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  • Writer's pictureJenna van Bentum

How To Enjoy, Not Endure, A Family Holiday With Young Kids – Down Time

A family holiday can be looked at like a marathon and the key to a marathon is to pace yourself. Sounds simple right? It actually is if you get one key factor right each day…

Down time.

Have you noticed that when you say to your kids “let’s have some chill out time” they tend to do the complete opposite of what you would call chilling out! Then, when they do decide to sit down for longer than five seconds, they’ll often watch a movie that they have seen a thousand times, play with the same toy that is the favourite of the month or play a video game that they completed long ago.

I’ve noticed my kids do this when we travel.

After a day of adventuring, learning and exploring all things new they revert back to whatever it is that brings them the comfort of familiarity. I would often think to myself ‘do we really need to watch the same episode of that same show AGAIN…?!’ The answer to that is yes, they do need to watch the same show again because they know what the outcome is, they know the characters and, in a day of everything being new, they need that moment of familiar to recharge and get ready to explore again.

The main ingredient for my kids during that down time is to have something familiar to bring some calm and ease to their busy day of new things.

Now for the practical. Here is a list of things my kids have travelled with that have been their ‘familiar’ to help them get the most out of our down time when travelling:


0-12 months

Feed Time. Whether it be breast or bottle, feed time is such comfort for a baby. Take a moment to stop and feed when you are traveling and bond with your baby as if you were sitting on the couch at home. Your smell and cuddle is the kind of familiar that they need.

Dummy/Pacifier. If your baby has a dummy then don’t attempt to do away with that dummy just prior to a family holiday. That little bit of comfort might be just the thing they need to feel secure in a strange place. Be sure to have plenty of spares with you and use a dummy chain to avoid loosing it.

Blanket/Comforter/Wrap. A baby blanket, comforter or wrap gives a baby the sense of home no matter where in the world they are in the world. Sometimes even a piece of your clothing can be a real comfort for a little one.

Stroller/Pram/Baby Carrier. Traveling with a baby can be quite easy, especially if they sleep really well in their stroller/pram or baby carrier. Practice this at home so that it becomes normal when out and about. If you decide to change their pram or stroller for a holiday (to a more travel friendly stroller) then get them used to it before you leave so that it becomes familiar to them.


1-3 years (some of the above may still be applicable)

Favourite Toy. By this age many kids have a favourite toy and often they love to sleep with that toy. Don’t be afraid to take this precious toy away with you! Do whatever it takes to not loose it (tie it to the stroller if you have to) but have it on hand right when they need it.

Book. Be intentional about reading a book/s often during the lead up to your trip. By making these books a part of your down time routine at home then you will have created a familiar thing to take away with you. Be sure they are little though (easy to travel with). Bonus if they soft books!

Snacks. Pack some familiar snacks to take with you. Kids become attached to their favourite snacks so put some in and save them for down time. My kids had a favourite muesli bar and rice crackers so I made sure I packed plenty. If traveling to a different country then be sire to declare them on arrival.

Nappy/Pull Up/Diaper. How does this help with down time? If you are planning on embarking on that toilet training stage then can I suggest that you put it off until after your holiday. Kids grow quite attached to their nappies (funny hey!) and can regress in their training when not in familiar surrounds. For your child to relax and recoup after a big day of exploring the last thing they need to think about is getting to the toilet. If you have just toilet trained and about to head away then pack some backup pull ups and be prepared.


4-6 years (again, read above and below as some may still be applicable)

Backpack. By this stage kids can carry their own small backpack. Spend some time prior to your trip and pack their backpack together. Pick out some small toys, activities, books and entertainment to put inside. This gives them the sense of ownership and pride over their own bag which holds their most prized possessions!

Technology. Many parents have introduced technology to their kids by this stage (if not earlier which is fine) and what better time to whip out the old iPad than during down time when traveling. It is loads of fun to put some new games, shows, movies and e-books onto their devices for a trip but be sure to keep at least a couple of things that they know and love on there for those times when they just want something familiar and easy.

Snacks When Eating Out. Often we save our ‘down time’ for eating time when we travel. After all, you just sit down in a restaurant or cafe and eat, easy! For many kids eating new foods can be very overwhelming and exhausting so it’s not really down time for them. Instead you may find that they start to get irritable and fidget. When trying new foods it can really help to have a back up plan in case they are simply too tired to handle it. Either find something on the menu that is familiar to them or have some back up snacks ready to go. Often our fallback is hot chips or a burger! Not at all healthy but after a day of exploring, who cares!

Playground or Open Spaces. Like I said earlier, sometimes the kids idea of down time is the complete opposite to ours! Kids can be mentally exhausted and yet still have energy to burn. A playground is often a familiar thing for kids, even if they have never been to this particular one before. There is something about them having the freedom to run around, climb and explore on their own terms that helps them to recharge and relax. The same goes for wide open spaces. I know my son simply needs a patch of grass and a ball to kick around for him to chill out. It is for that exact reason that we traveled all over Europe with a blow up soccer ball!


7-10 years (read above, many things still apply to this age group)

Diary. Often at this age kids need to take the time to process what it is that they have done, seen and experienced that day. Writing a travel diary is a great way to do that and if writing isn’t their thing then drawing is another great way.

Postcards or Email. Kids like to keep in touch with friends when they are away and kids this age are not yet on the social interwebs! Take the time to write a postcard or send an email to friends. This will also help with that ‘familiar’ element.

One on One Time. If you get the chance then some one on one time, just you and your child, can be the perfect down time. A hot chocolate, baby chino, ice cream, wander through a park – whatever it be, one on one time is a great way for both of you to wind down and relax.

Games. Card games and board games are great for some down time, that is if you don’t get too competitive! Check out our Top 10 Games for Family Holidays here.

Movie. Yep, sometimes a movie is just what the doctor ordered! Kids love a good movie and at this age they may even be up for something new that they haven’t seen before.

Colouring In. Sometimes a pack of pencils and a colouring book works a treat for wind down time.

Lego. A small lego set can go a long way, especially those that can be made into multiple things. Pack a small bag of lego, make all the different things it can make and then ditch the instructions and get creative.


So there you have it – Tips to get the most out of down time with your kids when traveling. I truly think the secret is keeping a few things familiar when exploring all things new.

I’d love to know what your kids love to do during your down time when traveling? Please comment below so that other parents can glean from your experience.

Don’t forget that I also host a Family Travel Facebook Group where parents share all things travel. It is a great group where parents ask each other questions and you get first hand reviews for places to stay, eat, visit and explore.

I hope this blog has been helpful!

Safe travels,

Jen x

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