How to travel with children

Traveling with children can be both a blessing and a curse. While there is fun in showing children the world and getting out of the daily grind, this very act of breaking out of the daily grind comes with hassle – and that’s before you’ve considered the flights, activities and meals. What was meant to be a vacation may end up being anything but.

Don’t listen to me: all is not dark. There are many family destinations and experiences around the world that will delight children and adults alike. But you will have to be prepared.

Whether it’s knowing what to pack; the world’s most family-friendly destinations; Where to stay; and how to keep your patience while you do it – here’s our guide to creating lasting memories with your family and saving some of your sanity at the end.

Main photo: By the sea in La Coruña in Galicia, Spain (Getty Images)

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Where to go on vacation with children?

Since becoming a parent in 2020, that’s the question I’ve been asked more than any other. I’ve had a handful of successful vacations over the past few years; but I’ve had a lot of bad ones too. It also depends on the age of your children. What works for a younger baby won’t work for a toddler, and what works for an older child will revolt teenagers.

For a fly-and-flop break, ease is the top priority – and making sure both adults and kids have enough to do on the ground. I’ve found it’s hard to beat the ease of an all-inclusive resort here, and destinations such as Turkey, Greece, Spain and Dubai offer plenty of great options, with excellent kids’ clubs also.

The best trips we’ve had have been to Dubai, which is surprisingly family friendly – from the ability to order taxis with car seats, to the activities on offer in the city, from the beach to air-conditioned soft play in one of the many shopping centers – and southern European countries like Greece and Spain, where children feel welcome in all settings.

As for the worst? Various trips to Paris have convinced me that this is the least family-friendly city break — the metro doesn’t have a lift, the brasseries are pretentious with kids, and you have to pay to use the only good playground — and anywhere that requires a lot of driving (a road trip we took from Belfast to Derry with a 14-month-old wasn’t one of my best ideas) is generally a no-no.

Cycling in Thailand (Getty Pictures)

Where should I stay?

Those with children will be familiar with the age-old mix between the flexibility of self-catering or the on-demand facilities and services of a hotel. There are benefits for both.

For young children, access to a kitchen and (especially) a washing machine is a great idea, meaning self-catering is usually better suited. An apartment or villa – take a look at the options on platforms such as Airbnb, Vrbo and the Plum Guide – is also useful if you’re traveling with more than one child or in a larger group. (Just be sure to select a family option with no sharp edges or free access to the pool.)

On the other hand, hotels offer the full range of facilities and, to say the obvious, there is always someone to help you, whether with activities or problems, even if you will not have not as much space as in an apartment.

There is, however, a big difference between a hotel that accepts children and ones that are actively family-friendly: I have attended excruciating formal dinners with my toddler with other guests who have not a day under 30, which is a painful experience for everyone involved. Most hotels will have cots, baby monitors and high chairs as standard; the very good ones distribute personalized gifts for children. Keep in mind that unless you book connecting rooms you will be in a room together which means after they go to bed you will either have to go downstairs to the bathroom or you lie down quietly until 10 p.m.

Then there’s the holy grail of child-friendly accommodation: a self-catering apartment in a resort, which means you get the best of both worlds.

Bring toys and a tablet when traveling with children
Bring toys and a tablet to keep kids entertained during the flight (Getty Pictures)

What should I bring for the children?

What is the length of a string? It all depends on the age of your child. From experience with my two-year-old son, I don’t leave without packing my bags:
• Solar cream
• Hat and sunglasses
• Doudou or plush
• White noise machine
• Toys
• Amazon Fire Tablet preloaded with shows and charger
• Two outfits per day to cover spills
• Enough snacks to sink the Titanic
• Diapers and wipes, but check if you can buy them in the destination

How much does a family vacation cost on average?

It all depends where you are going and when. The Post Office Money 2022 report found Turkey and Bulgaria to be the cheapest countries for holidays, with trips to the Turkish resort town of Marmaris down 37% year-on-year. Within the eurozone, the report places Portugal’s Algarve as the cheapest destination, with holidays there costing 25% less than Spain’s Costa del Sol. Long term, he found Cape Town the best value this year.

Montenegro, Croatia and Cyprus also offer good value for money. And if you’re looking for a city break, Madrid and Berlin are surprisingly affordable. But if your heart is set for Greece or Spain, head inland rather than the coast for the best deals.

Get off the beaten track, too: Poland and Germany both have stunning coastlines that are little visited, so there’s some under-the-radar flavor too. And going out of season. The Middle East is sweltering in the summer, but if you have a family that wants to go to water parks/indoor activities, it’s a very cheap time of year to visit.

Travel prices skyrocket during school holidays, especially during the peak month of August. A week’s all-inclusive holiday in Bulgaria with Tui for a family of four can cost up to £3,500 in August, but drops to £1,500 in September. Similarly, a family holiday to Marmaris in Turkey with Jet2 hovers around the same price in August, but drops around £2,000 in autumn.

Cathy Adams family vacation: traveling with kids
Good memories: spending holidays with my family

Why are family vacations so stressful?

Based on personal experience: spending a lot of time and sharing space with other family members for an extended period of time always leads to arguments; just like piling up the holidays with too many activities. A long-awaited family vacation also comes with unrealistic expectations. What I’m trying to say is – relax, don’t expect too much, and when you’re traveling with kids, chances are it’ll all be nice in retrospect anyway.

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