Going on holiday with children is the stuff nightmares are made of. Nothing can prepare you for it. Whether it’s being trapped in a car as you drive halfway across the country, stranded in queueing traffic as you attempt to board your boat, or feeling helpless as you wait (for what feels like hours) on the runway for the plane to take off and jet you abroad.
If you’re a little more adventurous than hiding in a villa in Spain and actually want to be around other families, you could take your brood to Disneyland, Florida. Personally, I couldn’t think of anything worse than Disney songs on repeat for two weeks with screaming ankle biters (that aren’t my own) everywhere I turn. Just thinking of it reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock’s film, The Birds; except there’s a role reversal. The adults are the kids trying to run for freedom, and the kids are the birds attacking the parents demanding that we queue for 16 hours to have a poxy photo with bloody Cinderella or shrieking about spending $100 on some shitty merchandise that is going to be rocking up in Oxfam precisely 3 days after coming home.
One thing to remember, though, everyone with kids has been in this very same predicament at one point or another. You aren’t alone. As your child screams and throws its chubby little body onto the floor and resembles an octopus stranded on a rock chucking around what looks like many various limbs in complete disarray, you’ll be standing there attempting to console the beast but to no avail. So bear this in mind, others around you have been there, done that and got the tee-shirt.
So, to get you off to a good start, there are some handy hints and tips to make sure your family time is a tad better than average:
1. Arm yourself with an iPod or iPad packed to the rafters with apps, songs the kids like, their favourite films – all those things that drive you insane and you hate, download them. Forget your original plans where you banned technology for the duration of the holiday or the idea that you’ll spend some quality time together – these little devices will save your backside when you’re trapped inside that metal box begging to get to your final destination in half the time the pilot has said you will. If it saves your sanity when travelling, shove those little faces into those brightly lit screens and crack on with reading the book you started 6-years ago. You might actually finish it this year.
2. Grab a tenner, get yourself down to Poundland and buy random things; a wooden spoon, a small plastic bowl, a comb. Anything. Well, anything safe for your child’s age. You can spend hundreds of pounds on toys, but a baby loves nothing more than a load of old shite to explore. If you have older children, go for “fiddle toys”. Alternatively, go old school and get a Rubix Cube, a dot to dot book and puzzle books.
3. Remember, every airline is different. So PLEASE check before you travel. Many a time, I have cried at the check-in desk while some size 0 twat with bright red lipstick on, dazzling pearly whites, perfectly preened hair and perfectly manicured nails to die for sits there and simply says “No, sorry that’s not company policy, that will be an extra 4 million pounds because you’re 0.02kg over your baggage allowance…”
As an example of the polar opposite of this, I am on the other side of the desk with my saggy tyre hanging out between the bottom of a top that doesn’t fit and my joggers covered in either vomit or the remnants of last weeks Rusk biscuits. My hair hasn’t been washed in a month and I have on the same mascara from three weeks ago when I dared to go to Co-op to pick up some wine and wanted to look vaguely respectful. My nails haven’t seen nail varnish for at least a year, and my tits are leaking baby juice so badly my bra actually feels like it’s made out of cardboard.
So anyway, as I was saying, some airlines allow you to take three baby items e.g. buggy, travel cot, car seat. Some, when travelling with a baby on your lap, offer a 5kg hand luggage for the little one. Some airlines allow you on first with children under the age of 11. Some also assist when boarding. Others will leave you high and dry and not offer anything.
Don’t rely on the information provided online or on your ticket, call the airline directly and find out their policy – we have found some airlines do not even make you aware of the perks of being burdened with small people and the third parties you book through are under no obligation to inform you. If you can, get it in writing.
HOWEVER if you do have hand luggage dedicated to the little one, be prepared that it may have to go in cargo if there’s no room on board. Stupidly we put the baby’s bottles and milk in this super important bag and were told at the gate that it needed to go into the hold. We gladly agreed thinking it lightens our load and then realised halfway through the flight precisely what was in there; all of the essentials we needed to avoid being that family with a screaming kid pacing up and down the aisle with no milk, no food pouches and no spare dummies. It wasn’t just the baby crying on that plane.
4. After you’ve packed everyone’s cases, but not your own because you’ll do yours a couple of hours before you need to leave to catch the flight and forget everything important (like pants that fit), it might be an idea to officially holiday yourself. Get out the strimmer and de-fuzz that pasty milk bottle body immediately. Maybe even go crazy and moisturise?!
