It’s no secret that organising a family holiday comes with a lot of planning and if not, you obviously like living on the edge. Planning plays an important role in almost everything you do as a parent, so when it comes to something as special as a family holiday – you’ll need to have a plan to make it a success.
From the planning stages through to the destination, we’ve broken down the top 5 things you’ll need to consider when planning for a holiday with children.
1. Travel Times
There is often a lot of debate (or opinion) on the day versus night flight and which is best when travelling with little ones. Mothercraft Expert, Chris Minogue says that this can be completely dependant on the length of the flight vs age.
As a basic rule of thumb, if you are flying with any child over a period of time that requires them to have one long sleep i.e a 6-9 hours flight, then a night flight is the best. This will give your little one the best chance of actually getting sleep, as the lights will go off and there will be less movement around the cabin.
If you are on a long haul flight i.e 21 hours, then there are usually less options with flight times and you will need to plan out the trip to factor in sleeps according to your child’s needs.
If you are not planning to stop over for a specific reason i.e to visit family or friends, then you don’t need to factor in a stopover for the sake of your little one. Whilst a lot of people think that this will break up the flight, it can just cause more disruption and even cut into sleep times which may make the adjustment much harder than needed.
Write a travel schedule
By writing out a plan you will ensure that you can support your child’s needs and work within their awake times, sleeps and feeding cycles. By doing this you will be able to see where you need to tweak their day. I.e if you have a super late flight and your little one is on one day sleep, you might stretch that sleep out later than usual and then wake them up just before you are heading off.
2. What To Pack
The key to packing is not to pack too much! This is something that many make the big mistake of doing and then instantly regret once they venture off and realise that juggling kids and luggage isn’t so fun. The other thing to consider is what you can organise at the other end, in order to avoid having to take extra items such as a cot and pram.
An all-inclusive resort such as Club Med will have cots and prams* for you to use, along with things such as bottle warmers and equipment for food preparation. Call ahead and find out what facilities can be organised at the other end, rather than having to lug everything halfway around the world.
*limited availability so request upon booking
Packing your carry on
When you are trying to get on flight with a baby/toddler and possibly travel pram, you’re not going to want to be overloaded with bags. A backpack is a great way to ensure you are ‘hands free’ and able to get little people on the flight. There are a few essential items you will need to have on board but again, not over packing is key!
- Extra wrap for privacy when feeding and to block out light and glare
- Take 3 age appropriate toys your little one hasn’t seen before and introduce them
at intervals along the way
- A comforter or familiar toy for sleep
- Bottles and formula as needed
- 6-8 nappies, wipes and a fold up / disposable change mat
If your child is on solids, you may consider taking a lunch box with familiar foods, bib and spoon
- Spare clothing in case of any accidents or for a fresh outfit upon landing
Tip: Prepare a small toiletries bag that fits into the seat in front with a couple of nappies and wipes, for easy access.This will help avoid having to access the overhead storage frequently. I always put in lip balm and any essentials for myself – oh and of course your phone for any ‘baby’s first travel snaps’.
3. On Flight
I remember when Chris Minogue once asked me to sit my (then) 18 month old son on my lap and hold him still for 10 minutes – and then times that by the length of my intended flight. Spoiler: it wasn’t easy! This is why some people will refuse to fly with a toddler and I don’t blame them. It’s near impossible to get a little one of that age to sit still for too long and also the reason why you should consider booking them their own seat.
Keeping children entertained on flight will be completely dependant on age. Some will be easily entertained while others won’t be able to concentrate on the same thing for long periods of time.
Your baby is likely not going to be doing much between feeding, eating or (hopefully) sleeping. You may end up spending your flight cuddling them, especially if there is a lot of turbulence or you didn’t manage to get the bassinet seat. Wrapping your baby for sleep on flight is a great way to settle them and in fact, is the very thing Chris Minogue recommends for calming your baby if they become unsettled. A lot of people tend to panic when this happens, but remaining calm yourself will help the situation much more than the alternative.
If you were lucky enough to get a bassinet seat, you will soon realise that they are quite small! Wrapping your baby for sleep in the bassinet will help them settle for longer, as it will stop them from hitting the sides.
A dummy can also be an incredibly useful tool in these situations (of course if you use one that is) and if not, you can always move to the back of the cabin and gently rock your baby until it’s calm. The key thing is to wrap your baby no matter their age, as this will help them to feel secure and calm them down much faster. Whilst it may take some time to do this, patience is key.
