Family travel

Travel tips for families

Travel is back on the cards and there’s never been a better time to take a family holiday! While we’re all a bit out of practice post-pandemic, travel with toddlers and young children is always a bit daunting no matter how experienced you are! However, with a bit of planning, you can be on your way to some fun and memorable family experiences. Here I’m sharing my travel tips for families based on what I’ve learned and what works for my family when travelling.

Routines and schedules

Do you fly during nap times, or around them? That is the million dollar question! Generally, we haven’t had much choice in our flight times and have had to go based on when the flight was (hello Lord Howe Island with only 2 flights a week!), or what travel plans we had at our destination (cruise departures, long car drives). However, I’ve found that children feel the exhaustion from travelling as much as we do, and I’ve never been on a flight where they haven’t fallen asleep (4yo included!!). Perhaps it’s the noise of the engines acting like white noise too!

The ages of 12mths – 2yrs is probably the hardest to deal with, in that they still need a nap but may be over stimulated by their surroundings and won’t fall asleep easily being rocked or fed. In these instances, I’ve found it really handy to travel with a muslin cloth/wrap that I can drape over both our heads to visually block out everything around us and make it about just the two of you. Then with some shushing, patting and gentle coaxing, they tend to finally fall asleep!!

We have only had to deal with 2-3hr time zone adjustments, however I find it easiest to stick to our normal routine at home, but in the new timezone. When we visited Fiji (2hr time difference) it was 7pm local time when we finally were settled in. That’s bedtime at home, and so even though it was only 5pm at home we got them to bed. They woke up at 5am Fiji time (which is their usual time at home) and we were on to our regular schedule straight away! (You can read about our family trip to Fiji here)

Food for travel

Snacks, snacks and more snacks – when travelling you can’t pack enough! Let’s break this into two parts:

  • Food during the journey: first and foremost, if you’re travelling on a plane and your child has a seat – request a children’s meal when booking! Not only will they get a meal suited for their age, they also get fed first. This is great because you can help them with their meal and get their dishes cleaned up and out of the way before your meal arrives. I usually pack lots of chip and biscuit type snacks that have minimal mess and are easy for self feeding, and pull them out when they start to get fidgety. There is also always a packet of lollies in my bag – small gummy type lollies that have a lot in the bag can get stretched a long way, and are particularly good at calming big emotions when you’re in a plane surrounded by hundreds of people! If you have a baby, you are allowed to carry a reasonable quantity of liquid, aerosol or gel products for the infant or toddler onboard for the duration of the flight and any delays that might occur. A ‘reasonable quantity’ will be at the discretion of the security screening officer at customs. Keep them separate and easily accessible for security screening.
  • Food at your destination: If kids always want snacks at home, they’re still going to want snacks all the time on holidays. I take packets of crackers, biscuits and rice cakes that I know they’ll eat but also pack easily. Up’n’go type milk drinks, or baby food/fruit/yoghurt pouches that don’t need refrigerating are also handy for dealing with hangry kids before you make it to the breakfast buffet, or as a bed time snack if they didn’t eat much dinner. I always take some small Tupperware containers with dividers, and fill them up with fresh fruit at breakfast – this is great to have for morning tea or snacks back at your room and means you can basically self-cater the kids morning and afternoon teas (good for the budget too!). Check with your destination too, but places like Fiji allow you to bring in 2 bottles of wine, and Australian dairy products are permitted too (all in checked luggage). I took wine and cheese from home, packed in a cooler bag with an icebrick in my suitcase! Cheese in Fiji is crazy expensive, and so I saved some money and could enjoy drinks and nibbles at the room each afternoon while the kids played.

Kids entertainment

We have travelled on a plane around Australia and overseas with the kids at varying ages – 6mths, 9mths, 16mths, 19mths and 4yrs (a nice gap in there thanks to a certain pandemic!!). Keeping them entertained is hard, especially when they’re too young to sit and watch movies for a long period of time.

For older children, pack them a small back pack that has their things in it, so they can have the freedom to pick and choose what they do as they please (and without worrying about them pulling anything important out of your own bag). I always pack them a pair of headphones too, as the plane ones can be too big and loose. We’ve had these ones from Target for 3 years now and they fit both a 1yo and a 4yo perfectly.

For younger children, I’ve found packing a small drawstring cloth bag with their toys works really well. I put a few small bits in: a few toy cars, a few plastic animals, some finger puppets, stickers and fidget spinners (see table below). I take this in my carry on (and it becomes an easy grab&go bag for restaurants etc) and pull one thing out at a time. As soon as they get sick of something, put it back in the bag so it can be a ‘surprise’ again later on.

Here are a few of my favourite ‘must-have’ items for travel with kids.

This busy book from Amazon was a favourite with both kids. I love that it can be used on a plane, in the car, at a restaurant – anywhere they might need to sit still for a while. It folds up like a book with a carry handle, and all the pieces are velcro. Other great options include Curious Columbus, Bookywoo and Wondertivity.
Again, both kids loved this! We have a stash of paint with water cards already at home that I took with us, but I added this one from Amazon to our collection to keep things fresh. Safari animals are popular with all ages, and the others we have are Paw Patrol and dinosaurs. Don’t fill the paint brush with water until you are in the air, and pack it all in a zip lock bag so at the end you can seal the bag shut and not worry about emptying the brush out.
Fidget spinners with suction caps are perfect for babies and the younger toddlers (but really, even my 4yo still had fun with these!). They stick to windows, ipad screens, inflight screens on planes and dining tables in restaurants. Keep one in your handbag at all times and you’ll always have something to keep them busy. These ones from Amazon spin and have fidget pop its on them.
These Melissa & Doug reusable sticker books are fabulous! They come with 5 different scenes (a farm, a prehistoric landscape, a desert oasis, a jungle, or the deep sea) and 150 animal stickers. The stickers are made with plastic and can be repositioned over and over on the scene cards. But what I also love about them is you can stick them to windows and mirrors! These were great for my youngest to stick to the plane window and we could talk about them and learn animal sounds. I bought mine from Aldi on a special buy, they often come up there!
This LCD writing tablet was especially for my preschooler who loves drawing and is learning to write. A modern day version of the magnadoodle, this small tablet comes with a pen and they can draw away to their hearts content. It even has a lock, so the screen can be locked and drawings saved over a few days. Then just hit the trash can button and the screen is cleared.

Keeping memories

While planning our trip to Fiji, I came across My Big Adventure travel diaries. Written by teachers, they are packed with fun activities and teach kids about their holiday destination. They released a Fiji version only a few weeks before our trip and I grabbed one for my 4yo. With both Junior and Senior editions available and aimed towards the 3-5 and 6-10 age brackets, you can choose from Fiji, Bali, Thailand and Australia (cruising, New Zealand and Hawaii are in the future!). We spent time doing the activities and reflection pages of the diary each afternoon and it was amazing how much my 4yo learned from the diary! When we came home we printed off his favourite photos and stuck them in for him to remember his trip by. It really was the perfect keepsake for his holiday to ‘Bula land’ as he likes to call it. If you want to grab one, use code LARA10 for 10% off your purchase (affiliate link).