GUEST POST BY SARAH HALL.
So you’re heading overseas? Congratulations! Chances are it’s taken a lot of saving and planning, and now that thing are falling into place the excitement is building. Except for that One. Niggling. Worry. You’re travelling with kids. Help??!!
After spending 5 months overseas with a 4 year old and 18 month old I thought I’d share 5 tips to help things go smoothly (and some pitfalls to avoid!).
1. Research research research. Then research some more.
I cannot stress this point enough, before you go invest time in researching your destination, accommodation, and activities. You’ll be more likely to end up staying somewhere that suits your family’s needs, and be able to hit the ground running. Things like being within walking distance of public transport, grocery stores and good coffee have the potential to make your life much easier. Anyone else thinking desperate-baby-wipes-and-icecream shopping mission??
Suss out what family friendly attractions are available, entry costs, hours, whether it’s actually open at the time you’re visiting (a surprising number of places have an off-season where they close for a few months), any age restrictions, and transport options for getting there. Not only will this help you plan your days in advance and save a lot of faffing around once you’re actually on holiday, it should also help limit any delays or hiccups which can cause kid meltdowns and parental bickering. Win win.
2. Prioritise where to spend money.
Unless you just won Lotto you’re probably having to do some frantic budgeting to make your trip work, deciding where to splurge and where to scrimp. Two of the biggest costs are likely to be transport and accommodation, and these are both areas where it pays to spend wisely. We flew Air NZ and were so glad we decided to spend extra on a Skycouch. On a 14 hour flight it meant the kids could lie down and go to sleep. When they woke up it became a play area. Basically it allowed us (and the people around us) to stay sane. Costs can vary from $200-700ish depending on the total number of seats you book, but we found 2 seats for the kids in the bed figuration with one of us using the aisle seat was enough space and was the cheaper option.
Our hotel selection discussion went something along the lines of “don’t book that place, the TV looks old and small” versus “don’t book that place, it has no kitchen”. Everyone will have their own accommodation must-have list, and when choosing somewhere to stay with the kids mine includes laundry facilities, a bath tub, and a decent kitchen. We also learnt that it was worth paying extra for more space; finding places where the kids could be in a separate bedroom had a direct correlation with family happiness and parental relaxation levels. They say you can’t buy happiness? Spending extra money on roomy accommodation would suggest you can.
3. Pack light.
I’d highly recommend this one, since we did the complete opposite. Mostly out of necessity due to the nature and length of our trip we ended up lugging around 2 huge snowboard wheelie bags, 4 large suitcases, 4 backpacks, a nappy bag, and a buggy. Oh and 2 kids. About 135kg worth (not including the kids). Great once we were in our home away from home ski town, not great getting to, from and through airports. Or in and out of hotels. Yes, there are things you NEED to pack (enough nappies to last til you find a supermarket, favourite soft toys and plenty of kids clothes spring to mind), but don’t overdo it. (Bonus tip- pack as many nappies as you can fit. Then you’ll have spare suitcase space AKA shopping space for the return trip).
And if you can’t pack light? Make friends with the person at the check-in desk. With a bit of luck they will a) overlook your flexible interpretation of the baggage weight limit, b) take pity on your struggling-with-carting-luggage-around family and put you through an express queue or c) do both of the above. Because they really just want you out of the way since your children are using luggage trolleys as battering rams and destroying the carefully laid out maze of queue-arranging ropes.
4. Be realistic.
There’s a reason this is the longest hint on the list, and that’s because it applies to many aspects of your trip. It helps to be realistic about HOW MUCH you’ll be able to do on each day of your holiday, and be realistic about WHAT those things will be.
Sadly it’s time to kiss goodbye the expectation that a day of touristing involves visiting numerous attractions, hitting the shops, eating meals at random times and trendy places, not having to check the clock, and staying out as late as you want to (man, I feel tired just writing that). Touristing with kids is home life with kids, transported to another location, and probably with extra challenges thrown in.
Your kids will still need to nap (even more so if they’re jetlagged), will still require feeding CONSTANTLY (what is with that??), and will still be ready to go to bed at their regular time. If you usually achieve one outing or activity a day at home, aim for one outing a day while on holiday. And if it all goes awesomely well and you can fit in another activity later? Bonus! We found heading out in the morning worked well for us, that way if things took longer than expected (or we discovered something extra to see or do) there was still plenty of the day to enjoy things without being rushed.
When planning how to spend your days I’d suggest remembering what you did and didn’t like about family holidays as a kid. Probably playgrounds featured higher on your list of fun than browsing second-hand stores. By choosing activities that your kids will enjoy, you’ll probably enjoy the holiday a lot more too. AKA, that plan to spend a day browsing the shops? Safer to scrap it. Or aim for the hour long speed-shop version. Your kids and credit card will thank you.
Take the same approach when eating out; a funky restaurant with creative food and stylish decor might (fingers crossed) work out okay, or it might involve you being mega stressed when the kids are ‘energetic’ and/or reluctant to try the food. Pick somewhere you can all relax and enjoy. One of our best meals out while away was at a noisy family-friendly restaurant where the kids meals came served in a pirate ship shaped cardboard box. Sure, their meals came with a side of broccoli. But that was no match for the cream-topped thickshakes and unlimited fries. And while we’re on the subject of fries, be realistic about what your kids eat while away. At home you’re no doubt doing your best to have them eating as much healthy stuff and as little junk food as possible. But on holiday? It’s safe to guess you’re indulging in a few treat foods, so let the kids have some too.
5. Have fun.
Yes, there will be moments (probably many of them) when you wonder why you are bothering with this holiday. Whingeing kids, delayed flights, the general stress of being somewhere unfamiliar and out of routine etcetera etcetera will all make you think it would have been easier to stay home and entertain the kids with a Fireman Sam DVD and a plate of vegemite and cheese on toast. But those moments aren’t the ones you’ll remember in a few years time (except for the very very bad moments. Those you will never forget). Enjoy having quality time with your kids (and partner), enjoy experiencing new sights, foods and cultures through the open-eyed wonderment of your children, and enjoy building memories your whole family will share.
Take deep breaths. Take photos. Don’t sweat the small stuff. ENJOY your holiday.