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Travel with children

Child; baby; babies; toddlers; travel; cars; bus; motion; sick; sickness; plane; motion; air; planes; trains; flying; ears; pain; ear-ache; aeroplane; travelling; colds ;

Travel with children can be fun and add extra enjoyment to your trip, as you see things through their eyes. It is most enjoyable if you are prepared and have thought about what children need, especially for long trips. 

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Long trips

When you are taking children on long trips or holidays, it is a good idea to plan ahead. Here are some things to think about.

  • If you are going by car - plan your travel so there are lots of stops along the way for children to run around and explore. You may not get there as quickly, but getting there is part of the holiday.
  • Try to plan to arrive at where you are staying the night reasonably early and to have a good amount of time at overnight stops.
  • Plan overnight stops and lunch stops at places which are child-friendly, eg. near parks or playgrounds.
  • Try to make your lunch stops a little before the usual lunch time. You'll get better service and it won't take quite so long.
  • Holidays with young children are often better if they are fairly simple. For example, staying in one place where there is scope for children's activities may be preferable to doing lots of sightseeing (and they may appreciate seeing the sights more when they are a little older).

What to take

Apart from the clothes that you normally take, it is helpful to take some things for the car trip. Here are some suggestions.

  • Paper towels or wipes can have lots of uses.
  • Take empty plastic bags for rubbish, dirty clothes and dirty nappies.
  • Take a change of clothes for each child, something warm to put on, and sun hats (unless it is winter).
  • It's a good idea to take an old icecream container or plastic bowl for accidents of any kind. It can do for a potty if a child has not been toilet trained for long, and there is nowhere to stop in an emergency.
  • If you have a child who wets the bed, take a piece of plastic to protect mattresses.
  • Take a bag of things to do on the trip (see Car travel)
  • Take some food, such as fruit, for when children need a snack on the way, and water to drink  - avoid too many soft drinks. Small plastic water bottles with pop-tops can be very good.

Car travel

Do not start the car until everyone's seat belt is fastened. Stop the car if a child undoes his seat belt or if children are distracting the driver. See our topic Car safety restraints for more information.

  • Never leave children alone in a parked car.
  • Keep a spare key in your purse or wallet - if your car doesn't have remote locking, it can be easy to lock the keys in the car.
  • Remove everything from the ledges above the steering wheel and below the back window -  even small things can fly off and injure a child if you have to stop suddenly.
  • Travelling at night so that your children sleep is not always a good idea - it is not safe to let them lie down on the seat without restraints. If they do sleep in the restraints, you will be tired the next day when they need supervision.
  • Make sure that the sun does not shine directly on babies or young children in the car. Hang a piece of cloth from the closed window to provide shade if necessary.
  • Try not to have too many things that children need to share. Sharing is hard at the best of times, and when children are tired is not the best of times. Have a pillow and a rug each, rather than one to share.
  • Sit in the back with children for some of the time, if there is room. This makes the trip much more enjoyable for them. However, remember that the safest place in the car for children is in the back.
  • Be prepared for stops if a child feels sick or needs to go to the toilet. They usually can't "hang on" until the next town.

Keeping children amused

Babies

  • Give your baby a rattle or musical toy to play with.
  • Hang a mobile above the baby capsule/car seat.
  • Have some different soft toys with you that you can give at different times for something new to look at.
  • Tie a couple of your baby's favourite toys to her seat with a ribbon so that if she drops them she can get them back. Make sure the ribbon is not long enough to go around her neck.
  • Sing while you drive.

Toddlers

  • Give them something to eat and drink on the way - make it a "car picnic".
  • Have some toys and books within easy reach. If children get travel sick they should look at things outside the car, not inside.
  • Play some children's music and sing along.
  • Point out interesting things that you pass  - "Look at the train / windmill / aeroplane / horses / sheep / etc.
  • If it is a long trip, stop every little while and let your toddlers have a run in different places.

Children

There are lots of interesting things you can do while travelling with preschoolers and older children.

  • Look at a map before you leave and trace with your finger the way you will be going.
  • Watch out for places along the way - "There is the church that we saw on the map".
  • Count the cars, horses, bridges or other things along the way. Guess how many you will see before the next town.
  • Sing some favourite songs.
  • Make up some new verses for favourite songs.
  • Play guessing games like "I'm thinking of an animal which is large and grey".
  • If it is a long car trip, plan to stop at playgrounds or parks along the way.
  • Have some toys, books and story CDs or tapes within easy reach.
  • Have some wrapped parcels for surprises that children can unwrap as well as play with on the way.
  • It is very hard for brothers and sisters not to fight if they have to sit in a car together for a long time. A high pile of pillows, clothes and blankets between them can make a handy "wall'' so that they each have their own "cave''. Only use soft things for this wall.

Bus or train travel

Travelling on a bus or train can be very exciting for young children. However, long trips can pose similar challenges to long trips by car. Young children can become bored with the scenery and with being confined witihin a cramped environment.

Some suggestions for keeping children happy on buses or trains are:

  • Check the bus number or the sign on the front of the bus that tells you where it is going.
  • Look at the numbers of the stops or names of the stations.
  • Let your child buy the ticket and click it in the ticket machine if possible.
  • Talk with them about the safe way to sit and move on buses and trains.
  • Talk about how the bell works.
  • Look for animals, buildings, trees, windmills, other trains or buses.
  • Count how many times the bus or train stops.
  • Ask your child to tell you a story.
  • Look for familiar things that tell you when you are nearly home.
  • Take food, drink, toys and books as in Car travel (above).

