Imogen Hall has been writing about travelling with children since 2014. She is the author of Lonely Planet’s Family Travel Handbook and has recently returned from two weeks exploring Belize with her three kids, George (14), Harry (12) and Winnie (8).
Travelling with your kids is one of the most rewarding things you can do as a parent. Introducing your children to different cultures, teaching them how to adapt to unusual situations and creating collective memories that bond your whole family, are just some benefits.
Our first trip abroad as a family involved taking our 8-week-old son to Paris on the Eurostar. It was fun, but it had its challenging moments - as most travel with young children does. As our kids have grown and we’ve travelled more, we’ve learned some key tips and tricks for making sure family travel is fun, memorable, and doesn’t break the bank.
When children are younger, before they join school, be sure to take advantage of travelling during term time to avoid the well-known price hikes that accompany school holidays. We travelled to Switzerland in June before our eldest joined Reception, staying on a quiet campsite and making the most of the free playgrounds in the mountains.
Having school-age children might not feel like a benefit in terms of costs, but knowing term dates well in advance means you can make the best of early-bird deals. Sign up for newsletters, keep your eyes peeled on social media for flash sales and pay close attention around Black Friday and the lead up to the festive season.
You can’t be ready for everything that gets thrown at you when you travel as a family, but thinking ahead is key. Know your journey times, think about when you will be eating and pack a spare change of clothes as well as plenty to entertain everyone.
Having lots of snacks, a charged iPad and Euros still in our wallet, was indispensable when we had an unexpected eight-hour delay flying home from Rome when our youngest was only two.
Hotels may be fun when you’re footloose and fancy-free, but with kids I recommend hiring a holiday home (or camping) to keep food costs down and give everyone some space. You can also, as we did on a city break to Porto in Portugal with friends, shop in food markets, take a picnic to a nearby playground and watch as your kids connect with local children.
Keep hidden costs down
If the additional costs of withdrawing money or using your debit card put you off, try the Starling Bank debit card for travel - they don’t charge fees when you withdraw at ATMs and give you alerts when you spend.
Pack your sense of adventure
As with any trip, it’s likely not everything will go according to plan. When you’re responsible for small people as well as yourself, the stress levels can be high. Treating the experience as an adventure can help see you through the tricky times and come out the other side laughing. These are the stories the kids will tell friends and family when back home.
Take the opportunity to teach your kids about money
From being culturally respectful to reading a map, travelling is a chance to teach kids lessons. Managing a budget is another key skill. If they’re between 6 and 16, Starling’s Kite debit card gives them power over their spending money - and frees you up from persistent requests for souvenirs and ice cream.
Do your research
Google, google and google some more. Get recommendations from local parents, ideas for navigating major tourist sites as a family. There are also family-specific packing lists, medical kit lists, and plenty of inspirational ideas lists.
So, where should you go?
The world is your oyster when it comes to travelling with young kids, but it can be sensible to start closer to home where distances are shorter, there are fewer travel health considerations and the culture is more familiar.
Taking the Eurostar to Paris for a city break and mixing in a day trip to Disneyland is the stuff of many kids’ dreams. You can’t go wrong with a couple of weeks exploring a region of Italy such as Sicily, Lazio or Tuscany. Pizza, pasta, ice cream, ancient ruins that are accessible and happy to have small people running around, and the famous love of family make for a relaxing trip.