With the summer holidays getting ever closer, it is the time when many Brits pack a bag and head off to explore somewhere new – be it lazing in sunnier climes or hiking in the mountains; discovering a new city to get lost in or relaxing by a pool on a ship in the middle of the ocean; splashing in the pool with your children or finding fine cuisine. All of our holiday ideals are slightly different but your holiday preparations are often very similar. While chatting with some friends yesterday about our plans for the summer, my friend mentioned that the holiday preparations stress her out, so I thought I would compile a list of key holiday tips to help anyone who hates the holiday preparations as much as she does.
Holiday Preparations Top Tip 1 – Visas
Do not forget to check your visa requirements before you book your holiday! If you are travelling out of Europe you are likely to require a visa. Sometimes, you may need to visit an embassy in London, or have a lengthy wait to be approved for your visa, so it is best to check before you even book your tickets so that you aren’t disappointed. I do speak from experience when I say that applying for a visa is not always straight forward and the more time you give yourself the better. When you purchase your visa please check that it is directly through the destination countries immigration website and not through a third party. Sadly, I made this mistake when travelling to America earlier this year and it was a costly mistake to make. Even if you are only transiting through a country (when a plane lands at an airport to refuel and you get off and enter the airport) you may still need a visa, so please check with the airline, or on the transit country’s immigration website.
Holiday Preparations Top Tip 2 – Guide Books
I love to read and I love to plan, so a good guide book plays an essential part in my holiday preparation. As soon as I book my flights, I will head off to find my chosen guidebook or start researching online. A good guidebook will contain essential local tips too, including emergency service phone numbers and how to avoid making any travel faux pas – for example did you know that it is against the law not to flush the toilet in Singapore? If you are travelling off the beaten track, or you haven’t booked accommodation and want to travel around in an area then you really can’t beat the Lonely Planet guide books in my opinion. If you are staying at a hotel in a tourist area and want to know what attractions are nearby then the Lonely Planet website has great links and I often print off a chapter or two from the local book rather than buying the entire book. If I am visiting a city then I am rather partial to the Inside Out city guides which are really small so easy to carry but have key information and great maps in. I will also probably buy myself the Lonely Planet city guide book for more detailed local knowledge as I love to explore some off the beaten track places and activities. Head down to your local book shop to see which guide book appeals to you and pack it in your hand luggage to read on the plane if you are lucky enough to have a child who naps.
Holiday Preparations Top Tip 3 – Insurance
I was horrified to read on the ABTA website in May that in 2017 10 million Brits travelled abroad without travel insurance. I wonder if as a nation we are so used to having the amazing benefits of the NHS that it just doesn’t occur to everyone that this isn’t an option abroad? I cannot understand why else this number would be so high. In Europe currently you can apply for the benefits of the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) but this doesn’t guarantee free health care and certainly isn’t all encompassing. The government are quick to make it clear that the EHIC does not replace travel insurance. I can assure you that for the low cost of purchasing a comprehensive travel insurance, such as Bupa Global, you could be saving yourself thousands of pounds if things go wrong. When I was in America in my twenties I was in excellent health and had been walking for the day in Yosemite National Park, California (I highly recommend a visit) when my right food started to ache. Within minutes, the pain was so intense that hubby had to almost carry me back to the car. I took my shoe off and by the time we arrived back at our hotel, a short drive away, I couldn’t even put my sock on let alone my foot as my foot was so swollen. Unable to walk and in a lot of pain, I ended up in hospital in San Francisco where I had a consultation, scans and was sent off with crutches. Thankfully, I had travel insurance otherwise these few hours in hospital would have cost me thousands of pounds. My travel insurance dealt with the hospital directly and I didn’t have to think about it again.
Holiday Preparations Top Tip 4 – Food
If like me you are travelling with food allergies then you will need to prepare yourself as much as you can before you travel. I always ensure that I have written down key phrases in the language of the country we are visiting to make sure that I am understood. This will be even more important now that J has been diagnosed with a peanut allergy. I do my research into the particular country we are visiting through online sites such as Allergy Travels and regularly have a look on the website of the local supermarkets so I know how much food to pack in the suitcase to take with us. When in restaurants, I have been known to point to my Epi-Pen when the waiters have seemed to misunderstood or been too relaxed for my liking. This seems to work wonders. In recent years, there has been a huge improvement in areas I have visited with regards allergy education and allergy menus are far more common now than they were 5 years ago so do ask if they have them.
Holiday Preparations Top Tip 5 – Flying with children
Many parents worry about flying with children, but this is something that I have found to be very manageable, as long as you are prepared.
- Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and to move around it. We take our own car seat and pushchair and in some airports these need to be taken to a separate counter once you have checked in your bags which can take quite a bit of time as they are not always manned.
- The airport security lines can be stressful for little ones. Some airports have special lines for families and these are easier as you don’t have other stressed passengers huffing and tutting as you load on all of your belongings to be scanned and they tend to be shorter so less time waiting around for children. My little boy used to be quite scared of the scanners and this could result in tears and tantrums so we practise by playing airports before we travel to help him become familiar with the process.
