Toddlers: The Travel Guide

It’s probably no surprise that I was somewhat dreading our recent five-hour flight with our ‘threenager’ and just-walking 18 month old. If you’ve ever flown with (or near!) small children, you’ll know what a nightmare travelling with toddlers can be.
What’s more surprising is that both our outward and return flights turned out to be completely melt-down free.
Luck played its part – no teething, no temperatures and no ten-hour delays. But some careful prep helped to make the flight memorable for all the right reasons.
So here’s some tips to help when flying with toddlers.


Tell tales
Reading stories a few days prior to the journey helped our eldest know what to expect. Our boy’s favourite (and, in my opinion, the best for preparing him) was Maisy Goes By Plane closely followed by Topsy and Tim Go On An Aeroplane. One better suited to the younger of our two tots was George Goes On A Plane.

Take a toy plane
Our three-year old son held a little toy jet throughout his airport adventure. It was part of a wooden airport set from Le Toy Van. But a paper one would have been just the ticket too.

Get pushy
Relying on the goodwill of our three-year-old to ‘walk nicely’ (and quickly) around Heathrow was never really an option. We took two separate pushchairs which also meant Dad and daughter could nip off for a nap while Mum and son had a cup of OJ and cake. We kept the buggies until boarding and they were ready and waiting when we disembarked.

Seek out the softplay
Stumbling on the small softplay area was a very welcome surprise, giving the kids the chance to burn off a bucket load of energy pre-flight. So if you find softplay at the airport, use it and abuse it.

Go plane spotting
A big thank you goes to the interior designers at Heathrow for the huge floor to ceiling windows by the departure gates. Our toddlers loved spying planes and became increasingly fascinated with the tarmac goings on.

Board late, not last
Many airlines give preferential boarding to passengers with young kids. We held back to make sure the kids were constrained and confined on board for the shortest amount of time possible.


Pack like a pro
Here’s how we packed our three bags of hand luggage:
Bag one contained all the entertainment (books, a lot of new tat toys from the pound shop, iPad and travel Guess Who?).

Bag two contained stuff we knew we’d need on board – snacks (more on this later), changing paraphernalia, comforters (including one ridiculously large cuddly light-up Thomas the Tank Engine) and jumpers. We placed these two bags under the seats in front for easy access.

Bag three had all the things we thought we might need, but hoped we wouldn’t – asthma inhaler and medicine, spare clothes, extra nappies, etc. We shoved it up high and ignored it.

Once you’re wedged in your seats, there’s no room to rummage through bags searching for the sodding baby wipes. So within each bag, we used see-through, sealable, plastic food bags to group things together. It meant that all the nappy changing kit could be grabbed in one go and everything was super easy to find. Anal? Perhaps. Helpful? Definitely.

Bring a bottle
If your little one still takes a bottle, let them guzzle away at the start and end of the flight to prevent the pain in their ears caused by the change in altitude. And, since an occasional Chupa Chup never hurt anyone, if your child is old enough, give them a lolly to suck. (It’s a great distraction tool too)

Snacks, snacks, snacks
A hungry kid is NEVER a happy kid and grazing keeps boredom at bay. To avoid sugar highs (especially after the aforementioned Chupa Chup), divide portions of pretzels, raisins, crackers, low-sugar biscuits, and yes, Pom Bear crisps, into lots of small snack bags. For us, full tanks meant a tantrum-free flight. (Plus a pack of chocolate buttons for the purpose of bribery is always a winner.)

Carry me, baby
I looked longingly as the other babies slept peacefully in those cosy bulk-head bassinets. Our youngest was deemed too old for such a luxury (jealous, much?) but she still needed her sleep. I popped her in a baby carrier (which is suitable up to age three) and did the shaky-hip thing mums instinctively do until she dozed right off. Miraculously, she stayed asleep while I slowly and skillfully maneuvered myself back into my seat. Go me.

The iPad is your friend
We thanked our lucky CBeebies stars for Charlie and Lola and Topsy and Tim – the best babysitters on board.

The lovely lot over at netmums have lots more advice for travelling with children and, if like me you’re slightly dreading flying with toddlers, you never know, they might just surprise you too.

Bon Voyage!

Sydney according to Stanley…an amazing day out by Stan aged 9

I was really excited about my day out in Sydney. It was a really early start when the coach picked us up from the hotel and we were the first on the coach, so we got first pick of all the seats. I chose the very front seats
so we could see the coach driver driving and we could look through the big windscreen. It took quite a long time to pick everybody else up from the hotels and get out of Sydney. It was raining and I was really worried it was going to rain all day – the bit I was most looking forward to was sand boarding so I just really hoped it wasn’t going to rain and we were going to be sliding down on soggy sand.

