Mumsnet Logo
My feed

Mumsnet is supported by readers. All our writers obsessively research every product we recommend. When you buy through a link on our site we might earn commission but this never influences our product choices.

Planning a family holiday with babies and toddlers

Here’s how to have a holiday to remember with your little ones, for all of the right reasons.

By Laura Cooke | Last updated Apr 26, 2023

Planning a family holiday with babies and toddlers

You’ve taken the plunge and decided to go on holiday with your baby or toddler… Don’t stress though, as Mumsnetters have been there, done that and have shared their tips.

Whether you are jetting off to the Greek Islands or caravanning on the Isle of Wight, organising a family holiday requires almost military levels of planning.

After budgeting and picking a destination, there’s so much to consider - where to stay, how to get there, what to pack, what to do. You may put together the most detailed, jam-packed itinerary. But we all know that babies and toddlers call the shots and even the best laid plans can go awry.

So what can you do to ensure that your first family holiday goes as smoothly as possible? Here, Mumsnetters share their top tips on how to plan a family holiday.

1. You might want to leave it to the experts

Travel agent

“We DIY for Europe, cruises & anywhere we're comfortable with the language. For tours, we tend to use package tour operators. If you can find one with a suitable itinerary, it will almost certainly be cheaper than trying to arrange all your own flights, hotels & transfers - and no hassle!” Tried and tested by Mumsnetter handbagsatdawn33

If the mere thought of planning a family holiday brings you out in a cold sweat, then why not let someone else do (some) of the hard work for you? Travel agents help you plan, choose and arrange your holiday, and are particularly useful if you are staying in different locations with a lot of extra travelling involved. 

Whether you leave it to the experts or choose to do-it-yourself, it’s a good idea to check whether your holiday is ATOL protected, just to make sure you’re covered in case anything goes belly-up.

2. Go hands-free, baby

Baby carrier

“Make sure you have a sling - we struggled with her pushchair down little cobbled streets in old towns, but otherwise it was fine.” Recommended by Mumsnetter PineappleWilson

“If you dont already have one, consider hiring a sling for your trip. Invaluable in the airport when you sometimes dont get the pushchair back til baggage reclaim, and also on the plane.” Recommended by Mumsnet user PeonyTime

“I have lovely memories of wandering around Ibiza old town and the hippy market at night with DS asleep in the sling.” Recommended by Mumsnetter CaptainMerica

One top tip for travelling with babies that we hear time and time again from Mumsnetters is quite a simple one - take a sling.

Going hands-free makes life easier at the airport, plus it means that narrow, cobbled streets and uneven terrain aren’t out of bounds when you’re sightseeing. Let’s face it, would you rather lug a buggy or a sling up the Acropolis?

3. And make sure you travel light

Holiday packing

“Don't pack loads of food. If you're self catering get a supermarket delivery once you arrive.” Recommended by Mumsnetter Ribeebie

“Most tourist places will have baby gear rental services.” Recommended by Mumsnet user shivawn

It’s very easy to get carried away on the packing front when it comes to travelling with children. But when your suitcases are overweight or the car boot is bulging, you should sit down and go through your luggage and ask yourself the question: do I really need that?

Items like travel cots and highchairs are available at many destinations and unless you are holidaying on a desert island, a trip to a local supermarket, campsite shop or similar will allow you to buy items like baby wipes or food at your destination.

4. Check the facilities

Baby highchair

“Check they have a travel cot is my only tip... if not take one!” Recommended by Mumsnetter Namechangerejsjs1239

“If it's an apartment check if they also have a high chair for you to use.” Recommended by Mumsnet user Ribeebie

“Check that there is a bath, if not I’d recommend taking a baby one if you can, at least then you can use the shower to fill it up.” Tried and tested by wimbler

Whether you are staying at a hotel, Airbnb or holiday park, make sure you check that your accommodation has everything your little one needs, such as a travel cot and a highchair. 

And double check the shower/bath situation, unless you are happy to go old school and bathe the baby in the sink.

5. Here's to a peaceful flight

Sleep on flight

“....(baby) slept most the flight as we booked early hours of the morning.” Tried and tested by Mumsnetter Ifonlyidknownthen

“Recommend breastfeeding during ascent/descent on flights to help with ears popping.” Tried and tested by Mumsnetter Hilarias

“Practice playing airports, so toddler knows what to do at security etc (going through the x Ray machine).” Recommended by Mumsnetter Aroundtheworldin80moves

“The airline invites everyone with a child to come forward for boarding first - don't do it! Board as late as you can. You will have a reserved seat and boarding first means an extra 30 mins of restraining a baby on a plane.” Tried and tested by Mumsnetter Cosybelles

If the thought of taking your baby on their first flight fills you with dread, then Mumsnetters have shared some great tips to make their inaugural trip as smooth as possible.

