TRANSPORT

Interrailing review – we take our children on a train trip around Europe

Interrailing review – we take our children on a train trip around Europe

The highs and lows of a family Interrail holiday using Global Passes

I get some strange looks as I edge down the corridor in my pyjamas.

I’ve already had to stand on a suitcase to get out of the room without waking the other three occupants.

It’s the smallest bedroom we have ever slept in and it’s moving at 100mph.

We are on our first overnight train and it’s certainly an experience we won’t forget in a hurry.

After boarding at nearly midnight, we have to make up the beds as the train rattles along.

There’s no room for us all to stand let alone store our two suitcases.

But it’s all part of the adventure. We have set ourselves a challenge to travel around five countries in 10 days by train.

And it’s made possible thanks to Interrail. We are trying out its Global Pass which allows us to travel on almost all trains around Europe.

This includes Eurostar and trains in our own country while on the outbound and inward journeys.

Frankfurt to Nuremberg train, Interrailing around Europe with children

Although the less said about our outward journey the better – signal problems saw our easy trip to London mutate into a four-train nightmare which left us wondering if we would even make it to the capital, let alone our Eurostar from St Pancras.

But we did. And it has been mostly plain sailing from there. Or plain railing, if that is even a word. And if it isn’t then it should be.

First stop Brussels. We visit Mini Europe with its miniature replicas of famous landmarks and indulge in Belgium’s famous waffles and frites (not together).

Most memorable is the famous Manneken Pis sculpture of a boy urinating in a fountain – he is everywhere we look – replicas are in shop windows, on socks and even made into mini chocolates.

The local trains we catch here are double decker delights to the joy of my daughter.

On day three we depart for Germany, changing trains in Frankfurt to get to Nuremberg.

The trains feel so clean, modern and spacious. Plus, we are lucky enough to have the first class Interrail option – the price difference is relatively small and worth the extra if you can afford it.

After settling into a big apartment hotel (review here) and armed with a Nuremberg Card (which gives free access to attractions and free local transport), we start at the city’s pretty zoo where we spot polar bears and enjoy a dolphin show.

We get a glimpse of German culture, lederhosen and bratwurst at the twice annual fair Volkfest and explore the Old Town.

Nuremberg
Nuremberg

Munich is our day five destination. Although it’s nearly 200 miles from the sea, we join crowds of spectators watching surfers take turns to ride the waves of the Eisbach River where it gushes out from under a bridge.

It then meanders through a huge park, the English Garden, where thousands are gathered enjoying the sunshine and the relaxed atmosphere.

We view the city from the top of St Peter’s Church and my son enjoys a visit to the home of Harry Kane and Bayern Munich – the Allianz Arena.

Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany
Allianz Arena

And you can’t visit Munich without stopping for a traditional Bavarian meal at world famous tavern The Hofbrauhaus, by far the biggest restaurant I have ever seen.

It’s nearly midnight when we take to our (not so comfortable) beds on the aforementioned overnight train, which is taking us from Munich to Venice in eight-and-a-half hours.

And the reason I am to be found early in the morning wandering around in my pyjamas? I’m in search of a toilet and my clothes are firmly inside the one suitcase we could fit under a bed. Our night has been disturbed by noisy passengers getting on and off and I’ll do anything to avoid waking the children.

Although I nearly turn back when I realise everyone else is fully dressed!

A couple of hours later, we arrive in Venice, not exactly refreshed from the journey.

But stepping out of the station is a feast for the eyes – the turquoise waters, fabulous architecture and gliding gondolas soon wake us up.

A canal in Venice
Venice

And the room back at our hotel later feels gloriously spacious after our cramped conditions the night before.

A travelling day beckons next. We take three trains from Venice to Paris with stops at Milan and Zurich. It’s our most stunning journey to date as we pass through the spectacular scenery of Switzerland.

We have three nights in Paris and manage a whistlestop tour of all the main attractions, without the help of trains, using the Tootbus hop-on hop-off buses.

A trip up the Eiffel Tower takes me back to the last time I looked over Paris from on top of it when my boyfriend asked if we could move it together.

Up the Eiffel Tower
Up the Eiffel Tower

So it is nice to return, now, married with children.

We can’t resist a trip to Disneyland for our last day where another train leaves an impression – but it’s just one of the rides, the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Then it’s back on the Eurostar home.

We have been on 28 trains this holiday – so you would think I would know how to exit one.

But at our final top, our village station, I press the wrong button, only to sound an alarm that makes everyone jump.

What a way to announce our arrival home.

Are you interested in an Interrail trip, check out our full guide: Interrail – our guide and top tips for travelling around Europe by train – The Family Holiday Guide

If you would like to hear more about this journey, here is our full day-by-day diary: Interrailing with children – a diary of our adventures on trains travelling around Europe

*All views are, as ever, our own. To help us review the experience and areas travelled around, we were given complimentary Interrail passes, Tootbus passes, a Nürnberg Card and accommodation in Nuremberg.

Interrailing with children – a diary of our adventures on trains travelling around Europe

Interrailing with children – a diary of our adventures on trains travelling around Europe

The highs and lows of our Interrail trip including a very memorable overnight train

We are off on a 2,000-mile train adventure around Europe, only it hasn’t started off quite as planned..

Day 1: Disaster

Route: Cheshire to Brussels. 

Our day starts on a high with a plan to catch three trains.

But fate will soon intervene. 

Carrying as little luggage as possible, we catch our local train to Crewe, a big hub for the north west and here is where our problems start. 

Our train to London Euston is cancelled with talks of a signal problem on the line. 

We find another train but it has to terminate at Birmingham due to the same issue between Milton Keynes and Watford. 

Panic around us is rising as are passenger numbers as people from multiple trains cram on to a platform at New Street awaiting another one. 

We make it on and breathe a sigh of relief. We even find seats. 

But catastrophe rears its head again. After a 20-minute wait at Rugby, the screens aboard ominously declare that the train is not stopping at stops including our destination of Euston. 

Eventually the train driver confirms this to be true and the entire train has to get off at Northampton. The issue means that the platform already resembles a cattle grid and we join the tense throng. 

We have been creeping further south train by train but it seems we may not get any further. Will we even make it to London today let alone Brussels? We start to look at buses and coaches, our journey by train apparently foiled at the first hurdle. 

Suddenly an announcement that a train to London is leaving from platform one and everyone – now waiting upstairs in the concourse – surges down the stairs and back on to the platform, staff urging caution.

To make it worse, we then get separated, three of us packed into one carriage like sardines, my husband in another one with the luggage. We get off and reunite and I’m amazed to see how much clearer this furthest away carriage is. Lesson learned. 

Might we still make it to Euston and then St Pancras in time for our Eurostar to Brussels? 

Train one!

Day 1, part 2 

After a challenging journey and four trains, we are thrilled and relieved to finally arrive at London Euston. 

A hurried walk to St Pancras and we are miraculously still on time for the Eurostar and we sail through security and two passport checks (UK and French).

We have been given Interrail Global Passes to try out for this review – train tickets that allow us to travel on almost all trains in Europe. 

This includes Eurostar and trains in our own country while travelling on the outbound and inbound journeys. 

We are lucky enough to have the first class option, which actually doesn’t cost too much more and is well worth it. 

Our Eurostar carriage feels plush and quiet and we have a meal included. 

It only stops once, in Lille and we arrive in Brussels, Belgium in just two hours. 

Our sixth and final train of the day delights us all. It’s a sleek double decker and we make sure to sit upstairs despite the short journey from one part of Brussels to another.

We walk to our hotel near the main square. 

The city is bustling, it’s fabulous and there are more frites and waffles than you can shake a stick at. 

Waffles in Brussels

Day 2: Brussels

We wake in Brussels. It’s a bustling, thriving, fabulous city whose most famous resident is a boy urinating in a fountain. 

If you’re on a European rail trip then this, the capital of Europe and home of the EU, is a great place to start.

And Mini-Europe is the place to learn more about the continent.

Travelling there is our only train ride of the day. 

It’s got miniature 1/25 scale replicas, made by hand, of famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Mount Vesuvius and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

We also visit a chocolate factory – Choco Story Brussels and a fun, famous sculpture. 

Manneken Pis, a bronze statue of a little boy and a fountain, was designed by Jerome Duquesnoy in 1619, and has become a familiar symbol of the city.

You can’t miss him, there are replicas all over the place!

And yes we tried the waffles, they’re delicious. And more frites. 

Only one train today. But three tomorrow, we are off to Germany. Next stop Nuremberg. 

Manneken Pis in Brussels

Day 3: Back on the rails 

Route: Brussels to Nuremberg 

After breakfast, we pack up and catch a train back to the main station in Brussels.

Comfortably settled on our next train to Germany, we are happy everything is going to plan.

‘Please get off the train. There is a technical problem. Please get off the train’.

We are good at this now and obligingly gather up all our stuff and exit, hoping this isn’t a repeat of day one in England. It’s not. 

Twenty minutes later, we are back on and moving. The train is so, so nice. So much nicer than any I’ve used back home in the UK. The glass doors between carriages automatically slide open as you approach. 

The seats are fabulously comfortable – recliners with foot stands. 

There are tempting, private little booths for four behind glass screens available to book. 

These trains just feel so clean, fresh and spacious. And yes we are lucky enough to have complimentary first class passes with Interrail but all the spaces feel more luxurious.

The children are engrossed in their tablets and I read a book (via the Kindle app on my phone in honour of the first Interrailing rule to travel light) and properly relax for the first time in a long while. 

The gentle swaying, the views – trains are my favourite way to travel when things go to plan. And with me they often don’t.*

A car is never an altogether relaxing experience, even when you’re not the driver, planes feel so cramped and your ears pop. 

The station at Frankfurt is a further revelation, it’s bright, airy and welcoming.

We board our final train of the day for Nuremberg. 

Boarding at Frankfurt for Nuremberg

*Just ask my friends about the time last month when I was meant to be meeting them for a long-awaited catch-up in Birmingham and accidentally ended up on a non-stop train to London Euston.

Day 4: Nuremberg

I wasn’t expecting to see polar bears in Germany. Or a dolphin show.

But both are highlights of our trip to Nuremberg Zoo, a pretty site and an unexpected workout (it’s very hilly). 

Travelling around this city is easy as it has both a tram service and underground trains.

And the tram drops you directly outside the zoo.

Paying for attractions and transport is a doddle* too as it is all free if you buy a Nürnberg Card.**

Worth it for the convenience as well as the cost – zoo entry alone would be over half the price of the card.

We are lucky enough to be here for the twice yearly fair Volksfest.

There are lederhosen, bratwurst, a great family atmosphere and lots of funfair rides. A real glimpse of German culture – and the weather helps as it’s an unseasonably warm and sunny 25 degrees. Shame I forgot to pack our sunglasses while ‘travelling light’. 

We are staying at The Living Hotel in the suburb of Gostenhof on the outskirts of the city.

It’s nice to be able to spread out as our roomy apartment has two floors, plus the bonus of a small kitchen and two bedrooms.

The Old Town is just a 20-minute walk away.

We have more exploring to do here tomorrow before we leave for Munich.

And I must buy some sunglasses. 

Nuremberg Zoo

*I pledge to drop this expression into conversations more regularly, it’s not used enough! 

Day 5: Munich 

Surfing and flirting 

Munich may be nearly 200 miles from the sea but it doesn’t stop professional surfers from flocking here.

They come to enjoy some of the best river surfing in the world and it’s a spectacle to behold as they take it in turns to ride waves that surge from under a bridge.

Crowds of spectators watch to see how long they last before plunging into the water and being whipped downstream. 

It happens on the edge of a park, the English Garden. The Eisbach river continues to flow through the park, creating a lazy river effect.

Today in 25C temperatures, dozens are using it to cool off.

There are thousands of mainly younger people enjoying the warm weather in this huge open space. There’s an amazing vibe and it’s fascinating to walk among them as they dance, play volleyball, sunbathe and flirt. It takes me back a few years. Or possibly decades. 

Games continue in another beautiful nearby park – Hofgarten – with groups of people playing boules.

There’s an almost film set feel about the place that I can’t quite put my finger on not least because of the appearance of some of the buildings. 

Loads get around by bicycle, but transport options are plenty, you can use trams, underground trains and electric scooters. 

It feels like a salubrious university city, which it is. This the country’s third biggest city is also one of its wealthiest. 

It took just an hour to get here from Nuremberg where we started the day wandering the historic streets around the Imperial Castle.

We’ve got another full day to enjoy here tomorrow before our very exciting overnight train to Venice. 

Surfing on Eisbach river in Munich

Day 6: Munich 

Workouts and lederhosen

I have an unexpected workout today. Three hundred and six steps to climb St Peter’s Tower in order to tremble on a narrow ledge with great views over Munich. 

We also look around the Viktualinen market which has opened every day (other than Sundays and public holidays) since 1807. And then wait with a crowd, phones all around pointed in the air, to watch the 11am Marienplatz clock tower show. It’s a mechanical clock which re-enacts scenes from Munich’s history on the grand New City Hall. 

Meanwhile my son is keen to see the home of Harry Kane – and Bayern Munich – the Allianz Arena. 

Inside you can do a tour of the stadium and visit the Bayern Munich museum and club shop. The museum’s very well done, with displays in German and English.

Next we take a flight through 7,000 years of Bavarian history (Munich is the capital of Bavaria) with VR technology at TimeRide Munich. 

There’s plenty of history in our dinner choice.

The Hofbräuhaus has been serving beer, sausages and more since the 1500s.

It’s absolutely huge, full of atmosphere, music and filling German food. 

Sat at tables around us are some of the regulars, often in lederhosen, drinking out of their own beer jugs – kept under lock and key for them. 

No time for trying too much beer though for any of us – we’ve got a night train to Venice to catch.

Next stop Italy.

