A casual google of ‘travelling with kids’ brings up a gazillion articles detailing the tips and tricks on how to do holidays with young kids ‘well’. I’ll be honest from the get go, this is not one of those articles.
I’ve tried many a tip from expert family jet setters and the results are always a very mixed bag. Pack lightly, pack everything you’ll need, pack wisely, take it slow, but not too slow, involve the kids in packing (surely they aren’t talking about toddlers?!) pack new toys that the kids haven’t seen before (there goes your holiday budget), pack a slim line car seat, a carrier, a light portacot, presents for your fellow passengers in case your baby has a vom or a pee in their direction or decides to scream the whole way to the destination. The prep alone could be enough to have you rethinking the whole getaway.
Sure, planning is very important, especially when you do anything outside your own four walls with kids, especially the little kind. It is prudent to do everything you can to provide damage control when on a family holiday and you really don’t want to be carting an eleven kilo portacot up the cobble stone pathways of Europe when your accomodation can provide you with one (if only we had rung ahead). However, take heart if you didn’t spend days packing tiny new toys into tiny bags and making mini tubs of play dough for the journey because, the thing is, the holiday gods really don’t care about your planning anyway. They care about keeping you on your toes and sometimes as far away from that comfy pool chair and aperol spritz as possible. Maybe you get stuck with a case of day care gastro that descends as soon as you arrive at your destination or perhaps there are constant tropical downpours and you are left to entertain all your tribe in a small cabin with nothing but the hotel notepads and pens because the TV reception and internet are on the blink and the kids are over their two toys and two books (you insisted on light packing). Or maybe you simply flip open your toddler’s water bottle and the pressurised plane cabin turns the water into a jet stream so powerful it showers the couple in the seat in front of you. You assure them quickly it is just water and realise packing presents for fellow passengers might not have been such a crazy idea.
For those of us lucky enough to travel with our family it does have its universal challenges. The safety net of your normal home routine has gone, there are no more school rules, the flood gates open and suddenly your eight year old boy is making fart sounds with his hands all the way to your destination. The siblings, five and one not to be outdone, are joining in with their own percussive ostinatos. Also, let’s face it, as parents we want a break from making and enforcing rules. Surely we can all just relax, right? Not quite, often a child’s idea of relaxing on a destination holiday is trying to eat their weight in gelato, going to the pool, then beach, then pool, climbing beach rocks, throwing rocks, basically moving at full speed, all day, until they crash at bedtime.
In research professor Brené Brown’s new Netflix special The Call to Courage, ( a great tag line for a holiday with young children, I feel). Brené and her husband speak about making rules for her kids to follow on the family getaway or they would be ‘feral’ by the end of the two weeks. I’m not sure how the holiday rules go as she ends up having a fight with her husband on a swimming expedition and we are left hanging. There is nothing like the chaos of a family holiday and the close quarters to bring out the full range of human emotion. On the other hand, sometimes emotions are not running high, instead they are dulled from the sheer exhaustion of keeping up with the joyous energy of the children. Some trips, it’s not until you get home and have a quiet moment to look through all the snap shots that you can fully appreciate how very special the time together was. It seems to me that one of the most important things about travelling with your tribe is mindset and the willingness to dive into the chaos. To prepare but prepare for the unexpected.
Travelling after all is about new experiences, some will be some of your best and some a little more uncomfortable, like the late onset air sickness that is exploding from your three year old and all over the customs counter ( I hadn’t planned for that one). You are together making memories and that is what really matters. Often it’s the smallest things that the children remember and love most, like the paddle pop to break up the long car journey or just the very fact that you are all together as a family. Even if all your carefully planned tips and tricks fail to provide holiday zen, hold onto the joyful moments. Finally, at the end of the day, it’s the mishaps that make for some of the best family stories in years to come.