10 ideas to keep the kids happy (and quiet) on long trips
“Family holidays” mean “family journeys” with the vision of bored children looming large on the horizon! Here are 10 ideas to keep them happy whether you are travelling by plane, by train or by car...
1- Play their favourite music
Prepare a playlist of your children’s favourite music. Don’t forget to mix songs for young and old to keep everyone happy. You could even launch a family blind test.
You will need: an MP3 player that you can hook up to the car radio or headphones (you will need two sets of headphones for the blind test).
2- Snacks to keep them fuelled
Snacks break up the journey and make it seem shorter. If your children suffer from travel sickness, stock up on sweets, lollipops and chewing-gum (also perfect for ear ache during take-off and landings of airplanes).
You will need: water, kitchen towels, small pre-packed portions that don’t leave crumbs all over the place (yoghurts, rolls, fruit, etc).
3- Story time
Ideal for 6-7-year-olds who happily spend hours reading and also for younger children who love their elders to read to them. You just have to make sure that your children do not suffer from motion sickness if they read while on the move.
You will need: children’s books or magazines with several stories so you don’t “weigh” yourself down too much. A good idea for little ones: CDs that tell a story with the book so they can turn the pages at the same time.
4- Fun games
Charades, rock-paper-scissors, songs using hand gestures: delve into your childhood memories and retrieve the classics that continue to work wonders. Seven-year olds love guessing games like “I spy” or “Who am I?” which can range from cartoon characters to historic figures (10-plus).
You will need: if your children can play together or if you aren’t driving, playing cards and travel versions of board games (memory, dobble, etc). There is also an impressive range of free games that are available for smartphones to keep children entertained and quiet.
5- Creative leisure activities
If your children like to make things, now is the time to get all those creative kits out of the cupboards. Colouring books, stamps and stickers for the youngest and rainbow loom, pompoms and origami for the older ones. Anything goes providing you make sure you bring everything they will need and a box to put it all into.
Teach your children to breathe deeply, relax their muscles, drink regularly and look at the countryside, sky, sea, fields.
In the car, play relaxing music. On a train or in an airplane, give out mini massages and hugs.
7- The “adventurers”
If your journey involves exploring a new region or even country, make sure you include the children in the adventure. Take along a map to show them the itinerary and so they can indicate the halts along the way. Lend or read them your tourist guide and explain the history and culture of the place you are going to. We highly recommend investing in travel and history collections designed especially for children. You can also encourage your children to start their own travel log (or even blog) with photos and memorabilia (train tickets, museum brochures, etc). Get them each a book where they can stick or slip leaflets and tickets and write down their travel impressions. They can download photos when they get home and make it into a proper journal.
8- DVD rewards
For over three-year-olds, don’t deprive yourself of a tablet or laptop with a selection of cartoons and films to suit their age. They can save the day if you get delayed or stuck in traffic jams.
9- A well-deserved nap
Depending on their age and your travel times, don’t neglect this simple option! Call it a “time out” for the over 6-year-olds, they’ll like it better!
You will need: their favourite cuddly toy, a travel pillow, a soft blanket (an adult jumper or shawl for example) and in the car, sun screens. Tip: fabric eye masks can be very useful if you are travelling by train or plane at night-time.
10- Boredom is part of growing up
Child psychiatrists agree that being bored is an essential step on the road to developing children’s imagination and autonomy. So don’t feel too guilty if they aren’t entertained all the time. It is also up to children to find ways to keep themselves occupied by observing the world around them and experiencing the freedom that besets all great travellers...
Many airports today have play areas for children and even entire family lounges. For example, Orly and Roissy airports both have dedicated children’s play areas, as do many other major European (Amsterdam, Heathrow, Munich) and international airports. Go onto the airport website before you leave to find out which facilities are available and exactly where they are located.
The French railway network provides “Family areas” near the nursery in many TGV trains to make life for parents easier and journeys more pleasant for everyone. When you book a train, look for the “pushchair” icon and tick the “Espaces familles” box. As a result, you won’t have to worry that your children’s laughter (or tantrums) disturb other travellers. Most other European rail networks offer similar services and the Austrian, Finnish, German and Swiss networks are particularly noteworthy.