28 June 2017

From Packing ... To Postcards


Siobhan Dolan offers an A-Z of travelling with children

Are we nearly there yet? It's a familiar cry if you're travelling with children, and usually begins almost immediately after leaving home. Encourage your children to take an interest in new landscapes, sounds etc and it will be much easier to deflect persistent enquiries on the progress of your journey. Make it an adventure! In any case, if you've planned your trip and are armed with sufficient distractions, they might even stop saying it... eventually.

Beaches: gently shelving, sandy ones with some shallow water to paddle in are the very best for small children. A lovely beach, reasonably close by, is pretty high on most people's list of priorities for a relaxing family break, so when researching your destination, check the proximity of your chosen accommodation to the beach - can you walk to it or will you have to get the children in and out of the car each time? Take sea shoes for babies and toddlers.

Car journeys: For long trips, you simply can't have too many distractions. Make sure you allow plenty of time for frequent stops, take plenty of snacks and plan your route. There's nothing worse than trying to read a map against a backdrop of screaming children in the back seat. Song and story tapes are a great way of keeping children entertained and when you're finally driven round the bend by the combined talents of Milo, Jake, Bella et al, a personal stereo might just save your sanity.

Destinations: In recent years the travel industry - from operators to hotels and airlines - has made great strides in what it offers families. Consequently, it's easier than ever before to travel with children to a wider range of destinations, from Cornwall to the Caribbean. Some operators highlight those locations and destinations that are most suitable with children; some offer crèches, or private nannies and/or babysitters; others can also supply you with equipment such as buggies, travel cots and high chairs.
There are even childcare agencies in some popular destinations (Majorca for example) that specialise in holiday bookings, and where you can also hire equipment. With this in mind, keep an open mind when considering where to go: the Caribbean might seem ambitious but it can offer a reasonably priced break and many of the hotels there offer an excellent, high quality childcare. Staying in the UK might seem an easier option but a long
car journey could prove more challenging with children than a short flight - and of course good weather can make all the difference to your holiday.

Eating and drinking: Before loading yourself down with jars, do a bit of research on what your destination might offer. While Italian baby food is very bland, there are some excellent French and Spanish varieties. In Puerto Pollensa, a popular Majorcan family resort, there are even supermarkets which stock organic baby food. It's still worth taking a few favourite jars for those moments when only cheesy broccoli with pasta will do. As for liquids, breastfed babies are unlikely to need anything else to drink when you're away, even in hotter climates, although they may want feeding more often. For bottle-fed babies, bring some ready mixed cartons and/or sachets of powdered formula, along with some sterilised water for the journey.
Pre-sterilised bottles (available from Boots) are a great help when you're on the move. Powdered babymilk is widely available abroad although obviously brands will differ. Read labels for added salt and sugar. Check out the local water. Depending on where you are, it's worth taking a Thermos® to fill with boiled water for when you're out and about.

Flying: Check in advance what various airlines offer parents with children. As well as bassinets and skycots, concessions might include flight attendants specifically allocated to looking after families, pre-allocated seats, babyfood, toddler meals, children's TV channels, and children's goody bags. Also worth bearing in mind if you've got children: scheduled flights generally offer better travelling times and there's less chance of delays than on charters. Tip: on most flights you can take your buggy right up to the departure gate.

Government advice: Log on to www.fco.gov.uk for everything you need to know about travelling abroad with advice on more than 200 countries, country-specific travellers tips and links to travel advice of foreign governments. FCO travel advice unit: 020 7008 0232/0233.

Health: A basic first aid kit should mean you're able to cope with most minor upsets. Take: thermometer, Calpol, oral rehydration powder sachets such as Dioralyte, insect repellent, high-factor sun cream, calamine lotion, plasters, antiseptic wipes, anti-histamine cream, homeopathic remedies. Don't forget your E111 form if you're travelling to countries in the European Union, which will enable you to receive free or reduced cost emergency healthcare if required. Go to any main post office or travel agent and ask for a leaflet "Health Advice for Travellers". Fill in an application form at the back of the leaflet, and the form E111 as well, and get it stamped. Keep it safe, preferably with your passport, and carry it with you when travelling within the EEA. For more government travel advice: http://www.doh.gov.uk/traveladvice/

Insurance: For peace of mind, insurance is essential for all trips, whether it's a weekend or a fort-night. If you travel more than once a year a multi-trip policy is the most cost-effective option, particularly if you can take advantage of a "family" deal (which still covers adults travelling individually).

