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Avoiding stress on a family holiday

Someone once said, that after moving house, going on a family was the most stressful event in our lives. That’s a patently ridiculous statement, but anyway going on holiday can prove ‘fractious’, so here are a few ideas on damage limitation. If you want a completely stress free holiday, send your kids on a different plane to a different destination.

Danny wasn't too happy when Tommy took a rest in his pushchair
Another happy holiday

Also if you have read the title of this post and think I have avoided stress (and shouting, tears, recriminations, sullen silences and revenge fantasies), then you’d be wrong. We have managed all of the above on holiday, and so my advice is more along the lines of do as I say, not as I do.

Build in kid free time

This may seem obvious and not always that easy to achieve, but even if it means going off on your own for a while your partner looks after the little ones then it recharges the batteries. Also if you can, ask around for babysitting and get away the two of you, or bring the mother-in-law, nan, friend, other family along with you for built-in babysitting.

Help came in the form of the owner of a Indian cardamon farm
Help came in the form of the owner of an Indian cardamon farm

Of course you can also flip the tortilla as it were and leave your partner in the peace and quiet of the holiday cottage, hotel room or tent and take the kids out, even if it’s only for a walk, it can give you some breathing space and time with the kids to do a bit of bonding.

Me and boys digging a Welsh Slate mine while mom put her feet up in front of the fire
Me and boys digging a Welsh Slate mine while mom put her feet up in front of the fire

Keep bedtimes 

It’s easy to let bedtime slip when you’re away. Don’t if you can help it, (at least not too much).

Do something nice in the evenings as a couple.

I know you’re thinking the obvious, but putting that to one side for a minute, you can make an effort to go out and find some local interesting food and cook up a storm. I remember doing things with lingon berries and smoked fish in Latvia that tasted better than it sounded. Or even go out to a restaurant you can’t/don’t want to take the kids to and get take away. I remember there was one particular Italian place on the beach in Same in Ecuador that gave us the full monty on proper plates etc. I would trudge over the sands when the kids where in bed and me and Lorena would eat on the tiny apartment balcony, then I’d go back in the morning with the plates. Either of these will make your partner remember that you are actually a couple that love each other rather than a combination of child minder and cashpoint.

Dad on cooking duty
Dad on cooking duty in Estonia

Buy a portable DVD player

iPads etc are great, but they can lead to more fights than they solve and are dependent on an internet connection for a lot of stuff. You can also buy cheap portable DVD players that come with a little TV screen, the kids can settle down to watch a movie when you have had enough of them running around screaming.

Go for houses with gardens when you can.

Hotels (at least the ones we can afford to stay in) are not kid friendly in the way that a house and garden are. The hotel might have a pool or play area, but you can’t just dump the kids there, but a garden means you can open the door and kick ’em out for a bit when things get on top of you. Also sharing a room with kids means that you are literally on top  of each other all the time and I don’t think it’s conducive to harmonious relations (of any kind :)) for more than a couple of nights.

A Tuscan garden can lose the kids for hours
A Tuscan garden can lose the kids for hours

Keep the travel time reasonable

Long flights are not the problem once the kids hit movie watching age. Ours were good as gold on a Qatar airways flight from Doha to Buenos Aires that took a gazillion hours. But if they are little or you are on  TV free flight (Air Serbia 5 hours and Sri Lankan Airways 5 hours spring to mind) then you will have your hands full, so take loads of stuff to keep them occupied. Oh and don’t forget if there are 4 of you there will be one seat away from the others. That can be the de-stress seat that can be rotated by parents as required.

Our second home for 3 weeks
Our second home for 3 weeks

When you get to your destination try to keep car hours down. We went a bit overboard in Argentina and travelled 4000km in 3 weeks. There were 7 of us in a people carrier and we had some humdingers on some days when we were driving 5 hours plus.

Having said that don’t be afraid to travel and if you are in a place likeSri Lanka make sure you have stuff to entertain them and you factor in plenty of breaks.

A final piece of advice.

Tomorrow is another day, so if you do find things are getting feisty, count to however many in takes and don’t take it to heart, it’s the holiday talking not you….

How to avoid family holiday stress

Someone once said, that after moving house, going on a family was the most stressful event in our lives. That’s a patently ridiculous statement, but anyway going on holiday can prove ‘fractious’, so here are a few ideas on damage limitation. If you want a completely stress free holiday, send your kids on a different plane to a different destination.

Danny wasn't too happy when Tommy took a rest in his pushchair
Another happy holiday

Also if you have read the title of this post and think I have avoided stress (and shouting, tears, recriminations, sullen silences and revenge fantasies), then you’d be wrong. We have managed all of the above on holiday, and so my advice is more along the lines of do as I say, not as I do.

