Welcome to Happily Ever After with me, Hannah Harvey. Today I bring you a podcast that no one asked me for - my tips on travelling with kids!
I’m no expert in travel. Or kids. Or anything really. I did get a first class degree in Civil Engineering 100 years ago so I doubt anyone would consider me an expert in that so my skills mainly get used for lego, sandcastle related activities or epic train tracks. Kids love me. As long as they don’t mess up my creations.
But I’m bringing you my tips anyway as I have just got back from a holiday abroad with my kids. And it was a resounding success!
This is the first holiday we’ve been on since 2020 involving an aeroplane. It’s also my first solo-parenting trip and I have to admit, I booked it with total trepidation! Which meant, when we got back and I’d had the best time I ever … I then felt guilty for not being more excited about the holiday in the first place. Good old Mum Guilt which I know lots of you experience! Which brings me nicely onto my first point.
1. Feel what you feel about this holiday -
It is perfectly natural to not look forward to or feel nervous or anxious about going away with your kids. They say don’t work with animals or children for a reason - they are unpredictable! Before you’ve even got there, a day of travelling is daunting, you don’t know what’s going to happen, if one of them is going to have a meltdown, if you’ve brought enough entertainment, etc. etc. it is draining trying to think of all the things you need, all the things that may go wrong - so ditch any mum guilt you might feel about not looking forward to your holiday! Feelings are temporary and it’s only with hindsight and some forgetfulness that you can say, “oh my god I had the best time, that was great!” Hindsight is a know-it-all dickhead. Feel what you feel, it’s totally fine, it doesn’t make you a bad person.
2. Invite a friend!
After I booked our holiday I was telling my friend, another mum from Reuben’s class, about our trip and she sounded very interested. So I jumped on her enthusiasm and invited her to come with us, and she said yes! It was wonderful for me particularly as my two are very different ages, there’s 6 years between them. It was great to have another pal for Reuben to play with and, of course, another pair of eyes (and hands) for Nancy who will be 4 soon to keep watch at the pool. But overall it was lovely to spend some time with them in the sun - we became the Lanzarote Family.
Mealtimes were a particular highlight for me - we managed to ditch the devices and have some really good chats and belly laughs. It felt very wholesome. Family mealtimes are what I miss the most and I hadn’t realise I missed that as a single mum.
3. Bring stuff for the flight - sweets, ipads, switches, colouring in, little toys, magazines, books - anything to get you through. If you think you’ve brought enough, bring a few extra things just in case.
I have always made up little packs that I can produce when times get desperate - they have felt tips in, little toys, some stickers, a little pack of sweets (or something healthier than that) and, in this case, some jewellery tat for Nancy. There were a couple of times on the flight out where she was kind of losing her rag and a bit bored and having these little packs was brilliant.
I was very nervous that Reuben would be bored to tears as his ipad broke just before we left and I thought ‘what’s he going to do for four and a half hours on a flight?!’ but he had his Switch and he sat with his friend so the two of them kept each other entertained on the way out. So actually they were totally fine.
The flight back was a different kettle of fish - it was just us as our friends got a different flight back but we were all so chilled and relaxed from the holiday it was the easiest 4 hours ever. The kids shared Nancy’s ipad and watched things together, Reuben read a book, an actual book!, and he played on his switch. And when his switch ran out of battery, he then went back to reading his book! It was magical, honestly.
4. Expect trouble at the start - transitioning from not having the kids to then having them is always a bit of a struggle for me. It’s the change, I don’t know. You go from calm, quiet, just looking after your own needs to total mayhem. And lots of demands on your time and lots of decisions to make which I find quite exhausting and like something I have to get used to again.
It’s also the time they are most likely to have a meltdown, because they can’t fully express how they feel and it’s weird going from Dad to Mum and they miss their Dad, etc. so this can play out in tantrums or tricky behaviour. I feel like you’ve got to expect this and I always do. You’ve just got to take breaths and try not to get too stuck in it feeling like it’s always going to be like this because it isn’t, things do calm down and as long as you’re calm, they’ll feed off that as well.
Which brings me to number 5 which is all about me really..
5. Chill the beans - this goes hand in hand with point 1 and feel what you feel. And I tell you this because I know some of you value it when I speak the truth about what I feel, it’s real and it was how I felt but … it took me a day to settle into the hellish place that was our resort. I was like, what was I thinking this place is awful. That’s terrible isn’t it.
But once I had slowed down, once we had slowed down as a family, I could appreciate that we were together and how much fun my kids were having. By the second day once I’d chilled the hell out I then loved the place with its freezing pool and terrible music and noisy entertainment and pretty average pudding station and the fact my kids mainly ate chips … but I could appreciate it all and enjoy myself!
