Family travel: what to pack

What you need when you’re travelling with children depends on how old your children are and where you’re going. It helps to be prepared.

For older children it can be good to pack:

  • wipes
  • plastic bags – handy for rubbish or vomit
  • spare clothes, in case of spills, accidents or delays
  • hand sanitiser
  • water in refillable drink bottles
  • healthy snacks
  • books, toys and games – ask your child to help you choose
  • medication if your child needs it.

For babies and younger children it can be good to pack everything on the list above and:

  • nappies or pull-ups
  • spare underwear if your child is toilet training
  • your child’s favourite cuddly toy, if he has one.

Entertainment tips for family travel

Long trips can be tiring. Family travel is more fun for your kids and easier for you if your children are entertained. Here are some ideas.

Babies and toddlers

  • Take sturdy books that you can wipe clean.
  • Keep toys in a bag and give them to your child as you travel, rather than all at once.
  • Borrow some ‘talking books’ from your local library before you leave home, or download audio files.
  • Listen to music that you and your child can both enjoy.
We did a six-hour car trip with our toddler and preschooler. We had all their favourite movies, heaps of books to read and snacks.
– Melissa, mother of a two-year-old and a four-year-old

Older children

  • Play ‘I spy’ or guessing games – for example, ‘I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 10’.
  • If you have a screen  or tablet device in the car, make sure it’s fully charged and you have plenty of movies loaded onto it.
  • Take some music that your child enjoys, or make a family playlist with your children before you go.
  • Take some games – for example, checkers with magnetic pieces or card games. For this idea to work, you need someone to play the games with your child.
  • Sticker books or blank books and coloured pencils for writing and drawing can keep imaginations and hands busy.
  • If you’ve got more than one child, packing toys and books for each child can help keep everyone happy.
Our kids love playing ‘spotto’, even on short car trips: 10 points for every yellow car they spot, 20 points for orange, and 30 points for gold. Spotting the cars and keeping track of the score keeps them occupied.
– Catherine, mother of a five-year-old and an eight-year-old

Travelling with children with special needs

If your child needs medication, and you’re travelling for a long time, make sure you’ve packed enough to last you the whole trip.

It’s also a good idea to travel with spare medication. Doctors often recommend taking twice the amount your child needs in case of unexpected events – for example, if your child gets sick during the trip, or if you lose or damage the medication while travelling. You should split any medications between your hand luggage and suitcases in case one piece of luggage goes missing.

If you’re travelling outside Australia, you should carry a copy of your prescription and a note from your prescribing doctor. This is in case you’re questioned by customs.

Special equipment
If you need special equipment – like a wheelchair – you might like to talk to your airline or travel agent before you travel, in case they need to make special arrangements or organise extra help. Check with the airline before you fly to see whether there are any restrictions on taking medical equipment on board.

Special meals
If you’re flying and your child has special dietary needs, you can contact the airline to organise a suitable meal. It might also be a good idea to bring your own food in case the airline can’t provide the food your child needs.

Preparing your child
Some children with special needs can find travelling scary and unfamiliar. For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it can help to explain what your child might expect when travelling. For example, if you’re flying, talk to him about the security screening process so that he knows what’s going to happen before he gets there. You can also use Social Stories™ to teach your child about appropriate social behaviour and to help him know what to expect.

Planning your time
When you’re travelling with children with special needs, it’s always good to plan for things to take longer than you expect. If you give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going and get organised when you get there, it can reduce stress for everyone, and keep your child calm and happy.

Always let the airline know you have a child with special needs. That can avoid waiting in lines and misunderstandings with staff.
– Mum of a five-year-old with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)