Your first trip
as a family
Do you remember your family holidays as a child? We might underestimate it when we’re young, but going on holiday is a rare opportunity to escape our routines, unwind and spend time together. Long after we’ve left the shores or slopes, the memories of a family holiday stick with us. However you choose to spend your holidays, when you’re older and have your own children, you really begin to value the chance to connect with your loved ones.
But that’s not to say travelling as a family is smooth sailing. Young children will have their moments. As a parent, the best thing you can do is to prepare. In this guide, we’ll provide practical tips for taking babies and young children on holiday – from what to pack, to some great destination recommendations and advice on how to plan safe activities for all.
Reasons to travel while your family is young
Weekends are short. Weeks are full of work, school and other activities. A holiday is your chance to bond as a family without distractions. In fact, one survey, reported by the Independent, found that British parents spend less than half an hour a day of quality time with their children. “Connecting with your child or children is difficult when we all lead such busy lives,” said Chris Clover, head of marketing for Panini Adrenalyn XL, which commissioned the survey.
A holiday is a chance to spend so much more quality time with your children than you’ll normally get day-to-day. But that’s not the only benefit:
Travelling as a family – COVID-19 considerations
Travelling in 2020 may feel uncertain. But it’s also clear COVID-19 may influence travel beyond this year. Without a doubt, there’s still a demand to travel, albeit with an increased emphasis on safety. The best thing you can do is be aware of the situation so that you can make the right decision for your family. If and when you decide to travel, the following advice may help you navigate the nature of travel since it has been impacted by COVID-19:
Stay up to date with travel restrictions
Travel recommendations do change, due to changes in infection rates and the associated risk. So you may need to be flexible. The government has a list of countries which you can travel to without the need to quarantine for 14 days when you return. They are referred to as travel corridors.
The list is regularly assessed and countries may be added or removed. The best thing you can do is to stay up to date. You can even sign up for email alerts to be notified when anything changes.
Speak to your doctor
Before travelling, you’ll want to know everyone’s risk. Doctors will still advise against travel for people with certain medical conditions, so speak to them about any risk factors or safety precautions to take. Check your family is up to date on vaccinations too.
Choose your location wisely
Not only should you avoid COVID-19 hotspots, but you may want to steer clear of more crowded destinations such as cities. On May 12th, the World Health Organization (WHO) advised governments that before reopening, rates of positivity in testing should remain at 5% or lower for at least 14 days. In other words, out of the tests conducted, less than 5% should come back positive. Experts agree this creates a safer environment. You can use this as your own guide for choosing a destination.
Pack pandemic essentials
On top of the already extensive packing list for families going on holiday, you’ll also need pandemic essentials. These include:
Face masks for everyone
Plan appropriate activities
Holidays will be slightly different for some time. It’s likely indoor activities will have greater restrictions and you’ll definitely have to book ahead for most things. Plan ahead and think of activities your family could do. Spending time outdoors at the beach or beside the pool is always a good idea.
Looking after babies and young children
Advice for travelling by plane, car, or train
Young kids can get car sick. They can struggle with warmer temperatures or get bored easily on long journeys. Travelling with a baby? It doesn't get any easier as they may cry throughout your whole flight headed to destination summer. So, unsurprisingly travelling from one place to another can be one of the biggest worries for parents – but all challenges can be overcome.
Unsurprisingly, convenience is the driving force for most families’ travel decisions. According to one survey, 52% of families choose their transport because it’s the fastest option, and 34% choose it because it’s the lowest cost. Planes and cars are the preferred modes of transport, but trains are slowly becoming a more popular way of travelling – especially if you see the journey as part of the holiday. We take a look at all three:
Most airlines require your baby to be 14 days or older before they can fly. Between 14 days old and two years old, they will probably fly for free (without a seat). This means they’ll have to sit in your lap for the entire journey – so you may choose to book them a seat. You then need to use an airline-approved car seat to sit them in their own space, as it’s not safe for them to sit in a normal seat. You can bring your own car seat, or reserve one from the airline ahead of time.
A car seat would be recommended for long flights, but they may need to sit on your lap for take-off and landing. They also shouldn’t sit in it for longer than two hours. Always check with the airline you book with for their requirements on using car seats, as well as recommendations for travelling with babies.
