As my followers will know, we have just completed our second annual holiday as parents, the first to include a commercial flight, and a long one at that! It’s daunting, so I’ve kept this blog simple as possible in case anyone wants to ‘pick at the bones’. As always, I’m hoping my experience will be useful to others.

Preparation

This takes longer than you think and seems to build as the holiday gets nearer. My biggest lesson here (and possibly the most important of all lessons I have learned surrounding ‘holidays’) is that if your child is a real live wire it’s definitely worth getting time on your own to pack. Husbands are generally not much help here (sorry guys), so if you don’t have a friend, a Mum or MIL to help, enrol Daddy Daycare. But make sure they take the children OUT of the house – this is key! What you can achieve alone compared with a house full is mind-blowing.

The Journey

OK, another hugely valuable lesson learned: I know and understand that telling kids about holidays or days out may get them over excited and lead to lack of sleep, butterflies in their tummies, etc., but I really didn’t think it would apply to a 22-month-old. I was very much mistaken. We only told Siena about our holiday a few days before we left and we didn’t make too much of a big deal about it, but the night before we were due to leave (we had 7am flight, so a 2:30am wake up) Siena struggled with her usual 7pm bedtime. We had to finish packing, my husband had to work and we were experiencing the usual last minute panic – I mean rush. Siena couldn’t sleep and in fact, unknown to us, was so wound up she was sick.

This added another dimension to our travel plans, not to mention a two hour clear up. Was she ill? Would she be OK to travel? I managed 2 hours sleep, my husband worked through until my alarm sounded. To calm her down we changed our story about going on an aeroplane to going to the park. We will never tell her about our travel plans again. Our next holiday flight will be totally ambush style. I’m such a fan of telling Siena what we will be doing, being open and honest, but this is definitely an exception to the rule. So, already nervous about 3 flights, one long haul, we began our journey feeling exhausted – not recommended!

That said, the following tips have been gathered by speaking to other mums (no substitute for that) and these tips resulted in the best journey we could have expected with our toddler. I did give her Calpol 20 minutes before take-off (maybe a little controversial), I took a bottle of milk for take-off, we took sticker books (some great ones about airports, planes and holidays), kids headphones, a favourite toy, comfy clothes, blanket, change of clothes, all the usual lotions and potions you would expect to take and an iPad loaded with Siena’s favourite movies and some apps (Note – it’s not necessarily a good time to introduce all new media. Kids love and know their favourites – even if we’re bored of them).

We booked the bulk head seats, but we knew Siena was too big for a bassinet and too small for her own seat – weird, I know. It is worth researching your airline with regard to their rules on children as it varies and to me some of these rules seemed strange at first. If you research a little you’ll know what to expect.

Packing

This is interesting. Here are my thoughts:

  • Pushchair – give careful consideration as to whether you will benefit from taking this. The pushchair was hardly used. It was checked in with the rest of our luggage so we couldn’t use it at the airports and didn’t miss it in the least. We only used it once whilst on holiday. Last year we took our iCandy, this year we took a stroller, next year we won’t take a pushchair at all. For us, it was an item of luggage that had a great holiday and was of virtually no use.
  • Luggage – Think about what you are taking and whether you can carry it all. We took 2 large cases on wheels, one cabin bag on wheels and a pushchair (that fit inside a case, which was great). This meant that we could easily manage our luggage, be within the weight and size limits and keep hold of our toddler, too. We packed for us all in the same luggage we used to take for just the two of us. This was a good move.
  • Hand Luggage – My husband and I discussed this so much before we left and I actually insisted on doing it ‘my way’, another good move. I wanted a small suitcase with wheels to hold spare bottles, clothes, medicine, iPads, etc, etc., but equally insisted that we take a small bag for the things we’d need to access regularly. My husband would have had all this in a clam shell style hard case on wheels. That would’ve meant that every time Siena needed a drink, snack, nappy change, toy, etc., (so roughly every 2 minutes), we would’ve had to lay the case down, unlock it, access the item, then put it away. Whilst on our travels my husband did admit I was right (!) and you do need a small ‘easy access bag’ as well as some kind of pilot case. But don’t be lulled into taking all the hand luggage you are allowed (with children you will be allowed more than if travelling alone). Remember, you still have to carry it!
  • Nappies – another great debate in the Redden household. Being the accountant geek that I am, I did sit down and calculate how many nappies I would need for the trip: large ones for night time and day time nappies, split between normal and swim nappies. Yes, half of one case was filled with nappies. Incidentally, I found it economical on space to keep unopened packs where possible as they are so tightly packaged they take up less room. My husband was very dubious about this decision and I wasn’t 100% convinced, but we went with it versus buying them when we arrive. The result? We travelled to a very small Caribbean island which had three shops that sold nappies, but it was totally random as to how many they had available to buy, in what size and – oh yes – there’s the price. So, due to where we were travelling, this decision was spot on. My calculations weren’t too bad, we started to run out the day before we left, which is when I discovered how difficult and expensive they were to buy.
  • Emergency supplies – it’s worth considering what to take depending on your destination. We took sun cream, baby mosquito repellent and every other baby medicine we could think of. As is often the case, we needed virtually nothing, but we will do exactly the same next year. On the plane home, a lady who had moved to the British Virgin Island was telling me that when Calpol is in stock in the shops there, mums contact each other and they all stock up as they don’t know when it will be available again. We’re not talking extremely remote here, just the Caribbean, but everything has to be flown in. So, if in doubt, pack it.

