TRAVEL TIPS FOR A FAMILY HOLIDAY
You’ve spent months, or maybe years, planning this trip, you want to make sure you have everything you need well in advance, no one, and we do mean no one, enjoys rushing around like a headless chicken trying to pick up the last minute holiday travel essentials. Our Travel Tips For A Family Holiday will hopefully keep you on the right track
We have composed a list of our holiday travel essentials and provided a few tips to make sure your holiday is memorable for all the right reasons. You don’t want to be up a creek without a paddle, or wandering across the desert…lost…and no hat (yes, we know, a hat would be the least of your worries should you find yourself lost in a desert).
Our travel tips and essentials relate to car, plane and ferry travel. Our list may not be the same as your holiday travel essentials, however it works for us. You never know, there may be a ‘Eureka, why didn’t I think of that’ moment somewhere in the list. Please, do read on.
1. PASSPORT TO FREEDOM
What gives you the World and asks for nothing in return…a passport. It may be a little dog-eared from constant use, and it may only cost a few quid(ish) to buy one, but, you have to believe us when we say your passport is your best friend when travelling, because it is. Your passport is also a complete liability, and heaven forbid you should lose it, the incalculable hassle it causes doesn’t bear thinking about.
We have covered Passport Tips in more detail in our Travel and Money guide, but in brief, before travelling to foreign lands, make sure your passport is in date and that it will remain in date for the duration of your holiday, if it isn’t, get one ordered. Allow around 3-4 weeks for your passport application to be processed, even longer if you haven’t filled in the application properly.
When abroad try to keep your passport on your person, and in some countries, if you’re stopped by authorities and you don’t have the original on your person, you can be detained, fined and even deported. Keep it with you, but keep it safe at all times.
2. DON’T LEAVE ACCOMMODATION TO CHANCE
The flight was delayed, the kids have been shouting at each other in the hire car for the last two hours and you pull into a hotel car park in the hope of getting a room….sorry, we’re fully booked! Looks like sleeping in the car is the only option! Seriously, don’t leave the accommodation to chance when you travel with little ‘uns. Book in advance, and if possible, book separate (but adjoining) rooms in hotels, it will cost more but is worth the extra money.
Consider this. You’ve booked one room and the children are in bed at 8pm, are you going to go to bed at the same time, or sit in complete silence…no, I didn’t think so. Having separate rooms means the children can rest undisturbed, and you can relax and enjoy each others company. Try to keep the children in a similar routine as back home. Just keep in mind time differences and excitement, after all, the little ones are now in holiday mode.
tip: if you do book separate rooms with a linked door, check the rooms over, make sure sockets are safe, check windows are locked and that any balcony doors are secure and cannot be opened by the children.
3. MAKE A LIST (OR TWO, OR THREE)
Travel lists for this and lists for that, Mummy’s lists drive me crackers! Mummy cannot go a single day without writing a list. In all honesty, if Mummy spent as much time doing the things on the list instead of writing the list, she’d have them done in no time at all.
There is one exception to the ‘I hate lists’ rule, and that’s the HOLIDAY LIST, well, two lists in fact – the THINGS WE HAVE LIST and the THINGS WE NEED LIST, both equally important and vital in prepping for your hard earned holiday. Oh wait, we also have a third list, the WALKING OUT THE DOOR list; items like mobile phone, chargers, toothbrushes, passports, wallets, money etc.
Writing an idiot-proof list(s) is Mummy’s key to a stress free holiday. For some, shopping for a holiday is a much-hated chore, for others, shopping for a holiday is like being a child winning a Golden Ticket Tour of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. One thing’s for sure, before you travel it has to be done, so do it properly and you (hopefully) won’t go wrong!
tip: Mummy says to make sure you write a list for each person who is going on the holiday! Sometimes it’s best to buy items from the country you are visiting, especially heavy items like lotions and potions. Try to limit the amount of liquids, perfumes and toiletries you take. If you do need to take liquids, make sure you put them in a ziplock/sealed bag just in case they leak. Liquids are heavy and can use a huge part of your baggage allowance, which leads me on to…
4. BAGGAGE SIZE RESTRICTIONS AND WEIGHT LIMITS
Ok, so you’ve purchased the very latest designer travel hand-luggage just because Victoria Beckham has it, only to arrive at the airport and find it won’t fit in the ‘check my bag size’ frame, and whilst you push and shove to try and make it fit, if you look behind you, there’s a queue of irate passengers forming an orderly queue (Brits are very good at queues). And if you’re wondering why Victoria Beckham gets away with it, she doesn’t fly budget airlines.
As well as size, weight is just as important. If your airline says 21kg allowance then they mean 21kg. The last thing you want when you’re checking in, is to find out that your suitcase is too heavy for the hold and then have to start emptying your case in front of the other passengers, you know, the ones who were stood behind you when your hand-luggage had a fight with the sizing frame.
