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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.

Featured

Packing for a holiday with kids

This is definitely a tricky scenario, you want to pack for all eventualities but as the kids are pretty useless at carrying much weight you have to resigned to carrying stuff for all of you.

There are of course a number of other factors, duration of stay, climate, age of the kids, so rather than provide an exhaustive list I’ll stick to sharing some of the mistakes and occasional good moves that we have made.

That bag's big enough for the 4 of us for a weekend
That bag’s big enough for the 4 of us for a weekend

1. Kids don’t mind wearing the same thing day in day out.

I remember on our first holidays we’d take clean clothes for every day before we realised that it was much easier to take enough for about 5 days and then just hand wash.

2. Noodles can save your life.

A little of your kids favourite freeze drive snack can save your bacon when you find yourself in the middle of nowhere with a hungry 5-year-old in tow. This does NOT mean take a suitcase full of food, two or three emergency rations is enough.

3. Sometimes there’s no soap.

Take hand sanitizer it can be a lot easier than trying to find soap at a Jordanian truck stop.

4. Take swapsy toys

if your kids have some old toy cars they don’t play with anymore then take them along to give to kids you meet, (unless you’re going on holiday to Monaco), it helps your kids see that not everyone has as much stuff as them and is a way to make friends.

5. Everywhere has toilet roll…

And tooth paste and soap and deodorant….you do NOT need to take enough toiletries for a month, yes it’s a good idea to stick a few napkins in your pockets when the opportunity arises, but to take (as I once saw a group on a flight to Ecuador do), multiple toilet rolls is completely barmy.

6. What about the gadgets?

On the plus side an iPad can keep ’em quiet for hours, on the negative side this is at the expense of looking out the window and realizing there is world out there. It’s a tough one  and for the first time this year we left all the electronics at home, and you know what? After a couple of days they stopped asking for them.

6. A stroller can also save your life

Even when the kids were too old to use a stroller at home we would take one with us on holiday. When you are doing a serious city tour they can take it turns to rest their weary bones. Of course if you’re going out to boondocks then don’t bother, there are no paths flat enough…

That stroller saved our bacon
That stroller saved our bacon

Kerala – Spring 2014

We went to stay in the hill country in Kerala (South India) for a week in Spring Break. We stayed at a friend’s place called Ela Blooms and the following post is basically and advert for why this is the perfect spot to introduce kids to the marvels of India without getting too hectic….we went with our next-door neighbours and their two girls who are about the same age as the boys. This made the holiday exponentially louder (4 kids make 10 times more noise than 2 kids, why is that?), BUT it also meant that that kids had loads of great adventures together and the parents got to take the piss out of each other’s bushcraft skills.

A rare shot of Ela Blooms without the kids running riot
A rare shot of Ela Blooms without the kids running riot

Before I forget the worst think about the holiday was getting the visa. The UK and India have a tit-for-tat let’s be as awkward as possible to each other and we paid more more for the visa than the flights. If you’re not from the UK though it’s all sweet.

Meet the neighbours and Peter our host
Meet the neighbours and Peter our host
We spent a lot of time in close quarters going to and from to the farm and the town in the back of the 4x4
We spent a lot of time in close quarters going to and from to the farm and the town in the back of the 4×4

From the Gulf, Kerala is only a few short hours away and certainly from the UAE there are plenty of budget airlines that fly there and indeed Air India is a good deal. This meant that with the great rates that Isaac and Peter gave us, a week set us back what a couple of nights in a soulless chain hotel in the Gulf would have cost. And when you do arrive in the airport Ela Blooms will send a car to pick you up for the two hour drive to the farm, so it really couldn’t be easier.

The Place

You can click on the link above for a more ordered description of Ela Blooms but essentially it is some pretty basic but comfortable huts/houses (something in the middle) up a mountain in Kerala

Is it a house? A hut? Who cares, he's the bedroom, spot Danny and Lilly being remarkably still.
Is it a house? A hut? Who cares, here’s the bedroom, spot Danny and Lilly being remarkably still.
See what I mean, it's not the farmer Giles type farm.
See what I mean, it’s not the farmer Giles type farm.

There is also a dining room in the farm for communal meals and sits out on the veranda for night watching a fire pit where we congregated at night  to swap lies.

If you like curry then this is the place you
If you like curry then this is the place for you

As well at the buildings, the farm has lots of plants (green ones), a tire swing (lots of use), cave house (didn’t really use it), pond (nothing biting) and lots of tracks to walk. Mind you they call it a farm, think less big agro-business and more ‘of those jungle plants that look completely random are actually cardamom are they?” It certainly took me a couple of days to realise this although I kept that to myself.

Tyre swinging time
Tyre swinging time
 A farm with a view
A farm with a view

Stuff to do

We did a lot in the week we were there, and the great thing was for much of it we didn’t leave the farm. Walking featured heavily, there was a lot of turn taking among the adults to take the kids to ‘the pond’ or the ‘cave’. Walking involved spotting elephant poo (though no elephants), trying to spot monkeys (typically I saw them on the last day as we were leaving) and collecting leaves and sticks to make “art”. There were lots of longer walks available but not for the kids, at least the smallest ones, but if you do have older kids then ask about these.