 

On Holiday

Truthfully, it’s all in the prep. If you get that right, there’s little to tell about the holiday itself, but here’s a few tips:

  • Locate a good car seat if you’re hiring a car. This took a couple of attempts before we were happy
  • The pushchair bag came in very useful as a beach bag: perfect size for parasol and beach mats
  • Siena got a little heat rash. We bought a homeopathic cream from a pharmacy and it cleared up very quickly
  • Mosquito net on baby cot highly recommended
  • Restricted air con and use of ceiling fans in the villa recommended. Siena coped better with the heat than us!
  • UV sun suits are great – Siena didn’t burn at all. I took swimming costumes, separate long sleeve top and trousers and an all in one short sleeve and knee length suit. Perfect combination; don’t leave the villa without a UV sun suit regardless of the weather!
  • Villa vs Hotel – obviously a personal choice, but after our second villa holiday with a baby we are totally in love with the villa route. No timescales, no interruptions, eat when and what you feel like. Baby goes to sleep in her room in her cot which allows you to sit outside and enjoy some adult time without actually leaving your child. Our villa and pool was as baby safe as it gets (research recommended) and it even came with a pool alarm which sounds if a beam is broken (could be controlled of course), which is great. We had pool toys, a potty, highchair; it was literally a home from home.
  • We had a few meals out, mainly lunches. After a couple of frantic evening meals with a tired little girl, one evening after finishing up from the pool, I fed Siena before we left the villa. The result was that she fell asleep in the car, was successfully transferred to her pushchair (OK, so it did come in handy) and peacefully slept whilst we ate a beautiful meal as adults. It’s a shame not to eat together, but this was such a treat we wished we had figured it out earlier in the holiday.
  • Time difference – other than the packing and prep, this was the most negative point of going on holiday. Siena took about 5 days to get used to Caribbean time. She woke up at 3am, came into our bed (which she never does at home) and then was up at 6am. This gradually got later and regulated at a happy 7:30ish. Coming home was much harder. It took over a week to leave Caribbean time. She would go to bed at 12:30 (having been up for 15 hours straight). I got her up at the usual time and limited any napping, which quickly went back to no naps, but it still took a long time to return to normal. This was tiring, as holidays with young children aren’t exactly completely relaxing. Admittedly, our daughter has some super powerful batteries, but even so – be warned of this, it caught me unaware. She also picked up a sickness bug just a few days after we got back so it may be worth keeping up the vitamins.

All in all, it was hard work – I will be reading this blog before taking our next holiday, as preparation is definitely key. But what a child learns on holiday is so valuable. I could not have given her these experiences at home. Just swimming with both parents every day is such a beautiful gift. She does remember her holiday and it has developed her little character and worldly experience already. I believe this to be true wherever your holiday destination. Holiday, family time and experiences are so precious – it’s worth all the effort.

Happy holidays!