Sometimes, when I stare at mountains of dirty washing or food flung all over the kitchen, I am guilty of wishing away the baby and toddler years. Oh, to be free of nappies, broken sleep and tantrums. However, I remind myself at these moments to be patient and enjoy all of the rewarding aspects of these precious years as they are gone all too quickly. As a travel agent, I often had parents enquiring about expensive, adventurous or far flung holidays for their young brood as they couldn’t bear another British summer of sandcastles in the rain. But these simple holidays offer beautiful experiences as well as mucky and infuriating ones, just like parenthood does.
We are staying in the UK this year as we fancy keeping holiday stress and hassle to a minimum while our boys are at an age (4 and 2) when they have an incredible amount of energy which, perhaps, is best spent close to home. I’m as guilty as the next parent of dreaming about exciting holidays to places more distant than the south coast of England; camping trips across Europe, a Greek villa with far-reaching sea views, magical drives through California and so forth. Every time I pick up an atlas with my four year old I get excited about all the amazing places I want to experience with him. Indeed, last year we took advantage of our final pre-school holiday, travelling to the Costa Brava in Spain. Looking back, we had a lovely time and the boys had some wonderful experiences. I helped my older son make a scrap book of holiday highlights, it felt like a pretty educational trip as well as a fun one. However, it was tiring looking after the boys in a new environment and we didn’t have much “down time” as parents as the children were going to bed later than usual and they were full of energy during the day.
When I consider my own childhood holidays, I remember the joys of incredibly simple pleasures; building sandcastles in Wales, staying on a farm in Devon, taking the chairlift over the Needles on the Isle of Wight. Indeed, when my second son was three months old, we headed to Norfolk for a few days and had a lovely holiday playing on the beach, watching crabbers in Cromer and giving our older child his first deep fried donut on the pier. My son loved every one of these experiences and we loved them too. We were fortunate with the weather but even when the weather is average, children can still build sandcastles (I have photos of my boys playing in the sand in August last year with coats over their swimsuits) and adults can still enjoy posh pub lunches and some nice booze once the kids are in bed.
Family travel is very expensive and it can be very stressful and exhausting. Many of us are fortunate to be able to afford several holidays a year but often we choose the wrong type of trip which doesn’t suit the current makeup of the various family members. It is a fraught area particularly when parents work hard and desire a break from their routine. Winter sun in the Caribbean; skiing in Europe; driving through France to reach some warm weather in the summer; they all sound appealing but taking young children on a long journey or away from their and your own creature comforts, and gambling a considerable amount of time and money to achieve the perfect family holiday can end up being anything but relaxing. Of course, plenty of families do manage successful and exciting trips with little children but for some parents many early family holidays are viewed afterwards through rather rose-tinted glasses.
We’ve definitely slowed down our travels since our second child arrived. I’ve come to realise (rather belatedly) that holidaying with two young children is very different to holidaying with one. Quite often the idea or planning part of a holiday can be more romantic than the execution of it. In the first two years of his life, my older son visited Spain, France (twice), Italy and Portugal as well as numerous UK trips. We travelled fairly similarly with him to how we had done pre-kids. But with two (or more) children, travel does become more complicated. There is another opinion to consider, another appetite to feed, another little being to look after near the pool or at the beach.
So, although I am frequently distracted by enticing travel ideas, I am going to endeavour to stay in the UK this year and enjoy the simple pleasures of toddler holidays. In no time at all I will be begging my boys to come on holiday with us while they are enticed by friends to take independent adventures. Although I am weak-willed when it comes to travel, I hope I can hold off on more epic trips with my boys until they are a bit older. Holidays should grow up with us just as our children do.