PAY UP OR DITCH?
Should your bag be heavier than the Airline allowance, you have two choices; pay a hefty oversize fee or remove items from your suitcase, but…imagine the shame and horror as you open that neatly packed case and your lime green budgie smugglers fall out. The last thing you want is to leave behind that family heirloom shawl that your great-great granny crocheted back in 1902, and you certainly don’t want to board the flight looking like an onion with 10 layers on. Do your homework and check the airline restrictions/allowances before you travel.
tip: purchase a decent pair of travel luggage scales, we use the Mofred Travel Luggage Scales which cost £4.89 (Amazon) and they weigh up to 40kg. Weigh your bags at home, that way you can add or remove items in the comfort of your own home, plus you have wine in the fridge…don’t you? Take the scales with you on holiday, and then you can weigh your bags again before going to the airport, just in case you have overloaded with holiday souvenirs.
5. BAGS, BAGS AND MORE BAGS
There was once a rule in our house when going on holiday, one main bag per person and one ‘take on’ bag per person, but muggings here ALWAYS ended up carrying ALL the bags. Now it’s two large main bags between us all and a small ‘take-on’ backpack each for the girls, they normally pack a travel board game (in case of delays), a few toys, colouring books, crayons, a tablet and a few snacks, things to keep them amused during the flight, ferry or car journey, we also have car DVD players for long road journeys.
I don’t normally bother with a ‘take on’ and Mummy uses her Tardis (handbag) as her ‘take on’. I often say Mummy is like Mary Poppins at times, her bag just seems to hold everything and then some!
When we pack our main bags, we always use Pro Packing Cubes, they are so versatile and they come in different colours so we can easily identify our own belongings quickly. The cubes seem to fit effortlessly and maximise the use of space in our large Karabar bags. It’s great to arrive at our destination and know exactly where everything is. The cubes are lightweight so don’t add too much weight to your bags. We love them. and we never holiday without them.
tip: main bags: we use 2 x Karabar Super Lightweight Wheeled Holdalls, and inside we use Pro Packing Cubes, a great combination.
6. PROHIBITED ITEMS
This one might seem glaringly obvious, but step inside the airport terminal and there are lots of perspex/glass containers with no end of knives, weapons, scissors etc in them; items travellers think they can take on board.
Allow me to tell you a story. Back in 2012, somewhere in our house, we lost a very expensive steak knife, the set looked lost without it, so I handed one of the remaining knives to Mummy and asked her to pick me up another the next time she happened to be in Belfast. Time rolled by and the knife was forgotten about, that is, until Mummy had to attend a conference in London. Handbag and briefcase in hand, off to Belfast International Airport she goes.
Checked in, Mummy heads off to the departures security, places her bag on the scanner conveyor belt and then walks through the detector, all good so far…but…the woman operating the scanner seems to be spending a long time on Mummy’s bag. After about 2-3 minutes, the bag is taken to one side and Mummy is asked to attend the inspection desk. The woman confirms the bag belongs to Mummy and that she packed it herself, and then she pulls out the steak knife!!! Horror!!! Security are called and Mummy has a lot of explaining to do.
Thankfully, Security accept Mummy’s story and her apology before allowing her to continue under caution. But wait, it doesn’t end there…
7. PROHIBITED ITEMS…MUMMY AGAIN
…a year or so later, we took Lily-Belle to Disneyland Paris for her 5th birthday, and also to break the news that Mummy and Daddy were having a baby. Just as we were leaving Disneyland Paris, Lily-Belle asked if she could pick up a souvenir from the Disney Gift Shop, not a problem. Little Miss chose a very small plastic toy gun which was no bigger than 7-8cm in length.
We were in a bit of a rush (as always), we are never early, always just on time or late, but never early, so, at Beauvais Airport, Mummy throws the plastic toy gun into her handbag…big mistake!!! We placed shoes, bags, belts etc into trays and sent them down the scanner conveyor before we made our way through the metal detector one-by-one, all good so far. The lady in charge of the scanner kept looking up at Mummy and then back to the scanner, she then summoned a colleague and again, a look at the scanner, then a look at Mummy. We had no clue why, and when I say we, I mean Mummy.
MUMMY IS A TERRORIST
Before Mummy put the plastic toy gun into her bag, I warned her she was asking for trouble, I also told her the shape of the tiny toy gun, even though it was plastic, would get picked up by the scanner, would she listen…oh no! All of a sudden two heavily armed Policiers arrived and began a discussion with the scanner woman. Mummy was taken to one side and the Policiers were as miserable as sin, they read Mummy the riot act and despite our protests the gun was a toy and entirely plastic, they insisted it could be used as a gun!
