20 Hacks for Smooth Family Travel

Nothing is ever going to stop me wanting to travel and explore the world with my family. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret*: my dream is to pack up everything in a van and head off into the distance and see where we get to (this is my kinda porn.) Here’s how I first got the ‘bug’ and my craziness enthusiasm since then has seen us explore Angkor Wat with a two year old and eight month old (and pretty much have it all to ourselves), spend a night on a canal boat, go camping and to festivals with every adventure bringing new learnings and lessons along the way. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I love going on adventures as a family – it’s such a rich learning experience that is ever evolving and getting it ‘right’ is a complex formula of powdered milk and power strips. There’s a lot of trial and error when it comes to what works and I get a fair few questions on all sorts of travel issues so I thought I’d do a post detailing some simple hacks we’ve learnt along the way. Strap in, here goes:

1. Hack your headspace and adjust your mindset
What I mean by that is that if you’re looking for a ‘holiday’, this ain’t it. Get your expectations right in the first place: it will be challenging, it will take you outside of your comfort zone and to be honest, it won’t be all that relaxing. Travelling with kids and taking yourselves out of your day to day life can be bloomin’ hard work.

2. Control your emotions (& take a deep breath)
This is a weird one but it’s something I try really hard to do. Emotions can ride high when for example you’re stuck in a sweltering, dark car rental car park trying to fit a car seat with two crying toddlers and sweat dripping down your back. Arguments with your OH is the last thing you need so we have a rule: we try to say only positive things, or at least re frame something negative. For example, “we can probably make it to the next street before running out of petrol – wahey” as opposed to “how did you forget we needed more petrol?”

3. Give each other a break
We have found that giving each other ‘time out’ without looking after the small people is hugely beneficial. Let the other person have a lie in, a stroll child -free in the local town or just go for a solo beer. (NB this rule applies for real life too). You’ll come back more refreshed – and more ready to change a pooey nappy – than ever.

4. Embrace the journey
I like airports, there I said it. Robert Louis Stevenson had it down when he wrote “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” Just leave yourself plenty of time, seek out any Stay and Play areas, stock up on snacks or ideally, a proper meal and let them go wild riding up and down on the escalators as you watch them squeal with joy.

5. Check in on local timings
By this I mean, check what time things *happen*; what time the sun sets (this can drastically affect how much travel you do in one day), what time people eat dinner and what time shops close – there’s nothing less fun than dining on biscuits and crisps on your first night because everywhere is closed.

6. If you are driving, do not rely on a mobile phone for directions
Don’t rely on it having signal or enough battery. Get a proper road map and ideally locate everywhere you are going before you leave home. If you are using your phone, get a car charger and a mount to hold your phone on the windscreen and make sure you have downloaded the contact phone numbers and full directions to wherever you are going before you set off.

7. Hanger is real
Sometimes I wonder why we are a little cranky and realise we’ve not eaten yet and need to get food into everyones’ systems. So we carry food and water on us wherever we go and I’d also recommend taking some heartier supplies – we always bring weetabix, some ready meals and a jar of peanut butter from home and pick up bananas and bread once we arrive.

8. Relax on the routine
We’re already very lax on timings of things but I think when you go travelling, it is even more important to go with the flow and not worry too much about timings. Eat when everyone’s hungry, let them sleep when they’re tired. It may not come immediately but I guarantee that your little ones will develop a *new* routine of sorts on your trip. Whether it comes to nap time, bed time or meals, relax on the routine / vegetable intake and go with the flow. If they eat pasta every day for 2 weeks it’s not the end of the world.

9. Don’t take a full suitcase
This hack is probably the simplest to grasp but is actually one of the hardest to achieve and has taken me a long time to master. When we went to South East Asia with only backpacks, I was extremely selective about what I took and consequently, I took only bare minimum items, I lost nothing, used everything to its full capacity and really knew my belongings well. Unless you are really going somewhere very remote, nappies, dummies and wet wipes if you use them are all pretty available. You can really find everything you need abroad albeit in a slightly different variation.

10. Always pack an empty water bottle
Not having enough water freaks me out when travelling with children, especially of course in the heat. If I hear Jack ask for water and I don’t have any,  I genuinely feel awful. To prevent this, whenever we travel we always take a large Eddy camelpak – it’s perfect for getting through airports with (tell them the water is for the children and you should be fine), and then once you get to your destination, carry it around everywhere and fill it up at any available moment. This is particurarly good one if you’re doing a roadtrip

11. Focus on slow eating foods
This one sounds stupid but I assure you it’s a winner. And no, not slow-digesting, slow-eating – essentially, any item that takes a child a decent amount of time to consume. Apples and corn on the cobs are particular favourite, as well as carrots and popcorn (“one piece at a time”).

