The Holiday Survival Guide.
If We Took A Holiday. Took Some Time To Celebrate. Just One Day Out Of Life. It Would Be, It Would Be So Nice.
At the end of last year, we decided to have a family holiday. No big deal so far. It was abroad. And it was the first time we ever took the kids outside of the UK (apart from the Isle of Wight, but that’s outside of modern civilisation which is a whole different article).
If you’re reading this thinking “no big deal, been there, done it” then this isn’t for you. If you’re thinking about taking your kids on holiday (abroad) then read on, my friend. Share in my experience so that you can have a great family holiday (as we did) and be aware of the things that are beyond your control.
Familuy Holiday Prelude.
Before I get into the meat and bones of this, take a moment to remember your holidays when it was just you and your partner. Those golden days when you could do whatever you wanted, whether it was a two-day walking trip around Rome, or a leisurely driving holiday around the mountainous countryside of Ireland, or just sitting in your pants and playing Xbox because you hadn’t told your other half you’d booked a day off work. Hold those thoughts close.
Let’s assume you’ve told your kids that you’re going on a family holiday and it’s going to involve flying on an aeroplane. They are either going to be delighted or terrified. Or, if you have more than one child it could be both. We had one child thinking he was going on a space rocket and another who didn’t want to be crammed onto an exploding canister filled with rocket fuel and warm bodies. But you’ve managed to persuade them that airports are these wonderful places, the gateways to adventure where cultures meet and dreams are made. And then you get to East Midlands airport.
Dull. It’s dull. It’s two hours of queues, baggage, searches, broken promises and delays. It’s sitting amongst people you’d actively avoid if you saw them in the street, and having to put up with other people’s parenting that’s got more in common with verbal abuse. But you get the kids on the aeroplane, by this point you’ve made the concept of air travel seem like something from the diaries of Chuck Yeager and for the first ten minutes it’s exciting. Then, once you’re in the air and through the clouds, you realise you have 2 hours in a pressurised tube and you’ve left the felt tip pens in the other bag. The one in the hold. The one you can’t get to. The one your child desperately needs. Right now. And you brought a book to read on the flight, you poor misguided fool!
So we went to Menorca and man it was hot! More on that in a bit, because first of all we had to check in to our holiday apartment. The word ‘apartment’ may be stretching it a bit. It was a small, cramped box with some internal walls. But you get what you pay for and in this instance we paid for a bedroom with nowhere to hang clothes, a bathroom door that didn’t close properly, an electric hob that the caretaker couldn’t work out how to use, a kitchen that had clearly been designed to encourage you to eat at the local restaurants and a floor that resembles the Sahara after two days of hitting the beach.
‘”We realised at various points that we were terrible parents”.
On day one we decided to do a nice coastal stroll to a beach a couple of kilometres away. In the blinding heat. We had water, sun cream and sun hats to match our optimism and naivety. From our children’s perspective, we might as well have enlisted them in the Foreign Legion and force-marched them to Cairo. All seemed fine (barring multiple stops on the way and the nagging sense that we had over-committed) until the next day when our oldest child suffered from mild heatstroke. Once we’d worked out that it was temporary (ie. he’d stopped being sick) we put him in the car and drove to the other side of the island for our planned day out. Once we got there he was immediately sick again and, not to be outdone, we sympathised and continued with our planned excursion. The lesson here is that whatever plans you and your significant other had should be forgotten. The minute you include your children, the chances of you having the holiday you want are over.
“The minute you include your children, the chances of you having the holiday you want are over”.
Life’s a beach.
We’re on an island so it’s going to include visits to the beach. Frequent visits. We did this loads and, all told, had a great time. As with the rest of this article, we discovered a few things worth passing on. Pre-kids my idea of a day on the beach went like this: put a towel on beach, apply sun cream, open book, read, occasional dip in the sea, repeat process until the sun goes down. Post-kids it goes like this: put towel on beach, attempt to put sun cream on kids, realise sand has got into the lunch box, try and get kids into swimsuits, tell kids there is nothing to be scared of it’s just a wave, rescue football from the sea, repeat until the sun goes down. You’ll also be bombarded with questions/demands: “I want ice cream”, “there’s too much sand”, “when’s lunch”, “it’s too hot”, “why can’t we go to a town”, “where’s the cafe”, “can you carry it”, “I’m bored”. But all of this pales in comparison to the day that we spent on a beautiful beach and decided to go for a wander down the coast only to inadvertently find ourselves amongst a nudist colony for elderly couples. It’s amazing how much interference you can run while trying to distract your children when you really need to.
Out on the town.
