Insider's guide to travelling with kids

By Danielle Wright

Travelling with children can be the best — and worst — of times. Our family travel writer Danielle Wright shares her top tips to set your vacation on a good course.
Don’t bring DVD players in the car; let them experience boredom from time to time, it will make being at the destination even sweeter. Photo / 123RF
Don’t bring DVD players in the car; let them experience boredom from time to time, it will make being at the destination even sweeter. Photo / 123RF

While other mums seemed to effortlessly travel well with their kids, it was something that I had to work really hard on to get right (like pretty much every other aspect of parenting!). Being a family travel writer, though, I had no choice but to persevere until practice made perfect.

I remember back to our first family travel story - a quick road trip to Taupo to write about kids' fishing. There must have been plenty of cherished memories, but all I can remember is the torment of a toddler kicking my back seat and a baby screaming the whole way there. The only thing that would placate our baby girl was me sandwiched in the back between her and her older brother dangling a hair elastic in her hand... for three (long) hours.

Fast-forward a couple of years - and many family trips later - and things look a lot different when we travel. All it takes is a bit of forward planning. I'll come prepared with lavender oil-infused PlayDoh for times I need to relax the kids, snack packs for picnic stops, clipboards with travel bingo for each child and dozens of other ideas ready for the inevitable time when the kids are starting World War III in the back seat.

To save you the trial-and-error that our family went through, here are some other tips I've come across after hundreds of train, bus, ferry and car journeys with my two kids:

1 Even if your children say they don't need the toilet before you leave home, they probably do - make them go anyway.

2 Pit the kids against the adults in travel games to break up the sibling rivalry.

3 Don't bring DVD players in the car; let them experience boredom from time to time, it will make being at the destination even sweeter.

4 Don't fill their every minute with travel activities and games, instead point them towards the scenery you're passing. Have the activities and games ready when things start to go wrong, rather than to fill every minute.

5 Take along a box filled with brochures of where you're heading so the kids can choose a place to visit. After all, it's their holiday, too. On a trip to Queenstown, our children chose a side-trip to Old Cromwell Town to see the sunken buildings they'd read about at school.

6 Plan regular stops at playgrounds along the way for a picnic snack, rather than a desperate dash to an over-priced service station for sugary snacks and begging to borrow the bathroom. Botanic gardens are fantastic places to stop. If they are on the way, the Hamilton Gardens are particularly fun for children.

7 If travelling by boat, seek out anti-nausea treatments that are suitable for the whole family - they work a treat.

8 Bring a frisbee or ball with you in the boot of the car, because it might only be a wide open space you can find in a hurry when the kids need a rest stop.

9 Keep hydrated. Frozen grapes are the perfect snack on the road, and bring travel cups with you so you can save cost by buying a family-sized cold drink rather than multiple small ones.

10 Bring easily transportable food for the picnic, such as Baker's Delight scrolls. You don't want a soggy sandwich, but you don't want to have to spend a fortune at a tourist cafe for a stale sandwich either.

11 It might sound like cheating, but if you're camping with very small children, see if the local camping shop can rent you a large tent and put it up before you arrive or ask if the campground staff can help out. You don't want to be trying to help with erecting a tent while your baby is crawling off. Make life easy for yourself until the kids are older and they will enjoy helping.

12 Add lots of animal adventures into the itinerary. Zoos, llama treks, stingray feeding sessions, farm stays, dog sledding - you name it. Any time spent with animals can really relax kids who might be feeling out of their comfort zone.

13 Bring books you don't want to take home with you. Leave them with your host or at the campground so you can have room for souvenirs or new books for the journey home. The same goes for toys: if it's too good to lose, leave it at home.

14 Buy your children mini-suitcases and they will love to wheel them around, saving your arms and giving them responsibility. Write a checklist of items they need to pack or risk them arriving with just their pillow from home in the case.

15 Visit the local library and find out what kids activities are on in town while you're there. You'll also be able to get genuine tips on cool things to do with the kids in town away from the crowds.

16 Give the kids a scrapbook for writing, drawing and collecting memorabilia from their trip to create their own travel journal.

17 In nature, items such as binoculars, microscopes or wind speed measuring tools are great for kids to get involved in the local area.

18 Consider a train, bus or ferry instead of a car when you have young children. It's much more enjoyable playing with them or letting them have a nap on you, than straining your neck in the car or pulling over every half an hour to stop a sibling war.

19 The time it takes to prepare travel activities before you leave home is well worth the investment in time spent harmoniously with the kids on the trip. Some of my favourites are turning a baby wipes container into a Lego station by gluing Lego mat on the top and filling the container with Lego - see if the kids can create a Lego marble run - and a breakfast challenge where the kids thread cereal with a hole in (such as Cheerios) on fishing wire to wear as an edible necklace; an activity and a snack rolled into one. Roadtrip bingo is also easy to make before you go and buys at least half an hour of peace.

20 If the kids have sensory overload, do simple meditation exercises with them. One that can help is listening for the bell on a smartphone alarm until they naturally wind down.

On our family trips, we've stayed in everything from private five-star resorts in Fiji to a little red caboose in Dargaville. It's always just as exciting for the kids, so don't feel you have to splash out on the best all the time. Lots of little trips, rather than long infrequent ones, are the best way to give young children the travel bug.

Wherever you are, remember to wake the kids up one morning to watch the sun rise - that's if they haven't already woken you up first!

Send us your tips for travelling with kids

- NZ Herald

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