At the top of St Peter’s Tower in Munich

Day 7: The reality of an overnight train and tears for Venice 

So I don’t get much sleep. 

As it turns out, overnight trains are rather noisy and the beds do not feel like fluffy clouds.

I’m a two-pillow kind of girl but I may as well be lying horizontal, they are so thin. 

Our compartment is obviously tiny. With four of us and two suitcases plus a ladder to get to the top two bunks taking up valuable floor space, attempting to make up the beds when we get inside at nearly midnight on a moving train, is a bit of a challenge. 

The passengers laughing, shouting and  chatting as they get on and off at the various stops, sound like they are in the room with us as we try to sleep. 

Plus a loud ‘Get off the train, get off the train,’ by a guard at one point to a man who presumably has wandered on when he shouldn’t have, is slightly alarming. 

I’m also not sure of the sleep train/pyjama etiquette. There is no en-suite to our cabin and I have to pop to the loo early in the morning while the other three are sleeping.

My clothes are shut in our smaller case which eventually had fitted under a bed (no such luck with the bigger one which I have to clamber over to get out of the room). So I am forced to shuffle self-consciously along the corridor in my PJs. 

EVERYBODY else I see is fully clothed. Is this an embarrassing faux pas? Should I have slept in my clothes? 

I also miss the nearest toilet and have to get into the next compartment along a wobbly connector. Then do the walk of shame all the way back!

Hoping for a final hour of sleep, the guard then brings around four breakfast trays which I balance on the bed around me, until they wake up. Then he is back again to collect all the bed sheets and pillows that they are still sleeping in.

It’s not all bad though. Although I won’t be hurrying to try out an overnight train again, I’m very glad we did it. 

What an experience to travel in a bed and wake up (if I’d slept) in another country for the cost of a hotel room. 

And what a country it is. We love Italy and the children have never been to Venice before. 

We’ve only had one weekend here pre-children and I feel emotional as we leave the station and our eyes feast upon the turquoise waters backed by picturesque architecture. 

My favourite part is standing on the little bridges watching and photographing as the gondolas pass underneath.

We make the most of our day in Italy to dine on divine pasta and pizza.

And I have never appreciated a hotel room as much as the one we are in now, its spaciousness is heaven-sent.

The view from the famous Rialto Bridge 

Day 8

Location: All over the place

We are having a travelling day, working our way across Europe from Venice to Paris with stops in Milan and Zurich. 

The route through Switzerland is slow through the mountains but scenic and I wish we had time to stop for a night here to take in the views some more. 

I also wish for the first time that I’d taken a travel sickness tablet as it is rather winding! 

The children have done well with journeys of two, four and four hours. 

Our last train is a double decker and we sit upstairs although much of the journey is through darkness as night falls. 

I sleep on and off despite the interior automatic doors sounding like the drum sequence used after a joke’s punchline on opening and firmly shutting on everyone on closing, even trapping my handbag in its clutches at one point. 

Other sounds come from our fellow passengers. We aren’t in first class for this leg. Despite our first class Interrail Global Passes (kindly gifted for our review) some trains require seat reservation costs and the charge for the better seats was much higher for this particular train. 

The family next to us make their presence known and break many unofficial train travelling rules throughout the hours. Starting with a loud FaceTime call to a toddler, continuing while watching music videos without headphones and ending with a series of loud, unapologetic burps from the dad! 

The seats are still lovely and comfortable with plenty of leg room. 

We set off at 8.30am and are due to arrive in Paris at 10.30pm. 

Day 9: Paris

I love the Eiffel Tower. Standing on it looking over Paris many years ago, my then boyfriend asked if we could move in together. 

So to return today, not only living together but married with two children, feels special. 

Although this time he says he wants to ask me to move out instead. He jokes. I think. 

Not only do I go back up it, I also photograph and film it from all different angles. 

Including from the top of a hop-on hop-off Tootbus. 

It’s a fabulous vantage point for lots of key Paris landmarks including the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Elysées.

There’s an audio guide on board and place to charge your phones. 

And it stops at all the best tourist spots so we can explore around the Louvre and enjoy a crêpe in the Tuileries Garden.

Notre-Dame is still impressive despite being under reconstruction following the fire nearly five years ago while a violinist gets even more attention than the cathedral itself as she shimmies about while playing beneath it. 

We finally alight back outside the Eiffel Tower, completed in 1889 and now surrounded by men trying to sell miniature sparkly models. 

My daughter, having started off the day excitedly spotting the Eiffel Tower, ends the day clutching a rose pink replica to take home. 

And I have another crêpe. 

Day 10: Paris

We hurtle along at an alarming rate, thrown from side to side while people scream all around us. 

This train is not the relaxing, comfortable experience we have come to expect over our mammoth railway journey. 

Thankfully it’s not part of our Interrail experience. 

It’s a coal train – the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride to be exact. 

We have decided to spend our last day before we travel home at Disneyland Paris. 

And it’s another sunny, warm day to end our Easter Holidays European adventure. 

We enjoy lots of rides and a fabulous Disney show under Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. 

Meanwhile we are getting our beauty sleep in a hotel for the last time. Tomorrow we are homeward bound.  

Disneyland Paris

Day 11: The journey back

After nearly 30 trains in 11 days you would think I would know how to exit one. 

But typically, it seems I don’t and have to bring attention to our arrival home. 

I confidently press the green button to open the door at our village station and a loud alarm sounds. 

I have inadvertently pushed the SOS button, scaring passengers and driver alike. 

It’s the end of another travelling day and the end of our Interrail adventure. 

Arriving in England on Eurostar I’m pleasantly surprised at how grand and welcoming St Pancras station is after being impressed with its European counterparts like Frankfurt. 

And impressed with the speed of the journey – six hours from Paris to our home in Cheshire. 

We have travelled over 2,000 miles on this trip.

If you include every journey, long and short, we have been on 28 trains, six trams, five hop-on hop-off buses and one water taxi. 

Plus of course, there’s been a lot of walking.

What an experience but now I’m glad to be at our final stop. 

We are home. 

Catching Eurostar home from Paris

All views are, as ever, our own. To help us review the experience and areas travelled around, we were given complimentary Interrail passes, Tootbus passes, a Nürnberg Card and accommodation in Nuremberg.

Canal boat holiday guide for beginners – EVERYTHING you need to know

Canal boat holiday guide for beginners – EVERYTHING you need to know

Our 14 most important tips for first time canal boaters

You don’t need a license or even any training to ‘drive’ a narrowboat but it can be a daunting experience to take the helm of such a long vessel for the first time.

Boat hire companies should tell you the basics before you set off but the more you know, the less stressed you’ll be to enjoy your holiday.

We recently took our two children on our first canal boat holiday and made plenty of mistakes!

Here’s what we wished we had known – read our full guide for novice canal boat users.

And if you are taking children don’t miss: Our 10 top tips for taking children on a canal boat holiday

Which side of the canal to travel in your boat

Navigate along the middle of the canal where the water should be deeper but when passing another moving boat, stay on the RIGHT – remember it is the opposite side to road travel in the UK.

Speed

The speed limit is 4mph, walkers will overtake you. Slow down when passing moored boats, other moving boats, when going around corners and approaching tunnels. If you make a breaking wash behind you, you are going too fast.

How to stop

You use reverse to slow down and to stop a narrowboat. Small thrusts on the throttle and then back to neutral will slow the boat down quickly and smoothly.

Right of way

When approaching a bridge or a tunnel with room for only one boat, the craft nearest has the right of way. When waiting, stop and keep to the right.

Give way to non-powered craft like canoes and rowing boats.

Steering

The tiller is at the back of the boat. Move the tiller in the opposite direction to the way you want to go – pushing it right sends the boat left and left sends it right. It can be hard to remember this when you are panicking!

Try to always think ahead as a canal boat can be slow to react to a turn, especially at low revs when you will have less control. The turn will continue after you want it to if you don’t centre the tiller before the turn is completed.

Also be aware that as the boat turns in the middle, the front might be okay but the rear may hit something. To move the back of the boat (the stern), push the tiller the way you want the rear to go.

If you are in danger of hitting something put the throttle in reverse to slow down or stop.

How to park/moor a narrowboat

You can park where you like as long as it does not create an obstruction such as just before a lock, near to a bridge, on a corner or at a water point.

Approach slowly and when you are parallel with the side, use reverse gear. Get close enough so that a passenger can step off safely with a rope.

Look for mooring points with rings in the ground as these are the simplest to use. Otherwise you can use a mooring pin/metal stake which you hammer into the ground. Make sure you hammer the mooring pin right into the ground or it may be pulled free by the weight of the boat.

Tie the boat at the front and back, I asked our instructor to show me twice how to tie the ropes to ensure I got it right and was very glad I had.

Keep the rope tight – if it is loose, the boat will bang against the side when other boats pass or can come away altogether if not knotted properly.

Askrigg narrowboat from Anglo Welsh, bond class

Bond class narrowboat, Askrigg

How to turn your canal boat around

If you need to turn your narrowboat around, there are turning places every few miles called winding holes or swinging areas.

These are wider parts of the canal, marked on maps that you can plan for in advance.

When you are turning, keep the propeller and rudder away from shallow water and debris. Aim to put the bow/front of the boat into the winding hole, reverse and then go forwards and away in the other direction.

Look out for the wind or current causing difficulties and if necessary, someone can step on to the towpath and use a rope to help.

The wind once prevented us from making a turn and a friendly man on the side asked us to throw him a rope so he could help out. He said it had happened to several boats before us which made me feel better!

Tunnels

Listen and look out for boats already heading towards you through the tunnel if it is too narrow for two boats.

If the way is clear, put on your headlights and sound the horn before entering the tunnel. Turn the internal lights on too.

Make sure nobody is on the roof or the side of the boat.

Coming out from a tunnel on the Llangollen Canal

Coming out from a tunnel

Small bridges

When heading towards a small bridge, the space to navigate through can appear alarmingly narrow.

Do your best to line up the boat as you approach, get the front end into position and under the bridge. Then steer the back through. You may hit the sides but it shouldn’t do any harm at a slow speed.

Swing bridge

You use a lock key to wind the bridge up, it can seem as if it is not fully open if it hangs a little over so be careful when navigating underneath it.

Close the bridge behind you unless there is another boat waiting to use it.

Canal swing bridge on the Llangollen Canal

Canal swing bridge

Locks

A lock is used to raise or lower a boat to the level of the water ahead.

They can be pretty daunting the first time you use them as there is a lot to think about.

There is usually a queue of boats so wait your turn and don’t be afraid to ask someone to help you. We did and having expert reassurance from seasoned boaters made the lock experience more relaxing.

Remember, if you are going up, the lock needs to be empty first and if you are coming down, the lock has to be full.

One person needs to get off the boat before the lock, armed with a lock key called a windlass. They slowly and carefully open and close the gates and the paddles which let the water in and out, in the correct order.

The person at the helm has to steer the boat into the lock and keep it as far forward as possible as there is a ledge/cill at the back which the boat can get caught on – look out for the cill marker to show you where it is.

 

The view from up high in a lock on the Llangollen Canal

Navigating a lock on the Llangollen Canal

Water

Filling up water is simple but there aren’t that many places to do it. Boat hire companies recommend you fill up every day, we found that wasn’t essential but every other day is a must.

You can stop at a water point (marked on the map and signposted) and operate the tap using the Yale key your boat hire company should have given you.

You connect one end of the boat’s hose pipe to the tap and insert the other end into the hole of the boat’s water tank.

We were told the water can be drunk but we had taken bottled water.

Pump out

Canal boats have chemical toilets which hold the waste in a tank on board.

We did not need to empty ours but check with your hire company how to  at a pump-out point if you are staying on the boat long enough to need to do so.

Have fun

Work together – we naturally found which jobs we were best at and got much better at mooring and doing all the necessary checks.

Take it in turns to steer and relax and make sure you enjoy the slow pace of life, the surroundings, the friendliness of people you pass and have fun.

RELATED CONTENT: Top 10 canal boat family holiday destinations in England and Wales

RELATED CONTENT: Our 10 top tips for taking children on a canal boat holiday

RELATED CONTENT: Canal boat family holiday review – we take our children on a 67 foot barge

RELATED CONTENT: We review an Anglo Welsh canal boat with our children – is it family friendly?

Our 10 top tips for taking children on a canal boat holiday

Our 10 top tips for taking children on a canal boat holiday

How to keep children happy and safe on a narrowboat trip

To our children’s great excitement, we recently took them on a narrowboat holiday  – the prospect of our own barge for a few days really captured their imagination.

Home for the break was a 67-foot boat along the Llangollen Canal between Shropshire and Wales (full story here).

We loved the sense of freedom and slow pace of life and learned a lot in a short space of time.

But how do you keep children happy and safe on a canal boat holiday?

First off – are children safe on a canal boat?

We felt that at aged nine and six, our children would be safe – they both swim and follow instructions, plus they were happy to wear life jackets.

To be honest, I would not have wanted to take this holiday when they were toddlers.

It would be hard work and you would need to keep an eye on them at all times. Plus you would need more than two adults when going through locks for example – one to helm, one to operate the lock and another to look after the children.

How to prepare children for a canal boat holiday

You will want your children to be excited about the holiday and all they can do to help.

But also make sure to give them some general safety advice.

Talk them calmly through the dangers and how to stay safe. You could also show them a video.

General safety advice for children on narrowboats

A girl wears a life jacket life vest on a canal narrowboat

Children should wear a like jacket

*Wear lifejackets and non-slip shoes

*Don’t run by the water

*Don’t lean too far over the side

*Step on and off the boat when it is safe to do so, don’t try to jump across a gap.

*Be very careful at locks and listen to instructions. Locks have steep sides and water comes in and out quickly.

*Children should always be supervised by an adult.

What to pack for children on a canal boat holiday

*Comfortable clothes including shorts and fleeces.