The coach driver was really interesting, telling us things along the way about Australia and its history. After about two hours we finally got our first stop which was the Australian reptile park. The very first things we saw were alligators which were quite hard to spot because they were lying still in the water like logs. The next thing we did was go into the koala enclosure where we got to be really close up with two different koalas. We weren’t allowed to hold them because apparently the rules have changed and people who aren’t their keepers arent allowed to hold them – but we were allowed to stroke them and they’re really soft and cuddly and cute and always half asleep. I asked some questions of the keeper about how old they live to and what they eat. 

Next were the kangaroos and they were just jumping around freely and we could walk right up to them and feed them with the special food. You don’t realise how big a kangaroo is until it stands up on its hind feet in front of you wanting some food and when it bounced off it looked really powerful. As I watched the kangaroo bounce off I spied something in the distance – it was a very cool and enormous playground with big swings, climbing frames and a slide.

As much as I love animals I also love playing in parks too! We got an ice cream and mummy went to put the wrappers in the bin and as she lifted the lid a giant cockroach came scuttering out and mummy screamed – lots of other tourists turned round to look thinking it was going to be a huge crocodile or alligator but there was this tiny bug on the floor with mummy dancing up and down – embarrassing or what! We saw the famous crocodile, Elvis who again wasn’t doing very much – he was just lying there but he was massive ans looked very grumpy. I did feel a bit sorry for him being in a cage to be honest. Soon it was time to get back on the coach so we got back on and looked at the lovely gift we bought for Louis my brother – it was a toy kangaroo which is what he asked for and I also bought a wooden boomerang that had been hand painted by local aboriginal artists – it was really cool. After another long coach wide and quite a few stampy long nose videos later (the coach had wifi – awesome) we arrived in Port Stephens. This was where we were going to do some dolphin watching but first we needed to have some lunch. We went into a cafe and I had pancakes. Pancakes for lunch you say? I know!! But I wasn’t that hungry so pancakes was the only thing I fancied. It wasn’t raining now but it was still a bit overcast which was just perfect weather to be sitting on top of a lovely boat going out to sea to search for dolphins. 

We started off on our journey around the bay and the captain made an announcement saying it was our job to look out for the dolphins as much as his so we put our sunglasses on and were looked out onto the horizon. Another boat messages our boat to tell us that they had found a pod of dolphins so we headed over there and then suddenly lots of dorsal fins came out of the water and there were these lovely dolphins and they had a baby with them as well. It was exciting to see real life dolphins and food that they weren’t in a cage but free in the ocean. Apparently they like to play in the trail of bubbles that come out the boats engine as they are quite playful, so they were following the boat and being really inquisitive so we got a good long look at them. 

The boat headed back and we got off, had an ice cream – yes another one – and got back onto the coach. I was getting really excited now because this was the bit I was most looking forward to of our AAT Kings Tours big day out – the dunes! It was only a 15 minute drive to the huge sand dunes and we got off and climbed into these really cool 4×4 Jeeps that took us right to the top of the sand dunes – it was incredible. It felt like we were in the desert except we were right by the sea with big waves rolling in and there was absolutely no rain. The instructor showed us what to do with the boards and we were off. It was a big hard climb up to the top of this sand dune that we were allowed to slide down. But it was worth it. You sat your bottom on the board right at the top of the slope and then pushed yourself off. If you dig your hands into the sand as you’re going down it slows you down so I did that on my first go but on the second, third, fourth and fifth go, I went really fast and I went to the steepest bit of the Sanddune to get the biggest thrill – and the result was beyond cool…

Eventually the instructor told us it was time to finish so we got our last ride down in just before we had to get back on the coach. It was a very long drive back. In fact it was dark by the time we got back to our hotel but we’d had a fantastic day. I didn’t think it could get any better, but after a long soak in the bath to get the sand out of our ears. I snuggled up in my white towelling robe in our hotel room at the amazing Radison Blu in Sydney, ordered room service of the best burger I’ve ever eaten and chips and I sat on the bed watching TV – what a day! 

Portugal: Keeping it in the family

Dad Mark Woods finds a resort that finally lives up to its family-friendly billing by giving mums and dads something to look forward to as well as the children.

