Travelling with children

Find out if you should throw out your child’s routine (along with your sanity!) when you go on holiday.

Hooray! It finally feels as though we’re able to jet off again to visit distant friends and family, explore the world or at the very least grab some much needed sunshine. I’m not sure about you but I feel as though I’m waking up from a bad dream, and a holiday seems to be the antidote on everyone’s wish list this year. You may have already been lucky enough to get away, but if you’re one of the many families booked to travel this summer, this guide may be just what you need. The pandemic hasn’t brought many positives, but one thing I have seen is that children (and parents) are craving routine more than ever. It’s ultimately what held us altogether when we had pretty much nothing else. Naturally then, it’s going to feel pretty scary for some to be heading away with their child or children, for the first time in a long time or indeed ever. If that’s you, read on for my tips on how to actually enjoy travelling with a child…it’s not as scary as you think!

car & plane journeys

Whether you’re travelling from one end of the UK to the other, or making a quick dash to the nearest airport out of here, the chances are you will be making it in a car (along with plenty of others). Every new parent experiences the joys of packing up a car (without forgetting anything) just to visit the shops, but packing for a holiday, even if it’s one overnight stay, takes it to a whole new level. The difficulty level will vary depending on what stage your child or children are currently at, as well as the number of children…double the children almost definitely doubles your chances of forgetting something important. A holiday can be ruined in a swift moment if you forget [insert can’t-live-without-item], so it’s vital to get off to a good start by packing smart.

Depending on the length of the journey, you’ll likely need an array of snacks, toys and general distractions to keep the peace for as long as possible. We drove with Davey as a toddler to the south of France and back, and flew across the Atlantic, and I would do both again – so there’s testament that it can work! But it took lots of planning, making sure we had everything we needed, and took direct routes. 

Snacks are great for breaking up longer journeys, especially as boredom turns into faux hunger. The key is to only reveal one snack at a time, rather than in one packed lunch box all in one go. Space them out evenly throughout the journey…the longer the journey, the more snacks you need! Ideal car/plane snacks include breadsticks/crackers, veggie sticks, dry cereal, fresh/dried fruit, mini sandwiches/bagels/wraps, cheese, granola bars, and savoury muffins. If you’ve got more than one child, make sure you’ve divided snacks into bags/pots for each as that’s only ever an argument waiting to happen if they have to share.

One thing I learnt from our long road trip in France was to be armed with multiple small toys, books and games. We used a great tray like this one to keep colouring pencils in one place that he could easily reach, and the tray was not only great for colouring but also for holding books, playing with figures and as a race track for zooming cars! We packed a mini suitcase FULL of toys that he had access to next to his car seat, so he could reach for whatever toy he wanted next – toddlers love this sort of independence and it can make them feel less like they’ve been strapped in to be tortured driven for hours. And when all else is failing, make sure you’ve got a tablet or device loaded full of downloaded (never underestimate the issue of lost 4g) programs and films. Ultimately, most children have a very short attention span, but can be entertained with a cycle of music, games (such as eye spy, the shopping game, name-that alphabet categories etc.), toys, snacks and screens.

Car sickness can sadly ruin the best of intentions when it comes to a car journey. Screens and books are often a no-go for sickness or nausea prone children, so you may have to concentrate more on games and music, and swapping books for audio books. Children that get travel sickness are often better when they can see out ahead so the middle seat is ideal, and snacks are probably best in dry foods only. Anti-sickness bands and ginger biscuits can really help ease the symptoms too, and don’t forget the sick bag and a change of clothes!

Plan for take off and landing on a plane by having something age-appropriate for your child to suck on. If they are still taking milk whether breast or bottle, try to time feeds so that they align with take off and landing. Alternatively, encourage them to swallow frequently by sipping on a drink, plus a dummy can work well or sucking on a sweet or lolly if they are old enough. If you know your child struggles to ‘pop’ their ears or they are congested from a cold (always a high possibility with a young child!), try to keep them awake at either end of the flight as being sleepy reduces swallowing, and always carry some pain relief to ease when particularly bad.

I can’t stress enough how important planning your journey is. Whilst it may feel tempting to wing it a la pre-parent, especially when getting into the holiday vibe, there is so much more fun to be had when you’ve ruled out as many child dramas and toddler tantrums as possible. When driving, map out your route so you know how long it is and plan around meals and stop off accordingly. Always use the most direct route, even if there are tolls (it’s always worth the cost!). Prep your car to make sure it’s ready for a long journey with all levels topped up, tyres etc. and even down to filling up with fuel the night before. Although a long car journey can be completed successfully with any age kids, the aim should definitely be to spend as little time as possible in the car. For plane journeys, think about being as hands free as possible in the airport and as cute as kids luggage is, the reality is that you’ll be the one carrying it! So stick to one backpack per parent until your child is actually old enough to carry it themselves. Yoyo buggies are great as you can take them all the way onto the plane as hand luggage, but most airlines with prior arrangement will let you take them all the way up to the gate.

travel tips car journey

should i stick to my child’s routine whilst away?

One of the biggest fears of parents with young children when contemplating a holiday is how it is going to affect their child’s sleep. If you already have a good sleeper, you may worry that all your hard work (or luck!) is going to be unravelled in just one trip. Likewise, if your child is already experiencing sleep difficulties, you may not even think it could be possible to stay away from home without the sleep you do get reducing even further.

