By Andrea Michelle
When you’re going on a holiday with your family you need to expect the unexpected.
It’s likely you’ll see new sights, try different foods, or even meet people who may change your perspective on life.
And it’s also not unlikely you’ll run into some challenges along the way: like food poisoning while on a tiny island in Croatia that requires hospitilisation, being stranded on the tarmac for seven hours after the biggest snow storm New York had seen for years and missing your connecting flights back home, being mugged by gypsies in Barcelona, a baby vomiting all over themselves and you on a plane, stacking it so badly snowboarding in Queenstown that you can barely walk for days and need to cancel the rest of the activities you’d booked and paid for, or your luggage going missing while six months pregnant and on the way to a wedding in The Whitsundays. Yup, all this (and more!) has happened to me over the years while travelling, and I’ve little doubt you’ve got similarly epic travel disasters up your sleeve.
In retrospect we can laugh about those kinds of travel tales, but while you’re in the thick of it, it can be hard to keep your sense of humour. And it can make your feel a little gun shy about planning your next vacation.
But with a bit of prep many things that can turn a holiday into hell can be avoided – or at least alleviated – with a few tips that’ll come in handy whether you’re about to embark on a long haul flight, or are bundling the fam into the car for a road trip.
Ask, ask, ask
Sure you can read up about the place you are heading in travel books or online advice boards – and I’d recommend you do – but you’d be surprised by how much info and insight you can get from your mates or acquaintances. Ask your buddies on Facebook or Instagram if they’ve been where you’re heading and have any tips or advice to share. Chat with the other parents at school drop off, the barista who serves you your daily coffee or even your hairdresser.
If I’d done that before I travelled to Vietnam for instance, I would have known to be wary of eating certain foods at streets stalls and might have avoided a tummy bug that lasted for months. And if I’d not done it before heading to New Zealand we would have missed out on eating at a great child-friendly restaurant that – unlike most – actually served delicious food that we all loved.
Keep track of your kids
Every parent’s nightmare is losing their kids, and I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a different environment, that fear can turn to paranoia. And frankly, I’m ok with that. They’re my greatest and biggest loves, and I’d do anything to keep them safe.
Instead of resorting to a leash for your kids when in large crowds or airports – which is kinda humiliating for them, and is not a cool look for any parent – try a mini stroller with a detachable skate-board on the back if you’ve got another child.
While it may sound daggy, consider dressing your brood in matching bright colours, or buy them the same backpacks so they’ll be easier to spot if they make a run for it. My boys have had bright green matching frog backpacks that they’ve used whenever we go away ever since they were old enough to carry them, and they’ve saved me from being ‘that parent’ screaming out their names in airport terminals more times than I can remember.
Write your phone number inside all of their items (and even on their arm) in case they get separated from you so someone can get in touch.
Don’t write their name on the outside of their bags on tags that are visible to others. That just makes it easier for some weirdo to be able to approach them if they can address your child by their name.
Don’t let them go into bathrooms or petrol stations on their own – if you’ve seen The Vanishing you’ll know why I’m super paranoid about that.
Dressing children in bright, matching clothes or accessories can make them easier to spot in crowds, like I did with mine while visiting a market in Fiji.
Cover your butt
If you’ve ever missed a flight or a connection, lost your luggage or things like cameras or laptops, had to pay excess on a car rental bingle or a smashed up Vespa, become ill, or simply had to change plans while travelling you’ll get why this is so important. And this is one I’ve learnt the hard way.
A recent trip back to Sydney from New York took me about 61 hours door to door instead of the usual 23 due to that epic snow storm I mentioned before. Having missed the onward connection in LA I had to pay for an extra nights accommodation in the City of Angels, plus food and a couple of Bloody Mary’s to help ease the pain. And I had to pay extra to get on the earliest flight back which was essential as I had two little boys waiting to see their Mama, and I was missing them like crazy.
While I did have travel insurance, it turned out not to be of much use in that case. Because when I tried to call the company while at LAX for them to help me out it was impossible to contact them. And once I got back, the red tape and myriad of ‘special clauses’ was overwhelming. After chasing and chasing and becoming more frustrated I eventually gave up. It simply didn’t work for me.
Take the time before your trip to figure out the right cover for you and make sure they’ve got a 24 hour hotline that’ll ensure you can reach them when you need.
If they let you claim emergency Bloody Mary’s, even better.
When you’re on holidays you need to be comfortable, but you wanna look stylish too, right? And as a rule, layers of black in natural fibres are your friend. We’re talking a tank, a t-shirt, maybe a cardigan, a blazer – it’ll make you feel more put together when you’re feeling a bit crusty and exhausted from time on the road – a pair of black jeans or comfy ponte pants, and a big wrap that can double as a blankie or scarf. This is my failsafe travel uniform no matter where I head on holidays. You can easily get changed into an outfit more suitable for your destination once you arrive.
If you’re going through airport security, leave the jangly bangles, necklaces and earrings in your bag as they’re a hassle to take on and off. And wear shoes that are easy to remove and with socks underneath, as you don’t wanna be walking barefoot picking up the feet germs of a trillion other passengers who were not smart enough to do the same.
Similar rules apply to the kids – sans the blazer and the wrap – comfy layers and easy to remove shoes with socks.
Keep your hands free for important things like filling in customs forms, wiping little faces and bottoms, holding tiny hands, and testing out new perfumes in Duty Free, by having a handbag that’ll strap across your body, or hook onto your wheeled carry bag.