Ah, the excursions into small towns, exploring cosy nooks and crannies, sipping coffee in cafes, finding hidden gems whilst walking hand-in-hand. It doesn’t quite work out like that. We had a great time exploring with the kids (we found two dead mice in one town) and they love anything that’s foreign as it’s all new and exotic to them. Which is why we had to get the same type of crisps all week, as well as a specific brand of Spanish orange juice. Apparently nothing else came close. And they will always find ways of making you wish the earth would just open up and swallow you whole. We went to a local church and, once inside, we impressed upon our children the importance of not running around, or screaming, shouting or eating. And they held up brilliantly until they started asking questions: “Do you believe in God, daddy?”, “If Jesus was crucified how did he could he come back from the dead?”, “Is it true?”, “Are they just stories?”. I’m pretty sure the churchwarden had a perfect understanding of English and was looking for all the excuse he needed to drop kick us down the church steps.
Thanks to the aforementioned “kitchen” in the apartment you’ll want to be eating out at some point on the holiday. Let’s be clear on this, you are “that family”. You know the one, the family that have to constantly utter the threat of “there’ll be no dessert” through gritted teeth, the ones with the kids that don’t stop talking. Ever. But the kids seem to think they will eat out every night, despite the lies when you tell them that the hastily prepared pasta and cheese you have in your apartment is a local delicacy. Because you have a budget. That budget is about as solid as the promises the banks made before the economy went tits-up. You may want to keep it tight but ice cream, meals out, postcards, treats, key rings, tat souvenirs, parking, bottles of water, cereal and the mafiosi who run the resorts supermarkets all conspire to ensure this is the most expensive holiday you’ve ever been on. And beach toys. Because suddenly your kids want to play frisbee, cricket, rounders, tennis, football, volleyball, kabaddi and anything else that happens near a beach.
It’ll be you lugging all the gear from apartment to car to beach and back again. Just to repeat it the next day and the next, like Sisyphus and that rock.
Solving the Syrian crisis on a Family Holiday.
Your kids will have a great time, and so will you, but they will run you ragged. Like conspirators to a grand plot, they must have had discussions before the holiday (and they probably asked their mates for advice). It works like this: one child will be the most hyper child in existence, whilst the other is the personification of angelic obedience and calm. You’ll eventually solve the puzzle of why Child A is upset/hyper/hungry/tired/bored and as soon as they are placated Child B will start acting up. And on it goes. For the entire holiday. At the end of a week away, your negotiation skills will be so honed that you could single-handedly solve the Syrian crisis.
And then there’s bedtime.
You put the first night down to excitement. They go to bed late despite looking like extras from The Walking Dead (“I’m not tired!”). Day 2, you laugh with your partner as the kids keep wandering into the living room with excuses as to why they don’t need to go to bed yet (“I’m not tired”, “I want to read”, “Can I do some colouring”). Day 3, you start to realise something is wrong. Your kids are fighting a secret war. Their goal is to ensure you and your other half can’t have any time together. You start uttering common phrases such as “This is mummy and daddy’s time”, “We’ve had you all day”, “You’ll be tired tomorrow”, “Time for bed”, “I mean it”, “Will you go to sleep”, “Just go to sleep”, “Please go to sleep”. And before you know it, you’ve surrendered your double bed to your kids so they can snuggle with mum and you’re left sleeping in a child’s single bed alone.
Employment opportunities at Abu-Ghraib.
Now don’t go thinking all those late nights means you get a lie-in. Oh no, the little grifters are up at the crack of dawn demanding your complete attention. You’d better hope you packed some games, crafts, or electronic devices to entertain them. And then there’s the noise. If one of you is having a lie-in you can guarantee the kids will decide to make their own version of ten-pin bowling with the football you bought at the beach and all the empty water bottles you’ve gone through. And they’ll play it right outside the bedroom door. I think both Guantanamo Bay and Abu-Ghraib are staffed, not by soldiers, but by packs of 5-7 years olds who think they’re on holiday.
A New York minute.
And then suddenly the family holiday is over. Like that, it’s gone and you’re on the plane back home, the kids are asleep in the car and you transfer them into their own beds. You’ll unpack the bags and it’s back to reality. Maybe a week later one of you will pick up a shoe and the sand from one of the gorgeous beaches you visited will pour onto the floor and you’ll use it as an excuse to look at all the photos you took and remember all the wonderful things about taking your children abroad to take in new experiences and cultures. And you’ll have created new family stories, which is why I love having children so that I can spend time with them and we can teach each other new things. Because it’s all worth it, and you’re already planning next year.
So what are your top tips for surviving family holiday hell with your small people?