Ah, family holidays. Children merrily playing together while the parents sip an ice-cold drink, looking lovingly at each other and their happy brood as they relax in the sun (or snow). Family travel can be fun. And it IS fun, if you are prepared and if you manage your expectations. One of the biggest issues can be getting there in the first place. The way to approach any family holiday is to factor the travelling in as part of the adventure, from the moment you arrive at the airport, to the moment you arrive at your accommodation. We take a look at how to plan your family travels so that you get there as fresh-faced and stress-free as possible.
Is short-haul easier?
Perhaps the biggest myth when it comes to family travelling is that short flights are best. The logic adds up: the less time you and your children are confined in a small airplane seat, the better. However, short-haul flights mean small seats, limited entertainment (if any), and costly food and drink. Long-haul flights, on the other hand, tend to come with bigger seats; a multitude of films; tv programmes and games; and free food and drink, which means that. once you are on the plane, you won’t be eating into the holiday budget for snacks and water (or wine).
If you are planning a short-hall flight with your family, be prepared. Get a kitbag of quiet activities that don’t need lots of space (colouring, books, games), and load a tablet with films to deploy in emergencies. Buy drinks in the airport and pack snacks to prevent spending a fortune on a bag of crisps and a soggy sandwich. If your child needs a bottle, you can bring these through customs, but be prepared to taste it on the way through. Airplane loos possess some mystical allure to children (and some adults!). Try to limit trips to the loo and focus on the fact that it’s only for a few hours.
Long-haul for families
We get it. The thought of going on a plane for 4 hours is enough to fill even the hardiest families with dread. 12 hours, or even 24? Forget it! Long-haul flights are, however, geared to cater to people for those periods of time. And families used to short-haul flights are often very pleasantly surprised by the relative luxury of going long-haul. Permanent access to personal entertainment systems undoubtedly helps – children can watch films and television series to their hearts’ content. Plane food tends to be reasonable with free drinks and, usually, snacks upon request. And there is just more space. Your seat won’t be exactly spacious, but they will definitely be bigger and more comfortable than your standard budget short-haul airline.
If you are in it for the long-haul, try to fit into your destination’s time zone on the flight. This will help you to adjust better when you arrive. Bring a few turn-to snacks and drinks bottle for children, which you can fill onboard and tuck into their seat pocket. Pack one of your carry-on bags with spare clothes and a blanket, so that you can snuggle the children to sleep. Pyjamas and a familiar night-time book can be a good idea as the act of getting ready for bed, brushing teeth and being tucked into their seat can help to encourage sleep. When you first get on the plane, don’t panic! The children are excited – they will be a bit wired, so will want to push every button and are likely to ask a million questions. The beauty of long haul is that, after a little while, the children usually relax into the routine of flying. You never know, you may even enjoy it.
Whether you are flying for 4 or 24 hours, here is our list of essentials for family travelling:
- Snacks – pick something easy to open, eat and store. Don’t bring messy snacks or things likely to melt in hot little hands (leave the yoghurts and chocolate at home).
- Drink bottles – buy sports bottles of water in the departure lounge or bring drinks bottles that the children can use themselves, to save them asking you to take the lid off every two minutes.
- E-readers, tablets, colouring and quiet games – they don’t take up much space, and can be sanity savers.
- Wet wipes and sanitiser gel – no matter how old your children are, they will usually benefit from a wet wipe at some point!
- Ear phones – airline earphones tend to be less than ideal for little ears. If you have them, bring good sound-excluding headphones. They will allow your children to watch films without disturbing others, and can help them to get to sleep, too.
- Blanket – a lightweight fleece blanket can be invaluable.
- Spare clothes for spills and accidents – Pack more than you think you need (that goes for nappies, too), but don’t overpack.
- Favourite teddy or doll – If your child goes to sleep with a rag, a muslin or a teddy, make sure you bring it on the plane, regardless of the time of your flight. This is particularly important on long-hauls; there are few things worse than an exhausted child who can’t sleep because you forgot the flipping rabbit!
- Bag of mysteries! – Pack a little bag of surprises to deploy in emergencies: nothing expensive, just little stocking-filler type treats that will entertain them for a while. Stickers, miniature tea sets, or home-made “Airplane Bingo” (a grid with things they might see or hear on the flight, which they can tick off as they go) can help to ease boredom when it strikes.
The biggest thing to remember is that you are not alone. Yes, we will admit it, the crying baby or toddler on the plane can be a bit annoying. But most people have been there. As long as you’re not the parent who brings a toy with a bell, or makes farm noises, or the parent who lets their child kick the seat in front, you should be able to get through a flight of all lengths without getting too many of “those” looks. So, try to relax, have a complimentary glass of wine, and enjoy the adventure!
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