12. Forget the baby monitor
Don’t worry about bringing a monitor away with you. If you’re fortunate to have a set up whereby you might be able to nip out in the evening for a quick bite (say, if your room is on top of a pub), there are a whole host of apps you can use instead of baby monitors. We have used Dormi or isitter .

13. Treat them to a new toy
Our kids play alone really well with their toys and of course we bring a few along, but there’s a limit. So we always just tend to pick up a cheap truck or puzzle when we’re travelling which go down a treat.

14.  Learn the art of slow travel
By this I mean that whatever you were hoping to do, half that, then half that again. We find that doing ONE THING (with one kid, it was one thing in the morning and one thing in the early evening but we’ve cut it down!) a day with some down time back at your base is perfect. I have long let go of what I remember from traveling pre kids, and whilst we may have a list of activities we’d *like* to do, there is no itinerary of any sorts. Instead we tend to structure everything about meal times (see earlier point re hanger) and as much as possible, be our own guides.

15. Always buggy up
To buggy or not to buggy; the eternal question. Let them walk? Baby carrier? Dad’s shoulders? We’ve weighed up all the options and ultimately always reach the same conclusion: we need a buggy. But we need a small, nifty one (which isn’t necessarily the same one I want when at home). We’ve recently discovered the Baby Jogger City Tour which seems ridiculously sturdy but also super compact. Usually the fold away buggies are pretty flimsy but this one isn’t at all and is super easy to nip about in and manoeuvre around. The coolest thing about it is that it packs away into a backpack style carry bag which leaves you hands free and you can take it on the plane (we haven’t done that yet but you could).

16. Play to your strengths as a couple
For example, Sam is always the one who drives whilst I tend to be the one that prepares the kids food. You know what you’re good at – so embrace it and don’t necessarily use traveling as a time to experiment. It might not be pretty.

17. Embrace the shit shows and the ‘failures’
Things will go ‘wrong’ but we all know that the best ‘experiences’ are the ones that are unplanned and happen as a result of something else. So go with the flow and be flexible – plans will change – and it will work out for the better, I promise you. (I mean there will be times when you’re lost, it’s 11pm at night and you can’t see a thing whilst driving down dirt tracks that end in boggy marshland and have a starving screaming toddler in the backseat, a desperate Air b n b host trying to contact you, and things do seem *pretty* stressful like they did here – then you do just gotta give up).

18. Identify other children around you
It’s amazing how much help other peoples’ children can be (the non-screaming ones.) If you haven’t noticed, most kids love other kids so whenver I see another child, I basically pounce on them and force them to interact with my child. Use everyone else around you!

19. Power strip
These days, we seem to travel with a fair few electricals so instead of stressing about adaptors (or more likely, leaving them behind in the walls), we just take a whole power strip away for the whole family. On the tech note, remember car USB chargers – phone batteries always seem to run out just when you need directions somewhere.

20. Avoid the beaten track
Although safety is always the number one priority, we avoid anywhere that has a ‘well trodden path’ precisely because well, more often than not it will be just that – well trodden and packed with tourists. For our whole time in Cambodia and Vietnam we had 1 pre-planned planned activity and that was enough. The rest we sorted once out there. So forget the box ticking and go down your own path. As Dr Johnson said “nothing is more hopeless than a scheme for merriment”.

So those are my nuggets of advice for traveling. There might be the occasional tear, but I assure you, you will feel more alive than you’ve ever felt. Your soul will fly high, higher than it’s ever flown and here will be moments where your insides are smiling. You will journey deep into your soul, reconnect with yourself and your family, and grow as a person. In short, it’s the best therapy out there and will catapult you a million miles away from bleary-eyed mornings spent scrubbing weetabix off highchairs. Dan Kieran, author of The Idle Traveller puts it perfectly: “When travel takes us out of a predictable routine we become more aware because our conscious mind has been activated to deal with the new things we’re experiencing [….] This could explain why people seem to find themselves when they are travelling, because they are more conscious of the experience of being alive when they are journeying in new and exciting ways. Being in alien places and cultures will inevitably result in an increased connection wth yourself because its these new situations that wakes your consciousness. You’ve turned off the unconscious autopilot that runs your normal life and started to take conscious control.” Right now I could not be more excited to travel and to challenge ourselves and find different ways of looking at the world; to let go of what we know, to live in the moment and go slow – and embrace the inevitable shit shows (probably some quite literal) that we come up against along the way. It’ll be worth it.

Have you been away travelling with your little one(s)? Got any tips to share? Recommendations of places to visit? 

Emma xx

P.S Flying Long Haul with a toddler and Backpacking with a Baby


This post is sponsored by Baby Jogger whose buggy I hugely recommend. For more information, head to http://www.babyjogger.co.uk/. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Mamalina – without them, this blog wouldn’t be possible.

* only my husband really knows about it – and he hears about it a lot!


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