Advice for parents travelling with their families
Travelling with your children can be a daunting experience for parents, especially inexperienced ones. Not only are you responsible for your own safety, but also the safety of others and the risk presented to them. That being said, travelling as a family can be an incredible way to create unique bonds and share in new experiences that you wouldn’t normally be able to do at home.
We’ve collated with some family travel experts as they share their own personal experiences travelling with their families, and some of the best tips they have picked up along the way.
Most of my travel experiences have been positive, however there have been some situations where I felt at risk which required me to act on my intuition. I feel this is one of the most important things to do when travelling as a parent; you may not be familiar with your surroundings, but you always know what feels right and I strongly advise that you act on those instincts; it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
March 2016 was my first real experience of travelling as a solo parent, until this point we had only been on package holidays or travelled with family and friends. My daughter and I were going to Venice – I’d done my research and felt I was well prepared; the journey had gone smoothly and was even enjoyable. On the second day of our trip we were walking towards Saint Marks square where we had planned to visit Café Florian; the oldest coffee house in the world. Whilst walking towards the square we saw two women beautifully dressed in traditional Venetian ballgowns and masks, they noticed us and beckoned my daughter over to have a photo taken with them. I naively allowed her to go and took a lovely photo for our holiday album, however once I had done so the women grabbed hold of her arm and refused to let go until I gave them some money for the photo. Over the next few days we passed the same women in costume several times and they were repeating this con with many vulnerable tourists, many of whom gave their money unwillingly. The women had scared my daughter but made us much more alert for the rest of the trip. I had felt so relaxed and at home in Venice that I had perhaps let my guard down too much instead of being aware of such potential dangers.
In September 2017 I took my daughter on coach trip from London to Paris. We spoke to other passengers on the coach and settled in for the overnight journey. One passenger paid special attention to us and kept wandering down the coach to speak to us. He was a regular visitor to Paris and was offering us a lot of advice and offered to show us a great place he knew for breakfast when we arrived. I felt a little uncomfortable but told myself he was just being kind and as he was travelling alone he would probably appreciate the company. When we later arrived at the coach station in Paris the man found us once more and said he would walk us to our hotel (we had previously had a conversation about where we were staying which I now regretted). I politely declined and offered thanks for all his help. He was very insistent and followed us through the coach station, there weren’t many people around at this time of the day and I was starting to panic. When he made a stop at the toilets I took the opportunity to leave and literally ran-telling my daughter we were playing a game to see who could reach the hotel first as not to panic her. Fortunately, the hotel was close and we made it inside without him following us. I still don’t know whether he was just a friendly man and I had overreacted or if we were in any danger but my gut was telling me something didn’t feel right so I acted on it. Whilst I think it’s great to speak to people on your travels I learnt the lesson of over-sharing, I shouldn’t have told a stranger the name of the hotel we were staying at or that we were first timers to the city; it made us vulnerable and as a solo female travelling with a child, I should have been more careful.
Research is key!
Research transport options in the areas you’re travelling to and decide what works best for your family based on your personal circumstances and itinerary. Try and book airport transfers and other transport in advance where possible to avoid confusion and potential risk. If you have younger children, you may feel more comfortable hiring a car as it gives you more freedom and flexibility whereas if you have older kids you may prefer to make the most of public transport options. Download any necessary timetables, maps or information before you go so you have time to become familiar with it. Opportunists will take advantage of tourists if they are looking lost or confused so try to act confident even when you’re not. When visiting somewhere for the first time it can be overwhelming, with crowds of people and lots of information. A little research can go a long way and is also likely to save you time and money; both of which are valuable when you’re travelling with children.
Don’t overpack. Kids make mess but you can wash their clothes (I advise taking a small tube of hand wash detergent with you) you don’t need to waste space packing lots of outfits for them. Try and limit yourself to one piece of luggage where possible so that you always have at least one free hand. I learned this lesson in a busy train station in Paris. I was distracted, struggling to get our luggage on to an escalator, not realising that my daughter (who was 6 at the time) hadn’t followed me on to it, she was still at the top of the escalator too afraid to step on. Luckily an elderly lady noticed what was happening, took her hand and brought her down the escalator to me at the bottom. I have never been so grateful for a stranger’s kindness and it’s a great reminder that whilst it’s good to prepare for the worst, most people you meet whilst travelling are decent and honest people. Be cautious, but don’t always expect the worst from people.
Education, education, education
Teach your kids about potential dangers without scaring them: the goal is to make travel a safe and enjoyable experience. It should be a positive thing and can be the best education you can give a young person. Make sure your children know what to do in an emergency such as if they lose you. When my daughter was younger I would write my phone number on a piece of paper and have her keep it in her pocket, she knew to go into a shop or to someone official if she ever lost me and give them the piece of paper (she has only ever had to use this once when we were at the Isle of White festival and she was promptly returned to me by security).
Travelling as a family can be daunting but is also one of the best life experiences you can give your children. The best advice I can give anyone (whether travelling with kids or not) is to do your research before you go. Being aware and prepared for potential dangers allows your trips to go more smoothly, helps you feel more relaxed and allows you to make the most of your travels. You know your children better than anyone so make sure you plan around their needs as well as your own so everyone can get the most from the experience.
Thank you to those who contributed their stories and travel advice towards this article.
Written by Joe Corfield