If your baby is slightly older i.e 5/6 months, introducing new toys at intervals is a great way to keep them entertained on flight. Development toys like the Lamaze range come with many attachments and will keep your baby engaged for longer.
As suggested earlier, be sure to break the flight down into a schedule, so that you can map out when you want them to sleep and eat. Not only will this make you feel confident in knowing what needs to be done throughout your trip, it will help anyone travelling with you too. By managing their playtime and snacks, you can ensure that you don’t compromise any chance of sleep.
An activity pack is a great way to keep your little one entertained and excited throughout the trip (and limit device time). Most airlines will give you a small activity pack but that colouring in set will only keep them entertained for so long. By packing your own activity pack, you can select toys appropriate for their age and interests and then give them throughout the journey. Be careful not to overpack here too though! Generally 3 new toys/activities will work well and could be made up of things like: sticker books, magnet games, colouring in sets, playdough, puzzles
Once your child understands bribes and consequences – use them. Actually let’s reframe that. Older children can generally see through those things but at least you can negotiate just that little bit more than a younger child. Maybe it’s a promise of something exciting at the other end – but be sure to follow through. The other good thing about travelling when your kids are past the ‘toddler stage’ is that they will happily sit and be entertained on a device whether this is an iPad or the screen on flight. Whilst this is great and tempting, be sure to split up their time with other activities and limit device time before you need them to sleep.
4. At Your Destination
Whilst it’s tempting to dump your bags and run off to the pool (or bar) once you reach your destination, it is a good idea to set yourself up first. Managing little people is time consuming and when there are more than one, you will no doubt be sneaking into dark rooms during nap times times or needing to access that spare pair of clothes fast.
Once you get access to your room (providing it’s not in the middle of the night of course) it is a good idea to get everything out of your bag and give it a home. Hang clothes that may get crushed, assign shelves to nappy changes, sleeping aids/pyjamas, clothing & shoes. Keep all bottles, formula & baby spoons together and even better if it’s next to a kettle – providing it’s out of reach of any older siblings of course.
Once you are organised, make a plan for each day to factor in sleep times. When you are on holidays it’s easy to feel like you need to make every moment count and sleep ties generally become fairly flexible. The thing to remember here is that compromising on sleeps during the day, may mean more restless sleep at night. So what we are trying to say here is, you need to pick your battles. If you are travelling with a younger child on 2 or even 3 sleeps, perhaps venture out for the morning and try to get a 45-60 minute morning sleep in their pram but commit to coming back to the room for their afternoon nap. This will mean they get at least one solid sleep during the day, which will mean less disruption during the night (or worse at dinner time when you might want to be eating out).
You are going to need to ensure that their sleep space is set up in a way that will help your little one to get rest. This will mean making it as dark and quiet as possible, even if you are sharing rooms. So before you book the accommodation, it is a good idea to see if there are family rooms, a suite or adjoining rooms available – otherwise you may end up spending your nights sitting in the dark from 7pm.
5. Dealing With Jetlag
Oh jet lag. That lovely, unavoidable consequence of going on a fabulous holiday overseas. You can get jet lag whether you are travelling for 3 hours or 21 hours and how badly you are affected, will depend on the length of the flight and difference in timezone
There’s not a whole lot you can do on flight besides trying to rest when you can (but with kids we don’t expect there will be much of that!) and whilst you can do your best to implement sleeping strategies for your little ones, it isn’t going to be the same as the restful sleep they will get in their own beds.
The general rule is to get them into their usual daily rhythm in the timezone of where you landed, as soon as possible. For example: if you land in Italy at lunchtime – your child needs to know it’s lunchtime. It’s important to also remember that sunlight = serotonin. So by giving them exposure to daylight, it will help them to get a more regulated and restful sleep at night.
When it’s nighttime, it is recommended that you continue with your usual night routine so that they know that it is time for their night sleep. It is inevitable that there will be night waking and you will just need to go with the flow, rather than have a wrestling match with your little one. Whilst it’s tempting to take advantage of your little one sleeping in after a restless night, remember that you need to get into the local timezone as soon as possible. This may mean waking your little one the next morning (by 8am at the latest) which might be a pain in the short term but will help you to enjoy a more regulated day much sooner.
As Chris Minogue says, babies and toddlers don’t go on holidays – they just move house! They are more flexible that you often realise and if you support them with their needs when it comes to feeding and sleep, you will have the best chance of actually ‘having’ a holiday.