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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?

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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.