The pond dippers
The pond dippers

645

Also on the farm our hosts arranged for some drummers to come and do a ‘show’ for us. This was great, we did it around the campfire and all had a go at bashing the skins at the end. Again the drummers were as curious about us as we were about them and only their limited English and our non-existent  Malayalam, kept us from chatting into the night!

Fire, drums, men in skirts
Fire, drums, men in skirts
Tommy and young Keralan Elvis
Tommy and young Keralan Elvis

We also went down to the stream at the bottom of the farm for a swim, the resulting photos aren’t for the faint hearted I’m afraid, Tarzan we ain’t. Again this was trip about doing simple stuff that kids enjoy and this was a great example of that, why go to a water park when you’ve got a leech infested Indian stream? (Only kidding it wasn’t leach season).

The local swimming hole
The local swimming hole

Off farm we went to the local town for supplies. Meppadi town in the Wayanad district is less a one horse town. more a one cow town, but it does give you the chance to see what a one cow town looks like. When the gringo parade rolled into town we were the equivalent of the circus, but the stares were friendly and people were keen to engage with us which was cool. You can nip into the bakery for a roll or a coffee and you can have a crack at chewing beetle nut, but beyond that entertainment options are fairly limited.

The mean streets of Meppadi
The mean streets of Meppadi

We also went to visit another farm that belonged to some friends of our hosts. This was one of our most action packed days, we went rafting on a semi-submerged home made raft, did some tea picking, and practiced our bow and arrow skills. We were looked after by the farm owners and a local tribesman who showed us the bow and arrow stuff.

We also had some food outside before we headed back to Ela Blooms.The only complaint from the day was it was a long drive for the kids, and although it was worth it, we should have taken something to keep them entertained on the way.

The raft/Titanic
The raft/Titanic
Natural born killer
Natural born killer
You're only supposed to pick the tips
You’re only supposed to pick the tips

The people

We couldn’t have been better looked after if we had stayed in the Emirates Palace. There was Peter one of the farm owners who drove over from Banagalore to look after and hang out with us. Then there were another 4 staff members, a boss, a cook, a driver and cleaner. When we had a small medical emergency with one of the kids the driver took us down to the local hospital helped us do the needful as they say in this part of the world and bring us back. When we said we wanted to have something different to eat that was OK as long as we got into the kitchen to show cook how to prepare it, And when we wanted a break from the kids there was somebody to kick a football around with them.

No animals were harmed in the shooting of these catapults  (unless you count the kids). Peter thought of everything what a welcome gift!
No animals were harmed in the shooting of these catapults (unless you count the kids). Peter thought of everything what a welcome gift!

Their attentiveness was genuine and they helped us feel really at home, again the highlight of another trip.

Danny’s Kerala

I am a soldier. I   had a chrej   hunt i  got   eesdeegs

Translation = I am a soldier, I had a treasure hunt, I got Easter Eggs

I am a soldier
I am a soldier
Treasure hunt and Easter eggs
Treasure hunt and Easter eggs

Vacaciones en Kerala.

Cuando decidimos ir a Kerala pensé que sería una zona muy poblada, como las demás ciudades de la India, pero fue lo contrario porque Ella Blooms estaba en las montañas, en una finca de cardamomo, el viaje fue muy tranquilo, el fuerte olor a frescura y el paso por grandes bosques me impresiono mucho, incluso había animales como monos, aves a los lados de la carretera. El viaje de 15 minutos desde la carretera principal al hostal fue en jeep, por una carretera  empedrada y con muchos huecos; me trajo muchos recuerdos ya que en el pueblo donde crecí varias veces viajamos por carreteras de las mismas condiciones, fue divertido. Hicimos dos o tres caminatas en la finca, una de ellas fue a la visita de la casa cueva en una piedra gigante natural. Siempre estábamos acompañados de alguien ya que había tigres, elefantes por la zona. Tuvimos un poco de miedo y nos  dejamos a los chicos que fueran solos a ningún lado., aunque el hostal tenia un patio grande para jugar, carpas para acampar, un columpio y muchos palos para jugar.  El hostal era muy básico y la comida típica de la zona fue muy deliciosa, picante y fresca. El desayuno también era curry y la verdad no podíamos comerlo era muy temprano para picante pero igual lo comimos. Por suerte lleve cosas para picar para los chicos, ya que no comieron mucho solo arroz, fruta y pan.

Visitamos una plantación de té y cosechamos un poco, el propietario había construido una barca y nos dio un paseo por el rio, luego tuvimos un delicioso almuerzo en el patio de su casa, y para terminar una practica con lanzas y flechas, cosa que los chicos disfrutaron mucho. Una corta visita a un pueblo en donde compramos frutas, leche, etc. Al ser los únicos turistas llamamos mucho la atención por las calles, estas estaban llenas de tuc tus, carros, camiones, buses, vacas y muchas personas.

Disfrutamos mucho de estas vacaciones llena de naturaleza, y el personal del hostal fue muy amable en hacernos sentir a gusto.