*Anorak and waterproofs.

*Non-slip shoes.

*Life jackets/buoyancy aids – check with your boat hire company if they are provided, ours were with Anglo Welsh.

*Sun cream.

*Scooters or bikes if allowed as large sections of the canal towpath are flat and have a hard surface. You can send one adult off with the children while the other steers the boat. But check with your hire company how many are allowed and where you can keep them.

*Most importantly, pack activities for the children to do while travelling (see next section).

What activities to take for children on a canal holiday?

It’s a fantastic novelty for children to be in a floating home, relaxing, playing, watching the world go past, helping with some of the jobs.

But there are also hours spent travelling where kids can get bored.

Take reading books, activity books, board games, toys, paper and pens with you plus tablets or whatever else your children enjoy to pass the time.

If there is WiFi and a television, they may not work.

Pack a camera children can use to take photos, but not an expensive one in case it falls in the canal!

Take some binoculars. You can get children wildlife spotting and feeding the ducks.

And there will be plenty to teach them about the history of the canals.

Or take hats and pretend to be pirates.

Don’t go too far

It’s tempting to power on to new destinations with a tick-list of achievements.

But be flexible, the best times on our trip were when we ended up in a random spot in the evening and headed off in the fresh air to explore nearby footpaths, fields and woods.

Children exploring the countryside at St Martin's in Shropshire

Exploring the countryside at St Martin’s in Shropshire

So don’t be too rigid and build in plenty of stops if the weather is dry, so that children can stretch their legs and whoever is at the helm can relax.

Tunnels

If children are inside, make sure the lights are on when you go through a tunnel else it will go very dark very quickly and they won’t be able to see.

If they are outside, ensure an adult is with them and they stay seated as tunnels can be very narrow and low.

Our two loved the tunnels and we played an echo game to keep them entertained but they can be very long and dark so some children could be scared.

Warn them that you will be turning the headlight on and sounding the horn before entering.

And obviously ensure nobody is on the roof or side of the boat.

Going through Chirk Tunnel in Wales

Going through Chirk Tunnel in Wales

What jobs can children do to help on a boating holiday

There are different boating jobs children can help with depending on their age.

They can help plan the route, keep the boat tidy, cast off and tie the ropes.

Older children can help with the steering under supervision.

They can also help with working the locks as long as they know how to do so safely.

However, don’t get them doing every lock with you because they get just as much fun from sitting on the boat as it rises or falls in the lock.

Younger ones can look out for tunnels, bridges and oncoming boats.

We got our children to keep tabs on the number of each bridge because that tells you whereabouts you are on the canal.

Our daughter helps lift a bridge at Froncysyllte in Wales

Our daughter helps lift a bridge at Froncysyllte in Wales

What route to take with children

Pick places which will entertain children – work around stopping points which have family attractions where possible.

For instance we made sure to stop at Ellesmere because of its lake walk, playground and sculpture trail.

Pick spots which are near to playgrounds, woodland walks or leisure centres.

Blakemere at Ellesmere

Blakemere at Ellesmere

Have fun

Most importantly have lots of fun. You can feel like a real team on this sort of a holiday and it will certainly be one they remember.

RELATED CONTENT: Canal boat holiday guide for beginners – EVERYTHING you need to know

RELATED CONTENT: Canal boat family holiday review – we take our children on a 67 foot barge

RELATED CONTENT: We review an Anglo Welsh canal boat with our children – is it family friendly?

RELATED CONTENT: Top 10 canal boat family holiday destinations in England and Wales

 

We review an Anglo Welsh canal boat with our children – is it family friendly?

We review an Anglo Welsh canal boat with our children – is it family friendly?

We share all the details of our 67 foot bond class Anglo Welsh barge

Boat hire company Anglo Welsh has more than 160 narrowboats at 11 bases across England and Wales.

We hired one from its Trevor Basin site in north Wales to take across the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal into Shropshire.

It was our first canal boat trip and we booked it through Drifters Waterway Holidays.

We had a great time (read our full review) Here we’ll look at the boat in more detail and explain how suitable it is for children.

Our boat

We hired a 4-6 berth canal boat called Askrigg, a bond class narrowboat, which is one of the most luxurious that Anglo Welsh offers.

Askrigg narrowboat from Anglo Welsh, bond class

Bond class narrowboat, Askrigg

Space

Let’s start with space and there was plenty of it. The length of the boat is 67 feet and it’s nearly 7 feet wide. It doesn’t even feel that narrow.

It’s quite dauntingly long when you take the helm for the first time but it is fabulous for the children to have so much room to move about and play.

Layout

Starting at the rear is a bedroom with two small single beds.

One f the bedrooms on the canal boat Askrigg with two single beds

There are two small beds in one bedroom

A narrow corridor, which could be a squeeze for some, runs alongside the next three rooms.

There is a bathroom, a bedroom with a double bed followed by a second identical bathroom.

One f the bedrooms on the canal boat Askrigg with a double bed

The other bedroom has a small double bed

It opens up into a galley area with kitchen and dining table with sofa-seating which converts into another bed if needed.

At the front of the boat are two leather chairs facing a TV and radio.

Inside the Anglo Welsh narrowboat Askrigg

Inside the Anglo Welsh narrowboat Askrigg

It’s a great layout and worked well for us – having two bedrooms and two bathrooms is a real bonus.

There are places to sit outside at the front and rear of the boat.

Was it easy to helm?

It is straightforward, once you’ve grasped that turning the tiller right makes the boat go left and vice versa.

As you steer from the rear, take glasses if you need them!

It’s good fun, rewarding but never relaxing when you are at the helm. It’s definitely best to take it in turns if there are two of you, to give each of you a chance to fully enjoy the experience.

What about equipment?

The boat is very well equipped. We found plenty of crockery, pots and pans, cutlery and cooking utensils. It was all in an excellent condition, very clean, and most of it looked new.

There is a gas oven, grill and four-ring hob as well as a microwave (only use the microwave when the engine is running or it will sap all your power). A kettle to boil on the hob is provided as well as a fridge freezer.

Bedding and towels are provided, along with a hairdryer and a couple of folding chairs.

What about gadgets?

There is a small TV with signal dependent on your location – we didn’t get ours to work but it does take DVDs.

There is also a radio and CD player.

In the lounge area are two plug sockets and underneath the television is a cigarette lighter point.

Try to charge mobile phones and other devices while the boat is moving as electricity drops when the engine is turned off.

Is there space to shower?

The bathrooms are a fairly tight squeeze for an adult around the toilet and sink areas but the showers were large, powerful and warmed up instantly.

Don’t forget to pump out the shower using the button at the side of it where you are done. A new bar of soap is supplied in each bathroom.

The chemical toilets are flushed using a lever with your foot.

Canal boat toilets use a sealed holding tank on board which you empty at a pump-out point if and when you need to – we didn’t.

Is there enough water and can you drink it?

There is initially enough water onboard for at least a day.

You can stop at a water point (marked on the map and signposted) and access the tap using a key Anglo Welsh give you.

You connect one end of the boat’s hose pipe to the tap and insert the other end into the hole of the boat’s water tank.

It’s a really simple process once you’ve managed to moor up!

We were told that it’s best to fill up every day, but we were careful with our water usage and managed every other day.

You can apparently drink the water but we took bottled.

How does electricity work on an Anglo Welsh boat?

We never ran out of power. An inverter on the boat converts the power from the onboard batteries.

The amount of power available depends on how long the engine has been running so keep it running for a time when you are moored (but not after 8pm).

It’s recommended to charge mobiles and tablets etc when the engine is running so you don’t drain the batteries.

Was there heating on the boat?

All the company’s boats have gas central heating with radiators and ours was cosy and warm.

There’s also a multi-fuel stove, which we didn’t use.

Are there life jackets/buoyancy aids?

If you request them when you book, you can chose a life jacket to fit when you are at the boatyard before you depart. Both our children had one and were happy to wear them.

Girl wears a life jacket on a canal barge

Are pets allowed?

Yes, up to two dogs are allowed, one is free to bring, a second costs £25 or £35 depending on the length of stay.

Are bikes allowed?

You can take one or two bikes but they have to be kept outside and you need to be careful when going under bridges or tunnels if you leave them on the roof.

Was it clean and Covid-compliant?

Canal boating is an excellent socially-distanced holiday option as you have self-contained accommodation and you are never too close to other people.

Our boat was very clean and had been thoroughly disinfected beforehand. Anti-bacterial spray and cleaning products were supplied on board.

Do they tell you how to use the boat?

Yes, the handover is very thorough. Ours took an hour as the Anglo Welsh staff member explained every aspect of the boat, how to helm it, all the safety precautions and more.

He also had plenty of time for questions and even headed out of the marina with us for the first few hundred yards of our journey to help with any teething problems and offer tips.

On arrival back, the staff turned our boat round for us and moored it.

Trevor Basin

We collected our boat from Trevor Basin in north Wales. There is free parking at the boatyard and we were able to park right next to the barge, which was great for loading and unloading.

Conclusion

A great space for children with everything you could need.

This was a Drifters holiday, for more information go to www.drifters.co.uk.

RELATED CONTENT: Our 10 top tips for taking children on a canal boat holiday

RELATED CONTENT: Canal boat family holiday review – we take our children on a 67 foot barge

RELATED CONTENT: Canal boat holiday guide for beginners – EVERYTHING you need to know

RELATED CONTENT: Top 10 canal boat family holiday destinations in England and Wales

*We were given a complimentary break, all views are our own.

Coronavirus travel tips: How to keep children safe from germs on aeroplanes

Coronavirus travel tips: How to keep children safe from germs on aeroplanes

How to protect your family from germs on a plane – all the precautions you need to take

I’ve always been a bit OTT when it comes to germs and my children – I’m the mum brandishing a hand gel at parties and soft play.

But the spreading coronavirus has seen us all improve our hygiene standards.

Getting ill can ruin a holiday – so how can we keep our children – and ourselves – as protected as possible when we travel?

Here we explain the extra precautions families can take to look after themselves while flying.

Passengers getting on a full plane

Aeroplanes and germs

Aeroplanes are pretty amazing – they transport us quickly to fantastic destinations all over the world.

But they can also be breeding grounds for germs and bacteria – the result of packing lots of people into an enclosed space for hours at a time.

Studies say that one in five people will get sick after flying, so how can we help prevent our children – and ourselves – from getting ill?

Before the flight

When you travel on a plane, your immune system is challenged by dehydration, lower oxygen levels and other factors, weakening your body’s defence against infections.

But you can boost your children’s immune system to prepare their bodies for flying.

If a child has plenty of sleep and eats healthily before the flight, their immunity will perform better.

Where to sit

Believe it or not, some seats carry a higher risk than others.

Passengers are more vulnerable to illness if they sit in an aisle seat – they receive the most contact and potential contamination from potentially poorly people walking up and down and holding on to head rests.

So put children by the window if possible, where there are less germs.

Also try to not sit your child next to someone who is ill, instead take the seat yourself or discretely ask a flight attendant if you can move seats.

You are less at risk sitting behind someone who is ill or coughing than in front.

Also avoid sitting too near to the toilets if possible as these areas are busier. Plus, people spending more time there may be the sick ones.

Aisle seats on a plane

Avoid aisle seats

Wash hands

Washing hands regularly, especially before you eat, is the BEST way to prevent illness, wherever you are. Help children to wash hands and teach them how to do it properly. Show them how to use warm soap and water, scrub all over for 20 seconds, then rinse and dry.

Discourage children from touching their faces as bugs can be transmitted to their mouth, nose or eyes. And tell them not to put anything in their mouths.

Hand sanitiser

Hand sanitiser removes most bacteria and viruses from hands so use it regularly and before eating and drinking.

Even if children have just been to the toilet and washed their hands, they are likely to have touched seats or other areas on the way back to their seats.

Tell children to rub the gel all over their hands until it is dry. Apply it thoroughly including between fingers.

Supervise young children as it is dangerous if ingested and store hand gel in a bag away from them and to avoid spillages.

A girl touching a plane window

Surfaces

Germs can last for up to seven days inside a plane.

Most germ viruses are transferred by touching not just breathing the air. There are several hotspots on a plane and one of the worst offenders is the tray table.

Children love a tray table. To be safe you can wipe it down with an alcohol-based wipe or gel. Experts also recommend you wipe armrests, seatbealt buckles, screens and remote controls.

There is often a quick turnaround time between flights so these areas do not always get thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

In-flight magazines and seat pockets

Passengers often use the seat pockets as bins and air crew find dirty nappies and used tissues in them among rubbish left behind, so try not to use them if possible.

They contain a lot of bacteria but wipes can’t properly disinfect the fabric of the pocket.

Seat pockets on a plane

In-flight magazines are touched by hundreds of people and are never cleaned so they are full of germs. Avoid!

Water

One of the best ways to stay healthy during a flight is to drink lots and lots of water.

Ensure children drink more than they would at home as they will get dehydrated and then the mucous membranes in the nose and throat will dry up which protect us from most diseases encountered.

Everyone should avoid coffee, alcohol and sugary drinks when flying, which will dehydrate you even more.

Toilets

Aeroplane toilets are a big source of germs.

Avoid touching surfaces in there and turn off the taps and open the door while holding a paper towel.

Aircraft air vents

Vents

The air coming out of the vents is meant to be cleaner than the air around your seat as it is filtered, so leaving them on a low setting can move the germs away.

However, you may want to use hand gel after touching the vent as it is another bacteria hotspot!

Blankets and pillows

Bring your own blankets and pillows for children to use. If you ask for them and they aren’t wrapped, they may not be clean.

Plus having a familiar blanket and pillow to curl up with may also make children happier.

Screens on a plane for entertainment

Entertainment

Bring your own entertainment for children so that they don’t touch onboard touchscreens which have a lot of germs from dirty fingers, coughs and sneezes. Or otherwise wipe them first!

