In years gone by, I liked nothing better than going on holiday. A few days off work, a relaxed flight with a mid-morning G&T, and idle days spent wandering sun-drenched streets in a warmer clime. Now, the school holidays approach and I find myself scrabbling for time, and funds, to book a last-minute trip for the family. I recently came across an old online news article which described the experience of going on holiday with children as “like being at home, but grimmer”. Surely it doesn’t have to be that way! Many of us fancy a change of scene at this time of year, but with small children in tow, what kind of holiday works best?
It’s worth bearing in mind that a family holiday isn’t just about keeping the kids happy. What do you like to do? There’s no point having a thrilled child with miserable parents. My little boy, James, would no doubt love to go to Disneyland, whereas I’d prefer a gondola ride to a rollercoaster. James, would no doubt love to go to Disneyland, whereas I’d prefer a gondola ride to a rollercoaster. As James isn’t really up for a cultural city break we’ve had to find some middle ground, and over the last few years we’ve been favouring the space and freedom of rural self-catering holidays. I’ll get to the Sistine Chapel one day, but preferably not in the company of a four-year-old howling for snacks.
You may find that with your dinky days behind you (dual income, no kids) taking a holiday is inevitably a bigger financial strain. As James hasn’t yet started school we’re making the most of cheaper September flights. When he was just two months old we went on holiday – clearly a bit of a nutty plan but I was still in that determined ‘having a child isn’t going to change my life’ phase – and James’s grandparents came with us. Thank goodness, as the additional support, both moral and practical, was a lifesaver. Another option is going on holiday with other parents, which allows the children to have fun together while you share the costs, the childcare and the wine. I’ve never tried this (I can’t find any takers…) but it makes sense.
Travelling with children may well give you some of the worst headaches, and best anecdotes, of parenthood. With James still under a year old, we went to France by car and ferry, and it helped to have space to pack all the paraphernalia a baby needs: travel cot, pram, a small vibrating chair… However, our journey lasted two days each way and James spewed spectacularly on arrival. Flying is faster, there is usually no cost for taking your buggy and car seat (check with your airline), and it has the advantage of free travel for under-2s. But remember that no fee for your toddler means no seat either: I spent an entire flight with James dancing on my lap and I’ve never needed a glass of wine more (is there a theme here?)
Before going away, I list everything I need to pack. I keep one ‘master’ list and just make minor changes to it for every holiday (yep, it’s a rock and roll lifestyle). I don’t worry about the stuff we can buy once we’re there – it turns out every country stocks nappies and sunscreen - but I focus on the essentials: James won’t sleep without Bear.
Bring snacks for the journey. If I’m hungry or tired I get a bit crabby. If your child is hungry or tired you’ve got small-scale Armageddon, with young lungs wailing and little fists flying. We take the basics for our first meal with us (a bag of pasta, a jar of sauce) as a late arrival may mean it’s too late for a food shop. Did I mention snacks? Remember the snacks.
When we’re choosing self-catering accommodation, we look for places with reviews that mention child-friendly and helpful hosts. I want to be able to relax and not worry if James makes a racket or spills his juice on the sofa. If you’re not sure if there’s a cot or high chair provided just ask in advance. My best – and only – French is, “Avez-vous une chaise haute?” Check if stairgates are in place. If you’re lucky enough to have a pool, ensure that it’s fenced off.
We make the most of James’s naps to open a book, or a bottle…
Consider your activities and outings. In the past, I would happily walk for miles, or perhaps just spend an afternoon reading under the shade of a tree. That’s not going to work with a four-year-old. Now we plan differently, and expect to manage less in a day. Anticipate plenty of stops for food and rest. My partner and I also try to get some true time ‘off’ on holiday, making the most of James’s naps to open a book, or a bottle… or taking turns to have a solo meander. It may all sound a little off-putting but in all honesty the holidays I’ve spent with James are amongst my very best memories. It can take a little planning and energy but it’s absolutely worth it. Get out of the house, get out of town and Bon Voyage!
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