When booking, consider a flight that departs in the early hours of the morning as the early start may persuade your little bundle to get some shuteye during the journey. If you are taking a toddler to the airport for the first time, explain the process before you arrive, perhaps with some fun airport role play.

And when you arrive at the terminal and parents with young children are invited to board, just bear in mind all that means is extra time cooped up in a plane with a wriggly baby or an uncooperative toddler!

Bottle or breastfeeding your baby on take off and landing is a handy way to prevent their ears popping. If your toddler is past the breastfeeding stage, then sipping a carton of their usual milk or juice instead should help.

6. But expect an accident or two…

Accident on holiday

“Pack plenty of spare sleep suits, nappies, wipes etc as it’s always Sod’s law they have a poo explosion or are sick.” Recommended by Mumsnet user PrimeraVez

“Spare set of clothes for you - leggings and a vest top or similar. I once had the joy of a mid air nappy explosion while DS was on my knee. I was very glad I’d packed a change of clothing.” Recommended by Mumsnetter Greatoutdoors

“Change of clothes for you as well. (DS1 managed to be hugely sick all over me on takeoff when he was 18 months old...)” Recommended by Mumsnet user JassyRadlett

It probably goes without saying that a spare baby grow or two and some spare trousers and pants for toddlers are a hand luggage essential. But you may want to consider taking some spares for yourself too just in case your clothes become collateral damage after an explosive nappy. You’ll thank us for it.

7. Remember your box of tricks

Airplane toys

“I would say have a distractions bag for travel delay with way more stuff than you think you will need - toys etc, fully charged phone and any music/little baby cartoons/apps that distract.” Recommended by Mumsnet user Lovesicecreams

“Take loads of snacks - some Cheerios in a little tupperware are good and fun to eat for them.” Tried and tested by Mumsnetter Cosybelles

It’s highly unlikely that your baby or toddler will sleep the entire journey, so you need to arm yourself with a host of distractions - think favourite toys, activity books, iPads (but don’t forget the headphones if you want to keep your fellow travellers on side!)

And always factor in the possibility of travel delay. The last thing you want is to be stuck on the runway while your little human dustbin munches through your whole snack stash, their lunch and yours. Always, always take more snacks than you think you need.

Read next: The best toddler toys, recommended by Mumsnetters

8. And don't forget to cover all the bases

Car seat

“Take a pram with a good sun shade. I like a baby jogger city mini. So easy to take on and off the plane. I also took a baby bouncer basic one I collapsed, car seat (goes for free on the plane along with the stroller), travel high chair booster seat thingy.” Tried and tested by Musmnetter ZenNudist

“We usually bring [our] own car seat as easy for cabs/Ubers and can always check in two items of baby stuff for free (including airlines like Ryanair).” Tried and tested by Mumsnet user stripedino

Going somewhere hot? Take a good sunshade. Hiring a car? You may want to bring your own car seat for peace of mind. Swapping your usual stroller for a nippy, lightweight buggy is also worth considering when planning a family holiday. Oh, but don’t forget the sling, of course.

Many airlines, such as British Airways, allow you to take up to two bulky baby items as checked baggage, free of charge, including a fully-collapsible pushchair, travel cot, car seat or baby back carrier. Check with your airline before travelling.

9. And remember the essentials

Baby sunscreen

My top tip is to order things to Boots at the airport, to pick up after security. Including sealed ready made bottles of formula and Calpol/Neurofen.” Recommended by Mumsnetter Cosybelles

“Bring the formula that baby is used to (can react differently to others) so one less thing to worry about.” Tried and tested by Mumsnet user stripedino

Make a list of all the essentials that you need to take ahead of time. The last thing you want in the middle of the night is to discover that you left the Calpol at home.

If flying, savvy Mumsnetters recommended ordering all the essentials, such as nappies and formula milk, to pick up from Boots airside. The Boots airport click and collect service is available at 15 different UK airports. But make sure you get your goods sent to the right terminal, in order to avoid getting the holiday off to a bad start.

And one final word about formula milk if you are going abroad. Check whether your usual brand is available in the country you are heading to. If not, make sure you pack enough for the duration of your trip. Sometimes switching formula brands can result in upset tums, which is obviously something you’ll want to avoid.