Other Germ-Fighting Travel Tips

Hotels

Health experts suggest wiping down remote controls, light switches, telephones, doorknobs, toilet seat handles and taps to protect children.

Swimming pools

Chlorination does not kill all bacteria. Teach young children to avoid swallowing water in pools and water parks. And make sure they shower after getting out of the pool.

HOWEVER!

If you are going on holiday, do NOT let worry and anxiety spoil a trip.

Arm yourself with hand sanitiser and a bit of knowledge.

And don’t scare your children! Just make them aware of basic hygiene.

Wishing you happy, healthy holidays.

Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis reveals clever Ryanair booking tip to save money for families

Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis reveals clever Ryanair booking tip to save money for families

Martin Lewis trick could save up to 60 per cent for families flying with Ryanair

Financial guru Martin Lewis has unveiled a money-saving trick passengers can use when booking Ryanair flghts. The advice particularly benefits families with children under 12.

The budget airline may offer regular cheap flights but the price can rise when adding on extras like cabin bags, seat reservations and priority boarding per person per flight.

It offers different levels of fare including regular, value and plus and generally pushes the ‘regular’ price through advertising, where customers can pay around £20.85 for the extras.

But Martin Lewis has revealed on ITV show This Morning and his website that if you choose the ‘value’ fare first and then add on the extras, you could save money.

And while this is a process we at The Family Holiday Guide always try, Martin says many don’t and instead ‘buy the ticket the airline wants you to buy’.

Martin Lewis told viewers: “In tests we’ve done, 16 out of 20 times you would be better off to get its ‘value’ fare – its cheapest fare – and then add on these extras yourself. In one case it was over 60 per cent cheaper.”

“So when booking with Ryanair, start with the value fare then add on – that’s usually the best way.”

Why this works best when travelling with children

The trick works best when travelling with children.

This is because children under 12 automatically get ‘free’ reserved seating with Ryanair, thanks to its family seating policy, which is designed to ensure children sit with their parents.

With this, at least one adult must reserve a seat (at a cost of around £4 to £6) if travelling with under-12s, and up to four children can be seated next to him or her for free.

Martin Lewis says: “As a result, there’s usually little point selecting a ‘regular’ fare, which has to be applied to everyone in your group, if you’re travelling with children this age.

“On the 10 bookings we checked where kids were part of the group, adding seats, cabin bags and priority boarding separately won every time – even when we selected only the priciest seats in rows 18-33.”

The Money Saving Expert website features 20 other Ryanair cost-cutting tips.

Top 10 canal boat family holiday destinations in England and Wales

Top 10 canal boat family holiday destinations in England and Wales

Holiday from a narrowboat to explore the countryside with children

Britain’s network of inland waterways wind through thousands of miles of countryside.

And they can be explored on a family trip with a difference – staying on a narrowboat – your own floating holiday home.

Here are some of the most popular routes to inspire you from Anglo Welsh, one of the largest canal boat holiday companies in the UK,

1. Navigate through Shakespeare country and Warwickshire farmland

Start from Anglo Welsh’s narrowboat hire base at Wootton Wawen, on the Stratford Canal near Henley-in-Arden. It takes around six hours, travelling through 17 locks, to reach Stratford upon Avon.

Travel over the Edstone Aqueduct and on through the Warwickshire countryside and stop off at Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm in the canalside village of Wilmcote, where Shakespeare’s mother grew up.

Once in Stratford, there are overnight moorings in Bancroft Basin, perfect for enjoying all that Shakespeare’s birthplace has to offer, including riverside parks, theatres, shops, restaurants and museums.

2. Staffordshire to the Peak District

Cruise into the Peak District on a week’s break from Anglo Welsh’s barge hire base on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Great Haywood in Staffordshire.

From here, you can reach the beautiful Caldon Canal and travel into the Peak District.

The journey takes boaters up to Stoke on Trent, passing Wedgewood World along the way, and, once on the Caldon, through hills and wooded areas alongside the River Churnet.

Here there’s the chance to spot kingfishers, herons, jays and woodpeckers, as well as otters which have recently returned to the area.

The return journey along the Caldon to Froghall, takes around 43 hours, travelling a total of 72 miles and passing through 70 locks.

3. Worcestershire

Travel round the Stourport Ring through stretches of Worcestershire countryside – on a week’s break from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat rental base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove.

This popular circuit takes boaters on an 84-mile, 114-lock journey, in around 56 cruising hours.

Much of the route is rural, cruising sections of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, Worcester & Birmingham Canal Navigation, River Severn, Birmingham Canal Main Line and Stourbridge canals.

Rural highlights include Kinver Edge with its extensive woodlands and National Trust Holy Austin Rock Houses, idyllic stretches of Worcestershire countryside along the River Severn and a dramatic flight of 30 locks at Tardebigge, climbing two-and-a-quarter miles with views of the open countryside all around.

This circuit also takes boaters through central Birmingham, Kidderminster and the ancient City of Worcester with its magnificent cathedral.

4. Yorkshire

Cruise to the gateway of the Yorkshire Dales and explore the ancient woods at Skipton Castle, from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat hire base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire.

It takes just over three hours to reach Skipton with its medieval fortress and acres of woodland trails to explore. For nearly a thousand years, Skipton Castle Woods provided fuel, food and building materials for castle inhabitants. Today there are at least 18 species of trees flourishing there and hundreds of flowering plants, including wild orchids and bluebells in the Spring.

The journey along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Silsden passes through the typical Yorkshire stone-built villages of Kildwick and Farnhill and on into a dense wooded area famous for its bluebells and deer.

5. Bath to Pewsey

Drift through the prehistoric Vale of Pewsey – it takes around 19 hours to reach Pewsey Wharf from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat rental base at Brassknocker Basin on the Kennet & Avon Canal just outside Bath, perfect for a week afloat.

Along the way, boaters pass through miles of Wiltshire countryside, with a series of waterside villages and country pubs to visit along the way.

Highlights on this route include the mighty Caen Hill Flight of 29 locks at Devizes, cruising along the edge of the ancient Savernake Forest and the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and home to prehistoric Avebury.

The journey to Pewsey and back takes around 38 hours, passing through 74 locks (37 each way).

6. Llangollen

Travel to Llangollen on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains. It takes around 12 hours to reach this pretty town from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat rental base at Whixall Marina, on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire.

Along the way, travel through the Shropshire Lake District and across the incredible Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ and now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Once in Llangollen, boaters can moor up to enjoy exploring the town including its regular markets packed with local produce, shops, restaurants, steam railway and famous Horseshoe Falls.

The journey to Llangollen and back passes through just four locks (two each way).

7. Four Counties Ring

Start a week’s break at Anglo Welsh’s canal boat rental base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire and  travel round the popular Four Counties Ring, one of the most rural canal cruising circuits.

Travelling for around 58 hours and passing through 96 locks, this route takes canal boat holidaymakers through the counties of Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Cheshire and Shropshire and travels sections of the Trent & Mersey, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Shropshire Union canals.

Rural highlights include panoramic views from the flight of 31 locks (also known as ‘Heartbreak Hill’) between Middlewich and Kidsgrove on the Trent & Mersey Canal, stunning views of the rolling Cheshire Plains on the Shropshire Union Canal, acres of farmland on the Middlewich Branch, wildlife spotting at Tixall Wide on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and the National Trust’s Shugborough Hall with its extensive waterside gardens.

8. Shropshire Lake District

Cruise to the Shropshire Lake District from Anglo Welsh’s narrowboat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor in North Wales on a short three or four-night break (three or four nights). You may catch a glimpse of heron chicks and other water birds and wildlife.

Llangollen Canal in Shropshire

Llangollen Canal in Shropshire

The journey to the medieval market town of Ellesmere takes around seven hours, passing through just two locks and over two magnificent aqueducts, including the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

This Wonder of the Waterways, carries the Llangollen Canal 38 metres high above the Dee valley, with magnificent views of the valley and Welsh Mountains beyond.

Formed thousands of years ago by the melting of the glaciers during the retreating ice age, the meres of the Shropshire Lake District, including The Mere at Ellesmere, are particularly beautiful in Spring.

And every Spring, Moscow Island on The Mere is home to the Heron Watch Scheme, with live images allowing visitors to watch the birds build nests and raise chicks.

9. Abingdon and Oxford

Take a Thames boating holiday to Abingdon from Anglo Welsh’s narrowboat hire base on the River Thames near Oxford.

It takes around five hours, passing through six locks and travelling 15 miles to reach the historic riverside market town of Abingdon – perfect for a short break.

Along the way, as well as cruising through the outskirts of the ancient city of Oxford, you will pass through stretches of Oxfordshire countryside, with meadows, stretches of woodlands and the chance to hear cuckoos calling.

Once moored up at Abingdon, boaters can enjoy exploring riverside walks, parks and eateries, including the popular waterside Nag’s Head.

10. Stockton to Stoke Bruerne

Travel through the Northamptonshire countryside to Stoke Bruerne on a four-night break from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat hire base at Stockton, on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire.

Narrowboat families can cruise to the village of Stoke Bruerne and back.

The journey takes around 12 hours, travelling 28 mostly rural miles and passes through 16 locks, as well as the 2813-metre long Blisworth Tunnel.

Once in Stoke Bruerne, you can visit canalside pubs, browse the waterway history collections at the Canal Museum and follow the village’s woodland walk and sculpture trail.

RELATED CONTENT: Canal boat holiday guide for beginners – EVERYTHING you need to know

RELATED CONTENT: Our 10 top tips for taking children on a canal boat holiday

RELATED CONTENT: Canal boat family holiday review – we take our children on a 67 foot barge

RELATED CONTENT: We review an Anglo Welsh canal boat with our children – is it family friendly?

Anglo Welsh

Anglo Welsh offers over 160 canal boats for hire from 11 bases across England and Wales, with accommodation for between two and 12 people.

Boats have kitchens, fresh water flushing toilets, hot water and showers, beds, TVs, DVD players and WiFi.

Hirers are provided with life jackets on request and boat steering tuition as part of all its packages.

2020 boat hire prices start at £530 for a short break on a boat for four people, £755 for a week.

For more information visit www.anglowelsh.co.uk or call the bookings team on 0117 304 1122.

Discover the best and worst rated airlines in latest Which? survey

Discover the best and worst rated airlines in latest Which? survey

Which? reveals the results from its 2019 airline survey

British Airways, Ryanair and American Airline have been named among the worst performers in the Which? Annual airline survey.

In contrast, Jet2, Easyjet, Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic were praised for their efforts by passengers.

BA was criticised for its food and drink, seat comfort and value for money in the survey of 6,500 holidaymakers.

The airline was second from bottom in the long haul category and third from bottom in the short haul section.

Ryanair was voted worst short haul airline for the fourth successive year with passengers criticising its confusing luggage rules.

Vueling and Wizz Air were also near the bottom of the list.

Among the best performing airlines in the survey was Jet2, which gained five stars for its customer service, and EasyJet.

In the long haul category, American Airlines finished bottom of the list, with one customer claiming ‘the cabin was scruffy, the staff rude, the food awful’.

Singapore Airlines was top of the long haul list with Emirates and Virgin Atlantic also performing well.

Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor, said: “Year after year, the same culprits continue to sink to new lows, yet for many of us, there is a choice.

“You don’t have to keep booking with an airline that has let you down – or one that you loved for years but has slipped in quality.

“If you get a choice and you are flying short haul, choose Jet2. It is better quality than BA and often has better fares than Ryanair. If you are heading to the states, Virgin Atlantic beats BA hands-down.”

Thomas Cook goes bust and all its flights and holidays are cancelled

Thomas Cook goes bust and all its flights and holidays are cancelled

Travel giant Thomas Cook goes into liquidation leaving families stranded abroad and upset over booked holidays

Thomas Cook has collapsed and all flights and holidays booked through the firm have been cancelled.

Thousands of families are stranded abroad and over a million other customers may have lost future bookings.

People flying today have been advised not to travel to airports.

The 178-year-old company ceased trading today (Tuesday) after entering compulsory liquidation due to mounting debts.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has pledged to bring over 150,000 British holidaymakers stuck abroad, home, the county’s biggest ever peacetime repatriation.

Thomas Cook’s chief executive Peter Fankhauser described the collapse as a “matter of profound regret”.

“I would like to apologise to our millions of customers, and thousands of employees, suppliers and partners who have supported us for many years,” he said.

“This marks a deeply sad day for the company which pioneered package holidays and made travel possible for millions of people around the world.”

Thomas Cook statement

Thomas Cook statement

So if you are abroad now or have booked a Thomas Cook flight or holiday what do you do?

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: “In general those abroad now will be brought home once their holidays have finished.

“Most who haven’t travelled will have a route to get their cash back, but this unprecedentedly large repatriation and refund operation will not be without problems.

“It’s going to be a stressful time for many people.

“The Government has said all British travellers who were due to fly back within the next two weeks will be brought home free of charge. Those who’ve already paid for their hotels abroad as part of a Thomas Cook package shouldn’t pay again. Yet that won’t stop a few uncertain and scared hotelliers overseas wanting money directly from British travellers to be doubly sure. This could leave UK tourists in sticky situations. If so, the Civil Aviation Authority has a helpline which should sort it for you.

“For those who’d booked future trips, ATOL and ABTA schemes should mean full refunds, but some, especially those who booked flights only, may be unprotected. Travel insurance won’t help for most, as travel company failure cover is rarely included as standard – though check your policy or give them a call.

“If you did book without travel industry or insurance protection, the next route is your card provider. Those who paid more than £100 on a credit card get Section 75 legal protection – which means the card firm is jointly liable with the retailer, so you can get your money back from it. However this may not work if you booked via an agency, or via certain Paypal transactions, as that break in the direct transactional relationship can stop it working – we wait to see how widespread that problem will be.

