I mentioned to a friend of mine recently that I was going on a holiday with my kids- “is that possible?” she quipped. And the truth is, holidays with kids can actually end up meaning more stress and needing a holiday after your holiday if they are not planned properly! So after 4 years of travel across the world, more than 20 times, with two kids under 5 here are my top tips for having a happy holiday for the whole family!
Hotels are lovely- for couples, single people, business people and people who have left their children at home… unless they are purpose built for families they are actually just cramped spaces with no washing machine or place for your toddlers or kids to run around. The chocolate on the pillow and white sheets don’t mean so much when you have a small person climbing the walls and no where to heat up their food! Based on experience I always avoid hotels unless they are all inclusive and geared towards keeping kids happy- I will leave them to the lucky romantics thank you very much.
Book a Home or Apartment
For breaks away with my family I will usually go the Airbnb route to keep my sanity! By booking a home or apartment you get all of the comforts and essentials that are required to keep your kids thriving such as space, a garden if you are lucky, a smart TV, high chair parking, kitted out kitchens and laundry, cooking facilities, …OK this does not sound like much of a holiday but the reality is without those things you will probably end up way more stressed than you need to be. I use Airbnb and Booking.com to book holiday homes if you are looking to take a longer trip away you might want to consider a house swap this is a great and affordable way to holiday for an extended period and feel at home. All in all I find my kids are much more settled in an apartment or holiday home than a hotel unless it is an all inclusive family resort which brings me to my next suggestion…
Book into a Family Friendly Resort or Hotel
I will admit that I do miss the holiday feeling a little bit when I am in an Airbnb and a Family Resort can be a perfect balance between practicality and escapism. Finding a resort with a good kids pool, playground, activity centre, kids club and child friendly amenities is a God send for parents and kids alike. Some of these resorts even offer a creche service! A lot of these resorts are apartment style so you can feel at home whilst also accessing the usual services of a hotel. One of the benefits of all inclusive packages is not having to see the site of a cooking hob or dishes for the duration of your stay but if you prefer to cook you will easily find resorts with cooking facilities included. There are some excellent Family holiday resorts in Europe with some of the best known being Martinhal in Portugal and Flamingo in Lanzarote and you can find out about these resorts and more in an excellent post by the wonderful bloggers Passports & Adventures- here is the link Best Family Resorts in Europe You could also go all out kid friendly and book somewhere that is themed entirely to kids such as Centreparcs or Disney to get serious kiddy kudos.
Communication and Adjustment Periods
I have been on holidays in Spain for the last week and just yesterday my 2 year old asked me if this was our new home. I realised that although I knew we were here for a week the poor mite thought we had upped sticks from Cork forever! I forgot that she had no concept of what a holiday was and really that was my job to explain it. A visual such as a little calendar of how many days you are on holidays and a map showing home and the holiday place you are in can be really helpful for smaller kids who may be confused by the sudden change in scenery. Give your kids time to get settled and be prepared that they may be out of sorts for the first few days of your holiday as they are adjusting. Communicate clearly about where you are and how long for and cut the sallies some slack especially if they are battling Jet Lag or different bed times and lack of routine.
Most routines and common factors that make kids feel safe and secure and know what is coming next go out the window on holiday and that’s fine but from your Childs perspective this can be very unsettling. It can be a good idea to pack things that are familiar to your child such as favourite food item you can’t get where you are going, favourite toys, a tab if they use one, books, bedside items such as a photo or ornament and things like their usual pyjamas and bedtime stories. If your routine is going out the window let your child know what is happening that day in the morning and throughout the day. This really helps my 4 year old feel in control out of his own surroundings. Also highlight why travel is beneficial for them and that it is for a set period of time with statements like “we don’t have this at home- aren’t we lucky to see different things together, we can tell (insert bestie) about this when we get home!”
Prepare for Heat & Insects
Not being prepared for these two factors can really set you back. When I am travelling with my kids I follow the locals in terms of beating the heat- if they siesta, we siesta, if they stay off the beach or out of the markets at a certain time it is usually for a reason and so do we! If they drink coconut water throughout the day we do to- watch a learn from the locals and also prepare for the heat by keeping your kids protected from the sun with full length UV protectant swimwear, hats, sunglasses and sunblock. Set a timer on your phone to get them drinking water every hour during the day and stay out of the direct sun between 11-3. If you are travelling in Asia or Europe where there are a lot of mosquitos and you have a baby I highly recommend the incognito mosquito spray which is suitable for all ages 3 months and above and also a mosquito net for your buggy which you can get online or in Boots.
Find and Schedule Play
Your kids need to play and move will not be left at home when you travel! The first thing I do when I hit a location, especially a city break spot is find the park and if possible a soft play area. I also search out things like children’s museums, open top bus tours, family friendly restaurants, open farms, and somewhere to swim. Your kids will still need plenty of play and fun to keep them grounded. On our recent city break in Palma I spent an hour in the morning and evening in a great soft play area and took the kids to the park at least twice a day in between exploring a shopping and they had a ball! If you are travelling in Ireland or the UK I highly recommend that you download the Eat Play Change App which is a homegrown Irish app that helps parents find places to bring their kids for play, food and also places that have good changing facilities. I love this app and find it so helpful.
Bring a Buggy and Car Seat
On holidays even my 4 year old is in the buggy and I am actually dreading the next holiday where I am guessing he will be too big for one! Having kids in a buggy means you can explore without their little legs getting tired, you can shop and hang your bags off the buggy, you can keep them covered with a buggy umbrella to protect from the sun and they can snooze when they need to. The car seats you get from car rental companies can be dodgy and you don’t know their history- bring your own. It goes without saying that this is really important!
Relax & Enjoy
You might have to let a lot go in terms of your usual standards on holidays and I guess that is what makes them holidays- they are different to our usual days! My kids eat way more ice cream than usual on holidays, they are up at crazy hours as per the local way of life and often they are a lot sandier and grubbier than I would like them to be but they are also having a ball! The more I travel the more I let go and relax and I highly recommend it!
Lots of mums reached out to me when I started this page who were anxious about travelling with Babies and Toddlers especially flying with them. I wrote this article Travelling with Babies & Toddlers which has lots of tips for stress free (within reason!) travel for young kids.
Do you have any questions or hacks for having a great family holiday? We would love to hear from you in the comments section!
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share this article with any parents who might be travelling or booking their summer holidays soon.