Build in kid free time

This may seem obvious and not always that easy to achieve, but even if it means going off on your own for a while your partner looks after the little ones then it recharges the batteries. Also if you can, ask around for babysitting and get away the two of you, or bring the mother-in-law, nan, friend, other family along with you for built-in babysitting.

Help came in the form of the owner of a Indian cardamon farm
Help came in the form of the owner of a Indian cardamon farm

Of course you can also flip the tortilla as it were and leave your partner in the peace and quiet of the holiday cottage, hotel room or tent and take the kids out, even if it’s only for a walk, it can give you some breathing space and also gives you time with the kids to do a bit of bonding.

Me and boys digging a Welsh Slate mine while mom put her feet up in front of the fire
Me and boys digging a Welsh Slate mine while mom put her feet up in front of the fire

Keep bedtimes 

It’s easy to let bedtime slip when you’re away. Don’t if you can help it, (at least not too much).

Do something nice in the evenings as a couple.

I know you’re thinking the obvious, but putting that to one side for a minute, you can make an effort to go out and find some local interesting food and cook up a storm, I remember doing things with lingon berries and smoked fish in Latvia that tasted better than it sounded. Or even go out to a restaurant you can’t/don’t want to take the kids to and get take away. I remember there was one particular Italian place on the beach in Same in Ecuador that gave us the Full Monty on proper plates etc. I would trudge over the sands when the kids where in bed and me and Lorena would eat on the tiny apartment balcony, then I’d go back in the morning with the plates. Either of these will make your partner remember that you are actually a couple that love each other rather than a combination of child minder and cashpoint.

Dad on cooking duty
Dad on cooking duty in Estonia

Buy a portable DVD player

iPads etc are great, but they can lead to more fights than they solve and are dependent on an internet connection for a lot of stuff. You can also buy cheap portable DVD players that come with a little TV screen, the kids can settle down to watch a movie when you have had enough of them running around screaming.

Go for houses with gardens when you can.

Hotels (at least the ones we can afford to stay in) are not kid friendly in the way that a house and garden are. The hotel might have a pool or play area, but you can’t just dump the kids there, but a garden means you can open the door and kick ’em out for a bit when things get on top of you. Also sharing a room with kids means that you are literally on top  of each other all the time and I don’t think it’s conducive to harmonious relations (of any kind :)) for more than a couple of nights.

A Tuscan garden can lose the kids for hours
A Tuscan garden can lose the kids for hours

 

Keep the travel time reasonable

Long flights are not the problem once the kids hit movie watching age. Ours were good as gold on a Qatar airways flight from Doha to Buenos Aires that took a gazillion hours. But if they are little or you are on  TV free flight (Air Serbia 5 hours and Sri Lankan Airways 5 hours spring to mind) then you will have your hands full, so take loads of stuff to keep them occupied. Oh and don’t forget if there are 4 of you there will be one seat away from the others. That can be the de-stress seat that can be rotated by parents as required.

Our second home for 3 weeks
Our second home for 3 weeks

When you get to your destination try to keep car hours down. We went a bit overboard in Argentina and travelled 4000km in 3 weeks. There were 7 of us in a people carrier and we had some humdingers on some days when we were driving 5 hours plus.

Having said that don’t be afraid to travel and if you are in a place like Sri Lanka make sure you have stuff to entertain them and you factor in plenty of breaks.

A final piece of advice.

Tomorrow is another day, so if you do find things are getting feisty, count to however many in takes and don’t take it to heart, it’s the holiday talking not you….

What are the best countries for kids?

Nothing like a tantalizing and absolute sounding title for what is sure to be conjecture and un-researched opinion. Still not to be outdone by professional journalists I’ll carry on making it up as I go along and give the best places we have found for kids in our limited experience….

Where do they most like kids?

We have been to north, south, east and west and where they like kids is pretty easy to categorise, the further south you go the more they like them. So Sri Lanka gets a big thumbs up, as do Jordan and Ecuador. In fact just about anywhere is South Asia, the Middle East or South America we have been has been kids friendly. Of course kid friendly doesn’t mean kid facilities, it means they don’t look at kids like beings from an alien planet, get upset when the kids make a noise or a mess. What people in places like this tend to do is smile indulgently and clean up any incidental mess. Italy by the way has no kids, so it’s not so much that they don’t like them, it’s just that they’re not sure what they are.

kids being friendly to each other
kids being friendly to each other

Easiest place to get ad hoc babysitting

A general rule of thumb, the poorer the country the easier it is to get babysitting. A harsh but true economic reality that means in places like Nepal and Sri Lanka we were able to find babysitters who would sit with the kids for an hour or two while we ducked out for a while. In our experience it’s OK to ask and people are happy to do it. You’ll struggle to get a criminal records check and two references but you know what the middle aged working class women who normally step up to the plate for this kind of thing are a nice bunch. We found people by asking the ladies who clean the rooms in the hotels or at reception, or if we rented houses the women who came to clean. We never left the kids for more than an hour or two and always took the babysitter’s cel phone number (even in really poor places people have phones)…

Chandra was our cook and cleaner and took us out for the day to boot!
Chandra was our cook and cleaner and took us out for the day to boot!