I know, I know, you say you don’t care about what you look like anymore, and it is a lot of effort, but when you’re laying on that beach looking like a washed-up Blob Fish (yes that really is a thing, see image below that represents me, clearly not either of the girls with fabulous arses) and your husbands laying next to you pretending not to lear at the spontaneous volleyball match going on next to you, you’ll regret it.
5. If you’re travelling with a baby, never underestimate the power of powdered baby food. Yes, I know you said you would never feed your child that crap, only homemade organic nutrition for your little one. I said that too… but when you’re in another country, and it’s late and you can’t find your euro’s and your transfer hasn’t shown up at the airport, having your baby screaming because they want something to eat and there is nothing you can do about it will not be top of your agenda. Think of that little bit of powder mixed with hot water as your sanity! You can always get hot water somewhere. What you can’t locate is something you know they like and will fill them up. Oh, and it’s super lightweight as well, so no need to pay for extra kg’s when you’re 3 tons over at check-in. Plus it’s only for emergencies. Don’t stress about the logistics of “but how can Mediterranean vegetables have a shelf life of 4 gazillion years?!???”
No one knows…
6. Never assume your room will have mod-cons. Thinking there will be a kettle or a microwave is crazy talk, so don’t be surprised if even the most essential things aren’t there! We’ve arrived at the accommodation, and there’s actually been a lack of beds. Again, email your accommodation directly and see what they do have OR what you can hire either with them or locally. And then when you get there don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work or the microwave cable plugs into a socket that is actually IN the shower. We moan about how OTT health and safety is here in the UK and then moan about the lack of health and safety abroad – #firstworldproblems – nothing is ever good enough, is it?
7. If you’ve requested a cot and a highchair in your room, there is a chance they could be broken. We rarely go anywhere without Gaffa Tape – not for anything kinky and certainly not to control the kids (although we have debated it) but it’s a lifesaver for those highchair trays that spontaneously launch across the room and the cot leg that falls off.
Maybe even consider taking your own travel cot and highchair, it already looks like you’re moving out for a year as you approach check-in, so one or two more things won’t hurt, as you already look like a donkey as you stagger through the airport.
8. Pack some freezer bags. You’ll find a million uses for them whether it’s nabbing a couple of rolls from breakfast for snacks later in the day, to putting poop covered swim nappies somewhere the smell can be masked or doubling up as a handy potty when you’re stuck in a hire car in the middle of town. Alternatively, they are equally suitable for your older child, who is now throwing up into its own lap for some bizarre reason. Freezer bags, pop them in your pocket.
9. A stack of muslins is the perfect all-around “clearer-upper”. Wiping sandy feet, gently tucking into tops as a bib, plus you can hand wash them in the shower with a bit of body wash and they dry quickly. Space-saving practicality.
10. There’s nothing worse than damp smelly towels – we never go anywhere without a bottle of Febreze. It’s an odd one, but it’s a great holiday hack, trust me. Especially when you travel to that villa in Sardinia, out of season, to save a few quid. Although it’s warm in the day, it’s chilly at night. Therefore those towels aren’t going to dry. There is nothing worse than a stinky damp towel to lay on the following day but a little spritz, and they’re fresh as a daisy, even if they are still covered in sand and soaking wet.
11. I never use talcum powder after baths on the kids, but I never go abroad without it. Talc is officially the best thing to remove sand from little sweaty feet and sand-covered crisp eating fingers. It’s incredible how it ends up everywhere; in ears, in eyes, in bum holes, behind nails. It’s never-ending!
You’ll be finding sand in your change bag forever. There’s no escaping that, but if you have sand on your body that you want to get rid of, forget the bucket of seawater; shake on some talc, and every last grain will come off. I didn’t believe it either, but it works.
12. Pack some nail scissors. Your children will have claws a metre long after one dip in the sea and just from looking at the sun. And you’ll look like Freddy Kruger if you don’t take them. It’s weird, but it’s true, nails seem to grow like vine leaves when you’re on holiday!
13. Pick up some Milton Sterilising Tablets. When you’re at your destination, you can use a bowl to keep bottles, beakers and dummies clean knowing the water is safe. One little tablet in the water and voila no salmonella poisoning for the small person plus your mind at rest from undrinkable tap water.