Join: BabyGoes2.com for everything you need to know about travelling with children - where to go and how to do it! www.babygoes2.com

Keep calm: If you've planned your trip, it should be possible! Make sure you arrange passports in good time (required for all children under 16), along with visas and vaccinations if necessary. Ensure any major changes to your child's routine are instigated a few weeks before you travel - potty training for example. Make lists and start gathering together items in good time.

Long haul:If you're planning a long-haul trip, then look into night flights which can be easier with children and particularly those with airlines that offer seatback TVs (a great way to pass the time for children). Check on vaccination (see below) and visa advice well in advance. Take essentials to last at least a couple of days, along with other useful items such as a travel kettle (and adaptor), mosquito net, battery-operated fans, high-factor sunscreen, long-sleeved shirts/trousers and lots of eucalyptus-based repellent which is safe for children. (See health above for first-aid).

Maps and guides: Detailed maps and in-depth guides are essential reading when you're on the move. Many have family sections for those travelling with children, including details of events and attractions specifically aimed at younger visitors.
Nannies and childcare If you fancy a bit of free time during your break, there is an increasing range of high-quality childcare options available - everything from baby-listening and babysitting to private nannies, crèches and children's clubs (most have a minimum age of 6 months). It's essential to reserve crèche places early as most get booked up very quickly, particularly during peak periods.
Offers: Keep your eyes open for family-friendly offers and late deals. If you're able to avoid the busy school holidays then there are often some great reductions. For example, many Caribbean hotels often have free child places during selected periods.

Packing: Having essentials to hand when you're travelling with children, along with plenty of distractions, can make a world of difference to your trip. So make lists and start planning your departure as early as you can. If you're travelling by plane with a baby, take care that you've got essentials such as bottles, nappies and wipes in your hand luggage, along with a change of clothes. For toddlers, take plenty of snacks and small toys.

Quick breaks: Cities are a great option for short trips with children. Plenty to see and do, from museums to parks and street markets and generally easy to get around. Combine active with relaxing: a visit to a museum in the morning followed by some park time in the afternoon. If you've got a baby, take a backpack - easier for negotiating busy city centres.

Relax: Take advantage of the growing number of family-friendly hotels offering spa treatments, from facials to aromatherapy massage and body wraps.
Sun Sense: Avoid the midday sun wherever possible and use a high-factor sun protection cream or spray for children. Sun hats are essential and there are some great UV suits on the market. A UV tent (or just a tent if it's a beach in this country!) is also useful, particularly if you're feeding a young baby.

Toys: While you don't want to weigh yourself down with any more luggage than you have to, a few well-chosen, small toys along with crayons, washable pens, and books can make all the difference. Novelty works distraction wonders so take three small bags: one for the trip, one for your destination and one for the way home.

Universal bath plug: A really useful addition to any travel bag which enables you to transform a hotel sink or shower into a bath for your little ones.
Vaccinations: Contact your GP a couple of months before your departure, as some immunisations cannot be given simultaneously with others (Travellers HealthLine: 0906 8224100). It's worth noting them down on an International Health certificate to take with you.

Where to stay: Think carefully about what stage your children are at before you decide between self-catering or a hotel. Villas offer the flexibility to come and go as you please, cook what you want when and if you want. They may also have outdoor spaces as well, offering a bit more freedom for babies and toddlers on the move. Hotels provide a break from cooking, cleaning and washing and may be an ideal holiday solution for those parents with tiny babies who only require baby listening to enjoy a relaxing dinner in peace. On the downside, they can offer less flexibility, especially in terms of space, and also with regard to what you and your children can eat and when you can eat it.

Xxxxxxxxx: Wish you were here! Little ones love choosing postcards to send to friends and families. A good way to pass the time on a rainy day or alternatively, to avoid the sweltering midday sun.

Year-round travel: If you've got pre-school age children and are able to avoid travelling during busy, school-holiday periods, then you'll find you have a greater range of options and often at lower prices. Babies under two pay very little or go free.

Zzzzzzzz: A good night's sleep could change the whole complexion of your break so think carefully about sleeping arrangements before you go. If you're staying in a hotel, will you all be in one room? If so, will you be able to get any privacy? There might be a separate living area offering more space. Alternatively, some rooms have particularly large bathrooms where it might be possible to place a cot. If you're planning on taking a cot with you, there's a wide range on the market - everything from travel bags that convert to cots for smaller babies to compact travel cots for older children.

Siobhan Dolan is co-founder of www.babygoes2.com, the essential guide to travelling with children, where to go and how to do it.

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