How to prepare kids for travel

Bags All Packed!

Do you know how to prepare kids for travel? Do you bother? We’ve just told the Things about an impromptu trip we are taking in 3 weeks’ time. I say impromptu, I mean Mr Wanderlust and I have been talking about it for weeks but it was only this week that we finally pulled the trigger and agreed on destination, dates (within the confines of half term dates) and hotel.

Mr Wanderlust are beyond excited to go to…..THE MALDIVES!!!! I couldn’t believe how they just nonchalantly agreed that a trip would be exciting. There’s no worry or anxiety for any of us. Let me tell you, we have come A LONG WAY. (And this is clearly going to bite my in the backside – prepare for a post in 3 weeks about our DISASTROUS trip lol).

Do you need to prepare your kids ahead of a trip?

It got me thinking though… We’ve done our fair share of travelling with the Things and we’ve had some great experiences and some not so great experiences. While not a guarantee of a good holiday or well behaved Things, I do find our Things have a tendency to misbehave more when they feel unprepared or don’t understand what is going on. We are so good at preparing ourselves for travel. Are we any good at preparing them?!


A Moment of Calm in a Stressful Holiday
A Moment of Calm in a Stressful Holiday

Are Holidays Stressful for Things?

On the one hand you look at a holiday and wonder what could possibly make kids want to misbehave. I mean you’re on holiday! Both parents are going to be around when they aren’t usually. There’s no school with its rushed mornings, homework and after school activities. You’re doing (hopefully!) fun things and eating out more… What’s not to love?!

Of course, when I take a step back, it stands to reason that a holiday could invoke anxiety in our Things. We are taking them out of the security and safety of the family home. They aren’t sleeping in their own beds and they don’t have their usual toys around them. They are out of their familiar routines and away from their friends. The concept of holidays is still something that is quite new for them. A holiday probably doesn’t yet have that connotation of ultimate relaxation that we associate them. That’s all pretty scary stuff for a Thing.

Holidays Are Filled With New Experiences
Holidays Are Filled With New Experiences

What can we do?

I mean its not like there is a formula or anything… but here are a few things you can do to prepare kids for travel. Its important to remember that all Things are different so please take all this with a pinch of salt and adjust it according to your Thing’s needs, age, emotional development, etc.

1. Pre Travel

Telling them about the trip

Some Things need lots of preparation. Some like to look forward to the adventure. More anxious children might not benefit from lots of advance warning as it will give them time to worry. Babies obviously don’t need any notice at all. Teenagers might need more time to organise their homework schedules or social calendars. In general, at some point you need to tell your Things about where you are going and when. For babies and toddlers this might be a day or 2 before. For older kids maybe a week to a month is enough. For teenagers you’ll probably talk to them about it at the time of booking.

Preparing for the trip

If you haven’t done much travelling with your Things before, you might want to read books about going on a plane / train / coach / car journey. its also good to talk about what happens (even in step by step terms) about the trip. For smaller children it can be fun to read books about journeys and about where you are going. Or you could look at photos online so they know what to expect. You can talk to them about the activities that you are planning for your time away.

As our Things have grown a bit older we have started to talk to them a bit more about where we are going. We talk about the culture as well as the language that they speak there. It made me smile every time they said “terima kasih” (thank you) in Bali and how whoever we spoke to would smile and say “sama sama” (you’re welcome) in return.

2. 72 – 24 Hours Before


If you have a baby then prepare yourself to pack an unprecedented amount of clothes and equipment. Depending on their age and their interest in their clothes, involve your Things in the packing. Thing 1 (at age 5) could not care less what I pack for him, even now. Thing 2, on the other hand, was once furious to discover I’d packed some clothes that she apparently hated and left other things at home. I now involve both of them but this means no advance packing as it makes them think we are leaving imminently. There are only so many times I can answer the “are we going on holiday now?” question lol.

We also now ask the Things to pack their own carry on which includes their iPads and any toys that they want to bring. We have learned the hard way that this activity needs to be supervised closely and all items will require a negotiation!

Bags All Packed!
Bags All Packed!

If you need some tips on packing you can find my top 7 here.


If you think your Things are old enough to understand a conversation then discussing how to behave on a plane or train is definitely worthwhile. Here are some talking points:

  • Talk about the fact that there may be lots of people around and it is important to stay together. Talk about who your Things could ask for help if they get separated from you and what they should do.
  • Discuss the difference between inside and outside voices. Consider how other people might not want to hear them shouting or talking loudly.
  • Explain how certain behaviours are not acceptable. For example seat kicking, running, shouting, keeping things out of the aisle.
  • Talk about rules on the plane. Example include the requirement to wear seatbelt and to have the window shade up for take-off and landing.

3. On the Day

Reiterate the behaviour discussions that you have had previously and discuss the stages of the journey again. Talk about the next stage of the journey as you’re completing the previous one so your Things know what’s happening next. You may want to have something such as a treat or small toy to mark the transitions between stages of the journey and to alleviate boredom. If there is anywhere to play (some airports have playgrounds) or just to have a run around to burn off some steam that can also help.

4. During the Vacation

When they were little we tended to focus more on routines to help them but as they get older they need a bit more. Even now, we tend to focus lots on the journey and not so much on the activities we do while we are away. The reality is that they still like to know what is going to happen and what we’ll be doing. Now that they’re older this is more of a family discussion rather than a decision made just by us. If you can talk to them about what they’d like to do (and will be able to do it!) then that helps them feel they have some control over what’s happening to them day by day.

When we were in Italy over the summer, there were times when we didn’t decide what we were doing until the day itself or, at the very least, the night before after the Things were in bed. In future I think I will talk to them about the fact that we haven’t decided what we are doing yet so that they understand there isn’t some big plan that they aren’t part of.

5. Departures

It can be quite the shock to a Thing to find out that this holiday is suddenly coming to an end. We try to prepare our Things a day or 2 in advance that we will be moving on. Over the summer this was all quite complicated – staying in 4 places with 3 different groups of people…

We tried to keep it simple. We were pretty good at telling them that we were leaving and going on another plane. We even told them about the next group of people that we would be seeing in the next place. We took it for granted that they would conclude that that meant we would be saying goodbye to the people we were with at the time. It came as quite the shock to them to say goodbye: Both asked a couple of times where those people were and if they were coming on to the next place with us!

Saying Hello and Goodbye Can Get Confusing
Saying Hello and Goodbye Can Get Confusing

Lessons For Me – COMMUNICATE!

My biggest lessons learned have actually crystallised as I have been writing this post. All the things that I take for granted about travelling are things that I know because I’ve learnt them over the years or are things that I know because I have done all the planning for the trip. There’s often no way that the Things can know what I know! So it is unfair to expect them to be prepared if I haven’t let them in on the plans.

Emma Morrell
Emma Morrell

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