.
When taking children on long trips or holidays, it’s a good idea to plan ahead.
If you’re going by car, plan your travel so there are lots of stops along the way for your children to run around and explore. Plan to take breaks at child-friendly places, such as parks and playgrounds. If you make your lunch stops a little before the usual lunch rush hour, you’ll get better service and it won’t take quite so long. You might not get there as fast, but getting there is part of the holiday!
When having a toilet break, go into the toilets with your children. Make sure they wash their hands. You might like to pack some hand sanitiser, because it’s a good alternative for handwashing if soap and water aren’t available.
Try to arrive reasonably early when you’re staying in overnight accommodation along the way. It can also be helpful to make sure you have a good amount of time at overnight stops.
Holidays with young children are often better if they are fairly simple. For example, staying in one place where there are lots of children’s activities might be easier and more fun for the whole family than doing lots of sightseeing.
What to take
Apart from the items you’d normally take on a trip, it can be helpful to take extra things just for the car trip. Here are some ideas:
- Paper towels or wipes can be used in lots of ways.
- Take empty plastic bags for rubbish, dirty clothes and dirty nappies.
- Take a change of clothes for each child. Depending on the season, you might also want to take hats or something warm to put on.
- Some families take an old icecream container for accidents of any kind. It can also work as a potty if your child hasn’t been toilet trained for long and there are no toilets around.
- If you have a child who wets the bed, take a piece of plastic to protect mattresses.
- Take a bag of things to do on the trip (see ‘Car travel’ below).
- Take some healthy food, such as fruit, to snack on.
- Bring water to drink, and try to avoid too many soft drinks. Small plastic water bottles with pop-tops can be very good for young children.
Car travel tips
Never leave children alone in a parked car.
- Keep a spare key in your purse or wallet – if your car doesn’t have remote locking, it can be easy to lock the keys in the car.
- Take everything off the dashboard and the back parcel ledge – even small things can fly off and injure your children if you have to stop suddenly.
- Travelling at night so your children can sleep isn’t always a good idea, because it isn’t safe to let them lie down on the seat without restraints.
- Make sure the sun doesn’t shine directly on babies or young children in the car. You can hang a piece of cloth from the closed window to provide shade, or buy sunshades to fit your car’s windows.
- Try not to have too many things that children need to share. Sharing is hard at the best of times, and when children are tired it can be a real challenge. Have a pillow and a rug each, rather than one to share.
- Sit in the back with your children for some of the time, if there’s room. This makes the trip much more enjoyable for them.
- Be prepared for stops if a child feels sick or needs to go to the toilet. They usually can’t ‘hang on’ until the next town.
Don’t start the car until everyone’s seatbelt is fastened. Stop the car if a child undoes his seatbelt or if children are distracting the driver. See our article on car safety
for more information.
Keeping children amused in the car
- Give your baby a rattle or musical toy to play with.
- Hang a mobile above the baby capsule/car seat.
- Keep a few soft toys with you – you can rotate them so your baby will occasionally get something new to look at.
- Tie a couple of your baby’s favourite toys to her seat with a ribbon, so if she drops them she can get them back. Make sure the ribbon isn’t long enough to go around her neck.
- Sing while you drive, or play some gentle music.
- Have some toys and books within easy reach.
- Give your toddler something to eat and drink on the way – make it a ‘car picnic’.
- Play some children’s music and sing along, or listen to a story CD.
- Point out interesting things you pass – for example, ‘Look, can you see the train? Where do you think it’s going?’
- If it’s a long trip, stop every little while and let your toddler have a run around.
Preschoolers and older children
- Look at a map with your children before you leave – trace the way you’ll be going with a pencil or just your finger. You might also like to use the internet to find information on the towns you’ll be passing through, and their places of interest, with older children.
- Count the cars, horses, bridges or other things along the way. Guess how many you’ll see before the next town.
- Sing some favourite songs. You can even try to make up some new verses for them.
- Play guessing games – for example, ‘I'm thinking of an animal that’s big and grey’.
- If it’s a long car trip, plan to stop at playgrounds or parks along the way.
- Have some toys, books, sticker books and story CDs within easy reach.
- Have some wrapped parcels for surprises that children can unwrap as well as play with on the way.
It’s very hard for siblings not to fight if they have to sit in a car together for a long time. A high pile of pillows and blankets between them can make a ‘wall’ so they each have their own area – but only use soft things to make the wall.
Bus or train travel
Travelling on a bus or train can be very exciting for young children. But long trips can pose similar challenges to long car trips, because children can get bored with the scenery and sick of being stuck in a confined space.
Here are some suggestions for keeping children entertained on bus or train trips:
- Look at the numbers of the stops or names of the stations.
- Talk with them about the safe way to sit and move on buses and trains.
- Look for animals, buildings, trees or other trains or buses. You could turn this into a game of travel bingo – for example, ‘Who’ll be the first person to see a sheep?’
- Count how many times the bus or train stops.
- Ask your child to tell you a story.
