Reality of travelling with your family: The good and the bad

I remember being on our annual beach holiday and my youngest had decided to teeth that week. I had had about 3 nights straight of him being really restless. The bed in our accommodation was hurting my back and the babysitter we had brought with us to help out was driving me bonkers. My sisters travel to the same place and they were driving me mad constantly coming down to use the pool and eat us out of house and home. It was not stress free and relaxing at all.

The lesson: have a Mojito. I got nothing in regards to teething babies – you just have to get through it. The bright side? You’re not going to work after an all-nighter!

I recently took my parents away for the night with my boys. They don’t see each other a lot as we live in separate cities. I was trying to ensure that memories were created through having some activities or enough to do to keep us busy were lasting memories for my children. Reality was Mum and Dad are set in their ways and it was really difficult finding happy ground with them and managing my boys. My mum has a medical condition which means water sports are out for her. Yeah, perhaps visiting an island wasn’t a great idea after all huh? Every time I left the boys with Mum whilst I collected an order form the bar or I got a drink or checked in, I would return to find my youngest in tears and Mum getting cranky at him. Doesn’t sound like I am selling the good much huh?

The lesson: Memories can’t be forced or bought. Sure we think a trip to special places is going to be great. I can only hope it is. Enduring life outside your comfort zone is what makes or breaks you. Spending time together whether it is good or bad can make or break a relationship. As a family unit you can be comfortable as these are your family you will find a way to work through it and grow from the experience.

Isn’t that just it? We work all year to have a break and we out all this pressure on those weeks being fabulous, amazing, inspiring and refreshing. Did you know the first two years we went to the location we go for our annual holiday we were flooded in and we didn’t sit on the beach or swim in the ocean for two weeks two years in a row? Why would we go back? Something about being stuck in doors and unable to move just made us love it. We played endless card games and shared many days arguing about card cheats and how dull the holiday was but boy did we also have some laughs and share some stories. My sisters are there and their children and despite raining constantly the kids found swimming wasn’t so bad as it was a heated pool.

The lesson: a holiday may not be all sunshine and happy family brochure material. Learning to cope with holidays in the rain is building you. It’s making you resilient to what life throws at you. It’s making you better. Who cares about the sun anyway?

I compare two holidays. One we were in a large house with more room than few people need. We would spread out in all corners and relax and do our own thing. We returned after a week of a lovely relaxing holiday where everyone got to do their own thing. The other holiday we were in a cosy little one bedroom apartment and we were on top of each other. We returned after a week feeling connected, and having had shared experiences. You will hear people say that a ski holiday is the best family holiday you can have. Every ski accommodation I have seen is tiny. Maybe there is something in that?

The lesson: lots of space does not create intimacy and therefore shared experiences.

The next reality of a holiday with kids. Alcohol. There is less of it when you have kids around. For anyone who is a parent you possibly don’t really care. The thought of having a hangover in the sun with a toddler is enough to go tee total in my mind! Often associated with drinks is sex. Yep, you’ve had kids, you’ve had sex (well in most circumstances anyway). If you don’t want two rooms on your holiday (as why would you double your costs??) remember there are going to be little people sleeping in the bed next to yours. Sure there is the bathroom but I am way too old for that sort of malarkey. The balcony? I think I can spare the world from that sort of shenanigans. So what is the solution? Sneaky sex? A babysitter and you go to a public place? Or the beach? I don’t have the answers but I am almost certain my husband is not paying for an additional room just to have sex! Of course then there is the smart people who stay in apartments or houses.

The lesson: hotel rooms with children = sex is difficult, needs to be considered. 

The lesson: holidays with kids means fewer drinks.

I have a holiday in Fiji experience for this memory of the good and the bad of family travel. We stayed at a resort that specialises in family holidays. They have early meals to cater for all the little ones. OMG. 500 people in a restaurant after a day in the sun and full of activity. Everyone is tired and cranky and the noise level was nauseating. I felt like not only was I in a zoo but so damn miserable at the amount of money I had sunk into this holiday to be conveyor belted through the restaurant each evening that I just wanted to pack up and go home.

The lesson: large and busy hotels that deal with large numbers may not be your thing. Consider if personalised service may suit you better.

Tour groups are fabulous for a number of reasons. They are designed to be life changing, exciting and inclusive of all the members. They are designed to show you through an area with an experienced guide. Family holidays are designed to ignite the senses and broaden the horizons. Some are designed to test you. You’ve travelled before and through those shared experiences with people you will forever have common ground. Common ground shared with a family is supposedly bringing you closer and making memories that will build respect and understanding. You are also able to sit back and follow a leader without having to answer a mirage of questions. The guide should also be able to fill you with knowledge about the area. Tours are generally safe as the companies need to ensure they bring back living customers. The reality is your tour is only as good as your leader. Tour leaders are not paid enormous amounts of money and often have very little education. There are of course exceptions to the rule. You lose some freedom with tours but you are exposed to the most popular spots or places in an area. They often cram more in than what you would be able to do yourself.

The lesson: book with a reputable company that caters for family groups and providing a number of activities for all ages. In booking your trip ensure that activities are diverse to cover the ages you are travelling with. It would be worth asking the travel company if other children are travelling that are the same or similar ages to your children.

