There are times when I’ve thought as much. Let’s just say that when kids come along, it forces you to redefine your idea of “holiday”. When the girls were really little, I refused to call a holiday anything more than a “change of scenery” – to stop myself from getting silly ideas about relaxing/putting my feet up/having a lie-in….or anything of the sort.
It’s been a long time coming for us, but slowly and surely – proper, relaxing holidays are making a comeback! What A Revelation. Now the kids are 7 and 4, travelling with them is so much easier. We are better at handling them, and they are just, well…more grown up about things. They are far less fussy about food. They sleep peacefully for a predictable 10 hours and (more importantly) they can amuse themselves when they wake up. They can watch cartoons endlessly on the plane. During our recent holiday to Kota Kinabalu, they actually waved us off and ran in to join kids’ club activities. For the first time ever, they were both happy to be independent of us…and Daddy Chu and I hardly knew how to cope with the newfound freedom!
In the not-so-distant past, travelling with the little ones was stressful. Settling them into an unfamiliar environment could take the entire duration of the holiday. All they wanted to do was eat ice cream and chase the pigeons outside the gallery I’d always wanted to visit. And we’d often come back more exhausted than we were before we’d left.
So for several years we adopted a simple, child-friendly holiday formula that we could manage: park ourselves somewhere scenic and quiet for a week with lots of space for the kids to run around. We preferred to stay somewhere with a kitchen and a washing machine. And we didn’t really bother with visiting must-see landmarks, queuing to get into anything or having a holiday itinerary…for about five years. I guess we travelled for our own sake; the kids couldn’t have cared less whether we were at a playground in Italy or round the corner.
If you’re in the market for a slow-paced, child-friendly holiday in Europe, three of our favourite destinations are Île de Ré , Lucca and the Isle of Harris.
Île de Ré , France – less than 30 mins from La Rochelle airport. Picture postcard villages, excellent food markets and gorgeous beaches. Everyone cycles. La Rochelle has the best aquarium we’ve ever visited.
Lucca, Italy – 30 mins from Pisa airport. Beautiful medieval Tuscan town dotted with numerous playgrounds and ice-cream shops. Cycle along the top of its wide, tree-lined city walls to get around. Easy drives to Pisa and Florence. (But the kids did not enjoy Florence at all as it was ridiculously crowded).
Isle of Harris, Scotland – an hour from Stornaway airport if you’re heading for the south west coast. Stunning, breathtaking, endless coastline. Golf. Hardly anybody around. (Unreliable weather and summer midges are the only drawbacks to this paradise!)
And here are our top five tips for Holidaying with Little Ones:
Have an (evolving) holiday packing list
After our first couple of holidays-with-baby we realised we were always forgetting random necessities. Partly due to inexperience, partly because we always seemed to be packing last minute on little sleep. So now, every time we’re packing for a holiday, we just print out The List.
If in doubt, bring the buggy
It’s a lifesaver and I know people who have optimistically left the buggy behind…only to buy a new one halfway through the holiday. A really lightweight one helps.
If you really want to do sight-seeing, try travelling by bike
People who cycle regularly probably know this, but Daddy Chu and I don’t even own bikes. So we were amazed at how excited the girls were to tour a few towns and villages on two wheels as opposed to being in the car. Île de Ré and Lucca are perfect destinations for casual cyclists and the numerous bike rentals have lots of kid-friendly options. Child seats, trailers, tag-alongs, cargo bikes, family bikes…they loved them all! Pass them a couple of basic point and shoot cameras and you’re good to go for quite a while!
Bring a change of clothes…everywhere
Disaster strikes in the unlikeliest of places. A friend reminded us to bring a change of clothes for everybody (not just the kids!) after her daughter threw up all over her halfway through a long haul flight. On our most recent flight, Little Miss had us gritting our teeth for 15 minutes after she announced she desperately needed the loo just as our plane had commenced its descent. The air crew refused to let us use the bathroom but thankfully, she managed to hold it in!
Bring the grandparents
Ok – this doesn’t work for everybody for various reasons. But we’ve had several lovely holidays with the grandparents joining in, and when the kids are young, it’s always great to an extra pair of hands around!
As the girls get older, they are definitely getting more enthusiastic about exploring interesting places. And now that we’ve moved halfway across the world, the travel possibilities are all rather new and exciting. But you know, I think I might miss those simple holidays when all it took to enthrall them were a few hungry pigeons and a fistful of dandelions.