What’s your ideal holiday? If you had asked me ten years ago, the answer was easy. Reading good books, getting some sun, sleeping in, eating out. Basically relaxing. I didn’t need to go to the warmest beach or the hottest club – my needs were simple. Or so I thought. Until I first tried holidaying with a baby.
Looking back, I think if even one person had pointed out that holidays are different with children, I might have been less shocked by what followed. But most of my friends didn’t have kids yet, and I had no nieces or nephews. Of course, you may be reading this thinking it should have been starkly obvious that holidaying with children is an entirely different experience, and I can only agree with you – I don’t know why it wasn’t abundantly clear, but at bit like pretty much everything else with parenting, it wasn’t.
So off we went, my husband, my eleven-month-old baby girl and me, to spend a week in an apartment in Spain. We were worried about the flight (and rightly so as it turned out) but once we touched down in Malaga, we were home-free and ready to holiday.
Except of course for the bit where we had to push the buggy up a steep hill to get to the apartment – we’d been there before but couldn’t remember the hill being such a monumental challenge. We took turns pushing, huffing and puffing while my daughter sat happily inside, promising ourselves a cool glass of white wine on the balcony once we arrived.
Except of course, as we soon discovered, eleven-month-olds like to crawl around and pull things down on top of themselves – they’re not really fans of watching their parents drink white wine on balconies. So instead we set about child-proofing the apartment and the wine stayed in the fridge. We’d have a glass while getting ready to go out, we promised ourselves.
Except of course getting-ready-to-go-out time coincided with the baby’s dinner-time, so instead of putting on mascara while sipping a crisp Pinot Grigio, I was chopping peppers and cooking pasta. We did eventually get out the door, around an hour later than planned, but at least the baby was fed and happy in her buggy. As we set off down the hill, I wondered what had possessed me to wear heels, but at that stage we were too hungry to turn back. Everything would be fine once we were sitting down eating, with the baby sleeping quietly beside us.
Except of course, she was still wide-awake when we arrived at the restaurant, and after a few minutes staring around, she wanted out. So she spent the entire meal sitting on my knee, putting her hand into my Prawns Pil Pil or sitting on my husband’s knee, trying to eat his steak. Was it in any way like the relaxing, romantic holiday meals we were used to? Nope, and I still had to make it back up the hill in my heels. At home, we decided we’d get the baby down to sleep, then sit on the balcony and finally open that bottle of wine.
Except of course in an unfamiliar travel cot in an unfamiliar room, it took her far longer than usual to settle. In the end, my husband fell asleep with her in the bed, and I slept in the other room. The parents who had emphatically proclaimed having kids wouldn’t change a thing were both out for the count by nine o’clock.
And the surprises kept coming – the first one at 5am the following morning when my daughter woke even earlier than usual, something she continued to do for the whole week. The apartment was too small for turn-taking lie-ins, so each morning all of us got up. The sun was hotter than expected and we were worried about our fair-skinned daughter, so sunbathing was put on hold. Our planned trips to the beach were replaced by walks on the seafront, and the books we’d brought lay untouched at the bottom of the suitcase. A week later we went home every bit as tired as we’d been flying out, but armed with new knowledge about what to expect when holidaying with kids.
Except of course, then we had another child, and this threw up a whole host of new challenges and even less rest. By the time our third child came along, I was reluctant to go anywhere at all, but my husband booked us into a campsite in Brittany, and off we went on the ferry. I’ll never forget those two weeks in our little mobile home – listening to the rain pelting down on the roof, watching the puddles grow outside, while three small children huddled inside. Getting up three, four, five times a night to my youngest – never a good sleeper anyway, but determined to show us exactly what he thought of his tiny room in a tiny mobile home in rainy France. I went home from that holiday a shell of my former self, wondering what possessed us to go anywhere with three kids under five.
Thankfully, my husband is braver than I, or perhaps more optimistic, so we did try again – but this time with no expectations. I was ready for no sleep, no downtime, no lie-ins, no nights out. We chose a holiday focused entirely around the kids – swimming pools, pony-trekking, petting zoos, and bicycle-hire. A barbecue on the deck so we didn’t have to brave restaurants. A little further south, so we had more chance of sun.
And it worked. The kids loved it, the sun shone, they were busy all day, and slept all night. Each evening after we got them down, we would sit out on the still-warm deck as the charcoal embers faded in the barbecue and the crickets sang. And we could finally take those dusty books out of the suitcase and open that long-awaited, much anticipated bottle of wine.
This post was originally published in MADE, a very lovely parenting magazine published Scotland.
And here are reviews of some of the holidays we’ve tried with kids: