Travelling with Kids: Where, What, How?
As a parent of two wonderful children (daughter 7, son 4) every time I think about taking my family on vacation I get a little bit overwhelmed. There is so much to think about: Where to go? What to pack? What are my options for travel insurance in Canada and international destinations? And, how to go about planning all of it?
In this blog, I share some of my experiences and tips that will (hopefully) help make planning and travelling with your family a little bit more stress-free and enjoyable.
Where Should I Go? What Should We Do?
The first step in planning a vacation is to make the necessary arrangements for your trip. When you are travelling with children it is important to keep in mind the distance of travel. Long flights and multiple connections can be challenging and stressful for the whole family. For the first few trips (or until your kids are older), select destinations that offer direct flights and shorter travel times. To reduce the effects of jetlag, consider choosing a destination without significant time zone changes.
Researching for your family vacation is very important. While this can be a time consuming task, it will save you time and stress in the long run. Some research resources include: online travel blogs, travel agents, friends and family. When researching a destination for your family, be sure to select one that will interest your children. Entertained and engaged children will help your family get the most out of your vacation, while making memories to last a lifetime.
When researching for my last vacation, these destinations appealed to my family: Disney California Adventure Park (Anaheim, CA), San Diego Zoo (San Diego, CA), Legoland (Orlando, FL), Atlantis Resort (Paradise Island, Bahamas), and Volcanic National Parks (Big Island, Hawaii).
Booking Your Flight and Selecting Your Accommodations
When booking your flight, contact your airline provider directly. You may be able to request the front row of your section of the airplane, which may provide extra legroom for you and your children to stretch out or move around. If you are travelling with a small infant, your airline may provide a bassinet.
The last part of the booking process is to select your accommodations. This will be your home away from home during your vacation. For me, it’s important that my children are comfortable with both the hotel’s amenities and the room itself since we will be spending nap time, bed time and time out of the sun in our room. Contact your hotel directly to let them know the age of your children. Accommodations may offer their young guests additional benefits, such as free meals, in-room entertainment (DVD player, DVDs and toys) and cribs for infants (one less thing to pack!).
If you want to visit attractions or take part in an excursion, plan these ahead. Purchasing passes at your destination may cost more and does not guarantee availability.
What Should I do to Prepare and Pack?
In my family, I prepare and pack for our children, which is a daunting task! With so many things to do and remember, it is important to get organized.
To help make your travel plans as stress free as possible, below I share my top 10 ‘Parent Tips’ for travelling with children.
Parent Tip #1: Start preparing early! This will give you extra time should anything unexpected come up or if you forget something.
Vaccinations: I know my children are up-to-date on their regular suggested vaccinations, however, I am not aware of what other vaccinations (or medications) they may require for travel to international destinations. Check with your family physician or local travel vaccination clinic to learn more.
Important Travel Documents: Travel documentation and identification are required when travelling. Research the specific requirements of the country you’re visiting. Some documents that may be required are: passports, birth certificates, travel visas, adoption papers (if your child is adopted) or authorization letters from the other parent (if travelling alone with your child).
Travel Insurance: As both an experienced travel insurance product trainer and a parent, I understand the importance of always travelling with a comprehensive travel insurance plan, whether travelling outside of my province of residence within Canada or internationally. To avoid the crippling costs of out-of-country medical bills due to sudden and unforeseen injury or illness, I strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance for your whole family, prior to your departure.
Note: purchase your insurance policy shortly after booking your trip to take advantage of time sensitive benefits such as travel supplier bankruptcy/default protection and trip cancellation. Every policy is different, so be sure you read and understand the policy benefits, definitions, exclusions, limitations, terms and conditions. If you have any questions, speak to a licensed broker or your insurance provider.
Parent Tip #2: Pack enough medication, formula, diapers and clothing for your trip, plus a few extras should you encounter a delay of your trip, additional usage or loss.
Bring Only What You Need: To avoid additional airline costs for checked luggage (and luggage weight), I try my best to pack smart by bringing only what we need and nothing more. Through the research process, you will have learned about the climate of your destination. Packing appropriate clothing for the climate at your destination will save you money, eliminating the need to purchase extra clothing at your destination.
Brand Specific Items: As a parent, I am particular about the type of medication, formula, diapers and sunscreen my children use. When visiting foreign places you may not have access to the brands you use at home, plan and pack accordingly.
