Tips For Stress-Free Travel With Children: The Practical Guide

Heading on a family holiday is always exciting. The promise of shared experiences, unforgettable moments, and cherished memories is a lot to look forward to. However, travelling as a family can also be stressful. The anxiety that comes when facing long car journeys, flights or layovers with children is totally understandable. We hope that these tips for stress-free travel with children will help. 

Welcome to “The Practical Guide To Stress-Free Travel With Children.” Whether you’re planning a family day trip, a weekend getaway, an international expedition, or a cross-country road trip, this guide outlines some of our tried and tested methods to reduce stress and keep you and your kids happy. While we cannot guarantee stress-free journeys with your family, we certainly think these tips will help!

tips for stress-free travel with children - when you pack the car for a road trip make sure you can reach the snacks!
We never mastered the art of packing light on road trips…..

Plan Together 

As a parent, you may have experienced the magic of Build-A-Bear with your children. The reason why kids often form such strong attachments to the teddies they create there is because the process of building a bear fosters a profound personal connection and a genuine sense of ownership. Your kids don’t just select a stuffed animal off the shelf; they actively participate in bringing their new friend to life.

You can do the exact same thing for your family vacation. By involving your kids and planning together, they will feel part of the journey and not just passengers. 

When we plan with the girls, we start by asking open-ended questions like, “What kind of places would you like to visit?” or “What activities are you excited about?” Take their input seriously and try to incorporate their preferences into the itinerary. 

We have also used it as an educational tool to teach them how to research a topic and assess the validity of sources. By sitting them down and asking them to find three things they would like to do in Sao Paolo or five places they would like to visit in Thailand, they learn how to assess and organise information.

For our year away, we sat down with Georgia and Eva and did some research both on Google Travel and looking at brochures. Georgia very quickly decided she wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef, whereas Eva wanted to go ranching in Patagonia. Both experiences proved to be highlights of our time away!

By involving your kids in the planning stage, you’ll not only create a sense of excitement but also prepare them for what to expect during the trip. It’s a great way to build anticipation and make them feel like active participants in the adventure.

Wondering what to take with you when you arrive? We go through our everyday carry for family trips here: Day Pack Essentials: What to Pack for Family Days Out

Wondering what to take with you when you arrive? We go through our everyday carry for family trips here:

Day Pack Essentials: What to Pack for Family Days Out

Set Family Goals For The Trip

This will also help your kids feel engaged and invested in your summer holiday, and hopefully, you can have some fun as well!

The goals can be as simple as learning and using five phrases each in the local language or trying to spot ten animals that are native to the area (this was great in Costa Rica!) Another goal could be to try a food they have never had before on each day of the trip. 

Setting and achieving goals together fosters a sense of togetherness and accomplishment. Plus, it adds an element of excitement to your trip as you embark on an adventure together.

The goal was to find 10 hammocks on the trip!

Be Prepared For Boredom

Even if everything goes smoothly, there can be a lot of hanging around airports and long transfers while travelling. It is best to be prepared and plan ahead.

We have found it best to have layers of digital and analogue distractions:

Layer 1. Plan activities and travel games – If you have time to kill at an airport terminal, a game of ‘eye-spy’ or ‘the alphabet game’ can fill 10 mins. We also carry a deck of playing cards, and the family favourite ‘Pass The Pigs‘ can happily fill an hour.

2. Bring Books – We carry story books and puzzle books to bring out for a long journey. Georgia likes to read a bit more than Eva, and she can happily lose herself in a ripping yarn. Eva prefers puzzle books, so Kirsty and I will engage with her and help with word searches or a Soduku. Colouring books and coloured pencils are also great options. 

3. Tablets – If things are really bad, and we have exhausted all other forms of entertainment, we bring out their tablets. You cannot guarantee internet access, so before we leave, we make sure we pre-load some of their favourite shows and movies off Netflix or Disney+ and have some games that can be played offline as well.  Also, we make sure it is fully charged and have a portable power bank with us as well! 

We mainly have educational games/apps on their tablets as it is a good time to keep up with their schoolwork.  Some of our favourites are online chess and Times Tables apps, as well as Duolingo to help them develop their languages.  Another useful tip is if you are working on a special project, there are plenty of educational YouTube videos out there.  Horrible Histories are brilliant!