Air travel
  • There is no reason why you cannot take babies overseas with you, but very young babies do better if they have had at least a few weeks to get settled into being in the world before travelling.
  • Very young babies do not have the same resistance to infection as older children and adults, and germs can be circulated in the warm air of the aircraft - so waiting a few months if you can is probably safer for your baby.
  • If you are going overseas, check with your doctor or a travel medical adviser well in advance so you can get the vaccinations you need.
  • Dress a child lightly for air travel - you can get blankets from the cabin staff if needed. Layers of clothes that you can take on and off are a good idea.
  • Some airlines are better at supporting parents travelling with children. You may wish to ask other parents who have travelled previously about which airlines were most helpful.
  • If you are able to organise your plane trip back to Australia to occur during the child's night time, then you are more likely not to disturb the child's pattern. The child is more likely to sleep through most of the trip, even if you find it difficult to sleep.
  • It helps to carry a small baby in a sling so your hands are free, and take a fold-up stroller to sit toddlers in at airports.
  • Plane travelling with colds
    • Try to avoid if possible taking any child who has a cold on a plane trip, because the fall in air pressure can cause severe ear problems and pain.
    • If you have to take a child with a cold, see a doctor before the trip.
    • If the child or adult has had a recent cold, using decongestant nose sprays, drops or medicines 15 to 20 minutes before take off and landing may help.

Seating
If you are travelling with a baby you can ask to have a bulkhead seat, which gives you more leg room and a place for a bassinette. There may be a bassinette in the bulkhead. There is a size and weight limit for the bassinettes -however even if they are too short for sleeping for some babies, it is useful to use for somewhere for the baby to sit while you have your meal, or to play, to give you a break from holding the baby.

When travelling with an older child, the bulkhead seats give you more leg room. However the arm rests do not fold up, as they have the tray attached. It may be more comfortable to travel in the normal seats, as you can at least fold back your arm rest to enable your child to sleep with his head on your lap. If the plane is not crowded the airline staff may give you an extra seat so your child can stretch out.

Airline Staff
If you are travelling alone, ask the airline staff when booking your ticket to provide you with an assistant at every stop. This assistant will help you with collecting your luggage, make transfers to connecting flights and help you with reboarding the plane.

When the airline staff ask you at the start of your flight if you will need any help, say yes. Tell them that you will need help to heat bottles and/or solids, and may need help with changing nappies and at meal time so that you can eat your meal.

Changing Nappies
Change your baby's nappy just before you go on board. The change area in the toilets is very small, so you may find it easier to change in the bassinette or on your seat. Check on the nappy first - if it is a soiled nappy you will have to go to the toilet due to the smell.

Toys
Pack a comfort or cuddle toy which your child likes for travel on the plane. Take some toys which are old favourites that your child has not seen for a while, and bring these out during the trip. Small toys such as little dolls/people, cars, trucks, trains are good for playing on the tray top. The airline baby/children's pack is useful as it is something different for children.

For babies - have a range of colourful toys which have different shapes and sounds to amuse the baby. The airline staff may help you by taking your baby for a walk down the aisle.

Peek-a-boo games are good. You may find some of the passengers near you may engage your child with this activity.

Taking off and landing - what to do
If you can have a baby asleep at these times then it will be easier for the baby and yourself. If not, allow the baby or small child  bottle to suck on their bottle or breastfeed (as soon as it is safe). The sucking and swallowing action will help with any build up of pressure in the ears.

Try delaying a feed until take off or coming down. This may not be possible, so you may wish to have a small bottle to offer when taking off/coming down - even if the baby takes only a small amount, it may be enough to help with ear discomfort.

For older children, have a drink and cup available to offer a drink at these times. If the child is old enough you may wish to have a soft sweet for the child to suck and chew. Chewing gum can also help.

Travel sickness

Travel sickness is usually caused by the change of position and movement on the inner ear. Travel sickness is most likely on ships and boats, but can happen in planes, buses and cars. Almost 50% of children get travel sick at some time of their lives. Some children are more likely to get travel sick than others.

Symptoms of travel sickness

  • Unsettled "tummy"
  • Becoming pale
  • Yawning
  • Flatulence ('burps')
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting

Travel sickness can go on for up to 3 days if the person stays in the same movement (eg on a boat). It usually gets better in 4 days as the body adjusts to the new situation. It usually stops within a few minutes after stopping a car.

What you can do to avoid travel sickness

  • Don't eat fatty foods before you leave - but do have something to eat. It seems worse on an empty stomach.
  • Encourage children to look outside the car, not inside, but not at moving things, eg other moving cars, try to look at something that is still.
  • Make sure there is a breeze of fresh air (eg have the window open a little).
  • Don't read in the car.
  • Keeping the head as still as possible is helpful.
  • Involve the child in thinking about other things.
  • If your child goes pale or gets very quiet or complains of feeling sick, stop and let her have a walk in the fresh air.
  • Medicines to prevent travel sickness can be obtained from a chemist if it is bad. Check with your doctor before giving them to young children or babies. Ginger may help and some people think that acupressure bracelets are helpful.
  • Take a container and wipes and a towel (plus a change of clothes) with you for accidents if your children are often sick.

References

Better Health Channel (Victoria) 
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/ 

Medline Plus (USA) 'Motion sickness' 
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/motionsickness.html 

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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