The first time my husband and I attempted a family holiday, our first-born was three months old. It was January, some friends had a free place to stay in NYC and it was Restaurant Week. What could go wrong? If your answer to that is ‘everything’ then you’ve obviously travelled abroad with kids. Or met someone who has. After a week of dragging a buggy backwards through snow, being turned away from restaurants and having zero hours sleep, we learnt that once you have children, you have to adjust your expectations. Nevertheless, while some parents understandably choose not to go abroad until their kids are 18, I wasn’t prepared to abandon foreign jaunts, which are my single greatest pleasure in life. Granted, it’s never quite the same relaxing, cultured and me-centric experience that it had once been, but it is still possible to venture to new places with kids in tow. Here are my top tips for surviving the holiday season.
Picking your destination
Be pragmatic. If you only have a week to spare, obviously don’t try to book a break island-hopping in Thailand. If you are looking to go long-haul, make sure you give yourself enough time either side of travelling to adjust to the new time-zone and routine. Regardless of where you’re heading, remember to factor in time and cost of travel to and from the airport, either side. When considering where to stay, look for options with facilities for making your own food, heating bottles, etc. All-inclusives can also be great, if you find a good one. Try scouting out somewhere which has cafes, restaurants and things to do within walking distance of your accommodation; that way if you want to go out in the evening, you can pop younger ones in a buggy and walk back rather than having to disturb them to get in a bus or car – and if a creche or kids club is an option, grab it.
Crucially, remember that lazing by the pool is not always a possibility with babies, who (selfishly) don’t react well to constant heat, so having a ground-floor room you can take them back to to sleep, change nappies etc, is important; somewhere in town that you can walk to while they snooze, is also good as it will prevent you from feeling trapped by their anti-social sleeping habits. Speaking of which, if it’s possible to get a separate bedroom for the kid(s), do that; studios are fine for a couple but not so great when you have a child who goes to sleep before you, unless you like spending your evenings in silence, with the lights off.
Take enough for babies and toddlers to have one spare set of clothes a day, and pack a small bag of washing powder so you’re not caught short. Bulk up on nappies, which can be expensive and/or hard to come by, depending on where you’re going. Ditto, baby wipes. Also, take plenty of fail-safe snacks, not just for the journey but for once you arrive, too; and of course things like swimming nappies, arm-bands, hats and plenty of sun-lotion if you’re going somewhere with a pool. In terms of extra lotions and potions, check if you need mosquito repellant, and any particular jabs for the younger ones (and for you). A packet of Calpol sachets and plasters, and a basic first-aid kit, are a good idea just in case. Also check if you need to take a travel cot and/or car-seat – usually the hotel or landlord will provide (sometimes for an extra charge), but best to be sure.
Consider taking a sling or backpack with you in case the roads aren’t buggy-friendly. Finally, sometimes – having relinquished your pushchair before boarding – you are required to walk miles from the plane to collect your suitcase at the other end; in which case, if you have an older kid, the suitcase attachments from Micro Scooter are a genius addition because you can usually take the scooter on-board as hand luggage (double check with your airline provider) – enabling your child to scoot to the bag pick-up and then clip his/her belongings to the scooter, thus freeing you of the responsibility…
Never underestimate kids’ capacities for boredom. Even a TV screen on the seat in front wasn’t enough to keep our usually docile two-year-old entertained on a flight to Singapore (WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FROM US?!) Be prepared to spend the journey distracting them rather than catching up on films and necking wine, as you once did. iPads, sticker books, felt-tips, endless snacks – anything that will help keep their attention for a few minutes at a time is a good thing. A bottle of milk (or a breast) or bottle of water/a sweet for older ones to suck during take-off and landing is a good idea to stop the effects of air pressure on young ears. (You can take baby milk in hand luggage but not any other drinks, even cartons for toddlers, so stock up on those once through customs.) Also, when it comes to other passengers, you have to accept that there will be those who tut and roll their eyes when your little ones whimper (or shriek), there is little you can do about it, if that’s the way it’s going; so don’t let the haters bring you down. Keep your eyes on the prize!
Charlotte’s Top Picks
Best for sun:
Skiathos in Greece (seriously relaxed; everyone loves kids; picturesque scenery)
Sal in Cape Verde (despite the six-hour flight there is no time difference; plenty of street-life; rum shacks on the beach; cheap delicious seafood)
Barcelona (Easy to navigate; lots of nice cheap apartments; good food and quick access to airport)
Gothenburg (Scandi-efficiency; fast access to a number of smaller islands accessible by ferry; good shopping; straightforward with kids)