It doesn’t require a miracle or magic… these tricks are simple and successful for keeping your sanity on your next family holiday.
Our Travel Expert and family travel blogger Rose Jacobs shares her top ten tips for a stress-free family vacation.
It was only today that I flew solo with two kids under-five and a microwave (that’s a long story) from Sydney to Vanuatu. But, needless to say, here I am, just a few short hours later, alive, un-frazzled, (un-microwaved), writing my next feature piece, in peace. So, there’s something to be said for that yes? Yes… and still, no.
While it may sound smug for me to say I made it un-frazzled, let me tell you, it has taken years of self inflicted torture, travelling the globe with my two toddlers in order to discover a few tricks of the trade that make the world of difference.
It doesn’t have to be so stressful to embark on international travel with little ones, for this kind of trip, if you do it often and you know where you’re going. That’s all I’m going to say on that one, because I am sure I am being hated and judged by many right now for the fact that both of my muppets are asleep, exhausted, I have a gin and soda in hand and I can hear the waves crashing as I type this… and I literally only spent three hours in the air to travel direct from Sydney to the most exquisite island in the South Pacific.. Don’t hate me, just follow a few simple steps on your next holiday with the kids, and then you’ll be so glad you decided to do that family vacation!
But, yes, admittedly, no all trips are like this. Memories flash to that hiddeous once-and-never-again night flight to Bali with the kids when they decided to scream like chukky until half an hour before landing. Don’t think I haven’t been there.
My least favourite memory of travelling the globe with very small children is one that has traumatised me for life. I experienced something of a panic attack (for the first time in my life) while stuck in a window seat on a flight from London to L.A. with my 18 month old daughter on my lap and the plane was stuck on the tarmac for three hours before takeoff. Isabella decided to experience a bout of projectile vomiting. The hostesses were, shall we say, less than helpful, and my darling husband was blissfully unaware, busy sipping champagne in business class after he had accepted the last minute offer of an upgrade.
I sat there, covered head to toe in vomit, unable to leave my seat or climb over the two passengers next to me, a child screaming and convulsing as if possessed on my lap. I actually considered pretending to be a security risk just so I could escape this scenario. And yet, two years later, I have since travelled a huge chunk of the world, with two kids in tow… and I’m still married! The moments, when they do go right, of seeing the beauty of the world, with your babies by your side, is indescribably beautiful.
So, here are a few handy ways to make that happen.
1. See the world from a kid’s perspective
Instead of stressing the entire way from start to finish, because the kids are asking ridiculous questions, or are fascinated by an ant when you’re trying to get them into a taxi, think again about the entire purpose of a holiday.
It is to slow down, to see things from a different perspective and to spend quality time together, which con often mean doing ridiculous things in your eyes, but to them, are amazing and full of discovery.
2. Be relaxed about all items except the passports
I spent the first two years of travel filling my suitcases with nappies and wipes, bottles, sunblock, kid’s toys etc etc, until I finally realized that I wasn’t travelling to the moon. Even in the most incredibly remote tropical island third world destinations, I have always managed to find all of these items available in shops! Leave the bulk packing behind, travel lightly and just take your essentials. The rest you can collect along the way.
3. Switch off
I love arriving in foreign accommodation options and seeing they choose not to provide a TV. Seriously, this makes me smile every time, because it takes the pressure off me to turn the darned thing off and force my kids to open their eyes to their surroundings and their family members standing right in front of them. The same goes for all the travel paraphernalia that you may be tempted to bring along. Leave the portable DVD player at home and bring some pencils and colouring in books instead if you really need to give them some distractions!
4. Choose your destination carefully
This applies to both the location and the accommodation. Hotel rooms are possibly the trickiest scenario with kids. Closed in spaces without outdoor escapes are hard. Kids sense a kind of cabin fever. It’s also wise to choose a villa without a pool attached, if you’ve got little ones that cant swim unattended. You wont be able to close your eyes for a moment. Get the garden villa and then hang by the main pool instead!
If you are going to do a trip to a destination that involves a sizeable flight, drive, train etc then I do suggest staggering the journey. Stop overs can be some of the most rewarding moments on the trip.
5. Embrace your destination
Just because you’re a long way from home doesn’t mean you can’t explore all the local kid-friendly activities, cafes, parks and playgrounds. Think like a local and for that matter, ask the locals who have kids the same age where they would recommend you go. The best activities are usually the ones that suit your destination. Last week I had both my kids kayaking in Vanuatu one day and horse riding through a lagoon the next.
6. The transit tricks
Just when you are most dreading the waits in airports and the hellish in between moments getting to and from your family paradise, think again. Many airports now fast track families with young kids. Some airlines now even have complimentary inflight nannies! The kids meals are really well thought out and so are the kid’s entertainment packs.
And, did you know that almost all airlines carry spare nappies, milk and other bits and pieces for those unfortunate inflight dilemmas where parents get caught out unprepared.
7. Always carry an umbrella
An umbrella pram, that is! They’re the ones that cost about $30 from kmart and fold up totally flat, like an umbrella. These are the prams that can go anywhere, don’t have to be checked in as luggage and can even go right up to the gate of the plane with you, ready to be handed back to you the second you step off. Oh, and if you lose it, or break it, they’re super easy to replace!
8. Escape the kids
Just because you’re on a family holiday doesn’t mean you can’t steal some moments to be grown ups, without the kids. It will make the world of difference. It doesn’t matter how young they are, your marriage is important, and a couple of hours of hiring the hotel babysitter is going to give you all the more sanity to enjoy the rest of the trip. Some of the best babysitters I’ve ever had have been the ones provided by hotels around the world.
9. Lead the way
It’s so easy for us big people to forget that our little ones are absorbing every tiny detail. If you get stressed, they get stressed. If you’re chilled out, even when the sh*t hits the fan, then they’re going to respond and handle challenges better too. Holidays, when families are suddenly in each others’ pockets for bigger periods of time, are major moments for kids to learn from our examples.
10. Leave the guilt at home
When the kids say they’re bored, or miss their mates, or hate the place they’re at, or you’re having a massage while hubby feeds them lunch… these are the moments when your internal voice needs to toughen up. A family holiday is not the worst thing in the world you can be doing to your kids. A short break away to an amazing new place is incredibly good for them, no matter how much they whinge. For them to see you looking after yourself in these moments is also equally as important. They can’t respect someone who doesn’t respect themself. Keep the perspective healthy and leave your self-doubt at the door, along with your sarong, as you climb up onto that massage table. You deserve it!
Ps, The microwave survived the journey to our little family holiday house, after Tropical Cyclone Pam destroyed so much, white goods are impossible to get over there in Vanuatu! I did secretly pack it into the kid’s travel pram bag. Those things are amazing! Sssshhhhh!!!
Rose Jacobs is a Travel Journalist and Television Presenter. Along with being the Travel Expert for The Lifestyle Channels she is a presenter on Sydney Weekender on the Seven Network. Rose also writes her own blog www.poopypropeller.blogspot.com.au with travel advice for parents travelling with kids.