15 tips for family travel with children (and infants)

Over the years we have booked hundreds of families on fantastic combination vacations. Along the way we have learnt the tricks to make the whole experience that bit sweeter for the families and a little less stressful. After all, a holiday is a holiday and you want it to start the moment you leave home.

Here are our 15 best tips that will help make your family trips with your children go smoothly. 

Be prepared to be surprised

Family travel with children means that you need to be prepared for the unexpected. There will be a need for bathroom breaks, change of clothes as well as food emergencies at times that are less than ideal.

And this is something we as parents need to allow for. We will of course sometimes be caught off guard but our schedule and everyone’s mindset needs to roll with the events as they unfold.

And, yes, there are a few horrible instances that may be familiar to many. Ear infections together with take-off and landing are not a good combination. Or the time when our youngest son badly cut his foot the day before we left on a 3 week trip including New York, San Francisco, Yosemite and a cruise with Celebrity Cruises.

So yes, things do happen and we do speak from experience. Both personal and from the many (horror) stories and feedback from our customers, especially those traveling with younger kids, over many years.

Booking infant/toddler airplane tickets with or without seat

If you are flying longer distances you need to pay for a seat for your infant or toddler. It will cost you a bit more but it will give you a better experience onboard the flight and also be appreciated by your fellow travelers.

Most airlines today offer discounts up to 90% for children booked without a seat up to the age of 24 months. 

And remember, if you do not have a seat booked your child needs to sit on your lap during the whole trip. Sounds ok? it really is not that fun for long haul flights.

And it is actually quite easy to do a test run at home. Put a 2 hour movie on the TV and place your child on your lap.

If it goes well – great. If not, then maybe you should allow for a seat when you book your flights. The discounts are still quite good. 

And remember, your infant without a seat does not have luggage allowance. You need to book a seat to be given checked luggage allowance. 

A family trip with young kids means looking for discounts and shortcuts

We are all familiar with priority boarding on airplanes and discounts on flight prices but it does not stop there. We all want the best deal possible, as family vacations are expensive.

You should always be on the lookout for discounts on entry prices, fast lanes and priority access when you travel with children. It never hurts to ask and you may be surprised by the answer.

We often fin that we were given a bit of extra attention when we are traveling with kids. For example we were given our own vehicle at the Night Safari in Singapore or offered a free upgrade to a better room at our lodge in Yosemite National Park, or even free upgrade to a fast pass ticket at some theme parks.

Traveling with children can and will open doors. Ask when you check or make your purchases. Look at for 2-for-1 offers, kids-eat-free or similar campaigns.

First aid is your first line of defense

A well put together first aid kit will help in turning a nasty incident into a calm state of healing. 

You probably know from experience that applying all the familiar potions and band aids to ease the pain will help restore calm.

Most of us will pack sterile gauzes, sterile cleansing wipes, a fever reducer and an electrolyte solution to restore lost fluids and minerals.

You know your children best and from knowing them you will know what you need to pack in your first aid kit.

For us we always needed to go heavy on the band aids, disinfectants and elastic bandages as there were few walls and trees that did not need climbing.

When you are out and about it may not be practical to bring the whole first aid kit. A better idea is to bring a lighter version of the first aid kit on all our outings.

Bringing a change of clothes (for you as well)

When your child is a toddler we all tend to bring extra clothes in our hand baggage to cover up for accidents. 

And when you do, remember to put in some extra clothes for yourself as well. 

Accidents do happen and sometimes it is difficult to recover from a child being sick all over your shirt.

When your children get a bit older it still makes sense to bring a change of clothes, especially with active kids in warmer climates.

The good news is that cool looking backpacks will most likely be greeted with enthusiasm by your children.  All of a sudden you have more people to help carry what you need to bring.

Book child meal 

Airplane food may not be a culinary experience and most people complain a bit and then at least pick at it to pass the time.

But one thing is for sure, our children never ever liked the normal adult meals that were served onboard.

