25 family travel tips: How to get the most out of your hard-earned holiday
Travel tips and advice
Travelling with kids can be a treat, provided you plan ahead. Jillian Bolger has 25 family travel tips for every parent.
1. Check your passports
This might seem obvious, but you'd be amazed how many families forget to check their passports' expiry dates before heading off on holidays. Children's passports have shorter validity than adult ones - three-year passports are issued to kids under the age of three, while passports for children aged between three and 17 last five years. That means they'll expire sooner than your own.
And another thing: Some destinations (eg Turkey, Dubai and Thailand) require you to have at least six months left on your passport before entry. Check your intended destination to avoid unnecessary departure day drama!
2. Dodge the drama
Jill Holtz of mykidstime.com recommends making a photocopy of the inside photo page of each family member's passport. "Put it in a separate place to your passports, so if they get lost or stolen you have the details at hand for the consulate or embassy for replacements."
And another thing: Ensure you have an up-to-date European Health Insurance Card (formerly the E111) before travel, as it gives you access to health care services when travelling in another EU or EEA country. This EHIC is really handy if your child gets sick or needs a hospital visit.
Details: See hse.ie or your local health office.
3. Book early
It might be too late for this year, but Charlotte Brenner, Marketing Manager of Falcon Holidays and Thomson, recommends booking as early as possible. "It not only allows you get your first choice accommodation and room type, but you may also secure a free child place and have months to pay rather than in one big payment." Last-minute bookings can be a false economy.
And another thing: "If you have children that can't swim, check the size and depth of the children's pool and whether there is a shallow end or gradient into the main pool," Charlotte recommends. "Smaller children can spend hours splashing around in the kids' pool if the depth is right for them to stand."
4. Split your belongings
Forget dedicated luggage for each person. Divide everyone's clothes evenly into all your suitcases. That way, if a bag goes missing no one will be left without essentials when you arrive.
And another thing: Put the most important cuddly toys, medicines and pyjamas in one of your carry-on bags. That way if suitcases don't arrive, your little ones will still be able to sleep or nap comfortably.
5. Pack snacks
Airports are expensive and long waits make for hungry children. Pack a stash of the kids' favourite snacks (plus a second batch for the homeward journey), but avoid messy items and overly sugary foods. A surprise treat like a magazine can also work wonders if you produce it when tempers are fraying...
And another thing: Bottled water isn't cheap. Avoid the wallet drain by packing a few empty bottles or kids' sports bottles to fill up at the water fountains after security. This will save you cash while keeping everyone hydrated in warm airport terminals. Dublin Airport sells 'Plane Water' for a family-friendly €1 airside, too.
6. Arrive prepared
"If travelling on long flights, pre-book kids' meals and seats before you go, check in online and print all boarding passes, particularly if taking connecting flights," advises Sarah Slattery of thetravelexpert.ie, who often writes posts on travelling with kids. You also need to work out whether to check buggies in, or take them to the gate.
And another thing: "Where possible fly direct, even if the cost is more. The hassle of waiting in airports, worrying about delays and standing in queues with kids, is not worth whatever saving you may make. This is particularly true when flying to the US, because you can clear immigration in Ireland before you go if you fly direct."
Is everyone's passport in date?
7. Know your airport
Many airports offer good family amenities, like play areas, family seating and feeding zones. They're not always easy to find, so go online pre-trip and familiarise yourself with what's on offer. That way you can avoid getting lost in Duty Free and make a beeline for the best spot. Dublin Airport offers a family security line, as well as a play area beside Burger King in T2, for example.
And another thing: Make sure you have enough baby bottles made up for the duration of your flight, suggests Charlotte Brenner of Falcon. "In case of delays, allow for extra nappies, baby food and formula. Put it all together in one baby bag, and declare it to security..."
8. Backpacks are best
Some parents favour Trunki wheeled cases to pull small children along on, but backpacks are a smarter choice for your carry-on. They leave your hands free to carry tired toddlers, hold hands or simply deal with documents without having to put your handbag down unattended. (Plus they usually have handy pockets for water bottles and documents.)
And another thing: A kid's backpack is a smart investment. It helps them buy into the whole holiday experience, with easy access to their favourite books, games, toys and snacks. Some double as booster seats, too - saving an extra charge on your car rental.