All of us know of phrases that once heard immediately make us feel somehow funny, out of kilter, uneasy.

“Check up” is one. I’ve never known of any procedure described as such that hasn’t either extracted copious amounts of cash or pain or more often both.

“Refer to instructions” is another.

And there are a few others where holidaying is concerned that I’ve tried to avoid at all costs until very recently – “all inclusive” and “family friendly”.

The former conjures up a picture of tepid, congealing all you can eat buffets, watered down with suspiciously labelled and dubious tasting spirits. And don’t try to venture further than the side of the swimming pool. If you do, all you’ll find is barbed wire-encased 10×4 slabs of beach where the order of the day is to avoid eye contact with the locals.

As for the latter, well it’s a nightmarish vision of a garishly coloured, wipe clean world made entirely of shiny plastic where crayons act as currency.

There’s nothing wrong with the supremely practical approach that restaurant chains like Giraffe take; fine dining with a teething 18-month-old is a tough ask – it’s just that I’ve never fancied spending 10 days trapped inside one.

Until recently though the choice for the holidaying family with infants and juniors in tow has been pretty clear cut – self-cater in a cottage, caravan or tent, otherwise sign up to a resort where the kids are undoubtedly king and any relaxation and pleasure you may glean is purely accidental.

There’s a place perched on Europe’s most southerly extremity however that’s managed to create the holy grail – a holiday destination that simultaneously caters in every way imaginable for its younger visitors while being a thoroughly grown-up and luxurious.

Its name is Martinhal and being less than a mile from the Portugese town of Sagres, it sits within a protected natural park which has the considerable claim to fame of being what all of Europe once thought of as the last stop before you sailed off the edge.

This beautiful resort, through adherence to a clear vision, thoughtful execution and real attention to the small things, has created something truly unique.

The brainchild of Chitra Stern, a former super high flyer in the world of business with a rich family heritage drawing from Chinese, Indian, British and now Portuguese cultures, Martinhal is the place she wanted to be able to take her family for holidays – but couldn’t find the right place.

So she built it.

As a mother of four, Chitra’s insight and experience – as opposed to what marketing men suppose families actually want from a holiday – can be felt everywhere. The basics are all covered of course, but it’s the way they are done and the refusal to let practicality come at the expense of style, luxury and subtlety that make this a very special place indeed.

You’d expect a crèche of some sorts for instance, but not three separate facilities staffed with engaged and highly qualified carers and kitted it to such a high standard that many a primary school head teacher would look on green-gilled.

Then there are the three restaurants, ranging from seafood and Italian to fine dining. The excellent locally sourced food you’d hope for and the presence of the odd supplement is understandable if you fancy picking out your own enormous lobster or chowing down on a prime bit a cow’s backside, but generally for what you pay all in, you eat extremely well indeed.

But again it’s the thoughtful touches that set this place apart. The owners have steadfastly refused to swap crisp white linen table cloths or quality crockery and glassware for cheaper, childproof versions.

This may sound inconsequential but as anyone with small children knows a night out is a thing of rare beauty indeed and Martinhal goes out of its way to make sure you feel like you are on holiday too, not merely chaperoning the little people – and hang the laundry bill or the odd smashed plate.

Each main eatery also has an area for children to play in when they inevitably become restless – which is a great idea in its own right but because Martinhal bother to staff each one with a trained nursery nurse too your nightly meal suddenly becomes a joy for all concerned.

The geography and geology of the site itself has also been carefully chosen, it seems. With a cooling breeze on tap, the rugged coastal beauty of the area has been steadfastly respected and Martinhal has been designed to feel like much more like a village than a monstrous tourism carbuncle at odds with all around it.

With its own market square, newspaper and regular shuttle to nearby Sagres there’s a real sense that the locals have accepted this newcomer into their midst gladly rather than begrudgingly.

Its arrival on the scene certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed in the tourism industry either; just two years after opening it picked up two prestigious World Travel Awards. One for Europe’s Leading Villa Resort and also Portugal’s Leading Family Resort.

And you can see why as soon as you walk into your apartment.

From the canvas shopping bags for beach kit and the gently rounded rather than sharp edged furniture to the cute collection of invaluable snack carrying Tupperware in the kitchen, absolutely everything is thought of.

Even the beautifully soft foliage along the walkways seems to have been chosen with smart, unobtrusive care so as not to do damage to delicate little faces or hands.

This is indeed a holiday destination which is both all-inclusive and family friendly – and this time I mean both of those phrases in the most complimentary way imaginable.