We recently went away for a bit of early summer sunshine and relaxation. At least, as much relaxation is available with two young boys around. We don’t call them “The Chaos Twins” for nothing… We’ve been away as a family of 4 a few times and it’s generally been pretty hectic, but this time was definitely our most successful trip to date. I’ve learnt a few things along the way so here are my top tips for making a family holiday with toddlers as easy as possible – wherever you may be travelling, from Normandy to Norway.
1) Pack with military preparedness
This might tell you a lot about what sort of a person I am but I’m not ashamed to say I have created a spreadsheet with a list of what I need to pack for myself and the children (husband is entirely responsible for himself!), along with a separate section for hand luggage. It has tick boxes and everything. I can print it off and start packing a few days before we go, with no need to worry about remembering whether I packed pants 3 days ago – tick it off as it goes in and you know what’s what. It made things so much easier this time around and I will never look back!
2) Snacks, snacks and more snacks for the journey
My hand luggage contained a big carrier back full of snacks. Oat bars, rice cakes, those organic kids crisps that somehow seem more socially acceptable than other crisps for three times the price… you get the gist. So. Many. Snacks. We ended up having no time at all in the airport where we had planned to buy lunch so I was especially glad to have these to tide us through until we could buy stuff on the plane. Travel days almost invariably involve disrupted routines and a LOT of waiting around, and snacks can really help in those moments where the mood starts dropping.
3) More than one child? Twinning is winning
I must confess to loving a bit of twinning with my boys – though on a day-to-day basis we don’t do it that much, they do have a few matching clothes. But this holiday I bought quite a few matching outfits for them, because I realised how easy it is to spot them when they look alike. When you’re in unfamiliar territory (eg an airport) and the kids are haring around, it is so much easier to keep an eye on where they are if you’re looking for two versions of the same outfit. Though do watch out for Daddy dressing the 4-year-old in the 2-year-old’s shorts. Or is that just our family?
4) Take mealtime activities
Do you remember those lovely holiday meals where you sat at a restaurant by the beach gazing peacefully at the blue sea and sky, leisurely nibbling at plate after plate of lovely local food, savouring a nice cold beer? They were great, weren’t they? If your life with smalls is anything like mine it’s now more about damage limitation: getting as much food in, as quickly as you can,
and leaving before there’s a spill / breakage / meltdown. But you can buy yourself some time if you prepare. Seek out small, portable activities that can be easily deployed at mealtimes – we love the Galt Water Magic books which are like reusable colouring books used with a water pen. You’re still unlikely to be able to luxuriate over an hour and a half long boozy lunch, but you might be able to ease the panic just a little.
5) Plan around the children
It sounds really obvious but we’ve only really fully “got” this this time. Pre-children we liked to explore a lot, and with fairly easy-going and flexible kids we’ve tried to be pretty adventurous with them, too – hired a car and done big trips, and not worried too much about the routine. But we’ve realised something. They don’t care about that beautiful secluded beach that’s 90 mins drive away and involves clambering down a steep embankment. They just want to dip their toes in the sea, throw stones and build a sandcastle. So this holiday, we planned around the 2-year-old’s naps. We did short trips of no more than a couple of hours all in. We took it in turns to play in the pool and do colouring with the 4-year-old while his brother slept. We all went to bed around 8:30pm – it was a quieter, smaller kind of holiday, but everyone had a better time as a result. We got more rest. We had special quality time with the 4-year-old. And – because of this – we had (mostly!) good behaviour. There’ll be a time when they’re older and we can do more – explore more places, try new things, eat out more. But just now, while they’re so little, we are embracing a different, and altogether more relaxing, kind of holiday.