9. Airport entertainment
Jill Holtz of mykidstime.com found a MediaShare invaluable on a recent family holiday. "It is a portable streaming device that creates its own wireless network so you don't need Wi-Fi. Once you've downloaded movies on to a USB stick before you go, you simply plug it into the MediaShare and you can connect to small tablets or phones. Your kids can watch movies on the plane, in cars or even in restaurants (just make sure you bring headphones). They can even watch two different movies with one device... No more arguing at movie time!"
And another thing: Happy with one device? Consider a headphone splitter, which allows more than one child watch the same movie from a single device.
Details: Verbatim MediaShare Wireless streaming devices are on amazon.co.uk, from approx €30.
10. Jump on the band-wagon
Sarah Slattery of thetravelexpert.ie finds Seabands (acupressure wristbands that help with nausea) great for combatting motion sickness. They are ideal for boat trips, but can also be used in cars, planes or even on theme park rides to calm sensitive tummies.
And another thing: Always have a pack of wet wipes handy. From sticky hands to spilled drinks or a child getting sick, they can be whipped out to instantly minimise mess on furniture and faces!
Details: sea-band.com, approx €8.55 each.
11. Buy the book
Lonely Planet might bring back memories of your backpacking days, but yesterday's backpackers are today's parents. Thankfully, the folks at the guidebook giant are on the case - uploading detail-rich destination features geared towards families. If you still fancy a guidebook, go digital and download LP's guides - or a relevant chapter - to help you get the most from your trip.
And another thing: Lonely Planet has a brilliant selection of kids' books to inspire your little travellers. From their Amazing World Atlas to their Not for Parents range, these make a smart investment for curious kids.
12. Go home-from-home
Savvy travellers know self-catering is often easier with children. You have a kitchen for prepping food, a washing machine to cut down on packing and the use of your own living room in the evenings when the kids are tucked up in bed. Before looking at private rentals, consider Airbnb: it's not just spare rooms for rent, rather whole properties, from villas to city apartments and family homes.
And another thing: As well as affordable accommodation, you often get a local owner's neighbourhood tips for things tourists wouldn't usually see.
13. Destination inspiration
A busy US website that offers plenty of inspiration for family holidays, The Family Travel Files covers hundreds of global destinations. There's a useful 'Travel by Age' drop-down menu to help you tailor your options.
And another thing: They encourage readers to 'Tell Mom' by sharing relevant updates and discoveries ensuring the site constantly has new and up-to-date content.
14. Take baby steps
Travelling with a new baby requires additional planning, and UK website babycentre.co.uk has a comprehensive family travel section packed with useful advice to give you confidence on the road. It deals with everything from packing to top resorts, travel sickness and flight tips from first-hand experience.
And another thing: There's a busy forum on the site allowing you to post questions and seek advice from a wide community of parents.
15. Consult an expert
William Gray is one of the UK's top travel writers, a guidebook author and photographer who's travelled all around the world with his wife and twins. His engaging website chronicles his family trips, from cruising to safari, beach vacations and city breaks. You'll want to follow in his footsteps after reading where he's been!
And another thing: Gray has written a super guidebook, Travel with Kids: The Definitive Guide to Family Holidays Worldwide (Footprint Guides, €21.70 on amazon.co.uk). If you're stuck for inspiration, you'll find it in these pages.
16. Keep it exclusive
If you think a family holiday spells the end of sophisticated travel, think again. The folks at i-escape.com have rounded up the most stylish family-friendly hideaways in the four corners of the globe. From boutique hotels to chic B&Bs you can refine your search by age, price, facilities, location or activities. Prepare to swoon at the gems on offer.
And another thing: Every property has been reviewed by their discerning team before it's recommended and is bookable directly through the website.
17. Camp it up
Great new Irish company Campsited is a one-stop shop for helping you find the perfect campsite for your holidays. Currently offering click-through booking to campsites in the UK and Ireland (they're expanding into Europe soon), it's smartly designed and offers a quick and simple way to figure out your options.
And another thing: It's not just for tent lovers - there's glamping and holiday parks listed too.
Read more: 10 top tips for camping in Ireland
18. Take a real adventure
Dreading the bucket-and-spade brigade? Why not consider a small group adventure in a far-flung location where kids will be properly catered for while adults experience an equally rewarding trip? Intrepid Travel offers different themed trips, from Peru to Vietnam, North India to Japan and beyond for small groups. Family itineraries are superb and varied to suit different physical abilities and interests. You'll be looked after by a group leader and there's departure dates right through the year.