“If that happens, or you paid by debit card, instead ask your bank to do a ‘chargeback’. This isn’t a legal protection – it is a Visa, Mastercard and Amex rule where your bank gets your money back from Thomas Cook’s bank as you didn’t receive what you paid for. It should work for most people. Those who paid by other methods such as cheques or cash have very little protection sadly.”

For updated advice, go to his website here.

We review a mini-cruise from Newcastle to Amsterdam with DFDS ferry operator

We review a mini-cruise from Newcastle to Amsterdam with DFDS ferry operator

We take our children across the North Sea on an overnight ferry from England to Amsterdam

Ferry operator

DFDS

Our journey

Newcastle to Amsterdam

The service

This route runs every day linking England and Holland/The Netherlands, with overnight crossings both ways. The ports are North Shields near Newcastle and Ijmuiden ferry port in the Netherlands.

Journey time

15 hours 30 minutes.

The ship leaves at 5pm from Newcastle and arrives in Holland at 9.45am local time. Returning, the ship leaves Holland at 5.30pm and returns to Newcastle at 9.15am.

The ferry

There are two ships which operate this crossing – we sailed out with the ship Princess Seaways and back with King Seaways.

DFDS calls them cruise ferries because of the facilities and entertainment on board.

They each have 140 crew. The King takes 1,300 passengers and the Princess 1,250.

We thought that they were great ships and our children loved exploring them. There is plenty to occupy a family between boarding time and bedtime.

Facilities

The ships each have two restaurants, a cinema, play areas, games rooms, a small casino, bars, a club and a shop.

There is good entertainment on board. Our children took part in children’s entertainment on King Seaways and enjoyed it. The play areas and games rooms were slightly bigger on the King.

A play area on the King Seaways ship

A play area on the King Seaways ship

Food (same on both)

*Explorer’s Kitchen – a buffet restaurant for breakfast and dinner which we tried on King Seaways. Perfect for families, not too formal with lots of choice.

Ice cream bar in the Explorer's Kitchen on King Seaways

For dinner, there is a variety of foods from different parts of the world including Chinese, Indian, German, Dutch, Italian and British. There’s an ice cream bar, where you can order your own soft scoop flavour with a selection of toppings.

*North Sea Bistro – we ate here on Princess Seaways. It is formal with table service – the food was more expensive but delicious.

North Sea Bistro

North Sea Bistro

There is a three-course menu for adults featuring steak, sea bass and other upmarket options.

The children’s menu offers two courses for £11.95 from a starter, main and dessert. Main course options included spaghetti Bolognese and a burger. Pancakes for pudding went down well with our pair.

My dessert at North Sea Bistro

My delicious dessert at North Sea Bistro

*Coffee Crew – a café next to the play areas which serves snacks.

Our cabin

All the cabins are en suite, ours were five-berth – with two bunk beds – a double on one side and triple on the other! The bathroom has a shower. Towels and bedding are provided.

Our 5-berth cabin on Princess Seaways

Our cabin on Princess Seaways

Cabins are well located away from all the communal areas.

Who can travel?

Cars, caravans, motorcycles, bicycles, motorhomes and lorries can all use the ferry or foot passengers without a vehicle.

How does it work?

You check-in at the port in North Shields near Newcastle, at least 45 minutes before departure – and if you are in a car or other vehicle, drive to a vehicle check-in booth, open the window and hand over your passports to be checked.

You are given boarding cards which are also your cabin keys. There are lots of crew around to direct you into a lane and then on to the ship. You are told exactly where to park, the crew guide you as far forward as possible in your lane in order to fit all the cars on board. Remember your deck number so you can find your car quickly again in the morning!

Foot passengers check in at the passenger terminal.

Disabled facilities

There are six disabled cabins on King Seaways and three on the Princess. There are lifts and disabled toilets.

Benefits

It may take longer than flying but there are lots of benefits to the ferry:

*You have your own car, so you don’t need to rent or worry about children’s car seats in Holland.

*You can pack more luggage – there is unlimited baggage on board.

*You can take bikes and scooters.

*You can take pets. Pets can travel on board in their own area or there are even pet-friendly cabins. Make sure you are up-to-date on requirements for pet passports and vaccinations.

*The mini-cruise is a fun experience, part of the holiday rather than the journey.

Top tips

*We headed for the ports both ends early to make sure we arrived in time and then stretched our legs on a beach – at Long Sands beach in Tynemouth near Newcastle and Zandvoort beach on the way to Ijmuiden port in Holland.

Long Sands Beach, Tynemouth

Long Sands Beach, Tynemouth

*Keep an eye on young children outside on the ships, it can get very windy. Also, the doors to outside are very heavy to open and may slam shut.

*The car deck is locked once the ship sets sail. You can’t return to your car then so make sure you have everything with you that you need. We packed a separate bag for the cruise so we didn’t have too much to carry.

*Don’t book a restaurant time until half an hour after sailing time if you want to enjoy the ship setting off.

*There are a lot of stairs but lifts are available if you have a buggy or a pram and there would be room for a pushchair in the five-berth cabins we had.

*The restaurants are fantastic but bring water/drinks and food from the car for your cabin to save money. You are not allowed to take your own alcohol.

*Breakfast can get very busy. There is an announcement at 8am to wake everyone up so lots of passengers eat after that. The quiet period, where you are more likely to get a window seat to enjoy the sea view, is 7am to 7.45am. Also 9am is quieter – but you are called to your car as soon as the ship docks, around 9.15am.

*Don’t feel you need to rush to your car as soon as they announce it as you will be sitting in it for some time, wait a few minutes, but not too long!

In conclusion

A great experience for the children and a fun way to travel to Amsterdam. This really makes the journey a fun part of the holiday rather than a chore.

Prices from £81, via the DFDS website.

Read about our holiday in Amsterdam here: Is Amsterdam child-friendly? We take a family trip to the beautiful capital of the Netherlands to find out

Our visit to the Netherlands was in two parts, read about our second adventure here: Deserts, fairytales and glamping – a family trip to Efteling and the Brabant region of Holland.

DFDS ferry/mini-cruise from Newcastle to Amsterdam, crossing the North Sea

RELATED CONTENT: Amsterdam’s top attractions and activities for children

RELATED CONTENT: Our full guide to getting around Amsterdam with children

RELATED CONTENT: Amsterdam’s park and ride service – all you need to know

RELATED CONTENT: We review Efteling – the biggest theme park in the Netherlands – and give our top tips for visiting

(We received a free ferry trip for the purposes of this review, all views, as ever, are our own).

Amsterdam’s park and ride service – all you need to know

Amsterdam’s park and ride service – all you need to know

Beat the hefty parking fees and hectic streets of Amsterdam with our 10 steps to the park and ride system

We travelled to Amsterdam with our car, via ferry (full review here).

Handy? Well, yes, especially for the next part of our journey. But drivers are warned to avoid taking cars into Amsterdam city centre itself. It is difficult for tourists to navigate, has a high volume of trams and bicycles, scant parking spaces and hefty parking fees.

Thankfully, there are park and ride (P+R) options – seven good value car parks on the edge of the city.

Follow our 10-step guide to using them.

Step 1

Find a park and ride site, they are marked from the motorways. The biggest and most popular is Olympic Stadium. The junction signs will tell you if the P+R is full (Vol means full in Dutch, Vrij mean free).
You can’t book in advance.

Step 2

Enter the car park and take a normal ticket.

Step 3

Park up and find one of the blue park and ride machines. Buy the number of transport tickets you need (one per person – each ticket costs around 2/3 euros).

Step 4

Find public transport into the city centre straight away. You only have an hour after parking to reach the city centre.

IMPORTANT – You can only use the blue and white GVB trams or buses.

Tickets are not valid on other options like the metro or red buses.

Step 5

When you enter the tram/bus you MUST tap your ticket (everybody’s tickets) on the small, black, circular machine next to the door.

Step 6

Ride to your city centre stop and when you exit you MUST tap the card on the exit to register it.

Step 7

Put that card away for the remainder of your Amsterdam visit. It is useless until your return journey to park and ride – but don’t lose it!

Step 8

When leaving the city to get your car, repeat the process – tap in with your original blue card when boarding and then tap out when you arrive to collect your car.

Step 9

Return to the special park and ride machine in the car park.

Put your car park ticket in first. A huge price comes up. Don’t panic.

Step 10

Then scan your blue transport card and if you have followed the steps above your fee goes down to potentially as low as 1 euro per day.

In conclusion

This is the cheapest way to take a car to Amsterdam but it is fiddly and complicated so take care to follow these steps and you will save possibly hundreds of euros to spend on your holiday.

Read about how to navigate Amsterdam with kids here: Our full guide to getting around Amsterdam with children

And here are our tips on what to do with children in the city: Amsterdam’s top attractions and activities for children

Our full review of a family holiday to Amsterdam is here: Is Amsterdam child-friendly? We take a family trip to the beautiful capital of the Netherlands to find out

We travelled to Amsterdam by mini-cruise/ferry: We review a mini-cruise from Newcastle to Amsterdam with DFDS ferry operator

RELATED CONTENT: We review Efteling – the biggest theme park in the Netherlands – and give our top tips for visiting

RELATED CONTENT: We review a mini-cruise from Newcastle to Amsterdam with DFDS ferry operator

An English airport reopens to passenger flights after 26 years

An English airport reopens to passenger flights after 26 years

Passenger planes fly again from Carlisle Lake District Airport

The first passenger flight since 1993 has taken off from Carlisle Lake District Airport to the delight of families in the area and those wanting to holiday there.

The airport, serving Cumbria and southwest Scotland, has been transformed with a new and modern terminal, a Borderlands Cafe and new runways and taxiways.

Scottish airline Loganair will fly to Belfast City Airport, Dublin and London Southend Airport from the airport.

It started out as an RAF airfield and once had scheduled services from Heathrow.  But it has had no passenger flight since 1993.

Owned and run by the Stobart Group, it opens Cumbria and the Lake District region up to the South East of England, Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland.

Cumbria is a hugely popular tourist hotspot with families – 47 million people visited in 2018 and tourism contributes £3 billion to the local economy per year.

Gill Haigh, Managing Director of Cumbria Tourism, said: “Just imagine being in a busy central London office on a Friday afternoon and then dipping your toes in the lake as you enjoy the sunset over the stunning Lakeland fells later that same evening.”

Carlisle Lake District Airport exterior

The airport is near to two World Heritage Sites – the Lake District National Park and Hadrian’s Wall.

The London connection is also expected to be used by staff working for BAE Systems at Barrow-in-Furness and the Sellafield nuclear site.

Jonathan Hinkles, managing director at Loganair, said: “These three routes will be a complete game-changer for the region’s connectivity with London and Ireland – extremely beneficial for the business community and highly convenient for tourists booking breaks to the Lake District.”

Loganair will use 33-seater Saab 340B aircraft to operate the flights, with nine return services on weekdays and five at weekends.

Passengers will be offered a free minibus ride to and from Carlisle city centre.

Fares via www.loganair.co.uk, to Belfast City start from £39.99 and to Dublin and London Southend from £44.99 – including 20kg of baggage allowance.

 

Can you go on a cruise pregnant? Read our full guide

Can you go on a cruise pregnant? Read our full guide

Once past the dreaded morning sickness stage, a cruise sounds like a blissful holiday when pregnant.

Lots of rest, swimming, food prepared for you, afternoon naps in the cabin.

But as a Mumsnet poster found out this week: “I’ve just discovered that many cruise liners don’t let you sail if you are over 24 weeks (pregnant).

“I’m going on a cruise in 11 days’ time (cost a fortune), will be 24 weeks the day before disembarkation, have checked their T&Cs and sure enough it’s a no no.”

So is a cruise a fabulous, relaxing holiday while pregnant or a danger to mother and baby and what are the rules? The Family Holiday Guide investigates.

The pregnancy policy of cruise lines

Cruise ships have strict pregnancy policies.

Women having a healthy pregnancy, in the first or second trimester are usually allowed to sail.

They must inform the cruise line before, or risk being turned away.

The cruise line usually wants to see (sometimes two months before), a doctor or midwife’s letter confirming the mother and baby are in good health, fit to travel and the pregnancy is not high risk, plus the estimated due date.

Most cruise lines will not let passengers sail who will be in or past the 24th week of pregnancy at any stage during the journey. These include P&O, TUI, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean.

It may sound strict but when you think about it, this makes sense. Ships do not have the specialist facilities to deal with pregnancy complications or a new premature baby out at sea.

There are some ships which sail close to land or river cruises, which may allow women in later pregnancy, with a doctor’s approval.

But make sure you check and follow the rules – you may be asked to sign a health form when booking or boarding to agree that you are aware of the pregnancy policy.

You find out you are pregnant after you have booked a cruise and no longer want to go?

If you no longer want to go and have only paid a deposit, you can normally cancel the cruise and get a refund.

If you have paid in full, you will need to check the company’s cancellation policies and you may not get a full refund.

If you have travel insurance in place then you should be able to cancel or reschedule sailing.

You will be in the first or second trimester but aren’t sure whether to go?

Check with your doctor. If you have had any complications, are expecting more than one baby or have had preterm deliveries before, it may be safer to stay on land where medical facilities are close by.

Also, fully research and consider the health risks at all the destinations you will be visiting as well as the health care available at them.

There will normally be doctor-led medical facilities on the ship which can handle minor emergencies. If there is an emergency, patients are transferred to hospital (often for a fee – have insurance), but this could take a long time.

If you do sail while pregnant

*You must have travel insurance – make sure you disclose your pregnancy and check it covers you in the event of an emergency. Also make sure it covers your unborn baby.

*Always travel with your maternity notes and doctor’s letter and carry copies of prescriptions and the emergency contact number for your doctor with you too.

*Be wary of drinking the ship’s water.

