How to handle long holiday journeys with children

Real parents share their best tips to make flights and drives as smooth as possible

Family holidays are one of the most special ways to make treasured life-long memories, but the reality of getting children out of the house and to your final relaxing destination can be a real adventure in itself. To make the whole family holiday experience as smooth as possible, we asked 250 parents in the UK, including our own in-store experts to share their learnings from their experience of long haul travel. 

How to handle long flights with children

Parents said that the most important pieces of advice for a smooth flight with children were packing extra refreshments, and a well-charged, pre-prepared tablet. More tips below:

  • Easing take-off: For older children, a few parents suggested taking hard-boiled sweets, mints or chewing gum to help with the ear-popping sensation of take-off and landing.
  • Back-up meals: Other parents said they stock up on meal options at the airport in case their child turns their nose up at the airplane food. Gatwick’s website states that most food items are fine to take in your hand luggage (e.g. fruit, sandwiches, pasta salads, pies etc.) through security, as long as they don’t have a high liquid content (see full guidelines here).
  • Bringing child-sized headphones: A snazzy on-board entertainment package is only useful if your child can actually listen to it, so bring headphones (best bet is wired ones rather than Bluetooth, with a standard 3.5mm universal jack) that properly fit around their head and ears. 

''I pack an entire bag full of some new toys, puzzles & games, along with sticker books and snacks. However, I wrap them all up in wrapping paper as it makes it more fun on the aircraft, and unwrapping takes up another 10 minutes of time or so!”

Nicole Henshall, store manager at Kuoni Southampton

  • Downloading movies, TV programs and games onto the tablet before you leave: This will mean that they can be watched and played offline. Some parents recommend downloading kids’ favourite shows and games, whereas other parents say that having a library of new and different games and films is more exciting and more likely to keep your child occupied.
  • Fully charge your devices before packing them in your hand luggage. Turn devices onto airplane mode to help them charge quicker.
  • Magazines and books that offer something extra: Whether it was colouring books, puzzles or buying magazines jam-packed with games and activities at the airport, there was a lot of love for paper-based distractions as well as tablet ones. Perfect if there are any low battery or poor connection issues!
  • Spare clothes: A number of parents packed a spare set of clothes for long flights (one parent even pre-packs different outfits into ziplock bags for ease of finding in a full hand-luggage bag!)
  • Comforting reminders: Many parents noted the importance of taking a familiar blanket or soft toy to help calm and soothe children on an overnight flight.

“Before you travel, hide some of their favourite toys so when you get them out on the plane their excited to see them and they entertain them for a bit longer!”

Holly Kirton, assistant store manager at Kuoni Brighton

  • Something new: Whilst some parents swore by bringing along favourite toys, other believed giving their child something new on the plane, be it a book, game or toy, was a much better distraction.
  • What seat? There was a lot of contradiction around what seats to put your children in. Some parents preferred planting their child in the window seat – giving them something excited to look at and be distracted by, whereas other parents thought the middle seat was best as two adults could keep an eye on the infant, and some thought aisle was best as it had easiest toilet access!
  • Encouraging sleep: From keeping them awake on the drive to the airport, to making sure they burn a lot of energy running around pre-flight, some parents’ best advice for a smooth flight was just to make their child as tired as possible.

How to handle long drives with children

Exploring the open road can be an incredible family experience, especially in the USA where children can experience the best of California’s beaches or the exciting mountains and national parks in the West. When it comes to lengthy car journeys, planned toilet breaks, plenty of snacks and a good playlist topped parents’ tips for a smooth ride:

  • Car games: Classic car games to pass the time are still going strong, especially if looking at devices like tablets make children feel sick. Parents’ favourites included games that encouraged looking outside such as I-Spy, Window Bingo (where the winner is the first person to spot five things out the window, i.e. a post box, a yellow car, a dog, the number 3, a motorbike etc.),  and the Alphabet Game (where players try to find the letters of the alphabet in order). The AA has a list of long car journey game ideas here.

“We do a mummy quiz, and a daddy helps long journeys pass really quickly, the kids love it and they learn at the same time! Depending on age, the type of questions we ask are things like: Capital city of France? Which artist painted the Mona Lisa? What’s the name of Dora the Explorer’s monkey?

”Samantha Nolan, Personal Travel Expert

  • Low maintenance snacks: From healthy options like carrot and cucumber sticks, sliced up apples, banana with peanut butter, berries and rice cakes, through to cheeky treats like mini cookies, bags of sweets and crisps – parents couldn’t stress the importance of easy finger-food snacks that don’t require any prep, won’t melt and don’t need to be kept cool.
  • Audio stories: Having a prepared playlist of songs, or favourite CDs ready was encouraged by the parents, but there were a number of people championing the playing of children’s audio books. Whether it’s through an app or CD, there are some magical readings of family favourites, classics and modern tales available from places like PenguinAudible and Amazon Kindle.

“My children love listening to audio books if they need a break from screen time and it is quite often a good way to get them to shut their eyes and relax, and fingers crossed take a nap!”

Heather Simmons, Personal Travel Expert

  • Plenty of toilet breaks:  Planning in regular toilet stops is the second most important piece of advice from parents after snacks. Adding on extra journey time to allow for breaks is a sacrifice many parents are willing to take, with one parent mentioning that they plan to stop every hour, and lots praising the value of finding out the toilet stops on your route before setting off.
  • Set-off times: When to set off on a long drive divided parents – some preferred an early morning or late night set-off to promote some quiet hours of sleep for their kids, whereas others preferred driving around meal times so that kids had a food distraction.
  • Pillows & blankets: Packing up the seats with cosy blankets and pillows was a tip many parents shared to encourage napping to get through a long journey – as was putting children in their pyjamas and taking spare clothes for arrival.
  • Movie time: Plenty of parents praised cars with inbuilt DVD players, or taking a tablet pre-loaded with their kids’ favourite movies and TV programs. Remember to take headphones for them to use so you can listen to what you want up-front – and a charger to keep the devices powered up on the road!


Discover more family holiday inspiration with our guide to baby-friendly holidays, or speak to one of our family experts.

This feature was published on 20th December 2019. The information within this feature is correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of print.

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