And another thing: Adventure travel experts Explore! have equally good reviews and itineraries.
Details: intrepidtravel.com; explore.co.uk
19. Hit the high seas
Find your sea legs and get the kids in pirate mode with a thrilling social sailing holiday aboard your own yacht. You'll join a Sunsail flotilla, maybe in the Bahamas, along the Amalfi coast or around the Greek isles and be accompanied by a lead crew. Novices can hire a skipper, or you and the kids can learn to sail or improve your skills. By night there's guaranteed moorings, social evenings, beach barbecues and parties.
And another thing: Flotilla routes change every year and some trips are pitched at different sailing abilities.
20. Cruise to luxury
Don't rule out cruising believing it's best suited to the bingo brigade. The latest luxury liners offer an incredible choice of on-board activities for all age groups, from tots to tweens and teens - think climbing walls, surf simulators, water slides, ice rinks, tech zones, shows and special entertainment. With limitless food and ports to visit it can be as lazy or action-packed as your family chooses. MSC, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises all now have Irish websites, too.
And another thing: Disney Cruise (left) Line's ships aren't just for your younger children. They offer full itineraries for teenage siblings too, with plenty of grown-up options to keep mum and dad happy on holiday as well.
Five Fab Family Resorts
21. Princesa Yaiza, Lanzarote
A family-favourite on Playa Blanca beach, this relaxed five-star is good value and justifiably tricky to bag accommodation in. Book early for next year and you'll see why families return annually. Good food, a great location and grown-up spa keep parents happy while kids will adore Kikoland, the hotel's 10,000 sq metre playground. Expect sports, pools, activities, shows and even a brilliant playroom for tots.
And another thing: Family suites include a fridge and microwave for whipping up baby's meals.
Details: Seven-nights' B&B ex-Dublin, €1,169 per person sharing a four-person family suite. sunway.ie
22. Stylish Cyprus
A chic Design Hotel that welcomes kids with open arms, beachside Almyra in Paphos is a parent's dream. The brilliant Baby-Go-Lightly service offers anything you could possibly need pre-ordered for your arrival (from potty to steriliser to jigsaws etc), and the homemade baby food menu rivals the excellent dining options on site. The shaded pool is perfect for keeping kids safe in the sun with the pretty town and harbour a stroll from your chic quarters.
And another thing: Drop the kids into the kids' club for an afternoon and sneak away to the adults-only spa for a massage and dip in the super swanky infinity pool.
Details: Rooms from €200 a night. almyra.com
23. Portuguese perfection
Close to the historic town of Sagres on the unspoilt Western Algarve, Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel features a contemporary five-star hotel and selection of spacious family villas set within a protected park. Kids are brilliantly catered for with excellent food, quality play areas, crèches, kids' clubs and activities and you can request all manner of baby gear from the dedicated concierge.
And another thing: A spa, water sports, choice of top restaurants and bars ensure mum and dads will love it too.
Details: Two-bedroom villas from €1,235 for seven nights. See martinhal.com for more.
24. Beautiful Balearics
Alcudia on Majorca's North coast is a bustling resort that's ideal for an easy holiday with kids. Stay at the Hotel Saturna, one of three hotels in the reliable three-star Club Mac Alcudia, which boasts nine swimming pools, a water park and buffet-style restaurants. A 15-minute walk from the lively beaches and town (a shuttle bus can take you there) there's good kids' entertainment throughout the day, with activities like pedalos, karaoke, table tennis and a choice of bars.
And another thing: It's a popular spot - children will make friends in no time, as will adults!
Details: Falcon Holidays (falconholidays.ie) has seven nights all-inclusive for a family of four from €1,999, based on a September 8 departure.
25. An Italian idyll
Imagine everything you could want from a luxury resort and the stylish Forte Village Resort (right) in Sardinia delivers. Your kids have it all too: sports academies with expert coaches (including Chelsea stars and pro tennis and rugby players, like Conor O'Shea and Will Greenwood), themed bedrooms, family bungalows with gardens stocked with Fisher Price toys, a fun lab, DJ academy even a kids' restaurant with child-sized tables and chairs! This dream resort offers nine hotels.
And another thing: Prices vary hugely depending on accommodation choices - sports extra.
NB: All prices subject to availability.