*Always use hand sanitizer regularly as viruses can spread quickly on cruise ships. Take care to avoid food and water-borne conditions like stomach upsets and remember some medicines for treating things like diarrhoea aren’t suitable when pregnant.

*Don’t feel you have to do all shore excursions, stay safe and listen to your body. Sometimes pregnant passengers are not allowed on some excursions for their own safety.

*Remember, seasickness may be worse when pregnant.

*Many cruise ships have launderettes so you don’t have to splash out on lots of maternity holiday clothes.

*Be careful in the sun, keep cool and check your sun cream is suitable for pregnant women.

*You can enjoy the swimming pools but avoid hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms.

*Take a list of what you can and can’t eat as you may not be able to ‘Google it’. And be wary of buffet food which has been out a while.

*If you are flying to the cruise port, check the airline’s policy too.

In conclusion

Thoroughly consider all the issues before deciding whether to sail and choose a cruise which isn’t at sea for days on end.

If you go, pack a maternity swimsuit, enjoy the restful side of cruising including afternoon naps in your cabin, don’t overdo it and have a great time!

What about ferries?

Ferry companies have their own restrictions and usually won’t take pregnant women past 32 weeks. Check the company’s policy before booking as restrictions vary.

Brittany Ferries, for example, accept pregnant passengers under 32 weeks except on their high-speed sailings when they must be less than 28 weeks.

It also depends on the route and in some cases, the weather – if the sea is very rough, a pregnant traveller may not be allowed on board.

Which airline has the cheapest seat selection for families? We compare them

Which airline has the cheapest seat selection for families? We compare them

Compare the cost of booking your seat on Ryanair, Easyjet, British Airways, Jet2 and the rest

Let’s be honest – paying to choose your seat is a tax on families.

Business travellers and even couples are not as bothered about sitting together for flight, but when you have young children, you have no choice.

Airlines have to do their best to sit families together but this is not always possible. And there are reports of airlines scattering passengers who haven’t prepaid for seats around the plane to deter them from risking it again.

passengers on a plane in their seats

How much does it cost to choose your seat on an airline?

So what is the cost of booking your seat?

We assessed the cheapest available on a route from Manchester to Spain in June.

Airline Price per person
Ryanair  from £3
EasyJet  from £4.49
British Airlines  from £6
Flybe  from £6.50
Norwegian  from £7
TUI  from £8
Jet2  from £9
Thomas Cook  from £13

In conclusion

The price is fairly varied with a £10 difference between the cheapest Ryanair and the most expensive Thomas Cook.

It doesn’t sound much but multiply that by four or more seats and double it for the return and you could be looking at £80 extra for your holiday.

Don’t forget there are special deals for families on some airlines and offers to buy a deal including luggage, seat and meal which can be better value.

 The most comprehensive chart on airlines is this one from the Civil Aviation Authority.

Which budget airline is cheapest for taking a suitcase in the hold? We compare them

Which budget airline is cheapest for taking a suitcase in the hold? We compare them

Check the prices of hold luggage from Ryanair, EasyJet, British Airways, Jet2 and the rest

Hold luggage is the most expensive hidden cost on a low air fare ticket.

Unlike business travellers and couples, most families need to take at least one suitcase in the hold to carry all the extra bits and pieces children need.

So we decided to test all the major airlines to find out the true cost of a suitcase.

Our search assumed one 20kg or nearest equivalent bag on a short haul flight to Spain or equivalent distance travelling in June.

A Ryanair plane on the runway

Is Ryanair among the cheapest?

The results

Airline Bag weight Price Cost per kg
Ryanair 20kg £25 £1.25
Flybe 23kg £24 £1.04
Jet2 22kg £26 £1.18
EasyJet 23kg £24.61 £1.07
British Airways 20kg £30 £1.50
Norwegian 20kg £20 £1
Thomas Cook 23kg £20 £0.86
TUI 20kg £22 £1.10

 

In conclusion

Our winner was Thomas Cook, followed by Norwegian.

What our sample shows is the airlines have clearly come to a view of a rough price they can get away with for luggage.

They aren’t really competing on this cost, unlike the headline fare price.

The luggage price per kilo is fairly similar with the overall price ranging from £19 to £26.

Some of the airlines offer deals for families and cheaper luggage for children, for example, so always do your own check.

There are special deals for buying luggage, seats and meals which could reduce the overall cos too.

See our hand luggage comparison guide here.

*The most comprehensive chart on airlines is this one from the Civil Aviation Authority.

Flying with a baby or infant under two – our comprehensive guide will help you from the airport to the plane

Flying with a baby or infant under two – our comprehensive guide will help you from the airport to the plane

Everything you need to make flying with a baby or child under two as easy as possible including our best airport and aeroplane tips.

Taking a baby on a plane can be a daunting prospect for many parents.

Fears they may cry throughout the flight are enough to put many off the idea.

But if you are well-prepared, it can actually be a very good time to fly. Babies sleep a lot (hopefully) and won’t want to run around the plane at this stage!

Airlines and airports can help make it easier for you as long as you plan properly and make any requests as early as possible. We’ve put together a complete guide to flying with a baby or infant to help you.

When can a baby travel?

Airlines have different age restrictions for babies, ranging from two to 15 days old. Doctors recommend you wait until your baby is at least six weeks old when their immune systems are more developed. For a premature baby, they usually base this on their due date age.

Some airlines require a doctor’s note to confirm babies are fit to fly, so double check first.

And if you want to travel long-haul with a baby under three months, you do need to seek medical advice.

Also, if you’ve had a Caesarean, you may not be able to fly until after the six-week postnatal check-up, so check with your doctor first.

If you have two or more babies under six months, you may not be able to travel alone with them as most airlines require that there is one adult with each baby.

The best age to travel

Many agree that the best age to travel with a baby is between three and nine months.

Babies are sleeping better, their immune systems are more developed and they aren’t yet crawling.

Passport

Babies need their own passport, which can take a few weeks to get, so make sure it is organised before booking a flight. Babies also need a visa if the destination requires one.

If you have a different surname to your baby, you need to prove you are related. The documents needed, such as a birth certificate, depend on the situation, so check ahead.

What do airlines charge for a baby under two to fly?

A baby or child under two can sit on an adult’s lap on a plane. Sometimes this is free but usually you are charged an infant fare, a percentage of an adult fare. In the UK and Europe, you will be given a belt for them that attaches to your seatbelt, but not in the USA.

Alternatively, you can book them a seat, which can help when they are above six months or so and you can take a car seat to sit in on the plane (see more about this in the car seat section below). You will then have standard luggage allowance for them too, giving you room for all the extra baby stuff you will need to take.

Either way, your baby will require a ticket.

A baby sleeping in a parent's arms on a plane

Booking before your baby is born

If you want  to book a flight before your baby is born, you are not usually able to do this online so will need to call the airline. Then you confirm all their details nearer to the time.

When to fly

Lots of parents swear by night flights. Put your baby or young child in their sleepsuit or pyjamas, read them a story and try to get them to sleep close to their normal bedtime.

Reserve seats

Some airlines will allow you to reserve seats in advance, others when you check in. Make sure you do this as soon as possible to get the best seats if you are not paying to reserve them. And ask if an adjoining seat can be left free if the flight isn’t full, to give you more space.

Ask when checking in and boarding whether the flight is full. If there is space, ask crew if you could have a row of seats to spread out.

Another trick is to book window and aisle seats and leave one in between empty as these are the last to go so may be left empty. If not, the passenger will usually gladly swap for an aisle or window seat.

Where to sit

Decide what is important to you and will suit your baby best. As most airlines don’t give children under two their own seat, unless you pay the full ticket price, you will need to be as comfortable as possible.

There are pros and cons to different positions. Many parents choose an aisle seat near to the front of the plane so that they can walk up and down with their baby. Or, if you are a nursing mother expecting to breastfeed, you may prefer the privacy of a window seat.

Remember, when travelling with children, you can’t book seats next to the emergency exit.

A very popular option are the bulkhead seats.

Bulkhead seats and bassinets/carrycots/skycots

Bulkhead seats are popular as they have more leg room and are easier to get in and out of, very useful when trying to stand up holding a baby.

A bulkhead is a divider between sections of the plane such as a wall, curtain or screen. So sitting in these seats means there is nobody to lie back in front of you.

Be aware that arm rests don’t move as tray tables are often stored in them and there isn’t room under the seats for bags. So you may have to store all your hand luggage in the overhead lockers, at least for take-off and landing.

Bulkhead seat tips

*Request at the time of booking or call the airline as there is usually a waiting list.

*Even if you have reserved one of these bullkhead seats, you may be asked to move for a passenger with greater need such as a wheelchair user.

Bassinets/carrycots/sky cots/reclining chairs

Bassinets are available for passengers in bulkhead seats with some airlines on long haul flights. They can make the journey far more comfortable for you than having the baby on your lap. They are often wall-mounted but some go on the floor.

A baby sleeps in a bassinet on an aeroplane

A wall-mounted bassinet/carrycot for a baby in the bulkhead seats area of the plane.

Bassinet  tips

*There are a limited number so request at the time of booking to avoid disappointment.

*Check your baby fits the size and weight requirements – normally up to 10kg – before you book (and remember that they will be bigger when it is time to fly).

*Face your baby’s legs towards the aisle.

*Bring an arch toy if possible to clip on to the bassinet to make an activity centre/play gym to keep your baby entertained.

*Sheets are usually provided but take a blanket/baby sleeping bag if required, the smell will be familiar for them.

*Lift your television out before you set the bassinet up and get your baby to sleep else it may not unlatch properly.

*Many airlines will ask you to take your baby out if there is turbulence, which can be very annoying if your baby has just gone to sleep.

*They are usually put away for take-off and landing.

*Some airlines including British Airways have reclining child seats for infants up to two years old (depending on their weight), which they attach in the carrycot position, which can be booked online.

Seatbelts

When the seat belt sign is on, babies and children under two need to be secured. If they are on an adult’s lap they will use an infant extension seat belt, attached by a loop to the seat belt of the adult whose lap they are sitting on.

Alternatively, they can be put in a car seat or an alternative supplied by the airline.

Car seats

Car seats in the hold

If you want to take a car seat away with you, airlines usually let you have them in the hold for free.

If you don’t take your own car seat abroad, you can find yourself in a taxi without one (legal but not safe), or one that is very old or the wrong size. Even if we hire a car, we tend to take our own as the standard of some can be poor. (Read our guide for more details about taking car seats abroad).

You don’t have to put children’s car seats in a bag but they can be damaged in transit so we use Venture Car Seat Bags. We also have separate car seats for travel so we don’t risk our usual ones being damaged in a way that might not be obvious.

Many airlines let you check car sears in at the gate, like you can a pushchair, so it doesn’t have to travel with all the luggage, but they are quite bulky to carry around an airport.

Car seats on the plane with you

If you buy your infant their own seat on the aeroplane, airline-approved car seats can be taken on to the aircraft for them to sit in. Some airlines provide them.

A child sleeps in a car seat on a plane by the window

A child’s car seat can sometimes be used on the plane.

Alternatively they  can sit in something especially made for planes like the Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES).

Sitting in a car seat on the plane – tips

*Car seats are safer in the event of an accident than an aeroplane lap belt.

*But UK doctors recommend that babies do not sleep in car seats and are not kept in one for more than two hours at a time.

*The size of aircraft seats vary so always check the measurements first and any other requirement such as which direction they can face (often forward facing).

*Car seats are usually put on a window seat so they do not impede an evacuation and can’t be used where airbags are fitted.

Baggage allowance

With some airlines you can have extra luggage allowance with infant fare  – where they sit on your lap.

But if your baby has their own ticket and seat, they will have standard passenger luggage allowance which you can use for all the extra baby stuff you will be carrying!

Buggy/pushchair/stroller

Buggies go in the hold so have to be checked in as luggage, but this is usually free and on top of your baggage allowance.

Most airlines (not all, so please check first) allow pushchairs to be taken through the airport to the plane door, although there is a maximum weight. Make sure it has a luggage tag put on at check-in and include your contact details.

Then it will be put in the hold for the flight.

Ensure it is collapsible as it has to go through the X-ray scanners. And expect it to get a bit battered so invest in a separate, lightweight travel pushchair if possible.

We bought a buggy bag, which partially protects the pushchair. Our bag has also proved useful in the past for putting extra bits inside, before it went into the hold, such as our coats and milk and nappies collected from Boots, to save carrying them on to the plane.

As an alternative to taking pushchairs all the way to the plane, some prefer to use baby carriers or slings.

If you don’t need your pushchair in the airport, it can be put in the hold with the rest of the luggage when you check in, usually at no extra cost.

Either way, you won’t have the pushchair back with you until you collect your luggage at the baggage reclaim area so if you are on your own with a baby, make sure your hand luggage is easy to carry along with your child, consider a rucksack/backpack.

Airport Security Tips

*Don’t get your baby to sleep in their pushchair just before you go through security! All hand luggage will go through the X-ray machine including buggies/pushchairs/strollers, which will have to be collapsed.

*There are no restrictions for taking baby food and baby milk on board but you will be asked to taste it as you go through security.

*If you want to get through security more quickly, you can usually pre-book online to use an express lane (between around £3 to £13 per person). Sometimes staff call families with babies through these lanes anyway, if they can.

*Don’t wear  items you will have to take off, to make it easier for you, such as belts or boots.

*Don’t take more than 100ml of liquids like baby cream or lotion and place any in a clear bag to take through security.

Pre-ordering baby milk and other holiday essentials from Boots.

Many of the main UK airports have a Boots in the departure lounge. So once you have been through security you can buy things like baby wipes, nappies, Calpol, formula and baby food.

What is really useful at some Boots, is the chance to pre-order milk and nappies and other holiday essentials, to be collected one you have been through security.

Boots Airport Order tips

*Baby milk – you can pre-order up to two tubs or 56 ready-to-drink cartons.

