Since we had our first child nearly nine years ago, our holidays have changed.
We’ve had some OK holidays, some mildly enjoyable holidays and some downright shockers.
Big fat duds.
One memorable local holiday six years ago, I stacked our car into a tree as I reversed out of the driveway, had a relapse of tonsilitis, our then toddler had the worst asthma he has ever had and our then baby decided to start waking up at 4am instead of 6am every morning.
In spite of some of our lousy holidays early on, Mr SnS and I were determined to battle through and find the magic destination, ages of our children, time of year, whatever that would make our holidays actually enjoyable and restful. Fanciful I know, but like many of us, before we had children we had some great adventures and loved travelling. We knew having a family would change this and change it, it sure has.
I would have loved to have had access to the wisdom and experience of someone with older kids when I was starting to work out this whole holiday with kids thing. I had absolutely no idea how to approach it and our first attempts were not overly successful. As it was, I had close friends with children a year or so older and we all madly gathered and exchanged whatever intel we could – places that were great for kids, whether that be the destination itself or the accommodation.
So that’s what inspired me to write a series of posts about How to Holiday with Kids. In this first post I’m covering how our holidays have changed depending on the number of kids we have had. Then, in subsequent posts I’ll cover some of our favourite destinations locally, within Australia and overseas.
My credententials? Well, I’m not a travel agent (although my Mum is) or a guru by any stretch but we have travelled locally, interstate and overseas with one, two and three children.
Just a bit of housekeeping/disclaimers before I launch in. Firstly, we have three healthy children and no allergies/medical conditions (besides our eldest having had asthma and the occasional bout of croup when he was younger).
We’ve also been able to use Frequent Flyer points (accumulated mainly by Mr SnS’s business travel) to cover our international airfares on several occasions which has made some of our holidays possible. Another time we managed to find an unbelievable deal for our flights, memorably 5 return airfares to Fiji for $1800 snapped up in a Boxing Day sale 2 years ago.
I also acknowledge straight up that going on holidays is not possible or achievable for everyone unfortunately for a whole host of reasons (financially, if you’re running your own business, commitment to caring for family members, health etc). So if, like me, you have a choice when it comes to where and how you holiday with kids – that in and of itself is a big win.
So housekeeping aside, this post is designed to help you work out how to approach holidays depending on the size of your family and if you are planning to have more kids and wondering how this might affect your holidays.
1. With One Child
It might not feel like it at the time, but I reckon the world is your oyster with one child.
With a favourable ratio of two adults to one child, there is always someone who can take the baby/child out while the other parent has a sleep in, flakes out, hits the spa, gym or shops.
In the early days, this ratio is also conducive to one parent holding the baby while the other manoeuvres the luggage and check ins at the airport/accommodation or even simple things like paying at supermarkets and restaurants.
In the relatively brief time we had one child (our eldest children are 23 months apart in age), we tried a few different styles of holidays: we spent a week in Sorrento, a Victorian coastal town when he was 6 months old; travelled to the US/Canada for a month when he was 9 months old as Mr SnS had meetings and conferences; and then on to Palm Cove, Qld when we were pregnant with #2 and he was 16 months old.
Travelling with one child is manageable but how enjoyable it is depends on their age and personality.
In our experience, the window when they are not newborns (and feeding/sleeping is established) but before they are walking is a good time to travel – they are also hopefully still having two or three day sleeps which can be great for times of transit (if they sleep in strollers, on planes etc).
The Baby Bjorn plus our Maclaren stroller gave us more options when cruising around NYC
Walking around NYC with our ten month old happy in his stroller (Sex and The City fans might recognise this playground).
In a NYC taxi with our ten month old
Having lunch at the cafe in The Museum of Modern Art, NYC with our ten month old
Of the three holidays we took with our first child, our trip to the US/Canada when he was 9 – 10 months old was by far the best. Our son was happy to sleep in the stroller for his morning sleep while we visited museums and monuments but we made sure we went back to the apartment early afternoon for his afternoon sleep each day so he had a nice long sleep so he could cope with dinner out most nights.