But they did like the child meal that is available to order when you book your flights. Be sure to make this request with the airline at the very latest 48 hours before you checkin.

The importance of snacks and water bottles for family travel

It doesn’t matter if we are talking about onboard the airplane, on a long train ride or any other type of long journey on public transportation – bring lots of snacks and bottles of water when traveling with kids as things always take a bit longer than planned.

And it pays to have decent water bottles that you can refill during the day. 

Snacks will save the day and make a great trip better when there is a need for something before or in between meals, or even at a restaurant when some menu options do not make kids happy. How ever hard you try.

Request bassinet for infant

If you are travelling with a baby without a seat you may request a bassinet at the time of booking.

To request a bassinet you need to have

  • have a reservation without a seat
  • meet the age requirement (often up to 9 months)
  • meet the weight and size requirements

The weight requirement varies from one airline to another but around 9 kilos (20 pounds) is quite common. 

The size of the bassinets can also vary but measurements are approximately 75 x 33 x 22 cm (29.5 x 13 x 8.8 inches).

Still, on long flights I recommend that you consider booking a seat to ensure a nice trip because

  • request for bassinet can never be guaranteed and there may be many other families onboard with a baby in need of the same bassinet
  • there is a limited number of bassinets available on any flight

Inform the airline about booster seats, a car seat or a travel stroller onboard as soon as possible

The airline industry is a service industry and the staff will work hard to make you feel welcome and make your family travel experience comfortable.

But, do not surprise the airline staff by showing up with a booster or car seat and a stroller unannounced.

Equipment such as car seats, strollers and ride-on suitcases should be entered into your booking if you are intending to bring them onboard. It will not cost you any extra if within your luggage allowance for your class of ticket, but these items need to be handled separately from regular luggage and the airline needs to know in advance.

Leave it too late then you may be denied taking them onboard, especially if the flight is particularly full.

The stroller will most likely be checked at the gate as you will have no need for it onboard. You will pick it up as you arrive at your destination.

Car seats are very popular to bring onboard but please make sure that your model supports the common across the lap type seatbelts most airlines use.

Some airlines will for safety reasons not permit car seats that need to be secured by a three‑point seat belt or shoulder harness.

If you on the other hand intend to check them in they can often be checked in without being counted as part of the standard baggage allowance – and for free. You can check these items at the ticket counter or at the gate.

Take your time booking and always check in online the day before – or sooner if possible

When you have made a flight booking for family travel, always check the personal information entered before you pay.

We recommend that you always have your (valid) passport with you when making a flight booking. You’d be amazed at how many people forget the spelling of their name, or that they have two middle names.

If we are careful when we book our trip we can avoid mistakes. And we should check in online the day before - or earlier if the airline allows it - as it gives us a final chance to verify that all is correct.

You do not want to find errors at the airport.

Family travel with the kids means that there are many details to pay attention to:

Dates and times 

Customers will go back and forth searching for the best alternative for their trip and then –  finally – book the wrong alternative in the confusion that can follow. Whatch out if you are traveling internationally to a different time zone. The day of arrival can be different to the date of departure, depending upon if you are traveling east or west in the world.

Destination

So you are going to Melbourne, great. Are you booking Melbourne, USA (MLB) or Melbourne, Australia (MEL)? There are countless example of cities around the world that share the same name. Do pay attention and book the correct city as well as airport.

Passenger names

Verify and check spelling against passports. If you have more than 28 characters  in your full name including blank spaces, contact the airline to find out how to enter your names correctly.

Passports valid

Do check and make sure that your passport is valid at least 6 months after your return. And yes, make it a habit and check even if you do not need to enter passport details in the booking.

Visas and entry requirements

Contact a specialist or the country’s embassy to find out what is required for entry as a tourist. Especially since the pandemic started rules and regulations are subject to change at any time.

Seating

Are you seated together and do you have the seating constellation that you want? If you are happy to be allocated any seat then this will not cost you anything and you’ll find out your seat number when you checkin. Most often if will have been preselected by the airlines.