*You are allowed one airport shopping bag on to your flight as well as your hand luggage.

*You can pre-order anything that Boots sell except for anything sharp as they will be confiscated and you will not get a refund.

*When checking out, select deliver to store. Make sure it is an airside store (after security) not landside. Delivery is free on orders over £20.

*The order is delivered to the store within five to six working days so make sure you order in plenty of time.

*Leave at least 15 minutes to collect your order in store as they are held elsewhere.

To order simply go to the Boots website, add items to your basket and choose the Collect in Store delivery option. Type the name of the airport in the ‘Find your nearest store’ box. Make sure you choose the ‘after security’ option and the correct terminal if there are more than one. Choose the day of the flight as the collection day.

Airline facilities for babies

Baby changing facilities

Not all short-haul flights have baby changing facilities so check first. Most provide a changing table although there is limited space in the toilets, so just take in what you need. A disposable changing mat is very useful, particularly if there is no changing table. Try to put a clean nappy on just before you board.

Many airlines keep extra nappies and baby food on board so ask if you need anything.

Baby food, toddler meals and milk

Most airlines will provide baby food and toddler meals if you request them in advance. So ask at the time of booking.

Many airlines will heat bottles and baby food for you for free, check in advance if you are concerned and perhaps mention it to the crew at the start of the flight.

But some budget airlines do not have baby meals or food-warming facilities so check first.

Refrigerate baby milk and meals.

Most airlines will refrigerate baby milk and toddler meals for you on long haul flights to stop them getting warm. You can keep them in a cool bag before this. Again, check first.

What to pack in hand luggage when travelling with a baby or infant

Most airlines do not have a hand luggage allowance for infants without their own seats, so it may be tricky to get everything you need within your own allowance. Pack wisely, know where everything is in your bag and keep everything you may need at hand where possible. And don’t forget:

Nappies (more than you think in case of delays)

Large disposable nappy mats

Baby wipes

Anti-bacterial hand wipes (use frequently to try to keep other passengers’ germs and bugs at bay)

Spare changes of comfortable clothes/sleepsuits/pyjamas as well as layers in case it is cold

Dummies if used

Favourite toys (depending on age this could include rattles, teethers, sensory toys, stacking cups, shape sorters, books)

Comforter

A new toy

Bibs

Sterilised bottles

Milk/formula

Baby/toddler food

Baby spoons

Muslins

Blanket/baby sleeping bag

Nappy sacks

Bag for dirty clothes

Bags for used spoons and bottles etc

Basic first aid kit

Baby milk/formula

We found it much easier when on holiday and certainly when flying, to use the ready-to-drink cartons. Although they are more expensive, it means no worries about boiling bottled water or the tap water abroad. If your baby needs it warmer than room temperature, you can ask airport staff or airline crew if they can warm it or alternatively ask for a big mug or teapot of hot water to put your bottle in briefly. (Always shake and check the temperature before giving to your baby).

A baby holding a parent's hand

How to keep your baby calm while flying

*Give them  milk (breastfeed or bottle feed) on take-off and landing. The swallowing will stop the painful pressure build-up in their ears.

*The aeroplane engine noise often helps babies and young children to fall asleep anyway.

*If you haven’t got a bassinet but have managed to get an empty seat next to you, make them a little bed on the seats.

*When awake, walk your baby up and down the plane so he or she can look around.

*If you usually calm your baby down by walking or swaying etc, just do the same in the air!

*Relax and play with and talk to your baby as you usually would and try not to feel silly. Even sing quietly if your baby likes it.

*Babies need lots of milk during a flight as the air conditioning makes them more thirsty.

*DO NOT FORGET THEIR DUMMY if they have one.

*If you are really lucky they will sleep the whole way!

And…

Don’t forget yourself, try to relax and take a book, Kindle or tablet, for when (fingers crossed) they sleep!

Enjoy your holiday!

Have we missed any of your favourite tips, do let us know below.

NOW READ: Flying with children – 10 tips for keeping toddlers and young children happy on a plane

NOW READ: The full guide to child car seats and transport options on a family holiday abroad

Is Ryanair now family-friendly? We review a budget flight with our children

Is Ryanair now family-friendly? We review a budget flight with our children

Read about our experience of flying with Ryanair for a family break

Booking

When Monarch collapsed a week before our holiday was due to start we had to rush to book alternative flights.

The only option to our destination was Ryanair. At 6am in the morning I had to negotiate the booking process on my laptop, knowing lots of other people were scrambling to do the same after losing flights with Monarch.

In the end, to save time, I went for a family pack, which at £103 included two suitcases, priority boarding and seat selection.

With more time, I may have been able to pick and choose some of those options for slightly less money.

It is clear Ryanair are trying to make their process a little more straightforward but it can still be a minefield of potential charges.

Plane

Ryanair’s fleet is one of the youngest around. That means most planes are modern, clean and quiet.  Ours was pretty good although not the newest they have.

As usual, overhead locker space was at a premium. We used our trick of one adult boarding early to sort out the children’s activities, drinks, snacks etc and putting bags in the locker. The second adult boarded later with the children so they had more time to stretch their legs.

onboard seats on a Ryanair plane

The seats are modern on Ryanair’s fleet

On-board

The seats were surprisingly comfortable and in good condition. The legroom was fine but Ryanair, like lots of short-haul airlines, maximises space by taking away the pocket in which to put your valuables.

That can be a pain when you have children’s drinks, magazines and general paraphernalia, which has to go somewhere.

There were just two toilets which meant some queues. The heat was quite intense too, awaiting take-off on our return journey.

Food

The offering is fairly basic with the usual snacks and drinks. Pre-ordered hot meals are the first to come round followed by the drinks and snacks trolley.

It was all efficient except they ran out of change for some passengers on the way back.

Child-friendly?

Ryanair is aiming to be more family-friendly but are they going far enough?

There were some nice touches.

Children’s pushchairs/strollers and car seats can be put in the hold for free but that is the same as other airlines.

Priority boarding with the family pack is useful and they are currently offering discounts on bags and seat reservations for families.

In conclusion

We didn’t have any complaints, boarding was smooth and efficient, the flights landed on time, there were no queues at check-in at either airport.

But as we all know, the problem with Ryanair is if something goes wrong, then you’re often on your own. We were lucky and found it to be stress-free.

RELATED POST: In-flight Wi-Fi and child discounts – we discover why Norwegian Air is good for family flights

RELATED POST: We review British Airways CityFlyer service which now flies from regional airports

The full guide to child car seats and transport options on a family holiday abroad

The full guide to child car seats and transport options on a family holiday abroad

How do you keep your children safe while travelling abroad – we give you all the options

It can be a major dilemma, you’re heading abroad but what do you about car seats for your children?

You could rent them, take your own or rely on taxis and public transport. We assess all the options.

Renting car seats along with your hire car

Pros

*The benefit of this is ease and simplicity, you pick the car up at the airport, pop the seats in (once you figure out how they work) and off you go.

*It can work really well as it did when we used Auto Reisen in the Canary Islands recently, the seat was brand new and it was included in the price. If you can get that abroad, it is probably the simplest option.

Cons

*The standard of child car seats varies hugely, we have seen some truly horrible seats on offer and you don’t know what you’re going to get until you arrive.

And even then, you don’t know if the seat has hidden damage rendering it unsafe, how it has been stored, if that model has been recalled, if it has parts missing. And you don’t know how to properly fit it unless you have the manual.

*The cost is also a complete lottery. We’ve been quoted an expensive £90 per seat for a week, because the car rental companies think you don’t have a choice.

Conclusion

We would carefully consider the total cost of renting a car including the car hire price and seats instead of just going with the cheapest headline rate. And make sure you read company reviews to see if the seats they rent are generally of a good standard.

If you are not happy with the seat you are given when you get there, ask if you can change it for another one.

Car rental holiday car keys

Bring your own

We have tried this and it works pretty well.

Pros

*In the long-term, it will probably be the cheapest option. We have even bought new seats to use for just for this purpose – we didn’t want to risk our day-to-day seats getting knocked about and potentially damaged and made unsafe.

*Most airlines will now let you take a car seat in the hold for free –  it doesn’t come out of your luggage allowance or cost extra. Both British Airways and Ryanair allowed us to do this recently.

*Some airlines let you take the car seat with you to the gate, it can be bulky to carry around but reduces the risk of damage.

*You may also be able to take the car seat on the plane for your baby or child to sit in, if it is FAA-approved. Check ahead with your airline and know the measurements.

*You have peace of mind that the seats are safe and clean.

Cons

*The seats may take a battering travelling through the airport and on to the plane. Some people send them on the plane as they are, but they risk getting damaged.

We used to take our children’s car seats in their original boxes or a padded box to try to give them some protection but it is a hassle to pack and unpack the seats and collapse the boxes for car journeys either side.

Now, we use special bags which have made life much easier – the Venture Car Seat Travel Bag has long carry straps and now our two are much easier to carry around. The bags also prevent our seats from getting scuffed or ripped.

A dad uses the Venture car seat travel bags at the airport

Using the Venture car seat travel bags

*For more information about taking car seats on a plane, see this article.

Hire at your location

Increasingly, popular tourist destinations have outlets where you can hire seats from the airport. We tried one at Malaga Airport with Tots Store.

Pros

*With a specialist supplier the seats are more certain to be good quality and cheaper.

This is the entire business for a company like Tots Stores and they wouldn’t last long offering substandard seats at inflated prices like car hire companies can get away with.

*We found the service excellent, the seats were really good quality and they explained the fitting well. The staff were efficient meeting us and it was quick and easy to take the seats back at the end of the holiday.

*You don’t have to risk damaging your own seats.

Cons

*On arrival you have to head for a different part of the airport to collect the seats, which does add a little bit of time to your airport experience.

On drop-off, you can head for the departures area but it is impossible to carry all your luggage and two car seats in one trip so this could be tricky if there is only one adult.

*The cost is likely to be less than hiring from the car hire company but more expensive than bringing your own.

Taxis and public transport

Pros

*Using public transport or taxis means less to worry about. Instead of panicking about scratches on the hire car, navigation, parking in tight spots, driving on the wrong side of the road and all the rest that goes into driving abroad – you can relax a bit more.

*The key to this approach is where you are going. Driving around some busy cities is best avoided in favour of trains, buses or taxis. In other areas, you need your own car to get around.

*Public transport will be cheapest and can be the best option in big cities. On our visit to London it was great to get around via the tube, train or bus. It made for an adventure.

taxis in New York

Taxis with car seats can be hard to find

Cons

*We have never found a taxi abroad which has a proper child’s car seat. The best you can hope for is probably a booster seat but it is very hit and miss. You can try to pre-book a taxi with seats but we have never been successful and the whole point of taking cabs is that it is quick and easy and relatively spontaneous.

*The standard of driving is so variable too, we had one particularly hair-raising trip around Florence in a taxi.

*The cost of taking regular taxis will likely be more than a hire car – unless you are paying a huge parking fee each day.

Taxi laws

In the UK, if the driver doesn’t provide the correct child car seat, children can travel without one on and will not be fined. They must be on a rear seat. If they are three or over they need to wear a seatbelt but no seatbelt for under-threes (see gov.uk for more information). The law in other countries and areas varies.

However experts advise that it is always safer to use a child car seat. Using a travel booster seat or seatbelt adjustor may be safer than nothing.

In conclusion

There are a lot of options to weigh up, consider the location and what will work best for you and let us know your thoughts, tips and ideas in the comments.

*For a full guide to flying with a baby or infant under two click here. For our 10 top tips to flying with toddlers and young children click here.

 

 

The simple way to get ‘free’ family flights for four – find out how to save loads of extra air miles

The simple way to get ‘free’ family flights for four – find out how to save loads of extra air miles

We show you how to use an American Express credit card to get virtually free flights to Europe with Avios air miles

Here we will show you how a family can take a flight for virtually nothing. We have done this for the last two summers, flying to Florence which you can read about here, and to Majorca which you can read about here.

You can use points built up from using an American Express credit card for long haul flights and hotel stays. But in this article, we talk about getting Avios flights to France, Italy, Spain and other parts of Europe.

We love to spread the word about what is possible so that everyone we know can benefit too – here is what you need to do. This article has been updated to reflect recent AMEX changes.

How to get family holiday flights for four

Step 1 – Sign up for the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold card. To get extra points, do this via a link from an existing cardholder (we are happy to recommend you, just email mail@thefamilyholidayguide.co.uk for a link). Then you will get 12,000 points instead of 10,000 providing you spend £3,000 in the first three months.

Step 2 –  Use the card for all your online shopping (remember to add the card to your regular accounts such as PayPal, eBay, Amazon and supermarkets ) and for your fuel, food, travel, bills etc.

You get one point for every pound you spend on the card.

Step 3 – After three months, recommend your partner for an American Express Gold card, that earns you 6,000 points for the recommendation. Your husband/wife/partner then gets 12,000 points providing they hit the £3,000 spending target in three months.

After six months you will have 30,000 points from the introductory bonus plus say 7,000 points from general spending.

Step 4 – Convert the points into air miles. You can choose from various schemes on the site, but Avios via the British Airways Executive Club (BAEC) is the most well-known. You need to join the BAEC and transfer the miles.

The conversion rate is 1:1 so you would get 37,000 Avios points.

Step 5 – Choose where you want to fly

A return to Paris or Amsterdam for four people – 36,000 Avios

A return to Majorca or Florence for four people – 60,000 Avios

With British Airways you pay a fixed charge of £35 per ticket for European Avios redemptions, although this is slightly less for children because of reduced taxes, usually around £23 on some flights.

Step 6 – Another little bonus is the American Express card also comes with two free lounge passes. If both partners have a card you could start the holiday with a nice little airport lounge visit!