Not spending all day out exploring meant we saw less of each city but we did factor this and stay longer in places like NYC where we stayed ten nights. Travelling with a little one was tiring for us too so we appreciated the downtime although because we stayed in central locations, one of us could always duck out during his sleep time. He even slept ten of the fourteen hours of the flight home from LA to Melbourne too, although keeping him occupied for those four hours he was awake was no picnic!
In contrast, travelling when he was 16 months old to Palm Cove, a relatively short three hour flight away, was hard going. He was a busy little guy (nicknamed Forrest Gump for his propensity to run/abscond) and our resort holiday was exhausting. He wouldn’t play at the water’s edge and for us to spend any time by the pool involved one of us in the pool with him at all times. None of this sitting on the banana lounge business while our toddler plays safely and happily on the sand at the water’s edge (our second and third sons have been great at this though thank goodness).
At Peppers Beach Resort, Palm Cove with our 16 month old Forrest Gump
In retrospect, we should have sat that holiday out (and saved the cash) although friends with non absconding toddlers managed relatively enjoyable holidays at this stage.
If you have ambitions of travelling overseas like you did pre kids, travelling with one child is the time to do it. We’ve travelled overseas since, but until recently, we have not contemplated anything more adventurous than an overseas resort holiday (in Bali and Fiji) with more than one child. Other families may be more adventurous though of course.
I’ve observed that friends with one child have been able to travel pretty much anywhere and this has become even easier the older the child has become.
2. With Two Children
Having our second child really put the breaks on our holidays.
I attribute this to a couple of factors – firstly our second son is the only baby I’ve ever known who refused to sleep in transit – in strollers or in cars. He would only sleep in his cot, even as a newborn. It was incredible! Secondly, our toddler was very busy and we were pretty freaking exhausted in general. I was basically pregnant and breastfeeding on and off for four years.
We went on one local holiday (the disaster detailed above) and that was enough for me for quite some time. We eventually mustered up the courage to head up to Mooloolaba (below) on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast when they were 3 and 1 on the recommendation of friends who raved about it and had children of similar ages.
Mooloolaba aged 3 and 1
That holiday was OK but still pretty hard going. The lack of daylight savings killed us (it was November). Our toddler came into our bedroom at 4.15am on the first morning and told us he was awake for the day. The latest our kids slept in to for the entire holiday was 5.45am. Day sleeps for the baby were tricky as we only had a two bedroom apartment and we had to entertain our toddler (quietly!) in the small apartment. Eventually we just started going to bed super early ourselves but I worked out that over the course of the week’s holiday we had ten hours less sleep than if we’d stayed home – a major factor when you are already exhausted and pretty much the opposite of what you’d get at the Golden Door Retreat for about the same price!
We finally cracked our first “successful” holiday with two children when they were just over 4 and 2. We spent a couple of weeks between Bris Vegas and Broadbeach (on the Gold Coast) and finally managed some downtime, partly because my Mum travelled with us and took them regularly for “sleep overs” in her apartment. The fantastic playground at Broadbeach (adjacent to the beach), a few half day visits to Sea World and Movie World interspersed with plays at the beach were just about right. Mr SnS and I took turns to head out during their rest/sleep times every day – I did a bit of shopping and had some downtime on the alternate days so we both had some time out. We were also able to eat out happily as a family (provided we could find a place that opened at 5pm) and all in all, we felt optimistic. Even hopeful!
The success of this holiday gave us the guts to contemplate an overseas holiday before we had baby #3. So, we booked a holiday the following April to Singapore and Bin Tan Island, Indonesia when I was at the end of my second trimester and our boys were almost 5 and 3. It was supposed to be our last overseas holiday with kids for some time. We all had an absolutely brilliant time.