- Milk and baby food can be carried in bottles or containers in cabin luggage for under 2’s. They will scan the milk and liquid items in a special security machine (sometimes you may be asked to drink it but we have always flown into airports which have the machines). Now that J is over 2 we have to have a doctor’s letter to carry his special milk onboard with us, but we can carry as much as we need for the holiday in the hold.
- Take your own car seat on the plane (we carry ours in the hold, which is free of charge, but some can be taken onboard for little ones to sit in – please check before you book your tickets as this may incur an additional charge). We didn’t take our car seat the first time we went abroad as we couldn’t face an extra item to carry at the airport. This was a big mistake! We booked a car hire with Sixt and they were fabulous and the car seats were immaculate and seemed very safe, however, J hated it and cried every time we got into the car. It also took us half an hour at the airport to queue up to collect it and then a further 25 minutes to work out how to fit in. The car seat also didn’t angle him well and so I was constantly having to tip his head back if he fell asleep. We travelled with our own car seat after that.
- Turning up at the airport for any length flight without the appropriate amount of snacks is not advised! When we fly to Europe we fly without a meal, so we know that we will need plenty of snacks. Don’t forget to accommodate from the moment you leave the house to the moment you arrive at your accommodation (not just the length of the flight). Plan for delays and the time it takes to queue for transfers or car hire, you do not want to be caught with a hungry child and no eatery in sight. When we flew to America, we were on a flight that provided kids meals, but we did not rely on them as you never know how long you will be delayed for or when your child may need something to eat, or if they will eat the plane food at all, so again pack plenty of snacks and water to keep them going. If you have any special requirements call the airline ahead of your flight in plenty of time to check what you need to do.
- Entertainment is a must! We flew to America with some small wrapped presents in my rucksack including a sticker book, 2 Hot Wheels cars, 2 Paw patrol figures and some crayons (I also had some wrapped gifts in my suitcase ready for the flight home too). We also had a tablet full of apps, games and downloaded TV programmes and several books, colouring pages and crayons in J’s bag. We didn’t use it all, but I would far rather have it to hand than not.
- Check the airline seating policy. Many airlines now make you pay extra to be guaranteed to sit together and they have been known to separate children or one adult, so we always pay the extra to reserve our seats to avoid a stressful situation occurring on the day.
- If your child has recently toilet trained or is toilet trained, but not able to hold their need for at least 20 minutes then put them in nappy pants. This way if they don’t make it to the toilet it doesn’t matter and they don’t have to sit on a wet seat for the rest of the flight. We decided to put J in nappy pants to America. He still used the toilet but they were a safety net in case we got stuck in turbulence or he needed to go mid take off or landing. I also only flushed the toilet once he had headed back up the aisle because airplane toilets have a very noisy flush.
Holiday Preparations Top Tip 6 – Driving with Children
I have driven many a long trip throughout Europe and Australia without children. I have also driven to the Scottish Highlands from the south coast with a 1 year old. Again, preparation is key.
- Know what the service station symbol is on your map. Toilets in Europe come at a cost in the service stations, so ensure you have some change in Euros ready in the car before your journey. There are frequent rest stops to be found on the main roads though which are free toilets, some far less pretty than others, but they will do perfectly in an emergency.
- Entertainment is essential. We have a tablet holder that rests onto the back of the headrest so that J can watch downloaded TV programmes. Now that he is older, we are investigating DVD players and the tablet holders which are easier for children to hold on their laps so he can play on his games and apps if he prefers.
Holiday Preparations Top Tip 7 – Packing
This is probably the thing that I found trickiest as a parent as I was so worried about forgetting something, but then I remembered that people have babies in other countries too. 😉 If you forget something there is most likely going to be an equivalent option available when you arrive at your destination.
The only thing I would not take for granted here is prescribed medicine and baby food/snacks. We are so lucky in the UK to have so many options for little ones. In my experience in both Europe and America the non pureed options are either non existent or very limited. With J’s restricted diet this causes problems so we pack plenty of his favourite snacks in our suitcase and take them with us.
If your child has a sensitive bottom then check if you can buy their preferred brand of nappies/wipes in your destination country. We made this mistake the first time we visited Spain and J got really awful nappy rash. We went online and found that our chosen brand was available in Spain but under a different brand name, so we rushed out and bought more nappies which solved the problem, but poor J suffered for a couple of days.
Some key toys are a must. We always take a few simple bits in the suitcase with us. We went to a fabric shop and bought a road map plastic covered fabric. This folds up very small and is quite light. We pop in some cars and some character figures and J is happy for hours by the pool. To attend to J’s active needs we also put in a small football and a velcro bat and ball set. For restaurant entertainment we pack the contents of J’s Paw Patrol Busy Book. These are fab and come with little figures and a few scene posters – they are perfectly sized for tables. Finally we pack a few Orchard board games for the evening/restaurant. This ensures that we have a happy child without taking up much suitcase space.
What are your key holiday preparation tips and tricks? I’d love to hear all about them in the comments below.
Have a fabulous holiday! Let me know where you are off to.
*This is a collaborative post.