We do try and limit the screen time the girls have, but sometimes needs must. 

The girls with tablets and teddies as we get a family selfie before a long flight.

Give Yourself As Much Extra Time As You Can

This is probably our number one family travel tip. Without a doubt, some of the most stressful experiences we have had when travelling have been when we have been rushed. 

This could be rushing to catch a flight, rushing to get a transfer to an attraction, or rushing to get to a meal reservation. As amazing as Georgia and Eva are, it feels like they can sense when we are trying to get somewhere quickly and deliberately go on a “go slow”. Honestly, it is enough to make us want to scream!

To combat this, Adrian is a huge fan of the “mess-up curve”. This is something he developed in his time working in car hire logistics. Essentially, a “mess-up curve” is a buffer of time to offset anything that may go wrong. For flights, this usually means adding an extra 30 mins on to the journey time to the airport in case we hit traffic or there are delays getting through security.  At the end of our road trip in Norway, this paid off when we realised we had been heading to the wrong airport and had travelled 40 minutes in the wrong direction. Fortunately, we made our flight as we had given ourselves plenty of time!  For days out, it may mean not trying to cram too much into the trip or allowing extra time for toilet stops. 

Sure, this may mean we are at the airport a bit longer than needed if everything goes smoothly, but it is worth it to arrive relaxed and unflustered.   Plus, it allows time for a cup of coffee and a biscuit for the girls!

Don’t Forget the Snacks

The last thing you want is a child that is bored AND hungry! Packing a variety of portable snacks can be a lifesaver. 

We try and pack some nutritious and healthy snacks like trail mix or (my favourite!) yogurt-coated banana chips. To control the portion size, we tend to transport them in small, resealable containers or packets.

Don’t tell the children, but there is also usually a bag of Skittles or M&M’s in Kirsty’s bag as well for when things get really bad!

Another source of stress while travelling can be the worry of keeping your children safe. We run through our top tips for you and your family here: Travelling With Kids? Here Are 12 Safety Tips You Need To Know

Another source of stress while travelling can be the worry of keeping your children safe. We run through our top tips for you and your family here:

Travelling With Kids? Here Are 12 Safety Tips You Need To Know

Things Will Go Wrong

We find that Georgia and Eva mirror us to a certain degree. If we are getting stressed and anxious over a situation, then they will, too. 

Part of travelling is accepting that things will go wrong. You will be delayed somewhere, or a trip will not go as you would have hoped. Do your best to take a deep breath and remain calm in these situations, embrace the chaos and keep positive. This will encourage your children to do the same. 

Whilst on a transfer in Costa Rica, we realised too late that our transfer driver had not been told about our planned boat tour to hunt for crocodiles, and we had driven an hour past where we should have stopped.  After some back and forth with the tour company and a couple of very disappointed girls, we looked at the positives – we would get to our hotel a couple of hours early, and that would mean some pool time!

It is also worth considering bringing some comfort items like a favourite pillow or teddy that can be used to settle upset children. 

Remember that travel is an opportunity for growth and learning and that very much includes when things don’t go perfectly. Embrace the unexpected, adapt to changes, and focus on creating positive memories with your family.

Georgia entertaining herself with my hat and sunnies as we wait for food.

Have We Missed Any Tips For Stress-Free Travel With Children?

We genuinely hope the above tips are a big step towards a stress-free family vacation. If there are any tips we have missed then we would love to hear them! Just leave us a comment below.

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About the authors

Our lives have been intertwined with a passion for exploration and a shared love for travel. Our adventures began long before we met, as we individually embarked on daring expeditions across the globe. Our paths finally converged, and we soon realized that our adventures were much more meaningful when shared!

After a brief hiatus to start a family, we eagerly embarked on a new chapter of our travel saga. Determined to instil in Georgia and Eva the values of discovery and open-mindedness, our goal is to embark on exciting escapades and explore breathtaking landscapes, bustling cities, and remote corners of the world. From hiking through mist-laden forests to snorkelling in turquoise seas, every adventure is an opportunity to create lasting memories as a family.

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