14. After our little one moved onto blue-top milk we didn’t take any milk powder on holiday – schoolboy error – not everywhere has cows milk. Furthermore, we found this fact out via projectile vomit in our faces. Turns out that the baby doesn’t like goats milk much either. Maybe stay safe and go for a follow on milk while you’re away. I’m sure you have loads of space in your case to allocate that as well as the kitchen sink…
15. If you’re on a budget, seriously consider cooking evening meals. I know holidays are about eating out alfresco and taking a break, but sometimes the stress of evening meals in restaurants with little ones is no break for anyone. Quick, easy meals are the way forward, but remember to wash the utensils before you use them – a pube on a plate is no delicacy no matter where you are?!
I also find sticking to the local beer, wines and spirits a considerable saving. I mean, you could have bottled water, but it’s your holiday, right?
16. As soon as you arrive, find a local but traditional English speaking bar/restaurant; eat well, drink lots, tip high and then proceed to ask a million and one things about the local area. You’ll find you receive so many hidden gems to explore and recommendations from people who live in the city instead of expensive tourist area’s. Try not to listen to any of the old crap the tour guide gives you to boost their commission. Selling a family trip to see an ancient tree that is 5 hours trek away for $500 each for example.
17. If your partner is useless (or not forthcoming) at home, this is where they’ll come into their own. For some reason, partners transform into superheroes when on holiday. Yes, they may have a beer in one hand, but in the other will be your little one’s hand as they jump the waves. They’ll also become expert sandcastle engineers (not builders), creating moats and rivers through an entire sand village – it will be an uncanny likeness to an amalgamation of Venice and how you’d imagine Ed Sheeran’s music video of “Castle On the Hill” to look. And you’ll be surprised at how manly and attractive they’ll look as they wander off along the sea collecting shells with their little spade and pink bucket.
18. Does your little one use dummies? Take a case of them. Dummies you buy abroad resemble that of the 1950’s style, and if you think that your little one will snuggle down in their creaky cot, bandaged in Gaffa Tape with one of them at bedtime, you’ve got another thing coming. Forking out £100 on dummies before you leave the UK will be the best money you’ve ever spent. It’s not about having a 3 am blazing row after going to a taverna and screaming at your partner “WHAT DO YOU MEAN WE HAVE ONE F^%$£&* B&^£%£^ DUMMY LEFT! WHERE THE F*£% ARE THE OTHER 23 WE BOUGHT!!!!!”
19. NEVER EVER make friends while on holiday. “Oh, we will definitely stay in touch!” No. No, you won’t. You’ll be friends on Facebook, and stalk each other on Instagram, but that’s about it.
You’ll also think it’s a great idea to buddy up with families with children the same age. Strength in numbers and all that. But by the end of the first week, you’ll be babysitting their kids while they go off for a quickie, and then you’ll be hiding from them around the pool behind palm trees in a marine-style fashion, and meticulously planning your lunches that little bit later to avoid them.
20. Be adventurous. But be realistic at the same time. So there’s a whale-watching boat tour, and you’ve got an 18-month-old. So what?! Do it. Put on your baby carrier and stop panicking about what could happen and start experiencing things. You’ll regret it so much if you don’t and then you’ll blame the baby for all the things you didn’t do. Alternatively, leave the kids at home and run off with your other half.
21. Just think. It could be worse, couldn’t it? You could be at home working. Whenever you feel your holiday isn’t going to plan, take a deep breath and think of the positives. There are plenty. You just aren’t seeing them, because it isn’t perfect like you imagined it would be.
Remember, holidays aren’t ALWAYS relaxing with children. Happy family time is an illusion 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Just make sure you enjoy them when you have them – AND take photo’s that depict happiness and then lie to everyone about how perfect the “bonding holiday together” was. Plus, don’t even start to think of how much money you spent on that two-week holiday arguing every bloody day and staring at childless couples enjoying cocktails without being covered in urine, having sand kicked in their eyes and stopping a toddler from eating a jellyfish.
On a serious note, holidays with kids are nothing short of entertaining and always the ones you will look back on and smile, laugh and cherish forever. Sometimes a calm relaxing holiday isn’t what it’s all about. It’s about making memories and then making the next ones better by being prepared for whatever life throws at you. At the time it may be hard, but then you’ll look back through Instagram and remember all the good parts, all the fun you had and the places you explored together.