I know lots of people don’t see the point in taking young children travelling, but both Jared and I wholeheartedly disagree with this. We hope that exposing our children to different cultures, languages and tastes will leave a lasting impression on them, and we hope that their interest will grow as they get older. I think it’s really important to think outside yourself and the country you live in. I love that we learn as a family on holiday and that we get to experience new things together. Children also pick up on things that adults don’t and it’s amazing.
I have lots of vivid memories from holidays with my family (including getting my head stuck in a turnstile at the tender age of 3 in Majorca) but my most vivid one is from when my dad took me to Chichén Itzá in Mexico. I was 11 and a little girl was selling friendship bracelets. She must have been about 5 years old. Her feet and legs were filthy and she was persistent in following me. I remember feeling uncomfortable, concerned, upset and embarrassed. Uncomfortable that I couldn’t speak to her, concerned for her well being, upset that she may struggle to find food and embarrassed that I could so easily give her the money she was asking for. These are feelings I experience now and I feel grateful that my dad allowed me that experience, rather than protecting me from it.
A few years ago I wrote down a few travel tips, but things have changed slightly, as our family has grown:
Brace yourself – I knew that taking our boys on a sightseeing holiday to Italy would not be relaxing and I have to get in the correct mindset before we leave. I knew that we’d be on the go until bedtime and I have to make sure I’m in the mood to answer lots of questions, talk a lot and respond to them. On the other hand, taking the boys forces us to slow down, to allow more time and to be flexible with our plans, which I love. There are certainly a few occasions when we think “What are we doing? This is madness!” but they are short lived and absolutely worth it.
Pack light – Packing light is probably my number one tip for travelling with kids anywhere. I am more relaxed about the children wearing clothes multiple times on holiday, whereas at home, their clothes would go straight in the wash basket. This time I took underwear and socks for each day, but very few clothes – two trousers, three tops, two pairs of pyjamas, one pair of shoes, a hoodie and a raincoat. I also took a tiny bit of washing powder in case we needed it. I feel irritated if we return hope and something hasn’t been worn – I genuinely feel disappointed with myself!
Nap time / bed time – On a summer beach holiday we are more relaxed with bedtime. We may go out late and lie in. Let the kids nap and take them out in the evening. However, with a sightseeing holiday we are really strict about getting the boys in bed by 7pm. It’s essential to everybody having a good experience. Some peoples’ children are good on little sleep but our two eldest are not at all. We get the best out of them if they’re in bed early, and then Jared and I have the evening to sit in silence, read or have an early night.
Divide and conquer – Sometimes we find it best to split off into smaller groups so that we can move more efficiently. I will take Jasper and Ru, and Jared will take Winston and Otto. It just depends what we’re doing. We find knowing exactly who you’re responsible for can make things easier – especially on public transport.
Books, i-Pads, toys and pens – I always pack a few books, toy cars plus a notepad and pens each. I don’t tend to buy them anything new, but we do download a few films and games onto the i-Pad. They’re allowed i-Pads during flights and long journeys. We’re strict about when they can have it and they seem to be ok with it.
Buggy/baby carrier – To Italy we took a buggy, a carrier and a buggy board. At the beginning of the day Jasper always started on Jared in the baby carrier and Otto began in the buggy. Then by the end of the they’d all switched around many times depending on what we were doing.
Allow plenty of time – Jared and I are both people that try to cram too much in and end up being late, or just scraping by. If we can fit more in, then we like to, but having the boys with us makes us more organised and plan our time better. It is so stressful if you are running late to a flight and it’s amplified a million times more when you have a buggy, 3 boys, a baby, a rucksack and two suitcases trailing behind.
Snacks and water – We always travel with a few days worth of healthy snacks for the kids. This means that when they are tired, hungry and grumpy that we always have something to offer them until we find our bearings. Snacks like rice cakes, oat cakes, fruit and nut bars, nuts and raisins. We also take a refillable stainless steel water bottle to fill up as we go. I try to have at least a meal’s worth of food on us at all times, then you don’t have to stress about finding somewhere to buy food.
Ask your hosts for tips – What I love about Airbnb is that you get to live alongside locals and it’s brilliant. Hosts are so handy and always willing to give advice so use them. Our host in Milan was great and told us where to get the best gelato (it really was) and where to catch the airport express train from.
Flights – The boys are really good on flights and we never worry too much about this. The awkward age for flying is definitely between just walking and about 3. One and two year olds just want to be up and don’t have the concentration to watch a film, or do anything for a length of time. We try to book flights at a convenient time, but it’s not always possible.
So brace yourself and enjoy the madness of travelling with little ones!