If you would like to use the car seat on the flight, you need to pay for a seat. And to be used on the flight, typically the car seat must:
- Be designed to be secured by means of a lap belt
- Have a restraining harness (some require a five-point harness)
- Not exceed the dimensions of the aircraft seat
- Remain secured to the airplane seat at all times during the flight
- Must not require the use of a three-point harness to secure it to the aircraft seat
You might also choose to take a baby carrier with you so you have two hands free through the airport, as well as something to take to places where a pushchair may be impractical (beaches, for example). Wearing a baby carrier can also allow for discreet breastfeeding on the plane.
Once you have sorted your seating, you’ll also have to consider the actual flight. To keep babies and children comfortable, think about the following.
Travelling by car
Whether you’re taking your own car or hiring one abroad, you’ll have similar challenges when driving for hours with children. First things first, they need a secure, safe seat.
You need to find out what the country’s rules and regulations are for baby seats and booster seats for kids in cars. The type of car seat you need will depend on the age of your baby or child. If they’re required, your car rental agency may be able to provide one for you. But always check what safety standards they comply with.
In all countries within the European Union you can use a UK car seat as long as it’s approved to ECE R44.04 or UN R129. These are the safety standards car seats are rated against, and you’ll be able to find information on your car seat’s label.
If the country doesn’t require them, or the car rental agency doesn’t supply them, you’ll need to bring your own. If you’re flying with a child, you’re typically allowed to bring a stroller, a basket carrier or a car seat for free as checked baggage. But you may need to pay if you need more than one.
If you’re planning on driving your own car abroad, make sure your insurance covers you. You’ll also need to check any regulations in the country or countries you’re travelling to or through. For example, France requires you to travel with your own breathalyser in the car at all times, and most European countries require you to have a warning triangle and headlamp beam deflectors, depending on your car. Find out more about driving in EU countries from the RAC.
Travelling by train
It’s not the obvious choice for most family holidays – especially if you only have a short window of time. But if you’re able to go on holiday for a week or two, spending a day or so travelling by train isn’t a bad choice. It can form part of the journey.
That’s not to say you need to spend that long on board though – from the UK, you can reach many European destinations within a couple of hours. You can also get discounts for travelling as a family or opt for a sleeper train (not available on the Eurostar). For other journeys, make sure you pack a blanket and a travel pillow for the kids so they can sleep if needed.
Because you’re not restricted with baggage limits, you can afford to take a little more luggage with you on the train – but remember you’ve still got to carry it all. It’s worth wearing layers, though, as train temperatures are a bit unpredictable. Other packing recommendations include sticky window shades (similar to what you’d use in a car) to provide protection from the sun, colouring books for easy entertainment, and some food.
Packing the essentials
It’s pretty hard to pack light when you’re travelling with children. It’s a bit of a balancing act between lugging a lot of stuff with you and forgetting something essential – especially when leaving a favourite toy behind can lead to a meltdown.
Figure out what baby gear you can’t do without and check what’ll be available at your destination (for example, high chairs). This can save you taking too much.
Of course, every family will have slightly different needs. It’ll also vary depending on whether you’re staying in a hotel or going self-catered. Remember you can also buy lots of things at your destinations (for example, toiletries). But it’s good to have a general checklist to get you started.
We've put together a checklist for you to think about what you and your family might need:
Essential Personal Items
|Travel insurance confirmation|
|Photo ID for adults|
|Cash (a small amount of UK money and your destination’s currency)|
|Any visa documentation|
|Medical insurance cards (EHIC)|
|Any booking passes, reservations or other travel tickets (on your phone and printed copies)|
|Credit or debit cards|
|Any car hire documents and your driving licence|
Clothes and accessories
In addition to all the clothes you’d like to wear, remember:
The importance of a medical kit
Accidents can happen. Having the essentials to hand can provide you with peace of mind, so that you can act quickly if your children have minor injuries or feel unwell. It can be hard to find the right medicines in another country; taking your own familiar supplies is a smart move. For example, if your children are used to British Calpol, you might struggle to find something with a similar flavour elsewhere.
In your medical kit, you could include:
When children hurt themselves or fall ill, it can be stressful. You want to make the experience as similar to home as possible. Having supplies can also save you hunting down a pharmacy or having to try and get a prescription.
But you should also know the nearest hospital and the country’s emergency medical number – just in case.
Tips for staying healthy abroad
A note on medical conditions
If your child has a medical condition, you can get identity bracelets which include information on the condition, treatment and doctor's contact details. It can be invaluable in the case of an emergency. MedicAlert is one provider.
