My husband and I have always loved travelling. I remember worrying when I found out I was expecting our first child that we’d never be able to travel again. I was determined to continue exploring the world and with a few adjustments this has so far been possible. In fact I would honestly say that we’ve had some of our best holiday and travel experiences with children. I feel family holidays are about continuously adjusting to the changing needs of your family (as they either grow up and have new interests or as your family grows). Juggling the different needs of your family is a challenge I feel we are constantly striving to meet.
So, with a relatively new addition to our family (we have a 7 month old baby) we’ve needed to adjust our expectations (again!). We’d got used to travelling with our daughter (now 3) and we’d developed strategies to make sure we all had a good time. For our daughter that was swimming and digging in the sand (or snow!) and for us that was good food (and wine), some r and r and some us time (to forget, just for a brief moment, that we were parents!). So after much thought and deliberation (over a glass of wine on our latest holiday in Dubai!) my husband and I would sum up our must have holiday criteria as –
1 The opportunity to try something new – be that sailing, skiing (well we have skied but our children haven’t!), a new country or new food. Holidays for me, as a mum, are about having family time whilst also exposing my children to as many new experiences as possible.
2. The right accommodation -the start of any holiday planning for me is always the accommodation (it’s also often the hardest bit!) We need space for us all to sleep but also a space for us as adults to chill out once the little ones are asleep (or at least that’s the plan!). Whilst I appreciate a break from my normal mummy duties (washing, ironing, cleaning etc) I also find it a whole lot easier to have a washing machine (unless luggage allowance is very generous!). Having access to some toys/entertainment also saves us having to lug out ridiculous amount of plastic/Lamaze toys. In an ideal world I’d have accommodation that feels child friendly (where people don’t judge you for having an over-tired toddler who is plugged into an iPad or a screaming, teething baby) but at the same time feels luxurious or perhaps quirky. I like to feel like I’m doing something a bit out of the ordinary.
3. Good food – A crucial part of any holiday for us is good, local food. Whilst I love eating out in restaurants I also enjoy cooking and get a buzz from shopping in local supermarkets and markets (the fresh produce is always so appealing!). The linguist in me also loves to learn a few phrases and try them out on unexpecting stall owners (with more or less success!)- who says you can’t mix work and pleasure! Family meals are also a huge part of our life (both on holiday and at home). A perfect holiday gives us the time to enjoy eating together (perhaps in a restaurant or catered chalet (in my dreams!) or on our own balcony or terrace. As much as I love my children it is also nice to occassionally eat at a normal time….so a holiday that provides both is high on my hit list. We love trying new foods as a family so being able to eat local specialities is an important element of a family holiday.
4. As well as experiencing something new we also look for an interesting destination – so the potential to do something other than lie on a beach, ski etc – we enjoy seeing new places so like to plan trips out from a holiday destination. This may be a city/old town to visit or maybe a great child friendly place/activity (so zoo, aquarium, theme park). I also find that children have the attention span of a fly so it’s good to have a range of activities at your dispersal. There is really nothing worse than a restless toddler! I really think that a successful family holiday is all about managing expectations. I try to ask everyone who is travelling on the trip to write a list of activities that everyone wants to do whilst away. If everyone in the family feels they’ve done at least one thing they really wanted to do then it promises to be a more enjoyable holiday for everyone. I’ve found this to be particularly important if you’re travelling with friends or other family members.
Ok so those are my five must-have’s in terms of accommodation/destination. Another important element is clearly what is packed. For us to enjoy our holiday there are certain things we have to pack (see an earlier blog entry) – packing everything you need for a baby or toddler can feel akin to a military operation. But prior planning and preparation really is key to a stress free and enjoyable holiday (it can also save you money and we all need to try and do this!). So here are my must take items –
1. Whilst it’s nice to have accommodation that provides age appropriate toys it’s always worth taking a selection with you. Toys that double us as bath toys are also useful. It’s easier (in my view) the older they get. They seem more content with some of their favourite books, a magazine, an iPad, some stickers and a few crayons (packed in the ubiquitous trunkie). Remembering to pack things like a bucket and spade will save you having to buy yet another one when you arrive. Baby/toddler swim kit (swim jackets, noodles etc) can also be hard to locate and are often considerably cheaper online. We also always travel with an iPad (and kidz gear headphones) – in moderation I feel it is acceptable to plug them in whilst you enjoy a meal out etc. We also favour taking a corkscrew! Pick up some wine for the evening when you’re relaxing with the little ones in bed.
2. Pack your creativity. You need to be creative when it comes to entertaining children with limited toys to hand. Before any holiday I hit Pinterest. I have a folder of sunny holiday entertainment (http://pin.it/lg2QKfI) options and one for colder/wintery breaks http://pin.it/a_1RH5H). We always pack chalk for colouring on pavement and colouring pencils and paper.
3. Fake tan. Ok so this isn’t technically packed but I have found this a very useful addition to a family holiday. I love having a tan but having two children means that I rarely get the time to lie out for any period of time. With a fake tan before I go (I tend to favour the Sienna ones) I feel better and feel I have more time for the children, which is ultimately the reason for the holiday.
4. Adequate supply of medication and other baby basics (baby milk etc). Whenever I blog about a holiday I always try and give an insight into what we’ve packed and being partial to a trip around a local supermarket normally means I’m able to comment on what is availiable locally. That said, to reduce stress etc it’s always worth packing some key items. Taking an adequate supply of calpol/nurofen is also worth while (remembering the sachets if you’re travelling by plane).
5. Last but by no means least – a sense of fun and adventure. Travelling with young ones is at times exhausting and can certainly test your patience but is ultimately about having fun, experiencing new things as a family and building memories that will last a life time. A friend of ours who has recently been diagnosed with incurable cancer has written a bucket list of things she wants to do and see. It made me think that we should all have a bucket list of things we want to see and do – life is for living!