Plastic toy gun confiscated, the Policiers took Mummy away and took a photo of her and her passport and cautioned her that she was going to be added to the French Anti-Terrorism Register. Mummy was aghast! I was in hysterics laughing! Lily-Belle was in floods of tears!
8. TATTOO THE KIDS, DON’T BRAND THEM
If you’re travelling through a busy airport, the last thing you need is for one of the sprogs to disappear, what a holiday-breaker that would be, right? If you’re like us, you’re constantly on ‘child watch’ when travelling through airports, ferry ports, shopping centres etc, basically every waking minute of every day regardless of whether or not you are on, or going on, a holiday…child watch.
Now, we’re not asking you to brand your child with a red hot poker, or take them to a tattoo parlour and have a permanent inking done, definitely not, but what you can do is use a Tyvek paper wristband (the type used at event and concerts) and write your child’s name, date of birth, any allergies and the names and phone numbers of Mummy and Daddy, pop it on their wrist and that way if they do go AWOL, it should be straight forward getting them reunited with you. Make sure your mobile is fully charged.
9. TECH, GADGETS AND GIZMOS
When travelling abroad, we also use a smart gps child locator, a simple device that we attach to the children’s clothing, and should the unthinkable happen, with the use of a smartphone, we can see exactly where our weary wanderer is and we can also activate an audible alarm on the device. We don’t recommend bluetooth locators as these have a very limited range. We always take a laptop and a tablet with 3G + WiFi capability (handy if you’re out and about).
Capturing memories is what hlidays are all about, so remember to take a camera. In our bag is a Nikon D3200 DSLR for good stuff and a couple of Vtech Kiddizooms for the girls as this encourages them to engage in their surroundings, ok, so you might get 200 photos of knees and pavement, but you will be surprised at some of the great photos children take.
We also have our latest smart phones (iphone and samsung) which are waterproof, although we have yet to try out this function…too scared! We never go on holiday, whether UK, Ireland or abroad; without a carbon monoxide detector and spare batteries, this device could well be your life saver.
tip: don’t forget to take spare batteries, chargers and plug adapters
10. ONLINE STORAGE FOR PHOTOS
You are having the time of your life on holiday, captured lots of great memories on that snazzy new camera, but in the blink of an eye, the memory card is full, and you only have one with you, what do you do? We have spent many a night deleting as many of the ‘not so important’ photos as we can, and still haven’t had enough memory to finish the holiday. It’s not the end of the world.
Now we take 4 x 64gb Sandisk cards for the DSLR, and we also take a memory card reader for transfer to the laptop at the end of each evening. There are loads and loads of online companies for uploading and storing pictures, we use SmugMug and Dropbox, very simple interface and really easy to use and share files, what more could you want, need or ask for?
11. FIRST AID KIT AND MEDICINE
Accidents happen, and if you have children, you already know these accidents can be anything from an easily treated grazed knee to a full on medical emergency. We’re not saying you will be able to remove that Lego brick from your little Angel’s nose, but try to be as prepared as you can be with a basic first aid kit.
As a First Aider (St John trained) I am pretty adept at dealing with most accidents. I always carry a travel first aid kit in the car, or when going on holiday. Basic things like plasters, bandages, gauze, scissors, a thermometer, antihistamine for stings/bites, children’s paracetamol (Calpol), sterilising wipes, hand sanitiser, disposable tissues.
tip: always take medicines such as inhalers, calpol and allergy medicines in your take-on bag.
12. SMART CLOBBER
It’s the middle of December and your Australian holiday was a blast, but it’s time to return home to the UK. You may look Uber-cool in your shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops standing at the holiday airport when it is 37oC outside, but you soon realise you’ve made a fashion faux pas when the kids are screaming how cold they are before the plane has even left the runway, plus, you land in the UK and it’s the middle of Winter with sleet and rain hitting you horizontally. Dress accordingly for the destination, or keep a set of clothes handy so you can change if need be.
13. ALWAYS DOUBLE UP
Before we leave the house, we always take up-to-date photos of ourselves and scan our travel documents. Travel documents such as passports, insurance, EHIC, booking information (for hotels, ferries, trains, flights etc), boarding passes etc. We then email them to ourselves so we can access them abroad if need be. Plus we email them to Nana and Granda (aka Mummy’s Mum and Dad). You just never know. If you’re thinking it’s a bit weird taking photos of yourself and emailing them to yourself…it’s ok, we do too. Should we get kidnapped or get lost in the desert (without a hat), at least we can be identified.
