Like most people, I’ve missed going abroad on holiday these past couple of years.
Pre-Covid, we liked to go abroad once a year and we’ve been fortunate enough to visit some fab places. I love nothing better than sipping a piña colada by the pool and the faint whiff of sun cream in the air.
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the two staycations we had during the pandemic – the UK has a lot to offer, but guaranteed sunshine isn’t one of them.
We’ve just returned from our first holiday abroad as a family of four – me, my husband and our two girls, who are 5 and 1.
I knew it would be different this time around. I wasn’t expecting to be able to laze in the sun for hours on end and while away the evening at the cocktail bar like I used to before kids. But I thought it might be a little more relaxing than it was.
I had visions of us all having fun in the pool and enjoying a delicious family meal in the evening – you know, the kind of family holidays you see portrayed in adverts and on social media.
In reality, it didn’t quite work out like that.
Here’s what I learnt about holidaying with kids…
The best thing about staycations? You don’t have to worry about baggage allowance. You can take your car and shove in as much as possible.
‘Will we need this jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing to keep the kids entertained?’
‘Well, if there’s room in the boot, pack it just in case!’
In the lead-up to our holiday, I spent ages writing lists of everything I needed to pack. I felt quite organised. That was until I actually came to pack.
It was all going so well – I’d got everyone’s bits together, put them all in the suitcase, and it closed easily without me having to sit on it!
I thought I better put it on our bathroom scales just to check the weight.
Bam! 26.5kg. The maximum allowance was 23kg.
That meant going back to the drawing board and having to compromise on stuff that might not be completely essential. That’s when I started to panic – taking out stuff that we probably should’ve taken and keeping stuff in that we really didn’t need. It was like a scene from Supermarket Sweep, when you just chuck in anything and everything at the last minute!
Then there’s the hand luggage to think about – what will the kids need on the plane to keep them amused? How many snacks can I get away with packing? Is there any point in packing a book for me to read?
(The answer to that last question was ‘No. Absolutely not’).
For some, the holiday excitement starts as soon as they leave their house and head to the airport. And I used to feel the same. But not with two kids in tow.
From the moment we left our home until we checked in at the hotel, I was stressing! Panicking that we’d forgotten to pack something essential, praying we didn’t hit too much traffic en route to the airport, finding a parking space in the long stay car park – I could feel my blood pressure rocketing!
Then we had to combat all the queues to get through airport check-in and security, with echoes of “I’m bored” and “I’m hungry” ringing in our ears.
When we finally got through to air-side, we realised our gate was already open and it was a 20-minute walk to get to it. Factoring in loo stops for everyone and a quick whizz around WH Smith’s to buy more snacks, it’s a wonder we made the flight at all?!
I was dreading this part of the holiday the most – three hours with my 1-year-old sat on my lap in a confined space, not understanding that she can’t just get up and walk around is far from ideal. Especially when I realised she’d eaten all the snacks I’d packed for her before we’d even taken off!
I also envisaged us being sat right behind the couple who clearly don’t like kids and roll their eyes every time one of them starts whinging or accidentally kicks their seat?
But actually, it was a far better experience than I could’ve imagined. Granted, I’ve been in more relaxing situations, but the girls behaved really well (aside from a couple of whingey moments here and there).
My 5-year-old was happy playing on her tablet and doing colouring. My 1-year-old slept for a little bit, watched Bing for a little bit, and she’s still breastfeeding, which was a massive benefit during take-off and landing. And thankfully, we weren’t sat next to Mr and Mrs Grumpy. The lady in front even commented on how well-behaved they’d been!
Mealtimes are one of the most stressful parts of the day when we’re at home, so I knew I was in for a challenge abroad, especially not being able to guarantee all their favourites on demand.
However, I’d also told myself that it’d be a holiday from routine and restrictions on treats as well (providing they behaved themselves for the most part).
I was looking forward to going to the main restaurant each night, which provides an amazing buffet with loads of different foods for the girls to try. Then, if they didn’t like something, it was no biggie. Turns out that restaurant was closed all week, so we had to opt for “proper” restaurants with “proper” menus.
The biggest challenge of the week was finding anything for my 1-year-old to eat, as not only is she a fuss pot, she’s also dairy-free. I packed a carton of long-life oat milk, which came in handy, but I couldn’t get my hands on any dairy-free spread or cheese. So, she spent the majority of the week eating dry bread, bananas and ice lollies. She seemed pretty contented though!
Before the holiday, my girls hadn’t shared a room, so I was sceptical about how it would go, and how much sleep we were all going to get.
My youngest has never been a good sleeper, and I had visions of her keeping my eldest awake at all hours. Thankfully, my 5-year-old is such a heavy sleeper, she’d sleep through an earthquake!
Not me though. My 1-year-old would wake up at silly o’clock each day, I’d go in and try and settle her, but without success. So that meant bringing her into our bed and setting up endless episodes of Bing on the iPad, while my husband and I tried to get a little more shut-eye.
Before kids, I was a sun worshipper. I still am given half the chance. But my priorities have changed now. I have to be a responsible parent who sets a good example and keeps out of the sun, ensuring that we’re all slathered in sun cream.
There wasn’t much chance to sunbathe anyway, as the girls wanted to spend all their time in the pool.
I did manage to catch a few rays in between my youngest napping and my eldest doing some colouring, which was lovely.
But there’s always that annoying friend who doesn’t have kids and scoffs that you don’t look very tanned, assuming that the weather must have been rubbish. Clearly she’s never been on holiday with a 5 and 1-year-old!
What I learnt
As much as I loved going away and seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces during our week in the sun, it’s made me think twice about doing it again any time soon.
There’s so much to think about. I never thought I’d say this but I think I’d rather stick to the staycation for now and have all my creature comforts around me. Wow, I sound like a right bore! When they’re a bit older, I’m sure it’ll be a different story and we’ll all get much more out of it.
Of course, this was just my experience. Not all families are the same and no two kids are the same. Maybe it’ll be different for you? Maybe it’ll be different for me next time?
One thing’s for sure…I need to improve my packing game!