- Look for familiar things that tell you when you’re nearly home.
- Take food, drink, toys and books as you would for car travel.
There’s no reason you can’t take a baby on a plane, but very young babies tend to do better if they’ve had a few weeks to get settled into the world before travelling. It can also be healthier for your baby if you can wait a few months before flying. Germs are easily circulated in aircraft cabins, and very young babies don’t have the same resistance to infections as older children and adults. This means they can get sick more easily.
Here are some other points to consider when flying with children:
- If you’re going overseas, check with your doctor or a travel medical advisor well in advance so you can all get the vaccinations you need.
- Dress children lightly for air travel, and check that you can get blankets from the cabin staff if needed. Layers of clothes that you can take on and off are a good idea.
- Some airlines are better at supporting parents travelling with children. It can be helpful to ask other parents about which airlines they like to fly with.
- If you’re able to organise the timing so your trip back home happens during Australia’s night-time, you’re more likely not to disturb your children’s sleep pattern. They’ll be more likely to sleep through most of the trip, even if you find it hard.
- If you have a baby, it can be helpful to carry him in a sling so your hands are free.
- If you have a toddler, it can be handy to take a fold-up stroller for her to sit in at airports.
Plane travel with a cold
Try to avoid if possible taking any child who has a cold on a plane trip. The fall in air pressure can cause pain and severe ear problems. If it’s unavoidable, see a doctor for advice before the trip.
If a child or adult in your family has had a recent cold, it can help to use decongestant nose sprays, drops or medicines 15-20 minutes before take-off and landing.
If you’re travelling with a baby, you can ask for a seat with a bassinette. Some airlines will let you to use infant restraints on the seats so check with the airline.
When travelling with an older child, the bulkhead seats give you more leg room – but because the arm rests have the tray attached, they don’t fold up. It might be more comfortable to travel in the normal seats with an older child. This way you can at least fold back the arm rest so she can sleep with her head on your lap. If the plane isn’t crowded, the airline staff might even give you an extra seat so your child can stretch out.
When travelling with your child alone, it can be a good idea, when booking your ticket, to ask the airline staff member if you can be provided with an assistant at every stop. This assistant will help you collect your luggage and make transfers to connecting flights.
When the airline staff ask at the start of your flight if you’ll need any help, tell them you’ll need a hand to heat bottles and/or solids, and that you might need help at mealtimes so you can eat.
It can be a good idea to change your baby’s nappy just before you go on board. There is a small change area in some toilets for changing nappies on board. Ask the staff which toilets have change tables.
Pack a comfort or cuddle toy your child likes for the plane trip. You might also like to take some old favourite toys your child hasn’t seen for a while, and bring these out during the trip. Small toys – such as little dolls, cars, trucks and trains – are good for playing on the tray top. The airline baby/children’s pack is also useful because it’s something your child hasn’t seen before.
For babies, have a range of colourful toys with different shapes, textures and sounds on hand. The airline staff might help keep your baby distracted by taking him for a walk down the aisle every once in a while too.
Peekaboo games are also good – you might find that some of the passengers nearby will play this with your baby.
What to do during take-off and landing
If your baby can sleep during take-off and landing, it will be easier for you both. If not, try delaying a feed until those times – the sucking and swallowing action from breastfeeding or drinking from a bottle will help with any pressure build-up in your child’s ears. You might not be able to wait, so it can also help to have a small bottle to offer when taking off/coming down. Even if your baby takes only a small amount, it can be enough to help with ear discomfort.
For older children, offer a drink at take-off and landing. If your child is old enough, you could give her a soft lolly to suck and chew. Chewing gum can also help.
Travel sickness is usually caused by the change of position and movement on the inner ear. Although it’s most likely on ships and boats, it can also happen in planes, buses and cars.
The symptoms of travel sickness can include:
- an unsettled tummy
- flatulence (or ‘burps’)
- a headache
Travel sickness can go on for up to three days if the person stays in the same movement (for example, on a boat). It usually gets better in four days as the body adjusts to the new situation. Car sickness usually stops a few minutes after stopping the car.
Some children are more prone to travel sickness than others.
What to do to avoid travel sickness
- Before leaving, don’t eat fatty foods, but do eat something – it seems worse on an empty stomach.
- Encourage children with travel sickness to look outside the vehicle, not inside. They shouldn’t look at moving things, like other cars – instead, they should try to look at something that’s still, such as the same spot on the horizon.
- Make sure there’s a breeze and fresh air – it’s a good idea to have the window open a little bit.
- Don’t read in a moving vehicle.
- Some people find that keeping their head as still as possible can help.
- Try to distract travel-sick children by getting them to think about other things.
- If your child goes pale, gets very quiet or complains of feeling sick, stop and let him have a walk in the fresh air.
- Medicines to prevent travel sickness can be bought from chemists. Check with your doctor before giving them to young children or babies.
- If your children are often sick, take a container, wipes, a towel and a change of clothes in case of accidents.