Kids often loose it when they are out of their comfort zone and asked to do things outside of their normal routine. We are about to take our kids on an epic Disney adventure and Mr Safety has googled accidents at Theme parks (yes without any context) and is now refusing to go on Splash Mountain. What the? I have been saying to my husband for the past 9 years – ‘a day ahead mate’ in ensuring we get to work and day-care drop off. Travel is the same. Going on a hike? Going to the beach? Here is a fool proof guide to avoiding melt downs

  • Pack snacks and water for walks, driving and exploring. You started your baby’s life with a nappy bag – same concept … it should be continued until you are merely packing and they carry.
  • Allow for rests and down time. Try to plan your itinerary so that after an action packed day, you have less action. Keep in mind this is true for little kids but as you get to teenage years I recommend you do as much activity as you can to keep them occupied.
  • Allow the kids to pack a toy of choice or book. Remember they have to carry it.
  • Scavenger hunt. This is my number one road trip tip but you can just as easily adapt to any destination. Sit down and spend some time mapping out the key things you are going to see the following day. Make up some clues for the kids based on their age groups. Smaller kids you may be best to look for shapes and colours and older children you can start making some cryptic and some easier to find. On a recent trip I had asked the kids to find out what was the hotel’s speciality (knowing where we were going for lunch) I asked them to find something from China – we were going to a landmark called The Great Wall of China (but not the actual wall) By doing this you are stretching the hunt out over the day and it is not completed in the first 10 minutes of your trip. I gave bonus points for emotionally connecting to the day. What are you most proud of yourself for today? What is the most interesting thing you did today? What was your favourite activity?
  • Pack your iPad or similar to access movies and/ or games for when it really looks like going upside down.

The lesson: a day ahead mate. Be prepared like a boy scout.

I have read that apparently travelling with kids is restrictive. Well if you were planning a nightclubbing-binge-drinking type trip then yes, I guess it is. If anything I find that kids get me to experience a ‘real’ way of life in different destinations as they get you into areas that generally mingle with the locals. Nothing like a park bench to meet new people.

Apparently you need to miss activities as the kids can’t take the cracking pace. I argue that so many people set itineraries that are ridiculous and squash far too much in for truly enjoying the place. A girlfriend came back from Europe last year and after 5 weeks away stated she needed a holiday to get over her holiday!! That my friend means you were undertaking too much and quit ‘checklist’ travelling and start adventuring and exploring. Yes, you will need to eat dinner earlier and one of you may miss an adventure while younger one’s rest, but how is that different from weekends or any other time as a parent. Eating dinner early means that you have time to have a conversation. Pretend to be European and philosophise the ways of the world.

The lesson: what’s the rush? ‘The journey is the destination” Dan Elton. Kids have taught me to slow down and in that I see more. Far more.

You need to pack so much stuff when travelling as a family. Babies yes. There is still a lot of stuff you can leave behind. Its lucky airlines give you two extra pieces of luggage for free but choose wisely my friends. I have just bought two scooter bags to travel with as carryon luggage. The children will both be using our regular overnight bags for their clothes and other items. Why would I add another bag then? They need lots of ‘stuff’ for the plane and this is heavy to carry. Wheels means they can help me. The only hindrance to my plan will be carpeted airports. We are not going to Asia (where they favour this) so we should be fine. Having the scooters also means we have an activity up our sleeves for evenings along the Santa Monica Boulevard. I have bought one of those retractable dog leashes for my littlest who is a little free range for letting loose on a California beachfront. I may use it, I may not. Click here for a link to the best scooter bags for kids. When packing babies luggage try to see if you can fit a travel cot in with your pram or car seat. If you can then you will be able to bring all three pieces.

The lesson: pack two of everything for kids and pack dark colours. Learn how to wash in the hotel sink and locate a laundry. Coming out of the Malaysian jungle and nothing could have been sweeter than being able to wash my whole bag for the equivalent of about $20. Priceless.

I recommend asking the kids what they would like to do so they feel like part of the family. I let my kids choose their day and they get to choose what will do on that day. On a summer vacation that’s not hard we all like doing the same thing – swimming! So let them choose dinner options or if it’s ice-cream day or something that makes them feel empowered. As they grow they should be able to take the lead in choosing more adventurist activities. As a parent it is your job to be interested in their interest and you will never know what you will learn. Heck, I never thought I would know so much about dinosaurs. He wants to plan a trip to Utah to look at bones. Geez…. I am presently trying to ‘phone a friend’ or opt out but essentially I am proud that he is interested in seeing another part of the world and satisfying his curiosity. Maybe I will be satisfied in nearby hikes I am not sure.

The lesson: involve everyone in the holiday.

‘There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.’ Malcolm X
The reality is travelling with kids can be hard. They need you. You are the only one who can protect them and help them. Same at home so that’s not travels fault. I recall travelling with girlfriends in my twenties and various group travels I have done and there is always a fool you need to suffer or a crowd you need to find the way to get along with but then there is the diamond amongst the rough that makes it worth it. Making friends from far away not only broadens your horizons but builds understanding. Understanding brings kindness and at the end of the day it is always kindness we should all be seeking. Travelling with a family may be good at times and bad at others but you will grow, individually and together. The storms you face will build your strength and tolerance for greater storms. Together you will conquer. Together you will find kindness. Always kindness.

Guest post published by Virginia from –

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