You can also get similar cards if your child has an allergy. Allergy UK produces cards in 27 different languages, so that other people know what your child is allergic to and how serious the allergy is.
Eating and drinking abroad
Some people may suffer with stomach complaints on holiday. But this can typically be avoided. Most places you’ll travel to for a family holiday will have good sanitation. Generally, tap water from EU countries, USA, New Zealand, Australia and Canada is safe to drink because it’s been treated and it’s unlikely to make you feel unwell.
If you don’t want to take any risks, then you can buy bottled water – just remember tap water will be used in ice cubes and you’ll be brushing your teeth with tap water unless you choose otherwise. You should use bottled water in countries where mains-treated water isn’t available.
When you’re looking for places to eat, online reviews are a good place to start. You should be able to easily find reputable restaurants. Or try asking some of the locals. If you’d like to try local food vendors or street food, though, definitely try to follow where the locals go. And once again, make sure it’s fresh.
If you do find you or any of your family get a mildly upset stomach, you’ll need to rest and drink plenty of water.
Washing your hands
As the coronavirus pandemic has taught us, it’s important to look after personal hygiene – that includes the whole family washing their hands properly. Your kids are probably experts at this by now, but it’s useful to remind families how long you should be washing your hands for. The NHS recommend washing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Washing your hands properly makes sure you’re removing all the dirt, viruses and bacteria. It helps to stop them spreading. Kids tend to be the worst at touching loads of things – so you really have to be on top of reminding them.
According to the NHS, you need to wash your hands:
- After using the toilet or changing a nappy
- Before and after handling raw food like meat and vegetables
- Before eating or handling food
- After blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After touching animals, including pets, their food and after cleaning their cages
Of course you’ll want to spend time in the sun on holiday. But you have to be careful, as sunburn and heat stroke are dangerous risks – especially for children. Stanford Children’s Health recommends following the A, B, Cs of sun safety.
Stay away from the sun in the middle of the day. This is when the sun’s rays are the most damaging. You’ll often see locals seeking the shade around 11am to 3pm as it’s the wisest thing to do to avoid the heat. It’s also the perfect time for a leisurely lunch under the shade of an awning or umbrella.
Block the sun’s rays with a SPF 30 or higher sunscreen. Apply the lotion 30 minutes before going outside (yes, every time you go outside) and reapply it often during the day – particularly after swimming. Use broad spectrum sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB rays. And don’t forget to apply it to areas like the ears or scalp.
Cover up with protective clothing, such as a long sleeve t-shirt and hat when in the sun. Use clothing with a tight weave to keep out as much sunlight as possible, but looser fitting clothes will probably be more comfortable in the heat. Sunglasses and hats with brims are important.
You should also be drinking water (and encouraging your family to drink regularly) when spending any time in the sun. And remember that UV rays can travel through clouds and fog. Even when it seems overcast, you could be exposed to the sun, so don’t take any risks.
Babies are at increased risk of sun exposure, so never leave pushchairs in direct sunlight and always take a sun shade if you’re going to be spending lots of time outside – at the beach, for example. Keeping children in the shade regularly is the best way of protecting them.
A note on vaccinations
Travel vaccinations are an important part of staying safe while travelling – for both adults and children. In the UK, there is a vaccination schedule for children provided by the NHS. Every child is given a personal child health record (PCHR) at birth, commonly known as the “red book”, which documents important health records such as vaccinations.
The schedule does provide initial protection for some common travel diseases (including polio, tetanus and meningitis). But the standard routine doesn’t protect against other diseases found elsewhere in the world. It will depend on where you’re travelling to, but it’s down to you to find out if you and your children need additional vaccinations.
Ideally, you should book a doctor’s appointment 6-8 weeks before you’re due to travel. You can check your child’s routine immunisations are up to date, and find out whether they require extra vaccines before travelling. Additional vaccinations could include protection against the following diseases which aren’t present in the UK:
- Yellow fever
- Hepatitis A
- Tick-borne encephalitis
- Japanese encephalitis
It’s worth noting that there may be age limitations to some travel vaccinations – mainly for children under 18 months. This could influence your choice of holiday location. But if you are planning to travel to a country where there is a vaccine-preventable disease, always discuss your options with a health care provider.