Best place for cheap fun

For sheer variety of landscapes, each with its own version of cheap fun combined with a healthy disregard to health and safety the best place for cheap fun has to be Argentina. During the one holiday our boys went to a great zoo , played on free parks, had snow ball fights, went horse riding in the mountains, climbed trees, clambered over rocks, played lots of table football, saw dinosaurs, went on boating lakes, built fires, made mosaics, attended Gaucho festivals, did Condor spotting, pan pipe playing and rock collecting.

The cold was worth it to see this :)
The cold was worth it to see this 🙂

Argentina seems to be in that nice place between having rich country facilities (good zoos, open top bus tours and the like), combined with a population with not much money, meaning that everyone has to keep their prices down. This was not true everywhere (the zip wire park in Cordoba was around US$100 for 4 ‘kids’) but the museums and zoos were peanuts and of course other stuff was completely free. It’s also worth noting that in many of the kid places the sometimes expensive incidentals like the popcorn at the cinema, were also reasonably priced.

Most unforgettable experience for kids

No question, hands down the jungle. There must be loads of jungle spots but you would have to go a long way to beat Kapawi Lodge. Some people might worry about creepy crawlies and nasty diseases in the jungle, but if you’re going for a few days to an established spot, then you’re OK with insect repellent and mosquito nets.  We have never bothered with malaria medicine which seems to be an obsession with suburban GPs in the UK at least, the risk is minimal unless you’re spending days under canvas or going to one of the real malarial hotspots in Central Africa.

Anyway back to the fun stuff. The jungle is quite simply the best place for adventure. There is no traffic, no crappy tourist tat to buy (well maybe a bit), no decisions to make, just lots and lots of fun. This is our only holiday were there was no whining or complaining about not wanting to do stuff (the kids didn’t complain either). We were all keen to pull on our wellies in the morning and go off to look at trees and learn stuff as well as being happy to hang around the lodge during down time. The people were fantastic (the staff and the other guests) and couldn’t do enough to make the kids feel comfortable. The trip cost a fortune but it was the best loads of money we have ever spent.

Best place for introducing hiking

The jungle is fantastic, but it’s no place for a lot of walking, the terrain is just too difficult. So if you want to wean your smaller kids into the joys of hiking then it has be the wonderfully flat Baltic States. We have been to Latvia and Estonia (in one trip) and both had fairy tale woods, good summer walking weather and short driving times.

If I lived in Lincolnshire or Holland I probably wouldn't choose Viljnadi for a holiday, but coming from the desert this looked pretty good
If I lived in Lincolnshire or Holland I probably wouldn’t choose Viljnadi for a holiday, but coming from the desert this looked pretty good

Best city

That’s easy, the less cars, the better the city. London of course has wonderful places for kids like the museums, but if you’re there for a couple of days it’s simply too much to try and do it all. If you’re not worried about seeing everything then you can take the underground off peak and stick to some of the not-quite-so-packed options like the science museum and the Imperial War Museum. Personally I would avoid the likes of the London Eye and Madame Tussaud’s as they are expensive and really, really busy.

Staring down the barrel of a gun
Staring down the barrel of a gun

If you have smaller children, then go for a smaller city, places like Tallinn in Estonia, which has a pedestrianized area, green spaces and plenty of town walls to climb. You can also use Tallinn as a base to explore other parts of Estonia, given its size and lovely clear roads. You can also get a boat from Tallinn to Helsinki on a day trip, the kids can have a good run around on the boat and when you get to Helsinki it is also easy to maneuver with little ones.

Another pedestrianized town we visited was Bhaktapur in Nepal, where the kids can run around the temples without fear of getting run over (which is the case in most other places we visited in Nepal). Although it’s basically a suburb of Kathmandu, which is probably one of the world’s least kid friendly cities, Bhaktapur itself is fantastic as long as you don’t mind the kids running up and down lots of stone steps playing manhunt with local kids.

I kept expecting the kids to fall down the hole.
I kept expecting the kids to fall down the hole.

So what is the best country for kids?

Well the short answer is nowhere and everywhere. We have yet to find a place the kids haven’t enjoyed and different places have pluses and minuses. But one thing I can say is that kids are a lot more adaptable than adults and many of the places that you think are going to be too ‘difficult’ for kids, are often the places they most enjoy.