Holidaying with little ones
I love summer holidays – I have the happiest memories of family trips as a child camping in France every year. I can remember the excitement at catching the ferry over to Calais, the smell of pine forests, eating cassoulet cooked on a camping stove, spending our days jumping in the pool over and over again, the sound of the crickets at night and making new friends in each new campsite we visited. Best of all I can remember the joy of having time as a family and the cosiness of us all snuggled up together in our tent each night.
It doesn’t really matter where you go on holiday, as long as you’re all together, there is a sense of adventure in exploring new places, eating new things and being next to naked for days on end.
When we booked our holiday a few months back I knew it wasn’t going to be like the holidays of my past… The ones where Oli and I took nothing but our backpacks, arrived on a remote island and spent the next two weeks lazing on a beach reading novels and drinking cold beers. 17 months is a pretty full on age for a toddler – especially one who hasn’t yet taken her first steps and doesn’t like to be held back from anything she sets her mind to, even if that’s climbing to the top of the trulli when nobody was looking and crawling precariously close to the edge before waving down at her daddy who almost choked on his olive.
Our recent holiday to Italy was our first experience taking two little ones abroad and it did involve some planning and careful packing. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I thought I’d share with you now some of the things I took away from our holiday with the little ones.
1. Give yourself enough time to pack. It sounds obvious but preparation is key with any outing involving children, let alone a holiday in another country. Write a list of everything you need and work your way through it. Lay things out and work out what is superfluous, what is essential and anything in between.
2. Take along some toddler cutlery and a tupperware for snacks on day trips
3. Pack wisely for the plane – don’t forget plenty of snacks, water, a blanket, wipes and some toys. I’d recommend colouring in books, stickers and an ipad loaded with a movie or some favourite games if you’re going on a long flight. You’ll need a way of occupying the children who, let’s face it, won’t want to sit still for hours on end in a little seat unless they are entertained.
4. Forget what holidays used to be like before you had children. Adapt your expectations and accept that there won’t be much lazing around but that doesn’t have to mean it will be any less wonderful.
5. Start as you mean to go on – suncream is not an option so make sure your kids know that you’ll be reapplying it regularly and their hats have to remain on their heads. It gets hot in the med and children like to spend the whole day outdoors so they need your help to protect them from the sun. Create shade where possible and encourage them to do an activity in a cool spot when the heat of the day gets too much.
6. Set boundaries with the pool – talk about safety without making them scared to explore.
7. Be flexible if you have a routine. The Italians keep their children up much later than us Brits so we adapted things to incorporate a good afternoon nap and some flexibility on teatime and bedtime which meant we were able to enjoy evening meals as a family.
8. Show your kids more than just the swimming pool. A new country is full of new sensory experiences for children. Take them to the local market and get them to try the local produce. Visit pretty towns, go on country walks, let them see the beauty of the country you’re in so they appreciate the differences the world has to offer.
9. Take your camera and capture the everyday moments as well as the classic holiday snaps.
10. Make sure you know what facilities are on offer where you are staying and that they match your needs. We thought our second apartment had it’s own kitchen but we were wrong. It’s not easy feeding two children 3 meals a day without those facilities – trust me! Ask about highchairs, cots, towels, proximity to the supermarket etc in advance for absolute clarity.
11. Get to know your surroundings and suss out the dangers. We didn’t realise there was a way to climb up to the top of the trulli until After Elsie had done it – had we have investigated a little more first we’d have been much more cautious.
12. Make time for you two too. A holiday is a chance for you to spend some quality time with your partner. If you can get a babysitter one evening – do it. If not, make sure you carve out some time just for you once the children are in bed. Light a candle, put your phones away, create an atmosphere, make a lovely supper together, reconnect.
13. Make time to reconnect with yourself. This may sound like a weird one but for me it was really important to have a bit of time alone while we were away. I’m used to looking after the children single handed 5 days a week and juggling that with work so I needed little breaks from them here and there to recharge my batteries. I took a notebook and my camera and went on walks in the afternoon to gather my thoughts. It really helped me come back feeling ready to get back into life at home again with a new found sense of direction for the summer months ahead.