Additional advice for travelling with children
You may be travelling with children who have different surnames to you – for example, if you’ve separated from their other parent or if they are your grandchildren. In that case, you may want to bring extra documents with you in the event that you need to establish your relationship with them. This could include:
|A copy of a birth or adoption certificate|
|A copy of a divorce or marriage certificate if you are a parent with a different surname|
|A letter of consent from one or both of the child’s parents, giving written consent for them to travel with you|
If you don’t have permission from the other people with parental responsibility, you’d have to apply to a court for permission. You can find more information on getting permission to take a child abroad on gov.uk.
It’s worth noting that some countries have their own requirements for children travelling without their parent(s). The USA is a notable one. If children or teenagers are only travelling with one parent or guardian, you are required to have a notarised consent letter from the other parent or guardian. If you have sole custody, you would need to provide proof of this.
Practical tips for booking
a family holiday
Taking young children on holiday is a different challenge than other family members – for example, teenagers or grandparents. Depending on their age, children may find it hard to sit still for any length of time and babies may need to sleep throughout the day. This means you’ll have to take the day at a much slower pace in general, being realistic about how much can be achieved with little ones in tow. In short, there’s a lot to think about when booking the right family holiday.
Destination recommendations for babies and young children
You can take your family wherever you fancy. But there are some destinations which are particularly suited to family holidays. Some of our favourites include:
The Algarve, Portugal
Geared towards family breaks, Portugal is only a couple of hours away from the UK by air. As a short-haul destination, it’s got great weather throughout spring and summer and a beautiful coastline for families who love the beach.
Home to loads of family-friendly resorts, Tenerife is a destination hotspot when it comes to getaways with the kids! The volcanic black-sand beaches are perfect for a holiday any time of the year.
South of France
As long as you stay away from the more pricey locations like Monaco and Cannes, the South of France is an affordable family holiday. You’ll find plenty of camping and campervan resorts geared towards families with great pool facilities and kids’ clubs.
A holiday hotspot with plenty of charm. You can stay in pretty luxurious resorts with family rooms, and you only have to head a short drive away to find charming villages with fantastic views and local food. Try a glass-bottomed boat tour for something all the family can enjoy.
Another budget-friendly location just a few hours by plane from the UK, it’s no surprise Majorca is a hit with families. With plenty of accommodation options available, there’s also a lot to see and do, including Pollença Old Town, Palma Aquarium and adventure play parks.
Thanks to Turkey’s family-oriented culture, most parts of the country are great for family holidays. But if you fancy something a bit quieter, the southwesternmost shore, often called ‘the Turquoise Coast’, is a good choice. Hotels and restaurants are predominantly family-owned and it’s a bit quieter. It’s perfect for nature-loving families.
These are just a handful of suggestions. With a bit of research, you can find the perfect destination for your family.
Self-catering vs. hotel accommodation
When deciding where to stay, you have two main choices: a hotel or self-catered accommodation. Both have their pros and cons. It could all depend on the type of holiday you’re after, and you may find your needs change as your children get older.
|Typically well-located with extensive facilities and staff on hand to advise||Less privacy|
|Supervised childcare options||Limited freedom of when to eat|
|Additional equipment for children – cots, high chairs and so on||The temptation to stay in the resort and not explore the local area|
|Can be easier to budget, as most costs are known upfront||Evening entertainment|
|Cleaning and cooking done for you|
|More space than if you just book one room||All cleaning and cooking has to be done by you|
|Flexibility of when and what you can eat – easier for dietary requirements||You will have to check how childproof the space is|
|More immersed in local culture||Harder to budget your costs upfront|
Regardless of where you decide to stay, it needs to be safe. When you arrive, you can do a quick check:
- Look out for anything sharp or exposed
- Check how to secure the windows and doors, especially if you have a balcony
- Make sure the crib or cot is in good condition
- Move anything dangerous out of reach
- Familiarise yourself with the escape routes and locate the fire exit nearest to your room
- Ask questions about childcare on offer (if you’re staying in a hotel)
- Make sure any pools meet legal requirements (for example, in France, pools must have a fence around them)
According to one survey, 95% of family travellers said their priority was keeping their families entertained and happy. 85% also said they prioritise outdoor activities and being near major attractions or theme parks. Some priorities may have changed as a result of coronavirus – for example, it’s likely families will prioritise spending time outside as opposed to visiting attractions which could be busier. But the message remains the same: families want their children to be entertained on holiday. So what are the best activities for families?
