11 top tips for easy toddler travel

Taking your tot on hols for the first time this year? Follow our experts’ tips to keep the family safe and sane, while making the journey more of a treat than a trial

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  • Snappy nappy changes

    Planning ahead can help at changing time. “Prepare individual sacks each with a clean nappy and wipes so you don’t have to take all your changing stuff into the toilets every time,” suggests Louise Stevenson from First Choice. “If you’re flying, it’s also worth popping spare clothes for you both in your hand luggage for any little incidents.”

  • Dress for the occasion

    “Planes can be rather chilly when you first board them, then stuffy, so dress your tot in several layers so they can be taken on and off easily,” advises Claire Adams, head of childrenswear at Blooming Marvellous. “Comfort is key, so avoid brand-new clothes that need wearing in. And if you’re going the distance in a car, go for trousers rather than a skirt or dress,” adds Claire. “They can ride up under car seatbelts and rub a toddler’s soft skin.”

  • Concentrate at the gate

    Listen out for the call for passengers with children when you’re at the departure gate. You get priority boarding if you have little ones and you don’t want to miss that!

  • Be hire happy

    It’s easier all round to hire a car seat when you pick up your hire car abroad, but will it be safe? “Go on recommendations,” advises Wendy. “Ask your airline or travel agent, while a friend who has been to the area before is also a good bet so you get a reputable company and decent equipment.” Big multinational companies usually have the best reputation for hiring, but if you do take your own, it’ll get checked in the hold like your buggy, which some airlines charge for.

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  • Attention please!

    “Your toddler needs even more interest from you than usual on a long journey,” says Practical Parenting’s psychologist Dr Richard Woolfson, “so try not to zone out. Talk to him, play with him and take him for walks up and down the plane whenever possible.”

  • Toys, toys, toys

    “Pack lots of little toys that you know he likes, and sneak in a few new ones to help keep him occupied,” says Wendy Shand, founder of Tots To Travel. “Head to the supermarket and stock up on cheap, small toys and wrap them up so he has surprises along the way to keep him busy.”

  • Seat dreams

    If you’re flying with an airline who’ll let you choose your seat, make sure you check-in early so you can pick an aisle seat – it’ll make toilet trips and walks easier.

  • Take a break

    Doing the distance by driving? Put a ball in the boot and plan several stops along the way at service stations that have green areas. That way, he can get out and have a kickabout to stretch his legs. It’ll break up the journey a treat and, hopefully, wear him out a bit.

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  • Pack light

    Check before you go if your holiday company can provide children’s packs to pick up when you get to your destination, so you’ll only need to worry about packing enough nappies and wipes for travelling. If you do need your own bits and bobs, lightweight changing mats can be packed into your bag easily, and if you need a highchair for on the way, check out the Totseat, £22, which attaches to a normal chair and doesn’t weigh a tonne so won’t up your weight allowance.

  • Don’t forget the blankie

    Check, double check and triple check that you have your toddler’s comforter or blanket in the car or in your hand luggage. He really won’t be very understanding when you try to explain that it’s in the hold, you’re 30,000ft in the air and you really can’t get to it.

  • Tots afloat

    Heading out on the ocean waves? “If your cruise has a parents’ talk on the first day, then make sure you go,” says Philip Price from P&O Cruises. “It’ll put your mind at rest about the childcare available and let you know just how much there is for your little one to do on board.” If you’re using a ferry, remember to take an on-deck bag with changing gear, toys and snacks. Even if you’re only on board for an hour or so, you’ll need it.

  • Parents’ stories

    “I’m originally from South Africa, so we fly long haul quite a bit. We take lots of Michael’s favourite snacks, picture books that don’t take up too much space, a couple of favourite toys and a few new small toys, wrapped up. It takes time to unwrap them, and the new toys are a novelty that keep him entertained. I also always try to let him run around the airport – on his reins, of course – before we depart, as it tires him out before the flight and gets rid of some excess energy!"

    Anya Headon, 33, from Surrey, mum to Michael, 23 months

    “Last year we tried the ultimate test, driving from London to the Loire Valley in France for our holiday. We timed the journey so that Samuel was ready for his nap and slept for a couple of hours at first, and then we just planned lots of stops. In between, my partner Nicky sat in the back with books, colouring pens and paper, Play Doh, and plenty of snacks to keep him occupied.”

    John Perkins, 38, from London, dad to Samuel, 3

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  • 3 on-the-move activities

    Plane spotting

    Once you’re waiting in the departure lounge, see if you can grab a place near any windows with views of the runways. Then watch your toddler’s eyes light up as the jets take off.


    There are loads of things for him to look for at a terminal, and pottering around peering at everything from pilots in uniform to buggy carts is bound to help tire your tot before you board.

    Flight tales

    When selecting your vital holiday reading, find any kiddies stories about planes or flying and read it together while you wait. He’ll love the piccies matching up with his surroundings. 

    Did you know…

    Your buggy will need to be X-rayed at the boarding gate before you fly. So as you approach it, take him out and fold it up ready so you don’t get stressed doing it last minute.