Most children have got a routine of sorts, and it’s this that they rely on to keep them feeling safe, secure and happy. If you know you are going away, it’s ideal if you can stick to their usual routine before you go, especially in the last few days/week before. If they are as well rested as possible before heading off, you’ll likely have less difficulties when you want to stray from their routine when away. Many parents I speak to worry that by going off track for a few days it will undo any efforts they’ve already put into a routine. The best part about routines is that they are context dependent. This means that whilst you are away you can get away with a lot more ‘bad habits’ without worrying too much about the impact it will have once you’re home. So if you end up having to co-sleep because your baby hates the travel cot, or if you have to sit with your toddler whilst they fall asleep because they are scared of their new environment…don’t panic! No matter what you do, something will change whilst you are away, so it’s better to go with the flow and enjoy your holiday. Bedtimes can be a bit later, and if your child will nap out and about, you even have the option of getting them ready for bed and letting them fall asleep on route to your evening destination. Many families also opt for multi-room dwellings to make life easier such as apartments and airbnbs so that they can put their child to bed and still enjoy the evening. Having spent 20 minutes sat in a New York closet (good job they are huge!) whispering to my OH whilst Davey settled to sleep, I can vouch for the convenience of a separate bedroom! It’s worth noting that from a sleep science perspective, most children enter into their deepest sleep around 15 to 20 minutes after they fall asleep, so after some initial quiet time, you can then be safe in the knowledge that you’ve got a good 2-3 hours of worry-free normal-noise-level time.

travel tips routine

As well as their routine, children often rely heavily on other sleep cues and comforts when falling asleep. These are must haves when packing for a holiday, and can also be more easily packed into a car rather than worrying about a weight limit (another win for UK travel!). These can include their sleeping bag, soft toy/blanket/comforter, night light, favourite pillow, and familiar books.

If your child uses white noise/lullabies for sleeping, continue to use this whilst away as this is usually easy to take along or recreate on a device. Even if your child doesn’t use white noise at home, it may be useful to use it if you are staying in a hotel room or within close proximity to strange noises. Travel black out blinds are also key for many children as they can really make the difference between a good nights sleep or not, especially during the summer months. If you don’t have a travel blind, or have forgotten to pack one, tin foil stuck to a damp window makes a fantastic temporary solution.

travel tips comfort

As well as sleep-related home comforts, don’t forget to take any favourite foods. Take into consideration their current diet and eating habits, and make sure they continue to eat as close to their normal diet as possible. It can be tempting to relax the rules when it comes to treats on holiday, but sugar is so closely linked with poor sleep, which is the last thing your child needs on top of late nights and exhaustion from longs days of fun. Let them enjoy treats, but make sure they also get a healthy diet alongside to keep the balance. Check out our Eat Your Way To Sleep blog for more ideas on foods for good sleep.

The benefit of having a routine in the first place, means that you can skip straight back to it once you arrive home, no matter how far you’ve deviated from it whilst away. As mentioned above, habits and routines are very much dependent on the context in which they happen. So the key is to get straight back to normal once you are home, rather than giving them an extra few days in ‘holiday mode’. It can be tempting (and logical) to let them adjust back to their environment before trying to tackle any issues that have crept in during your holiday, but children adapt quickly and will benefit from an immediate transition back to what is normal for home. Even the biggest of changes only take a few days to undo if you had a solid routine, boundaries and expectations beforehand.

travel tip routine

jet lag & time zones

It can feel quite daunting to be travelling to a different time zone with a baby or young child, but sometimes it can really work in your favour. We took our son at 9 months to New York and the early starts meant we were up and out early, beating the queues and busy tourist times. He was also quite sleepy in the late afternoon which meant he had some great naps in the buggy and we could enjoy some adult time too.

When travelling to Europe, the time shift is a maximum of 2 hours so many parents choose to keep them on their current schedule whilst away. This can actually help give you a (slight!) lie in, and longer in the evenings to enjoy dinner etc. For example, a child with a bedtime at 7pm UK time will be able to follow the same routine in a country an hour ahead with a bedtime at 8pm. The key to this working is to keep meal times consistent, and make sure your accommodation has a decent black out solution!

Following this rule is slightly trickier or even impossible when travelling further afield. When travelling to time zones that differ by more than a couple of hours from GMT, the easiest and quickest adjustment will come from following a routine in the new time zone as soon as you land. It doesn’t matter what’s happened on the plane, try where possible to eat meals according to the new time, and limit any sleep during daytime hours to short naps of 1-2 hours maximum (depending on the age of your child). Get lots of daylight during the day by forcing yourself up at a reasonable time (when travelling ahead to the Middle East/Asia) or in the evening (if travelling West), and balance this with as much darkness as possible during bedtime hours. 

It usually takes 2-3 days to adjust to most times zones, although we know as adults we can still feel a little out of sorts for a few more days if there’s been quite a time difference. The same advice applies on the way home, adjust back to UK time as soon as possible, though allow them to be a little all over the place – you may have a few days of them falling asleep at dinner or being wide awake in the middle of the night! As per the advice above on routines, it’s likely that things have changed when away, so getting straight back to whatever ‘normal’ looks like for your child will ensure they are back on track as quickly as possible. 

my travel takeaways

Ultimately, only you know your child and just how far you can push them out of their comfort zone when holidaying, both near or far. All children cope differently with diet changes, excitement and over-tiredness.

As with anything, balance is key. Enjoy making amazing memories without being too constrained to nap times and bedtimes, but don’t let them get so off-course that they ( and you) are too exhausted too enjoy it.

If you’re struggling with sleep following a holiday, or are one of the lucky ones jetting off and you need some help with jet lag, get in touch for a free 15 minute assessment call to find out how I can help. You can also sign up to the HushaBoo email updates to be the first to find out about future blogs. Or follow HushaBoo on social media…

Blogged by Emma Osborne, Paediatric Sleep Specialist, founder of HushaBoo & Mum to one little boy who enjoys travelling, as long as his Mum is prepared!

Travelling with Children

by May 9, 2022Uncategorized0 comments