But yeah, took a day or two to get there.
6. Make life as easy as you possibly can for yourself - this may involve throwing the rulebook out the window a bit.
Do what works for you and your kids so that you can enjoy it as well. There’s no point in going… well there is! There’s a lot of point in going away to spend time with your kids away from the grind of life and the week. Getting kids to whatever clubs and thinking about school shoes and washing up and all that stuff but it can feel a bit like it’s just for them but it’s also so that you can enjoy it so my requirement for this holiday was to find the cheapest place that was all inclusive that had a kids club because then that covered all the bases. All our meals were made for us, there was a choice there so there was something that my kids would eat even if it was a cucumber with some ice cream and a couple of chips. Our room was tidied for us, not that often, it could have been done a few more times but it was simple. Apart from throwing a ball 1000 times for Reuben watching Nancy jump in a pool, and we did a few day trips. I really enjoyed, my life was as simple as it could be so that I could enjoy myself and I could relax.
7. Expect zero alone time or even a chance to sit down - then if you get it, you’re pleasantly surprised.
To be fair, if I had wanted some alone time, I could have had it. And I was tempted to get a full body massage at one point! But once we had arrived and I had stopped feeling like I hated the place, I didn’t end up using the kids club for Nancy because we were having a lovely time.
It was great to have our Lanzarote Family there to play with and Reuben is old enough to watch Nancy for 5 mins if I need to loo or something.
I also knew that if I had had some alone time, I would have used it to work or beat myself up that I wasn’t working and it became really obvious that I really needed to not work, I wanted to play and enjoy my kids.
But also my bum barely saw a sun lounger so if you need some time to relax and lie in the sun, be sure to organise it! Make sure the option is there and get the kids club.
8. Go to bed when your kids do
This is my rule for life anyway. I have always been very good at going to bed when my kids do. It’s tiring having the kids on my own and I know they’re going to be up early. To be honest we were going to bed quite late anyway because you do on holiday don’t you and we were directly above the entertainment. So we felt at times like someone was doing karaoke next to my bed which was nice. But I just put on the AC for a bit of white noise and everyone just went to bed, it was fine. But we’d all just go to bed at the same time about 9/9:30. I read a book every night for maybe 30 minutes but in general I was exhausted from playing all day. And no one likes a tired, grumpy mum, so zeds were essential on holiday.
9. Embrace the routine
One of my favourite things on a holiday like this is when you fall into a routine. It sounds really boring. Breakfast at 8, pool at 9, snacks at 10:30, I love it - to me it’s a sign of a good holiday when you’ve fallen into a nice, chilled routine.
10. Embrace repetition and keep your goals small
Finally, in the same vane as above, small goals and repetition are the key to me being able to relax. And I could see it in the kids too - they’re like, what’s on the agenda today, oh yeah, eat, play and sleep!
There’s a reason babies like a routine, it provides structure and it’s reassuring, so for me and my monkey brain and all humans whether you’re a mum or not - when you’re in life mode you’re busy thinking all he time and making decisions and ‘when do i need to do that thing for’ and deadlines and for me and that busy part of my brain, it just loves to know what’s happening next and that pretty much all decisions, aside from what to eat at the buffet, have been taken care of.
SO those are my tips for travelling with kids and, really I guess, how to enjoy your holiday with them. Because, honestly, that isn’t a given. Just because we’re on holiday doesn’t automatically mean it’s going to be fun for the parents. Often we’re doing the same thing as at home but with no childcare. And that’s when the ‘shoulds’ come. I should be enjoying myself. I should be relishing the time away, blah blah. It’s not always easy!
So to recap, these are my tips for enjoying your holiday with your children.
1. Feel what you feel about the holiday and don’t beat yourself up for it
2. Invite a friend if you can
3. Bring stuff for the flight, whatever you brought bring another little extra secret thing as your back up. You can always use it on the flight home.
4. Expect trouble at the start, everybody is over excited, it’s just going to happen.
5. Chill YOUR beans. Like I say, expect trouble at the start, feel what you feel and then just relax into it.
6. make life as easy as you possible can for yourself. I give you permission forthwith to do this.
7. Expect zero alone time or even the chance to sit down but make sure you make time for alone time if you actually want it.
8. Go to bed when your kids go to bed
9. Embrace the routine, embrace repetition and keep your goals small.
There you go, have a lovely week! My brother lives in Japan and obviously that’s a very long flight so if you have any tips for travelling long haul with children please do let me know!