Psychologist JO HEMMINGS reveals the festive getaway do's and don'ts

Should you recline your seat on the plane? Is it OK to tell someone else’s kids off for disturbing you? Psychologist JO HEMMINGS reveals Christmas getaway do’s and don’ts

  • The ‘Christmas getaway’ part of Christmas tends not to be so wonderful 
  • So heed behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings’ counsel on festive travel
  • Should children have unlimited screen time while travelling? Read on…  

Behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – except when you’re on a packed plane or train with screaming children kicking your seat, or jammed into a car with hours of driving in the rain on the itinerary.

Yes, the ‘Christmas getaway’ part of Christmas tends not to be so wonderful. But help is at hand. Here, behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings reveals her do’s and don’ts for festive travel, from whether you should recline your seat on a plane to tips for stopping your kids from misbehaving on long journeys.

Even packing can be stressful. Is there a way of maintaining calm during the process?

Jo told MailOnline Travel: ‘We need a bit of mind space to pack a case effectively – whether it’s small bags for the journey or a big suitcase for everything else – it’s best to both write a list of what you’ll need and then still go round from room to room, thinking of what you might just need.

‘And don’t forget the presents! And no distractions, so do it when your partner is out of the house or the kids are asleep.

‘Make sure that the kids are involved in what they want to bring and compare it with their siblings for some ideas – if they can fit it into their little case or backpack, then it can come with them. If they are involved in the prep they are much less likely to complain that their “favourite” toy is missing.’

Christmas can be a golden period for arguments – is there a way of using the journey to set the tone/nip issues in the bud?

Jo said: ‘So much of diffusing the seeming inevitability of having a journey full of tiffs, spats and general irritation, is to plan ahead as precisely as you can. Will the kids be hungry? Check. Will they be thirsty? Check. Will your partner moan about every delay? Check. Will the family need alternative entertainment to “I Spy”? Check. Imagine the worst scenario and prepare for it.

‘Pack plenty of drinks, food, books and toys. Be imaginative with some games to play – singing games if in a car, a pack of cards if on a train/plane. Or a few cheap toys or games related to your mode of transport in some way. It’s also the opportunity for any “rules” about time usage on mobile devices to be forgotten – get a few movies and apps uploaded on your device and let the kids play to their heart’s content.’

So screens really are OK for the children?

Rules about time usage on mobile devices for children can be forgotten when travelling, said Jo, who recommends overhead earphones over in-ear buds

If children are misbehaving on public transport – ‘try not to get too annoyed and offer a sweet as a distraction’

Jo added: ‘Screens have become so much part of our lives, and they are invaluable when travelling. Make sure your kids have a pair of overhead earphones – in-ear will get lost down aisles/car wells – and that you have a portable charger to hand. Running out of juice is guaranteed to cause issues!’

You’ve earned the chance to relax – but should you recline your seat on a plane?

Jo said: ‘Some people are very against this – but those recliner buttons are there for a reason. Maybe check with the person behind you if it’s OK – smiling as you ask, will encourage them to say “yes” even if they are not keen, but respect their view if not.

‘Take a blanket with you and an inflatable pillow, as well as a pair of slippers. It’s much easier to get comfortable on a long plane journey, reclining or not. Consider taking a pair of PJ’s and a toiletry bag – you can buy sealed business-class versions of these on auction sites or you could make your own. You may not be travelling first class, but there’s nothing to stop you enjoying a similar experience in economy.’

What’s the strategy for dealing with a child kicking one’s seat?

Jo said: ‘If your child is kicking the seat back – or someone else’s is – try hard, I know it’s difficult… not to get too annoyed. Offer your own child a sweet or treat as a distraction – making it clear that this is not a reward for bad behaviour while explaining that it jolts the person in front of them and might make them feel sick.

‘With permission, offer the child who is doing the kicking in the other family, something similar. It can tend to de-escalate a row with the parents, of what is a perennial problem with bored, fidgety kids.’

Any other tips for keeping kids in line?

Give kids a prize for behaving well on a journey, said Jo

Jo said: ‘Before you set off, explain that the journey is going to be quite long and they can take with them anything that they can fit into their own backpacks to play with.

‘Let them have a little inflatable cushion too so that if they want to sleep they can feel cosy. Tell them there will be a special prize for each if they can manage to behave well on the journey. If other kids are playing up, be wary of interfering.

‘Sometimes just an empathetic word along the lines of “it’s never easy with kids on planes/trains is it?” can be enough to encourage those parents to try and put a stop to their own children’s behaviour.’

Is being drunk on public transport more acceptable because it’s Christmas?

Jo said: ‘Not really, it’s pretty anti-social and disruptive on public transport, but we’ve all been there on a train when our kids have said in a loud voice “is that person drunk, mummy/daddy?”. Kids are always curious about the child-like behaviour of adults who have had one too many. Try and not let that embarrassing person be you!’

Are there modes of transport you think foster less stress?

Jo said: ‘Pack plenty of drinks, food, books and toys. Be imaginative with some games to play – singing games if in a car, a pack of cards if on a train/plane’

Jo said: ‘They all have their pluses and minuses. They all have situations beyond our control whether delays on the road, on the line or in the air. 

‘If you have options, it’s worth giving it some serious consideration to plan the most stress-free version of the journey, given the dynamics of your family, length/timing of your journey, weather conditions, and of course those current strikes, which will have an impact whatever mode of transport you’re using.’

  • For more from Jo – including information on her books – visit her website –  

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