Holidays with small children – a survival guide

We all know that holidays post-children bear very little resemblance to the holidays we enjoyed a few years ago, but if you approach them realistically then you will emerge smiling, even if not feeling particularly refreshed or relaxed. So here are my 10 tips to surviving holidays with small children:

1) Know your limits. I know, for example, that dealing with stressful situations is not one of my strong points and I’m pretty confident that flying with my children would tip me over the edge. Hopefully this won’t last forever, and there will come a time when the thought of spending a few hours in a confined space in the air with all my boys won’t fill me with dread, but for now, it is UK holidays for us.

2) Have realistic expectations. If you are going self catering and staying in this country, as we do, then essentially your holiday will be the same thing but in a different location… in some ways, slightly more stressful. Particularly on relentlessly rainy days when you have no idea of local rainy day things to do.

If you go with this in mind, you won’t be disappointed.

3) Accept that attempting to get all members of the family and luggage out of the house will be a truly hideous experience which will make you wonder whether this ‘holiday’ could possibly be worth the trauma. Once you’re on your way you can write it off. Just know that it will be a bad few hours.

4) Safety in numbers. We have applied this rule to holidays since the arrival of our twins three years ago and the last couple of years we have holidayed with another family. The children have loved it, the evenings are sociable, and it feels a bit less like the-same-thing-different-place when there are more of you around. This year we did things a little differently with one set of grandparents staying in their caravan a few miles up the road from us and a friend joining us for a few days in the middle. It worked perfectly – happy and busy, with plenty of excitement for the boys and enough adults to give me a boost when the meltdowns were getting too much.

5) Pack realistically, not optimistically. There is little point in checking the 5 day forecast if you are just going to ignore it. As I discovered, packing all your sundresses will not improve the forecast. There’s a reason we make a big fuss about heatwaves in the UK – they’re just not that common. Pack some woollies.

It was chilly. I was ill-prepared.

It was chilly. I was ill-prepared.

6) Remember that children are just as likely to get ill on holiday as they are at home. Pack the Calpol. We didn’t, which is a pain when you’re on a farm in rural Devon with a poorly child. I don’t know what I was thinking – my suitcase was clearly too full of sundresses.

7) When estimating your journey time, double it. Once you’ve factored in school holiday traffic (tortuous) and frequent toilet / food / leg stretching stops for children, this should be about right. Remember that your children will ask whether you’re there 10 minutes after leaving home, and approximately every 5 minutes thereafter.

Give up all hope of putting on any of your own music during the journey.

8) Choose easy-to-eat treats for the journey. This does not include jelly beans, unless you want to spend most of the journey trying to extract stuck bits from between children’s teeth.

9) The best days will be the days on which your children are not moaning and whining, so plan days out which they will enjoy. It probably won’t be a surprise to hear that pre-children I don’t think I would have chosen to visit the Devon Railway Centre, but this turned out to be one of the best days of our week. I have now realised that all I need to keep the boys amused and under control at home is a model railway, set up in a display cabinet so that it can’t be destroyed. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

If you are not a fan of noisy, manic and in-your-face children’s attractions then I would definitely recommend this place – it is lovely and old-fashioned with plenty for children to do. They even have footstools so little ones can see the model railways without needing to be lifted – there’s nothing they haven’t thought of.

You get the idea, it was a good day out – one which was planned with them in mind but which we all loved because of minimal whinging.

twigs and extinguisher

10) Accept that however many toys you pack, small children will always prefer light switches, doors, and fire extinguishers. Spend as much time out of your accommodation as possible. This little area on the right, for example, proved to be one of the main attractions for my boys – the combination of some branches, a vase and a fire extinguisher was just too tempting.

If it all sounds like hard work, that’s because it is hard work. Because every part of having children is hard work, including the ‘holidays’. But when you get home, despite the mounds of washing to get through and the suitcases that probably won’t be unpacked for weeks, you realise it was worth all the effort just for those special moments like seeing your children running around the beach in their pants. Or totally mesmerised by a model railway whilst standing on a precious footstool.

Model railway + footstools = joy

Model railway + footstools = joy

We stayed at the lovely Lower Hearson Farm near BarnstapleLower Hearson

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