Most important tip of all though is that everyone needs to have a spare set of clothes at hand. No matter where you are heading or how long you are on the road for. Everyone. Because the chances of things like your baby doing a mega-exploding poo seem to increase exponentially as soon as you leave the house.
Keep on trucking
Hours of being cooped up in planes, trains and auto-mobiles can be tough enough for grown-ups, let alone kids who are bursting with energy. Try to factor some time into your itinerary for breaks, and find a playground or open space for the kids to run around and be a bit noisy.
Most airports have indoor playgrounds for the kids – find them and unleash the hounds. And on road trips, stop regularly to stretch your legs and take in the scenery.
One of our most memorable moments on a recent road trip in South Australia happened when we did just that – the boys spent some time climbing a few fences and gates in the middle of nowhere, and we probably wouldn’t have appreciated that back drop as much had we just kept zooming on by.
Try to ensure everyone has some exercise before a long flight, and then you’ll all be tuckered out and ready for a rest.
If you’re taking a pram with you, work out beforehand if your accommodation has lift access so you don’t need to carry it down stairs like we had to on our first vaccay away with our newborn.
And if you are hiring a car, pre-book children’s seats, and have them installed before so there is no waiting around with tired, ratty kids. Different countries have different rules about this, but it’s important that you are happy with the way your children will be secured in a vehicle.
As a break from a long road trip in rural South Australia we climbed fences.
Book ‘em in
When you’re away on a holiday with the family it’s important for you to get some ‘me time’ too. So seek out organized activities for your kids, book in-house childcare at your accommodation, or arrange local babysitters.
This has taken me a little out of my comfort zone at times because I like to know the people who are looking after my kids. But the reality is, the places that offer care or kid-focused activities usually have stringent rules and regulations about the carers they recruit. For peace of mind, though, make sure you thoroughly understand how the set up works, and search out reviews online as well as from your mates. And check on the kids regularly.
Being away from their usual home environment can freak some kids (and adults!) out. So take things that’ll give them comfort. It may be their pillow, a special blanket, or a soft toy.
Now they are a bit older, my boys like to pack one of their fave ‘kids’ for the trip (a well-worn soft black and white doggie named ‘Max’ for my eldest, and a light blue teddy bear, very originally known as ‘Teddy’ by my youngest). I’ve seen them give their ‘kids’ tours of new places we have stayed, watched them settle ‘Max’ and ‘Teddy’ into unfamiliar beds with them and tell them it’s all ok, and ultimately see them either crushed under my children’s sleeping faces or bodies once they’re fast asleep. Point is, their favourite soft toys provide comfort and reassurance in an unfamiliar environment.
When I’m finding travel stressful, I’ll listen to some favourite tunes saved on my phone, maybe a chill out app, Rescue Remedy can be handy (the lozenges are good for stressed out kids too), and of course, wine in moderation always helps.
You are what you eat
When you’re on holidays it’s important to relax and not get too stressed if you and your family are not eating as healthily as you’d like – a few days isn’t going to hurt them. But at the same time, no one’s body is going to run that well and be up for all the fun you wanna have if it’s filled with junk.
Have healthy snacks like nuts, sandwiches, rice crackers, and fruit on hand. If you’re flying, and the kids are still hungry out of meal times the airline staff are usually more than happy to find something for them to munch on.
If you’re staying in a serviced apartment or holiday home, consider ordering groceries online to be delivered when you arrive so you’re ready to go, and don’t have to waste precious holiday time shopping at the inevitably expensive local store.
And while it’s tempting to always take the kids to ‘child-friendly’ restaurants, or to places where you know they’ll love the food, there is only so many slices of pizza or tacos a girl can eat. Instead of missing out on that restaurant you’ve been dying to visit, check if they’ve got high-chairs or pack a mobile high-chair or booster. Pack snacks for them to munch on while you have your Beef Carpaccio, and if there’s no kids menu, order plain pasta or bread to fill them up.
Ensure you’ve got colouring-in books, pencils, stickers, little toys and a fully charged gadget with games to keep them occupied – they will be in heaven, and you will be eating your grown up meal in peace.
Glamping on Cockatoo Island on Sydney Harbour I gave my boys treats, but packed healthy salads and snacks for the rest of the time.
Fact is that when you’re on holiday, you’re likely to be rubbing shoulders with many, many more people who you might do on a daily basis. And some might be a bit fluey, bathrooms may not be as clean as you’d like, and let’s face it, some people just don’t wash their hands. So you want to take some basic steps to ensure you and your fam don’t pick up any germs that might make them sick while you’re away, and you wanna do that without having to wear a facemask and white gloves.
Before you leave – especially when you’re travelling by air – make sure your immune systems are strong. Squeeze in as many veggies as you can into your diets, or top up the situation with multi-vitamins.
Buy a few travel sized bottles of anti-bacterial hand wash and keep handy for those times bathrooms are without soap, and to use before eating. Many of these can be drying on the hands though as they can contain alcohol, so pack a delicious smelling hand-cream to use as a chaser.
Cleansing wipes are essential for similar reasons (and will also double for makeup removal, wiping dirty faces, and of course little bottoms).
A pack of biodegradable nappy bags will ensure you’ve always got a place to dispose of any yicky stuff without having to offend anyone else.
Don’t forget the sunscreen
Care for your skin, and your family’s, whatever climate you’re heading to by packing enough sunscreen for everyone. If you have it with you from the get-go you’ll be less likely to skip a day while you track some down, and burnt skin can ruin a holiday. And yes, this applies equally for cold and hot climates.
What’s a travel tip you’ve learnt from one of your epic travel stories?