We booked a beautiful old farmhouse in the Bordeaux region of France and spent a good portion of the year looking forward to and planning the trip. We were dreaming of sunny days swimming in the pool and mountains of cheese, pate and wine. In short, a week of total relaxation.
I can hear you laughing already!!
The reality was the weather was rubbish, the swimming pool was freezing, the old stone farmhouse was stone cold and the kids took turns in being little monsters. Sound familiar?
So why do we do it? As soon as we think of the word “holiday” we enter a little dream like state about those halcyon days before kids, those days of sun drenched beaches, wild nights out and everything else that goes with a kid free holiday. Then we actually go on the trip with our kids and realise that it’s very hard work and not at all as we imagined.
So, with that said, is it worth it? For me, unequivocally, YES.
So, I was chilly for the week because I didn’t pack enough jumpers, and yes the children were occasionally monsters, no change there but they were also angels some of the time. The pool was cold but the kids didn’t mind turning blue so we just bought a couple of extra inflatables and threw them all in. On the plus side the cheese and pate were delicious and the wine was very drinkable so we ticked those boxes easily.
Things may not have been perfect but I got some serious quality time with my family and friends that I would never normally get. How often do I lay down with my offspring and actually watch a movie with them instead of sticking them in front of one while I iron their school clothes or catch up on work emails? And how often do I get hours of uninterrupted chat time with my best friend without one of us trying to type up an article whilst holding the phone under our chin and a baby on one hip?
Pretty much never is the answer so although it wasn’t as easy and relaxed as I expected I feel that all those relationships have improved and been strengthened by virtue of the time we spent together and isn’t that the real reason we take time out with our families?
Whilst writing this article I did a little research and on typing “traveling with kids” into Google I got 22+ pages of hits. It seems I’m not the only one looking for the magic ingredients for stress free family holidays. Here are a few of my favourite tips and recommendations:
- If you’re staying in a self-catering property think about booking with a child friendly company such as totstotravel.co.uk. Their properties are confirmed child friendly and safe meaning the pools are fenced and all the kid related stuff such as cots and highchairs you need will be there waiting for you. Alternatively, if you’re staying in a hotel check their facilities in advance and pre-book what you need. Consider cots, highchairs, kids clubs etc.
- Relax your rules temporarily. If your kids never watch TV but will sit down quietly on a plane and watch Tom & Jerry for 3 hours then let them. There’s nothing more stressful than trying to keep a bored and fractious child entertained and quiet whilst flying.
- Choose your equipment well. There are some really cool looking kids travel products out there but make sure you really need it and it’s going to help you. Trunkies (kids ride on suitcases) have been a big hit in our family and the Phil and Ted Lobster portable clip on high seat has been a godsend at mealtimes. https://philandteds.com/uk/Buy/feed/lobster-portable-high-chair.
- Allow plenty of time. Everything takes longer than you think with little ones in tow. Leave early and don’t plan too much in one day or you’ll end up disappointed, the kids will be tired and you’ll all be probably late!
- Check your children’s passports well in advance. Remember under 16, they only last five years and expiry can sneak up on you.
- Pack entertainment such as toys, games and activities that children can use on the journey and at your destination. Also pack a few surprises in your bag such as little Playdoh pots, colouring books and pencils or whatever their current favourite thing is. A fully loaded ipad or dvd player and headphones for when they’re bored of everything else might just save your sanity.
- Be prepared to negotiate the airport. A trolley loaded with bags and multiple children you can’t hold onto is a recipe for disaster in a busy terminal. A wrist-strap or reins are very effective but if you don’t have enough hands to push and hold on you can try the “trolley train”. I thread whichever scarf I’m wearing that day through my belt loops and have the children each hold on to it. We look a little odd but it’s fun for them and very effective at keeping them close by and paying attention.
- Don’t underestimate how much your little ones will want to eat. Many people eat because they are bored whilst traveling and this applies equally to kids. Pack as healthy a meal as you can but leave things that will go off or have the potential to make a big mess, like yogurt pots, at home. It’s also a good idea to have some treats in your bag for the moments where you need to reward, bribe or just keep them quiet.
So, the moral of this story is, don’t be disheartened. Sure, your holiday experience will be very different, you need to plan and pack obsessively and you might not have quite such a tan when you get home but those few special days of quality time with your family are priceless.