14. EHIC ISN’T A SCRABBLE WORD
A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows you to receive state healthcare in other EEA countries. In Switzerland EHIC gives treatment at a reduced cost or occasionally free. An EHIC does not replace your travel insurance, which you should always have when travelling. Do you really want a hefty hospital bill to remove that piece of Lego from your little Angel’s nose? Make it a priority to get a EHIC and Insurance before you travel. If you already have both in place, make sure they are in date.
tip: some sites will try to charge you a fee for an EHIC. If you apply for your EHIC direct from the Government website, it’s free. www.gov.uk/european-health-insurance-card – I was extremely grateful for my EHIC during our recent family holiday to Spiaggia e Mare Holiday Park when I became a running-buffet for mosquitoes.
tip tip: ALWAYS purchase your travel insurance the same day you book your holiday, if you don’t and something happens in between booking and your departure date, you won’t be covered.
Read why I was grateful for my EHIC card in Spiaggia e Mare Holiday Park
15. MONEY DOSH WONGA MOOLA
You’ve put in extra hours at work and cut back on the takeaways and nights out. You now have a tidy sum stashed away. Make the most of your money by getting the best currency exchange and avoiding hidden bank charges. Do your research and shop around, we normally use Uncle Google to search for the best rates. Sometimes rates go up, sometimes rates go down. The minute you book your holiday, start checking the exchange rates regularly. It may pay dividends to get your currency earlier rather than later.
When we travel we take a certain amount of currency, and we each (adults) take a debit card, a credit card and also a preloaded credit card which we hold with FairFX. The credit cards are there in case of an absolute emergency. Lily-Belle and Matilda always get holiday spending money from Nana and Granda, and also from Mummy and Daddy, so we give them a daily allowance and we also load up a goHenry card for Lily-Belle, just to give her a little independence.
Be careful using cards abroad. If you pay using your card, let’s say a restaurant bill, never let the card out of your site. Always check you’ve been given your own card back after paying, don’t fall for the ol’ card switcheroo trick.
tip: don’t forget to notify your bank of your travel dates and countries you will be travelling to.
16. KEEP EVERYONE HAPPY
Whenever we are away with the children, first and foremost, the holiday is for them. It’s about making the holiday as memorable as it can be. In years to come we hope they look back and think, ‘I’d like to do that with my own family’. But no matter how many activities you plan, it’s inevitable that there will be tears and tantrums during your holiday. If you don’t get tears and tantrums, what medication are you giving your children?
This year in Italy, some days Matilda refused point blank to eat her dinner until she had eaten an ice-cream. At home that would be a big no-no, but on holiday, rules are relaxed a little. If it stops a 3 year old throwing a wobbler in a restaurant, then I’m happy to let her do the dessert-dinner reversal. A holiday is about give and take, it’s about compromise, it’s about spending time together as a family.
tip: give the children options, include them in the plans and allow them decide what they want to do. You may be interested in day out at the local ploughing championships, but are they?
17. JOT IT DOWN
Get the children a journal. Encourage them to draw pictures, write lists of the things they see or the new things they taste. They could also ask their ‘holiday friends’ to write a small message inside the journal. Most hotels hand out free mini-maps of places you can visit nearby, these maps are great for the children. Often it’s better to give a child something visual that they can see/do rather than trying to explain it. You could take extra maps for the children to cut up and stick cuttings into their journals.
If you are encountering different languages on your travels, write in lists of new words learned. It’s amazing how quickly children pick up languages, their little heads are like sponges. We bought Lily-Belle and Matilda a personalised diary/journal from Little Box Gifts. From placing our order to delivery a mere 72 hours, excellent.
18. LASTLY…DON’T DO A MACAULAY CULKIN
Have you forgotten something? You’ve driven 20 miles and t’s so quiet in the back of the car, the children must be asleep right…wrong! Didn’t you do a head count before you left? You’re already running late and now you have to go back and gather your Posse. Are you sure you’re going to make that flight or ferry?
Conundrum…should you just leave the kids alone to fend for themselves? It’d be so much fun to head off and enjoy quality time alone with your other half? Admit it, you considered it before deciding it’s not worth the paperwork when you get back home. Rest assured if you do leave them, the Police, and Social Services, will be waiting for you when you return.
In all seriousness, do a head count, don’t ask the kids to get in the car and buckle up themselves. Stand at the car and count them as they climb in. and count them again before you set off. It’s much better to be safe than sorry. Don’t worry, you and your other half will have a holiday on your own very soon. Pop…sorry, that’s the sound of your bubble bursting. Not a chance is that going to happen when you have children.
These tips and essentials may or may not work for you, but they work for us. Travelling with children can be daunting, and also great fun. The key to travelling with children is to be well prepared and keep everyone involved. If you are rushing, as we (always) often are, things will more than likely go wrong. On the other hand, if you prep well and take your time, chances are, everything will go swimmingly. Always remember the most important thing is to…
ENJOY YOUR HOLIDAY!
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