Are We There Yet?

Travelling with kids can be hard work – in fact, you may come back from your trip more in need of a break than before. But with a bit of preparation, you can have a happy family holiday. Brigitte Barta, co-ordinating author of Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children explains how.


Choosing your destination
Deciding where to go on holiday with your family can be daunting as there is so much choice. There are now many options and possibilities for family travel, from camping and activity holidays to resorts and cruises. Cities are easy to visit with kids because there’s always so much to see and do. Child-friendly European cities include Rome, Lisbon, Berlin and Copenhagen.

Ask your children for their thoughts. School-age kids may want to go to places their friends have been. This might mean Disneyland or visiting Santa’s headquarters in  Lapland. Meanwhile, your teenage daughter may prefer a four-day shopping trip to New York. If your teenagers are studying a foreign language at school, consider travelling to where it is spoken to help their studies.

Don’t forget about your home turf. Just because you can fly to Ibiza for £2 doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider options closer to home. There are plenty of colourful places to visit within the UK, including the Outer Hebrides, Snowdonia, Bath, Brighton and Whitby. But sometimes children just want to return to last year’s holiday destination. A place that you all get to know well, and that they grow up visiting, makes for some very happy childhood memories.

Before booking any trip, do bear in mind how long it will take you to get there. Although flight or train times might only take a few hours, door-to-door journey times when flying internationally can take between seven and 11 hours. That might be okay for your family if you are holidaying for a fortnight, but if you’re only going for a long weekend, that’s a lot of en route. Once you’ve chosen your destination, you need to find somewhere to stay. Campsites, hotels, static caravans and cottages are all good options with kids. Look for a hotel that has rooms with a balcony or a living room, where you can relax after the kids have gone to bed. Don’t rule out youth hostels – many have family rooms and are relaxed, fun places to stay with children.

Be prepared
Good preparation and planning is the key to travelling with children. This doesn’t mean mapping out your entire route or booking every night’s accommodation, but with children in tow you need to anticipate their needs.

Before you go, build interest by looking at maps, teaching your kids a few words of the local language, taste-testing the cuisine, either at a restaurant or at home, and, if they’re old enough, encouraging them to research where you’re going online. If you’re going abroad, organise passports, visas and travel insurance well in advance of your departure date. In particular, check that your children’s passports have not expired – in the UK, they only last for five years.

Ages and stages
Children aged four to 10 can make very enjoyable travel companions, as long as they’re occupied. Keep the younger ones amused on journeys by telling them stories, playing games, making up silly rhymes and singing.

Older kids enjoy keeping a travel diary and talking about the things they’d like to do. Holidaying with pre-teens and teenagers is a whole different ball game. They’re able to entertain themselves, which is good, but this can raise safety issues if they want to go off on their own. A plus is that your evenings will be less restricted – you won’t be confined to your hotel after 7pm.

To keep kids amused during downtime, make sure they bring basic equipment such as pens, notebooks and cameras. Drawing, writing and taking photos works for children from five upwards. Older children will probably want to take their MP3 players and hand-held computer games.

Slow down
If you did a lot of travelling before you had kids, you might be used to arriving in a new place, hitting all the main sights and activities in a couple of days and then moving on. With kids in tow, you’ll have to holiday at a much slower pace. Build in dawdling time and understand that your plans might not suit your child’s mood some days.

Accept that your children are going to be more tired. The journey itself, combined with disruption to normal sleep routines, tends to wear them out. So structure in regular meals and include time for reading or quiet play at your hotel, cottage or campsite every day. If you approach the journey with a spirit of adventure, and involve your children in the planning and problem solving, you may be surprised by how adaptable they are. Your plans won’t always go as expected, of course, but then they never do with holidays, or with kids.


Brigitte Barta is co-ordinating author of Travel with Children (Lonely Planet, 5th edition, £12.99)

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