Travelling with Kids: 5 tips from an expat family of 5

Seeing the world through your children’s eyes can be a magical experience. There’s something about the joy and excitement of ‘first ever’ trips via plane, train or boat. Or the very first time they dip their tiny toes into the ocean and squeal in delight. Whilst it’s fair to say that travelling with kids can be challenging, it’s also really rewarding too.


Due to the nature of my husbands job, we travel frequently. At one stage, Miss Middle had flown more times than she’d had months on the planet, so packing up and travelling with children is something I’ve had plenty of experience with.


From long haul flights (Perth to London non-stop being my youngest son’s first ever flight) to road trips in Austria, we’ve definitely dealt with the ups and downs of travelling with young children.

travelling with kids: 6 year old brunette girl wearing a pink jumper, blue shorts and yellow wellies. She is stood in the shallows of a lake and is turning around to smile at the camera

It’s a trip, not a holiday

Whilst travelling with kids can indeed be a magical experience, be under no illusion that it is somehow different from everyday life.


Unfortunately, the days of relaxed holidays where you sit by the pool and sip cocktails are long gone when you have little children in tow. If anything, holidays with children are intense. You’re dealing with the same things that you would at home, but with the added challenge of not knowing where everything is and not having everything you usually would to hand.


In fact, my children tend to become less independent on holiday, simply because they don’t know where their clothes are and can’t easily access snacks and drinks for themselves!


One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to start thinking of your holiday as a ‘trip’ so that you get into the right mindset.

travelling with kids: blonde 3 year old boy and brunette 6 year old girl look at the view of a lake near Salzburg, Austria

So does this mean that travelling with kids isn’t worth it?

Not at all! Just because it’s harder, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it at all. There are so many great opportunities for children to experiences things that they usually wouldn’t: from different cultures to different foods, there’s a whole host of amazing learning opportunities that make it all worthwhile.


My children have fed kangaroos at the world famous Kangaroo Sanctuary in Alice Springs, toured the Great Ocean Road, experienced the food markets in Singapore and twirled ‘Sound of Music’ style in wildflower meadows in the Austrian mountains. They’ve watched dolphins dance in the waves of the NSW coastline and seen a whale and her calf in the ocean during whale season in Australia. None of these things would have been possible without travelling.


But if you are looking to include some downtime within your holiday, research children’s hotels that have babysitting facilities or invite family along to join you.


On a recent holiday to the Austrian lakes, we were able to enjoy 24 hours kid-free in a fancy hotel whilst my in-laws looked after the children overnight. It was bliss and exactly what we needed to recharge our batteries!


4 year old boy in yellow waterproof trousers and a spiderman jacket climbs over rocks near a lake, he is following his older sister who is wearing a floral jacket and blue and white striped waterproof trousers

What makes travelling with children easier?

  • Choose locations close to the countryside or coast so that there are plenty of opportunities to get outside in nature
  • Factor in plenty of relaxation time, especially in the first few days to allow your children to get used to the change
  • Try Air BnB style properties so that you have washing facilities and somewhere to prepare snacks/ small meals
  • Unless you can guarantee the weather, pack for a variety of weathers just in case
  • Having realistic expectations of behaviour when your child is out of their usual rhythm.
  • Invest in vacuum pack bags so that you can take enough clothes  – it’s amazing how quickly kids run through clothes on holiday
travelling with kids: a 4 year old boy and 6 year old girl look at the canals of Venice

Is it worth taking anything but an iPad on holiday to entertain the kids?

Yes! Whilst we do take the laptop on holiday so the kids can relax and watch a film in the evening, it’s definitely worth taking a few activities on holiday during quieter moments. Here are some ideas for you that will work for a range of scenarios on holiday:
  • playdough and animal figurines
  • Melissa & Doug Water Wow
  • Tiger Tribe Magnetic books
  • Etch a Sketch style doodle pads
  • Sticker books
  • colouring book and pencils
  • family friendly games – Shopping List from Orchard Toys is popular with my preschool aged children
  • small world toys – e.g. Polly Pockets, Sylvanian Families, cars, mini animal figurines
young brother and sister look out over the lake whilst on a boat trip[

Why does my child behave differently on holiday?

Travelling with kids can bring out a range of different behaviours: from being extremely excitable to crying over things that usually wouldn’t bother them at all. I personally find the first few days of a holiday the ‘roughest’ when it comes to behaviour.


However, it’s important to note that when this happens, your child isn’t deliberately giving you a hard time – they just aren’t really sure what’s going on or how to handle their emotions.


Where possible, try to stick to familiar cornerstone points in your day. If you have a daily rhythm  think about what elements you could keep the same whilst on holiday without everything becoming too rigid.


For example: having a bath/shower, followed by a story before bedtime or having breakfast, getting ready and then going outside for an adventure. 

4 year old blonde boy has a nap whilst on holiday

Travelling with kids: Summary

Travel with kids is undoubtedly worth it, but it does take more organisation than a regular trip would. Try to balance the magical experiences with plenty of opportunities for downtime so that your children aren’t overly tired for the duration of the trip.


Whilst your child might be excited about the idea of going on holiday, emotions are more likely to run high when everything is different and they are without the usual comfort and familiarity of home.


Try to stick to a paired down version of your usual daily rhythm so that your child has some understanding of what’s happening each day.


Action Steps

  • Order age appropriate sticker books and activity pads for travel and restaurant play
  • Research child-friendly hotels with a sitter service or invite family along to  help!
  • Buy luggage organisers or vacuum bags to make packing easier
  • Consider hotels or apartments with kitchen and laundry facilities

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This Playful Home is a three-pillared approach to raising children in the early years.

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Sian Thomas
an image of This Playful Home founder, Sian Thomas. The photo includes a photo of her daughter when she was around 18 months old

I’m Siân (rhymes with yarn), a play advocate, proud parent to three, and former teacher. My mission is to infuse more joy and less overwhelm into the lives of parents. Discover play-based activities with me that not only make learning FUN but also forge deep connections with your young learners, creating memories to cherish forever.