If you have purchased a flight ticket in a price class where you can choose your seat number, do this as soon as possible for the whole family. There is always a risk that you will be spread out on the aircraft if you do not do this. Despite being on the same reservation number.

If you have a budget ticket without seat selection included, consider purchasing the upgrade so that you can choose your seats. If you cannot do this successfully online, ring directly the airline or your travel agent and they will help you.

Baggage allowance

Do you have the correct baggage allowance? Check weight and dimensions as overweight will cost you a fortune at the airport.

Book one great hotel room or cabin, or two connecting

A family vacation means that you will spend more time in your room as children get tired and needs nap times whilst you take the opportunity to relax and rewind.

With this follows that you want a room that is big enough but also functional. 

You want the children to play or sleep but what about you? You surely do not want to be stuck in a corner with headphones and a book.

For us the ideal solution has often been connecting rooms, especially if you have older kids.

But the trick for finding the best solution has however always been to plan ahead and contact the hotel directly. Describe your needs and wants and you will be surprised how helpful they are in recommending rooms with larger bathrooms, smarter floor plans and the like. 

I am not talking about upgrading to a different room category, simply finding the most suitable room in your chosen room category.

And every now and then, we do get a free upgrade. Not often but every time is equally special.

Let the hotel know your needs and wants

Same as with airlines, hotel staff will do what they can to accommodate you but you have to give them the opportunity to prepare.

Do not show up at check in and assume they have an infinite stock of baby cots, bassinets, strollers and car safety seats.

Let them know ahead of time and give them a chance to deliver with excellence when you arrive. 

Plan from leaving home with the intent to travel slow

I cannot stress it enough but your mindset is so important for a successful trip with children.

It actually starts at home the first day of travel. You have already checked in online the day before and now you head to the airport well in time for your flight.

When you arrive at the airport you head over to baggage drop and then it is time to go through security.

The point is that you need to look at each part of the trip including getting to the airport on the day of travel as part of the trip. 

If you do this you can also try to make each part the best it can be. Why should you only start planning for after you arrive at your destination?

Instead plan for all parts of the vacation and plan to travel slow.

When your plans allow for travelling slowly there will be no stress when there are emergency stops for changing clothes, bathroom breaks, etc.

Help make the flight a fun time for your children

You owe it to yourself, you fellow passengers and your children to try to make the flight a fun and interesting part of the holiday.

Do not rely on inflight entertainment systems and coloring books from well meaning flight attendants. This will not be enough.

For the flight to be successful we recommend downloading movies and games to tablets or cellphones. Test before you leave home to ensure it works perfectly.

And make sure that you bring headphones that your child is used to wearing. 

Coloring books, decks of cards and playing “I spy” type games are other popular favorites to pass the time.

And then there is a general principle, do not introduce “new” on an airplane.

No new shoes, headphones, clothes, snacks, etc.. The potential short-lived joy from a successful surprise comes nowhere near the consequences of a disappointing delivery.

On airplanes, and even on a short flight, you want to play favorites with no risk for disappointment. Have your children choose a couple of favorite toys and help pack some of their own travel gear in a small backpack. It will make a long trip to that new destination seem all the more exciting.

Travelling with children helps you make the most of your day

When you travel with young kids you will most likely go to bed and wake up early.

Your family trip with the kids means that you can make the most of an early start and benefit from starting your day before everyone else and beat the crowds.

An early start also helps when we travel to warmer parts of the country or world. When everyone else is sweating it out midday we feel great taking those early mornings activities in the shade, such as a long hikes. If also helps you reset your body clock if you suffer from jet lag.

How to start planning your cruise

If you are still in the planning process and need help deciding on the best cruise for you, these articles will help you along the way.

They are full of good advice and travel tips to help you book the perfect cruise for you and your family:

Our pick – The 6 best family friendly cruise lines

Best Cruise Deals and How To Get Them

British Isles Cruises for the whole family

12 Ways to Make the Most of A Cruise Vacation

Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..