Surviving school holiday travel as a family

Family toasts marshmallows around a campfire for a story about surviving school holidays as a family.

School holidays are in full swing in some parts of Australia and if you’re lucky to have time off, you might be about to fly the coop for a getaway or have even left already.

And while getting away can be an absolute joy, it can also make you wish you had just stayed home where your kids have their normal routine, your pet doesn’t get anxious, you have your own pillow and no-one is trapped in a car or plane together.

So how can you increase the joy of family holidays and (hopefully) reduce the screaming, yelling, hitting, biting and crying (for your kids, too)?

Whether it’s addressing the challenges of travelling with family, maximising your carry-on luggage, making the most of winter destinations or taking the dog along for the ride, we’ve got tips from experts and some people, just like you, who have found what works for them.

Travelling with the young and old

Journalist Gemma Breen stands with her two young children, Oscar, 3, and Leo, 6.
IMAGEGemma Breen took her sons on an adventure to Woodford Folk Festival.(Supplied)

Want to have an adventure with the kids? Plan the hell out of it, says ABC journalist and mum-of-two Gemma Breen.

She took her sons to Woodford Folk Festival last year and learnt a lot about keeping them fed and happy in the process.

Quick takeaway: You shouldn’t stop doing things you love (like music festivals) because you have kids, but you should definitely not expect those things to go the way they did pre-kids. So slow down and enjoy the long way round.

If grandparents or other great folks are coming along, this advice for travelling with an elderly relative will help you make wonderful memories without wearing anyone out.

Whether it’s your dad and his wheelie walker, an aunty mourning a lifelong partner or a fit and enthusiastic older friend, you can have plenty of fun with the right planning and considerations.

Quick takeaway: Consider mobility and stamina in your organisation — maybe don’t book the ‘treehouse’ shack with the ladder this time.

Road trip!

Dog with eyes closed and head out the window of a car
IMAGEWorking up gradually to long car trips, restraining your pet properly, and bringing a few familiar items can all help make your furry friend comfortable on your next getaway.(Unsplash: Avi Richards)

Caravanning can be a great way for family members to bond. Just ask these “under age nomads”, who say getting the family into caravanning helps you and the kids enjoy the “simple things in life” and connect with people and nature.

And caravan parks can be the ideal place for kids to be kids, and parents to both relax. You’re likely to see groups of kids riding bikes and scooters around unsupervised, while others dig holes and play barefoot in the dirt together, until dark.

Quick takeaway: Caravan parks can help children make new friends and build their confidence in a safe social setting.

Road trips are a great way to include those other, more furry, members of the family too, especially if you get them used to the car before you leave.

Reporter Grace Jennings-Edquist’s cat likes to let her know of his displeasure for travel by finding new and creative substitutes for his litter tray. So she tracked down some animal behaviour experts to give her tips for making travel easier on him.

Quick takeaway: Familiar items and smells will soothe your pet during your travels, so consider laying the pet’s blanket and a favourite toy in its crate for the trip.

Flying somewhere?

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Duration: 3 minutes 38 seconds338s
VIDEOTravelling this summer? Get the most out of your 7kg of carry on(ABC Life: Matt Garrow)

If you’ve flown somewhere domestically, or are just into packing small, our guide to maximise your carry-on luggage might be handy for you — especially given a bunch or airlines have cracked down on carry-on luggage weight in recent months.

Quick takeaway: Use packing cubes and roll your clothes!

No matter how organised you are, if you fly, you are still going to have time spent waiting at the airport, even more if you are flying internationally. We have some tips for having a better flight, including how to spend your time at the airport.

Thinking ahead can help you know what you are in for at unfamiliar terminals. Check out the airport’s website and social media to see what facilities are available, such as a kids’ play area, food and drinks.

Quick takeaway: Arrive early to check-in stress-free, and use the extra time to make overdue phone calls to family and friends.

When the kids get bored (and anxious)

Two young boys sitting at a playground, the older one is holding the younger one
IMAGEKids can learn how to compromise and negotiate by fighting with their siblings.(Unsplash: Hisu Lee)

School holidays are a fun time but they can also be challenging for children. The change in routine that comes with a holiday can make them feel stressed and unsettled.

Children take their parents’ lead. “Kids will catch our calm but they will also catch our crazy if we’re a little over the top, angry, frustrated or stressed,” says Justin Coulson, a psychologist and father of six.

Quick takeaway: Try to keep holiday planning calm and have some extra compassion for your kids when the routine goes out the window.

If you need some time out, there’s always ABC’s Bluey to distract and entertain. And my tip here (as a recent convert) is it’s not just for the kids!

And if you have more than one small person, you will already know some fighting is on the cards, right?

But a little bit of perspective on this inevitable part of family life can be helpful for your own peace of mind.

Conflict between siblings of all ages and genders is actually be a very good way to teach kids vital life skills such as negotiation, problem-solving, conflict resolution and compromise. And it’s likely (but not guaranteed) they will still grow up to be friends.

Quick takeaway: Take a step back and watch when siblings are having a (non-violent) disagreement. Allow the kids space to practise working it out themselves.

Making travel fun for your child

Fiona Churchman, Travis Saunders and their son Patch in front of a road sign saying Sherman Pass

For a child with autism, there are other things to take into account, such as involving them more in the planning and practising parts of the trip.

Fiona Churchman’s son Patch learnt resilience and developed his communication skills on their trip to the US.

“Patch also met a whole range of people who he connected with in such an easy and natural way and he learnt the value of unexpected kindness,” she says.

Quick takeaway: Follow the strengths and interests of your child.

A break for parents can help avoid anxiety and depression, and let someone refresh and reset. These mums and dads share how travelling on their own sans partners or kids keeps them sane.

Quick takeaway: Make sure to return the favour if a partner or someone else looks after your brood!

Wherever you’re going this school holidays, stay safe and have fun. And if this helps you or you have any of your own tips, feel free to drop us a line and let us know.

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