You can explore your local area by simply walking, or you could visit nearby towns in a car. Sightseeing is the ultimate flexible activity for families who want to see what’s around without a schedule. You may have to book to visit local landmarks, of course, but otherwise you can explore at your own pace and have plenty of time to stop for breaks with young children. It’s always worth doing a bit of research, though, to see what facilities are available where you’re going (such as toilets and restaurants).
Swimming in pools and at the beach
Spending time at the pool or beach is a holiday highlight for most families. But if you’re spending any time in water with babies and young children, safety is always paramount. Try to take your baby swimming before you go on holiday so you both have experience of safely spending time together in a pool.
According to NHS guidelines, there’s no need to wait until your baby has had their first immunisation, but a lot of baby classes won’t take newborns until they’ve had these injections. Always check with your local pool.
Whether you’re at home or on holiday, Olympic medallist Rebecca Adlington has the following tips to help familiarise your child with the water:
- Keep your baby facing you the first few times
- Hold your baby safely in the cradle position
- Encourage your baby to experience buoyancy
- Get your baby’s face wet
- Get your baby used to their ears being underwater
- Give your baby freedom in the water and play games
- Sing nursery rhymes
Many hotels and resorts have specific pools and fun areas for babies and young children, where they can spend time playing in shallow water with toys and other play equipment.
For older kids, you need to start encouraging them to learn about water safety early on. Being comfortable in and around water can maximise safety, so keep up lessons at home too. The following suggestions are safe habits to encourage:
- Only swimming when there is an adult present (including not playing near water without an adult there)
- Walking around pools, never running
- Never pushing people into water
- Never jumping into water
- Sticking to their swimming abilities
- Following all signs and instructions from lifeguards
If you’re heading to the beach, make sure there are lifeguards present and follow all the instructions. They will have marked out the safe swimming areas with red and yellow flags. This signals the recommended swimming area where you will have lifeguard supervision. Always stay with your children.
Museums and galleries
Older children may dismiss them as boring, but while your children are young, they’ll be fascinated by the strangest things. It can be educational for children, with many tourist destinations selling activity books or offering tours appropriate for families. Or kids may nap through the experience while you get a look around at what you’re interested in.
Zoos and aquariums
The chance to see and potentially interact with animals is always exciting, and it’s another way to engage the curiosity of kids of all ages.
Just make sure you choose your zoos and aquariums responsibly. Look for places which support breeding programmes for endangered species, or where proceeds go to protecting animals still in the wild.
Tips for parents to enjoy their holiday
You don’t just go on holiday for your kids to have a good time. You deserve to be able to relax too. But it turns out that a lot of parents are struggling to enjoy themselves on family holidays. According to these statistics:
of parents with toddlers regret going away at all
of parents said they had not been warned adequately before booking how difficult holidays with toddlers could be
of parents have lied to friends and family about how they enjoyed their family holiday
of parents after their first toddler holiday say they will not bother again until children are older
It paints a bad picture of family holidays. But don’t despair – it’s possible for both children and their parents to have an enjoyable, relaxing holiday. Hopefully the rest of this guide has equipped you with enough information to book a family-friendly holiday – shorter flights, family-friendly accommodation and so on. But there are also some other tips which may help parents enjoy holidays more.
Boundaries and routines on holiday
You might decide to allow your children to have a bit more freedom on holiday, by relaxing rules around bedtime, for example. It’s totally up to you. For some children, sticking to a routine may be ideal. But for other families, relaxing those boundaries may allow everyone a bit more freedom – including the parents. There’s less pressure on you to do a certain number of things by a definite time.
Kids can also take a little bit of time to adjust to a new environment. Having a packed schedule will leave you all a bit exhausted, so always have plenty of breaks throughout the day. After all, holidays should be relaxing. You can return to the routine when you get back home.
Dealing with tantrums
It’s more a case of ‘when’ there’s a tantrum, rather than ‘if’ with toddlers – even on holidays. Any parent has dealt with their fair share of strops, but as a little reminder:
- Stay calm and make sure you and your child are safe
- Try to move to a quiet spot
- Talk to them as they calm down
- Make sure older children understand what’s happened
- Have a hug and move on
Don’t dwell on any holiday tears. And don’t be opposed to certain bribes – iPads can be your best friend in an emergency, as well as sweets and other toys.
You have to be realistic with how much time you’ll get to yourself. If you’re travelling as a couple with children, you may be able to take it in turns to have some time out. It’s unlikely you’ll have much time together as a couple until the kids go to sleep. You are on holiday to have family time, so it’s just about being realistic about what you’ll all enjoy together.