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Top tips for travelling with children

[June 2008]

Holiday checklist when travelling with children:

  • Wipes and tissues
  • Nappies and nappy sacks
  • Travel changing mat
  • Spare clothes and muslins
  • Jumper
  • Snacks / food
  • Spoons / bowls
  • Bibs
  • Drinks / formula
  • Scissors
  • Beaker / sterilised bottles
  • Dummy or comforter
  • Teddy or favourite toy
  • Infant paracetamol or similar
  • Thermometer
  • Nappy rash cream / lotions
  • Sun cream and hat
  • Surprise treats (e.g. new toy, bubbles)
  • Small selection of books and toys
  • Portable DVD / music player
  • Paper, crayons, colouring books
  • First aid kit
  • Blanket

It will come as no surprise to most parents that new research shows the two most stressful things when travelling with a young family are keeping the children content and packing all their stuff.

Holiday company Tots to Travel surveyed 350 parents of whom 36.5% ranked 'keeping children happy and well behaved on the journey to a holiday destination' as the most stressful part of a holiday with children under five. 'Packing all the stuff needed' was named as the second most stressful part of a family trip by 28.2% of parents.

Happily a little bit of forward thinking can help relieve this stress, whether your children are six months or 16 years old. Consider your destination, accommodation and means of travel carefully - make sure they're appropriate for the whole family. Use websites such as Take the Family, Tots to Travel, Baby Friendly Boltholes, Baby Goes 2 and the travel pages of the Times to research all your options.

Once you've decided where you're going and how you're getting there create a checklist of everything you will need to do and take with you - use the Holiday Extras holiday checklist online. Keep adding items as you think of them. Remember things like checking passport expiry dates, visas and medical documentation for all the family well ahead of departure.

A pre-booked meet and greet airport parking service is ideal for reducing family travel stress. A driver will meet you, your family and all your gear at the terminal and park your car while you get everyone inside and checked in. There's very little time for boredom and frustration to set in!

According to research carried out this year by travel company Holiday Extras: Unnecessary stress blights early morning and late flights for 45% of fliers, arriving late or missing flight is top cause of anxiety for 37% of airport travellers and early morning or late night flights are the UK's No 2 hate – airport processes is No 1.

If you're flying early in the morning then booking an airport hotel the night before the flight will give everyone the chance to relax and start the holiday early. Airport hotels will provide cots and family rooms on request. Day rooms are also available where you can unwind before the next leg of your trip if you have a long journey to or from the airport. All good for escaping confined spaces and sibling squabbles.

Nasty surprises at the airport can cause plenty of stress and anxiety for young families. Always phone your airline and airport in advance to check the latest security restrictions and facilities for children. For example, Heathrow's new Terminal 5 has three children's play areas and full baby changing facilities in all toilets, including feeding chairs in some. Baby formula can be pre-ordered from Boots stores in most departure lounges. Make sure you are able to travel with your car seat, buggy and travel cot if necessary.

Checking in online helps to reduce the stress of queuing with the hordes. You'll arrive at the airport knowing that your whole family will be sitting together on the flight. It's worth booking an airport lounge if you think your brood would benefit from escaping the hectic terminal building. TVs, complimentary drinks and snacks and a change of scenery can do wonders for agitated youngsters and their harassed parents.

It may make you more comfortable, and therefore less anxious, to be seated near other families on your flight. You will not need to be quite so embarrassed by your offsprings' antics. A window seat is ideal for toddlers fascinated by wheels and flashing lights, and will also keep them away from the aisle. Veterans of family travel advise boarding the flight last to reduce the time your little ones will be expected to sit still.

If you feel prepared you will feel much less stressed. Get as much of your washing and packing done as you can, write your baggage labels, and plan your journey to the airport (remembering meals) all with a few days to spare. Older children can help with these tasks. On the day you're setting off, check all the relevant travel updates and allow plenty of time for the journey. Agree a meeting place with your whole group in case anyone gets lost.

Now you're ready to forget the stress and enjoy your precious family holiday!

by Maxine Clarke