At the awesome Singapore Zoo
The plane trip was the longest we’d attempted with two children (6 – 7 hours) but the kids managed the airports and flights well. The only coming undone was our night flight on the way home. We left Singapore around 9pm and got the kids to sleep OK on the flight but with all the service shenanigans (supper and a few hours later breakfast), the lights were only turned off in the cabin for about 3 hours overnight. We landed around 5am Australian time but 3am Singapore time (our body clock time) and our toddler completely lost it as we waited for our luggage. I would avoid this night flight home if possible in future and strongly advise others to do the same!
If we hadn’t gone on to have our third child, I think once they hit 5 and 7, we’d have been prepared to take our two boys pretty much anywhere, provided there were plenty of slow days or resort time in amongst the busier, sightseeing days or tacked on to the end of a holiday.
3. With Three Children
We might be the exception here but since we’ve had our third child, we have found travelling in general much more achievable and we have had some fantastic holidays, including several overseas.
It has been astonishing. No duds either.
I think this is mostly because we have finally learned how to travel with kids. We’ve learned what they enjoy (simple things like parks, beaches, spending time with other kids and ice creams) and how we can give each other a break. That’s not to say every moment of every day has been fabulous or completely relaxing though. There are always crappy moments, tantrums, illness, shenanigans and the like on holidays, just as there are at home. However, at the end of the holiday we’ve been able to look at each other and say, “That was great”, “I’m really glad we did that” or the holy grail, “That was actually relaxing”.
In Fiji with our boys aged six, four and 1 years of age and our ancient Maclaren stroller which has served us well and travelled far and wide!
As well as weekends away with other families, since we’ve had our third child, we’ve travelled overseas every year: to Fiji when our baby was turning 1 and then again when he was two. Last year, we went to Bali when he was turning 3. We’ve also recently spent time in Palm Cove which was fab this time around.
Now our baby is out of nappies and can get by without a day sleep, we feel like our travel options have increased significantly again. In a couple of months we are taking our family (my Mum is coming too) to the US for four weeks just before they turn 9, 7 and 4. It will be the first non resort holiday we have attempted but we’ve made sure we have long stops (minimum 2 nights, maximum 9 nights) at each of our four stops so they can unwind and we can have some slower days and manage some bigger days of sight seeing (hello Lego Land, Sea World, NYC and Disneyland).
4. With Four or More
Obviously we don’t have four or more children so I asked my fabulous friend Martine/The Modern Parent how she approaches travel with their five boys:
“I will premise this by saying I have children aged 14, 13, 11, 5 and 3. That means for a long time we have had at least 3 children who don’t require a lot of help feeding, clothing or toileting. I imagine those that have something a little more chaotic (such as 5 kids under 5) may have a very different experience with large family holidays.
On the whole therefore I think travelling with large numbers of kids comes down to the ages of the kids and for us, having 3 bigger boys and then a gap of 6 years before 2 more came along meant that holidays have become relatively easy for us. In saying that we have only got on a plane with the 5 kids with the added bonus of grandparents and an Aunty and Uncle. Having bigger brothers and a few cousins on holidays has meant that we have extra sets of eyes, extra people to do a toilet stop, wipe a nose, put on a shoe, pour a drink, hold a hand and generally entertain. I think this is the key to holidaying with large families. If you are going somewhere more challenging, ie on a plane, to a beach or somewhere that requires lots of walking, then certainly having ‘extras’ around to share the load is the way to go. It is for that reason that we haven’t ever made a lot of use of kids clubs and the like as we like to go with friends and family to create our own, but I know these can be a great option for those who holiday alone.
When it comes to road trips and more inexpensive holidays, I must admit I’m not an avid camper. In a recent holiday we hired a cabin for the parents and preschoolers and hired a site and tent next door so the bigger boys got a taste of camping life. Win win for everyone!
Whilst travelling with kids in large families can be somewhat hard work for parents I think it’s certainly something that can be enjoyable if you are prepared to be flexible about how you holiday, and of course, be prepared for the changes over the years. It is certainly worth the effort and I know our family holidays have provided so many fabulous memories for ourselves and our kids.”
Have you found holidays have changed since you’ve had children? Has it changed again as your family has grown? Have you had some shockers? Successes? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.