Foolproof travelling hacks from a dad of two

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Plan on travelling for the holidays with your kids? Take stock of these travelling tips from a dad of two with loads of experience and helpful hints.
With a little preparation and forethought, even the longest journey can be a fun-filled opportunity for family bonding.
By Craig Bishop
We live in Cape Town, and sometimes driving our three kids on a Saturday morning jaunt to St James tidal pool (a mere 30-minutes drive) will leave me and Liz absolutely shattered. Other times, a six-hour flight across national borders will have the entire family grinning. If there is a secret to bottling this positive energy, I’ve yet to find it. But over the last six years of brutal and blessed short and long-haul journeys, I have learnt some seriously helpful tricks to deflecting the tantrums and teasing out the smiles.

One of my fondest travel memories is standing in the plane aisle on a five-hour flight to Mauritius, rocking my one-year-old daughter Caro in my arms while softly crooning that sad old Scottish ballad that my Dad used to sing to me, ‘Speed Bonny Boat’.

To this day, I bring out ‘Speed Bonny Boat’ when all else fails to deflect a blossoming tantrum. That particular trip taught me and Liz a lesson. We were amply packed and prepped for both the flight and the destination, but sometimes you have to cut through all the games and the toys and the beeping technology and simply hold your child. That being said, you can’t do without the toys and the games, and as far as the kids are concerned, the beepier the technology the better!

So whether you are going by road or air, going to the beach or the bush, the mountains or the metropolis, and whether your kids are toddlers or teens, if you want to minimise the tantrums and maximise the Zen, the same principles apply. Prepare. Predict. Pre-empt.

Practise the art of list-making for the ultimate preparation

Luckily I am married to Liz, who simply relishes the opportunity to make lists. Everyone in our household knows when we are going on holiday because lists start appearing on the corkboard in the kitchen, on bedside tables, in emails, WhatsApp groups and Google calendar reminders. No one let my wife know I said this, but this is the first bit of travel sense everyone needs – don’t leave home without a fully ticked off list!

First, make sure you take what you need to actually get to your destination. This includes: passports and visas (if crossing national borders), insurance documents, bus or train tickets, car hire codes, phone chargers, drivers’ licenses, wallet with cash in, and last but not least, a plug converter!

Paperwork aside, you need to make sure you have packed all the daily essentials – especially if you’re travelling with a baby or toddlers. In fact, you’re most likely going to need a separate suitcase for all their paraphernalia – think nappies and nappy refuse bags, bum wipes, aqueous cream, sippy cups, formula, baby sling, pram, baby monitor and bibs. And don’t forget the first aid, insect replant, and sunscreen if you’re off to a tropical destination.

Predict tantrums by recognising the common triggers

When it comes to children, there are particular tantrum triggers to be aware of and prepared for, namely boredom and hunger. Pack unlimited snacks, from healthy treats to a few sugary ones, to curb any potential meltdowns. There will come a time on every holiday when all the strategising in the world won’t work anymore and you will simply have to resort to the judicious application of sweet treats. This is also known as bribery, but don’t worry, you can still retain the moral high ground by enforcing a little quid pro quo – for example, ‘We’ll each have a travel sweet when we hit the highway. (Or when the plane takes off…) And not before!’ It’s also advisable to have their favourite storybooks, colouring books and, of course, the tablet at the ready, which all provide a few hours of distraction if they start getting unsettled.

Pre-empt unavoidable meltdowns by providing distractions

If travelling with toddlers by plane, know that they are not able to equalise pressure differentials in their inner ears as the plane climbs and descends. This can be painful and result in a lot of tears. Be prepared with travel sweets for them to suck or a bottle of milk to drink, during takeoff and landing, which might help alleviate the pain. Long-haul travel, be it by plane, train or car can be taxing on a little person and inevitably they will succumb to fatigue and boredom which leads to a meltdown. Learn the little indicator moments that herald junior’s looming tantrum and be prepared with some form of distraction in order to avoid said tantrum.

3 things to know before you travel

Crossing borders
If a minor is crossing South Africa’s borders, by land, air or sea, in either direction, with only one parent, you will need an affidavit, no more than three-months old, in which the absent parent gives consent for the child to travel, a court order granting full parental responsibilities, or the death certificate of the absent parent.

Car seats
Obviously your destination and itinerary will govern your final decision here, but it is always wise to play it safe and bring car seats with you, if you are flying. Most airlines allow you to bring along a collapsible stroller and a car seat, as well as your normal luggage and they will wrap your car seat in protective packaging before putting it through into the cargo hold. Most prams can usually be brought onto the plane with you, and stowed safely by the air support staff. While you can request a hire car with a car seat at your destination, it’s not necessarily going to be the right one for your child, so play it safe and bring your own if you can. Before booking your hire car, confirm that the car has IsoFix options so you can install your child’s car seat on arrival.

Staying safe
Travelling with kids can be stressful especially if you’re visiting a new city or country. Safety should always be top of mind. Stay informed by chatting to locals about prevailing conditions, such as strong tides, rip currents, wild animals, known crime spots and so on. Make sure your accommodation is properly child-proofed – think balcony railings. It’s a good idea to give everyone a printed list of contact details and an address where you are staying. Zip it into the child’s pockets.

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