The small print – This AMEX card is free for the first year, it costs £140 after the first year but you can always cancel. It is a credit card so you must pay it off in full every month otherwise the interest payments will dwarf any potential miles gain.

Disclaimer – we are not a financial services site. Remember, do not use a credit card unless you are going to pay it off in full every month.

In conclusion

Follow the steps above and for just over £100 you can get a trip to Europe in peak season saving potentially £1,000 on plane tickets.

We also like this brilliant site called Head for Points which has all the Avios and other air miles schemes in great detail.

Please let us know if you found this article helpful.

Flying with children – 10 tips for keeping toddlers and young children happy on a plane

Flying with children – 10 tips for keeping toddlers and young children happy on a plane

Our best airport and aeroplane hacks to make flying with children an enjoyable experience

Lots of parents worry about taking toddlers and young children on a flight. You hope they will be comfortable and happy but fear they will be noisy, cry or have a tantrum and annoy people around them.

We’ve put together our top tips to make it as easy as possible for you. To read our comprehensive guide on flying with a baby or infant under two, click here.

1. The airport – make it fun

The airport is a big, noisy place for children, with long queues, long waits and people asking questions.

Try to ease the process by explaining ahead what will happen and make each part a game or a challenge. Maybe split up and take two different security lines to see who wins, sit by a window at the airport and do some plane spotting and let the children pull lighter suitcases if they are big enough.

Some airports have a play area for children, which can help pass the time. Also, keep them walking around, they’ll be sitting for long enough on the plane.

And buy them a magazine or book at the shops to take on board – which kills time in the airport and in the air.

2. Buggy/pushchair/stroller/car seat

Airlines normally let you have a pushchair and child car seat in the hold for free, check ahead to avoid extra costs.

Most airlines will let you keep your pushchair with you until you board if you prefer, then crew will put it in the hold for the flight. Buy a buggy bag, it offers some protection for the buggy, which is likely to get a bit battered. Plus, we have managed to fit extra bits like milk and nappies collected from Boots or even coats inside, to save carrying them on to the plane when you are juggling everything and trying to get the children on safely.

We also have protective bags for our car seats – for a full guide to hiring or taking car seats abroad see our article here.

3. Split your boarding

Children and families are often allowed to board first, this can be useful but also means more time on the plane for little ones so we prefer to wait until the end to get on.

Or consider this trick of ours. If there is more than one adult, one boards first with all the hand luggage, sorts the books, tablets/iPads, snacks and drinks out, then pops the bags in the overhead lockers.

The other parent stays with the children to burn off some energy at the departure gate and boards at the end of the process.

4. Where to sit on the plane

Airlines must aim to seat children close to parents or guardians, according to guidance from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Where they can’t, they should be no more than one row apart but there are no guarantees.

The safest way to be sure you are sitting together is to pay to book your seats online in advance. Otherwise, check in early, as soon as free online check-in opens (usually between four days and 24 hours before departure depending on the airline).

When deciding where to sit, look at the aircraft layout plans online and decide the best solution for your family. Many short haul flights are a 3-3 seating arrangement. As a family of four, we prefer to sit in two pairs rather than three together and one across the aisle, allowing us to concentrate on one child each. And we put each child in a window seat.

We never sit our children in aisle seats in case a passing trolley bumps them or catches their fingers or a hot drink is spilled. But also young children will be tempted to keep getting up and running off if they have easy access to the aisle!

If you are sitting one row behind another, consider putting a younger one who may be tempted to kick the seat in front, behind, so they aren’t annoying a stranger!

5. How to get extra seats for free

Ask when checking in and boarding whether the flight is full. If there is space, ask the crew if you could have a row of seats to spread out.

Another trick when booking seats if there are three across, is to book an aisle and a window seat, leaving a seat in the middle. These middle seats are usually last to be sold so if the plane isn’t full it may remain empty. If someone has booked it, they will usually gladly swap to be by the aisle or window.

6. Bulkhead seats

A bulkhead is a divider between sections of the plane such as a wall, curtain or screen.

Some people love bulkhead seats and some hate them, there are pros and cons.

Pros: Bulkhead seats can give more leg room and there is nobody to lie back in front of you. You are also among the first to be served food and drinks. You may be nearer to the toilet.

Cons: The arm rests don’t move, tray tables are often stored in them. There isn’t room under the seats for bags. So if the airline doesn’t allow hand luggage in front of you – always true during take-off and landing – you have to jump up and down a lot to fetch changing bags, activities, food and drink.

7. Entertainment options

Spend time preparing what to take on board to keep children entertained – else you may pay the price in the air when it is too late.

You can buy packs already made up such as the Keep em Quiet bags. But you know your children best and what holds their attention, such as colouring books, plain paper, activity books, pens, crayons and little games (not any with lots of little pieces you will be scrabbling under the chairs to find). I sometimes print out free word searches and colouring pages from the internet to make a little personal pack up for them.

Children do activities on a plane

We split the flight into sections. We don’t give our children anything when we first board, else they get engrossed and miss out on the fun bit! We encourage them to look out of the window and take in the excitement of lifting off the ground and being in the air. We just give them drinks to stop their ears from hurting.

When they start to get bored, we begin to bring out the entertainment. Ours love children’s magazines so we start with a new one and try some reading, colouring and puzzles while they’re still fresh.

Later on in the flight, when they start to get restless, we wheel out the iPads. When taking tablets, remember to check batteries are fully charged and their favourite programmes are downloaded and not just available via Wi-Fi.

And take proper children’s headphones which are designed for small heads so don’t slip off and are also much quieter to protect their ears.

Break up the screen time with a sandwich and snacks and use toilet breaks as an excuse to explore the plane and stretch legs.

8. What else to pack in hand luggage

Don’t forget drinks, snacks, sandwiches, nappies/pull ups for children still in them and comforters.

Remember wipes and proper anti-bacterial hand wipes (we get Lacura travel wipes from Aldi and stock up whenever they are selling them) or hand gel to keep hands germ free on board.

Put children in comfortable, loose-fitting clothes or pyjamas and take spare clothes, extra layers and extra socks in case they are cold.

Consider taking a blanket and an extra blanket or use the onboard one to make a canopy to shield children from the lights if they want to sleep. Just slot it into the headrest (this won’t work in a bulkhead seat).

And don’t forget a Kindle, book or tablet for you, you never know, you might get a few minutes to relax!

You can pre-order holiday essentials including nappies, baby milk, dummies etc to collect at a Boots airport store as you are allowed to take one shopping bag on board. Go to the Boots website, add items to your basket and choose the Collect in Store delivery option. Type the name of the airport in the ‘Find your nearest store’ box. Make sure you choose the ‘after security’ option and the correct terminal if there are more than one. Choose the day of the flight as the collection day. The order needs to be made at least three days before you fly.

9. How to stop those ears popping

There are various tricks to deal with the air pressure during take-off and particularly landing.

Boiled sweets used to be a favourite but they are a choking hazard for younger children.

We give ours drinks. It’s important they drink throughout the flight anyway – but we encourage ours to drink lots of water during take-off and landing, as the swallowing eases the pressure build-up in their ears.

Yawning when your child can see you so they reciprocate, also helps.

Younger children can also have milk or a dummy to help them.

10. And relax

Above all, try to relax and enjoy what you can about this shared experience, a big part of your holiday for them. If you are a nervous flyer, try your best not to show it else they will pick up on it and it will affect how they see it too now and in the future. Treat it as an adventure and a fun part of the holiday.

Fingers crossed and happy holidays!

MUST READ: Flying with a baby or infant under two – our comprehensive guide will help you from the airport to the plane

Is an overnight cross-Channel ferry with small children a good idea? We review Brittany Ferries

Is an overnight cross-Channel ferry with small children a good idea? We review Brittany Ferries

Read our report on a Brittany Ferries trip to France

A ferry can be a great way to travel with children – it breaks up a long journey, is (fairly) relaxing, you get to keep your own car on holiday plus you can pack loads into it.

The four of us have used ferries to cross the Channel for holidays to France and Denmark.

Here we review a crossing with Brittany Ferries, which operates between the UK and France, the UK and Spain and Ireland and France. We travelled between Portsmouth and St Malo.

Boarding

Boarding was smooth and quick at both ports. Yes there are a lot of cars on board – our ship, the Bretagne holds 2,000 passengers and 580 cars – but it didn’t take more than 20 minutes to disembark in a well drilled operation.

One word or warning, there can be a lot of steps to climb up from the car park to the higher decks if you have small children.

a cabin on a Brittany Ferry with four single beds

A four-berth cabin on board Brittany Ferries

The cabins

We booked a four-berth club cabin and our children loved it, it was a real adventure for them.

There were bunk beds on either side (the top one folds back when not in use to give more space), a small television on the wall and an en-suite with shower and toilet.

We found it cosy and very well soundproofed and both children slept well.

Cabins are not just for night times though, it is also worth booking a cabin for a day trip if you have small children. It is good to have a base and somewhere to relax (for parents as well if you have been chasing them around the ferry). Plus they are great if your child still naps.

The food

There was plenty of choice for all budgets. There is an à la carte restaurant, self-service restaurant, cafe, and a bar.

We ate at the self-service La Baule – breakfast on the outward leg and a dinner coming home to England.

The price is reasonable and drinks at the bar aren’t bad value either.

a pantomime on board a Brittany Ferries ship

The ferry has children’s entertainment

Children’s entertainment

Early evening shows for children kept ours entertained. There was a children’s entertainer with a good line in balloon animals, a mini disco and in high season they put on a panto.

There are also two cinema screens showing  family films. The screens aren’t full size but it’s a nice way to while away a couple of hours.

There is also a video games room and soft play area.

The feeling

We were fortunate to enjoy good weather in both directions and it was fantastic to go out on the sundeck and watch Portsmouth harbour disappearing into the distance.

Our children loved seeing the wake caused by the huge engines, spotting the Channel Islands as we motored past and walking around the outside of the ferry.

The whole trip felt like an adventure for them and a memorable part of the holiday.

RELATED CONTENT: Britain to Brittany with two children and lots of delicious treats

RELATED CONTENTRevie: Port du Crouesty holiday village in Brittany

We travelled as guests of Brittany Ferries for the purpose of this review. For more information and bookings visit their website.

In-flight Wi-Fi and child discounts – we discover why Norwegian Air is good for family flights

In-flight Wi-Fi and child discounts – we discover why Norwegian Air is good for family flights

We review a flight with Norwegian Air from Manchester to Malaga

The airline Norwegian is a relative newcomer to the short-haul market in the UK. But it is a big player worldwide, flying 500 routes.

From the UK, it now carries over five million passengers a year from London Gatwick, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester airports to 50 destinations worldwide.

We flew with the airline for the first time from Manchester to Malaga and were very impressed.

The booking process

The website and booking process is straightforward with the usual options on baggage.

The lowest fare tickets don’t include a checked bag but higher priced tickets do.

A Norwegian plane takes off – the airline flies 500 routes around the world

In-flight

This is where Norwegian shines. Most of its planes have free Wi-Fi as standard and also give passengers access to some free tv programmes.

There are enough free children’s shows to pass the time on a short-haul flight and there are also television screens above each row showing videos.

Family-friendly

Children aged between two and 11 get a 25 per cent discount on most fares. This is a handy reduction, which is rarely offered these days.

Hand luggage allowances are generous – one standard and one small bag weighing up to 10kgs.

The planes

Norwegian has some of the newest planes in the world with an average age of less than four years. They are clean and modern on board with decent legroom.

Staff at the airport

One of our flights was full and one fairly quiet so we experienced both extremes. It was a friendly and efficient service, with just a bit of a wait at the passenger boarding bridge to board on the busier flight.

In conclusion

We were really impressed with Norwegian. It didn’t feel like low-cost travel even though the price was good.

For more information visit Norwegian – fares from Manchester to Malaga start from £29.90 per person.

RELATED REVIEW: We review British Airways regional CityFlyer service

RELATED REVIEW: Is Ryanair now family-friendly? We review a budget flight with our children

We flew at a discounted price with Norwegian for the purposes of this review. As always all opinions are our own.

 

We review British Airways CityFlyer service which now flies from regional airports

We review British Airways CityFlyer service which now flies from regional airports

How do we rate BA CityFlyer for a family flight with children?

British Airways may be based at the world’s busiest international airport, London Heathrow, but it now also flies small planes from regional airports.

BA CityFlyer, a subsidiary airline of British Airways, is the leading airline at London City Airport.

It also flies from Manchester, Edinburgh and London Stansted to destinations such as Alicante, Dublin, Florence, Ibiza, Malaga, Mykonos, Nice and Palma Majorca.

We travelled to Florence from Birmingham (routes from Birmingham and Bristol have since been suspended) using Avios air miles we had collected with a American Express card, read our guide here for how to collect air miles to get free family flights and read the full review of Florence here.

Here is how we found our BA CityFlyer flight.

Seats

The plane, an Embraer 190 with a two-two seating format throughout, was modern and quiet. The seats were comfortable and leg room was reasonable.

Food

Our hot meals were pretty average, one bit of beef was tougher than an old wellington, but the fish and chips on the return journey weren’t bad.

There was no dedicated children’s food or menu which is disappointing.

Small sandwiches were still on offer in economy class along with a complimentary drink. This has been phased out of most BA short-haul flights but this service does still offer it.

british airways embraer plane on the runway

Boarding is easy as the planes are smaller

Check-in

As British Airways was only operating a couple of flights per day at both airports when we flew, there were no staff at check-in until exactly two hours before. This meant a big queue built up which wasn’t ideal.

Boarding

The planes are small, ours only seated 76 passengers, which means you are on and off quite quickly, great when you are travelling with children. It feels straightforward to board as there aren’t so many people fighting to get on.

In conclusion

It is worth checking out British Airways if you had given up on them ever flying outside Heathrow. The small plane saves time at either end and you can try to use Avios air miles even if you live outside London.

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