Other Useful Items: If you are still sterilizing bottles, it can be difficult to get access to a stove or microwave for sterilization. When my daughter was younger, we found a portable steam sterilizer to be very useful. Don’t forget to purchase electrical adapters, if required.
Parent Tip #3: Pack all necessities (change of clothing, medications, diapers, formula, etc.) in your carry-on luggage for a 24-hour period. This will provide you with what you need if there is a delay in the arrival of your luggage. Keep in mind, all liquids, gels, aerosols, creams and pastes must be less than 100ml each.
Still Potty Training? Pack training diapers. My kids found the lavatory on the airplane to be a ‘scary’ place. Also, due to turbulence and long waits for the lavatory, you may not have access to the lavatory on short notice (kids never give notice!) Whatever the reason may be, avoid accidents and remain on schedule by using training diapers while in-flight and at the airport.
Parent Tip #4: Pack a familiar comfort item, such as a stuffed animal or blanket. In strange places, such as hotels, airports and airplanes, these can offer the child something familiar and consoling.
Parent Tip #5: Ration the entertainment. You don’t want to run out and be ‘that parent with the screaming child’. Let them play with something till they become bored.
Keeping Your Children Entertained: No one likes travelling on an airplane with screaming bored kids. Some airlines may provide in-flight entertainment for kids (coloring, movies and small toys), however, I have noticed that, more often than not, these are provided at an additional cost. To save money, I pack my own compact entertainment. Coloring books with crayons, tablets with kid friendly games and movies, books, small (quiet) toys, and comfortable headphones. These forms of entertainment may also be useful in the hotel room and on transportation transfers.
Parent Tip #6: Pack extra batteries or power sources. You can never have enough!
Parent Tip #7: If you are travelling with a small infant, bring your infant carrier. This will help you navigate the airport and airplane hands-free once you have checked your stroller.
Parent Tip #8: Many times airlines provide refreshments and a light snack in-flight. This is definitely not enough food for my growing kids. Pack snacks to save money!
Phew! You’ve Made It! Now What?
When our plane lands and we finally arrive at our destination, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. By now, we are all exhausted and ready to get to our hotel to relax and enjoy our vacation!
Stay Healthy: It’s important to remember that fun is the number one focus of a family vacation and getting sick or sunburnt is not fun. To keep my family healthy, I make sure we only consume safe water, apply sunscreen regularly (and more frequently than at home) and take regular cool-down shade breaks. Take cues from your child for meal times, nap and bedtimes, and remember their schedule may be off (for various reasons).
Entertainment: Now, it is important to keep the kids entertained and engaged. Aside from the daily activities of the destination and pool, my goal is to help the kids experience their vacation from their perspective. As a parent, we take countless pictures, however, this is how we as adults see the vacation, not how my kids see it. Buying my kids a kid-safe camera was a great way for me to see how they saw their vacation, as well as entertain them. Keeping a journal will help them to remember their trip for the years to come. Encourage them to draw or write down their experiences each day and review in when you get home along with the photos they took.
Explore Your Surroundings: Explore and try new things! I Invite you and your children to explore new experiences: taste the local cuisine, feel the sand and ocean between your toes, touch palm trees, learn to salsa dance or make local crafts. These are all experiences I have had with my children that have helped to enrich their knowledge of the world.
Parent Tip #9: Always give yourself extra time. In my experience travelling with children requires additional attention and adds extra time to your trip. Account for additional time for travel to the airport, navigating the airport and at the destination to remain as stress free as possible.
Parent Tip #10: Remember, your child’s schedule may have shifted while on vacation, I found it helpful to take an extra day (or two) off after we’ve returned home to help them (and me) re-adjust.
I hope that sharing my experiences and tips with you will help to make your next family vacation as smooth as possible! Whenever you get overwhelmed, take a deep breath; all parents feel the way you do when travelling with their children. Once you are there, it will all be worth it when you are making family memories to last a lifetime.
If you would like to learn more about travel insurance, either for trips within Canada or international travel for you and/or your loved ones, please call 1-855-566-8555 to speak to a licensed broker or visit our website for details on our Travel Right Insurance Plans (TRIPs).
Travelance TRIPs plans are underwritten by Old Republic Insurance Company of Canada. In Quebec, certain coverages are underwritten by Reliable Life Insurance Company.