10. Beware of burnout

Mum with burnout

“I think holidaying with small children is actually just very hard work [...] You have to do everything you normally do - but in a smaller, unfamiliar space without access to all your home comforts. In addition, DCs are frequently overexcited and out of routine. Having been used to holidays pre DC where we would do what we pleased - get up late, laze on the beach, go for walks, have lovely meals out etc, holidays with kids can feel like an endurance test. It does get better though. Mine are late primary/early secondary age now and much, much better and doing ‘holiday’ things.” Recommended by Mumsnetter LittleRedPill

“I think there is so much pressure on us to plan these all singing, all dancing holidays with lots of activities, when really the DC are happy with very basic free activities. Choose things that will make your life easier. Lower your expectations of the holiday. And don’t cook! If you can afford the takeaway then just go for it.” Recommended by Mumsnet user QueenHofScotland

“Pre covid me and dh searched the internet high and low for holidays with kids clubs that took babies. Usually they start from age 3. Cape Verde do if anyone is interested. This was in response to a caravan holiday we had a month before. On about day 3 dh turned to me and asked if I wanted to go home. We were both exhausted.” Recommended by Mumsnetter Goldenfan

We’re not going to lie to you - holidays with babies and toddlers are, more often than not, absolutely exhausting. So it’s important that you try to avoid burning out.

Young kids are happy with simple activities, so investing in a bucket and spade and heading to the beach or even visiting a nearby park for the afternoon may prove just as entertaining as an expensive day trip or a day packed with activities. Keep it simple, for your own sanity. 

If you’re holidaying with a partner, share the load, and if you both need a break, perhaps check out the resort’s kids’ club.

11. And above all else, don't forget who you're holidaying with…

Family holiday

“Accept the inevitable truth that it will not be a holiday as you usually know it.” Recommended by Mumsnetter BecauseReasons

“Don’t do what I did and subconsciously think it will be like a holiday before babies!! I had sort of forgotten there would be no long lies in, we couldn’t spend all day lying on the beach on a lounger and there would be no going out at night to fancy bars and restaurants! Now I’ve got my head round that I really enjoy holidays post babies but I wish I had taken just ten minutes to really think that through before we went.” Recommended by Mumsnet user Lovesicecreams

Let’s face it, holidays with young kids are a world away from the carefree jaunts we enjoyed when we were all young and free. The key thing is to accept that a holiday with a toddler can never really be classed as a relaxing break. In fact, you may feel you need a vacation to get over it!

But as Mumsnetters will attest, as the kids get older, holidays do get a bit easier. So if your recent family break wasn’t what you expected, hold on to the thought that it does get better!

With all of the above advice, we hope you feel a lot better about preparing for your family holiday with young children. On top of this, there’s a few more questions parents tend to ask that we’ve tried to answer for you…

How can I have a good family holiday?

Listen to other parents’ top tips on how to plan a family holiday. Manage your expectations and accept that holidays will look very different compared to your pre-baby days!

What is important when you are planning a family trip?

Make sure you pack all the essential items. Write yourself a list if it helps. Plan out where you are going and know exactly how you are going to get there. Check out all the family-friendly attractions to make sure there is enough to do. 

When you get to your destination, check out where the nearest supermarket and pharmacy can be found and make sure you know where to find emergency medical help if required.

How do you plan a holiday itinerary?

It’s good to go somewhere with loads of kids’ activities and places to go for a fun day out. But that doesn’t mean you have to fill your schedule up. Children react differently on holiday. Some babies and toddlers will happily continue with their usual routine, while others will have their sleep patterns completely thrown out of whack. Be flexible and be prepared to do things differently.

What is the cheapest month to go on holiday?

May, June and September are generally considered to be the cheapest months to go on holiday. The most expensive months are July and August, which probably come as no surprise to anyone. If you don’t have a school-aged child, make the most of lower-priced term time holidays!

Real recommendations from real parents

Mumsnet has been helping parents make their lives easier since 2000 after a badly delivered holiday, when its founder returned from a chaotic and disappointing trip abroad.

Before we make any recommendations, we always ask our trusted Mumsnet users, of which there are more than 7 million each month. That’s a lot of honest, impartial advice. We have scoured the forums, leaving no stone unturned in our quest for reliable holiday advice.

We have also consulted commercial and industry experts, such as the Civil Aviation Authority, to bring you our comprehensive guide to planning a family holiday.