Summer holiday season is upon us. Magazines are bursting with features on how to achieve the perfect bikini body, select the best beach read and pack a chic capsule wardrobe. But these fun, frivolous concerns seem like a distant memory to mothers with small children about to embark on a week in the sun. Like most parents, I spend the fortnight leading up to a holiday regularly jolting awake at 3am in order to do a mental run-through of the number of Ella's pouches to pack, the contents of the first aid kit and when and how the baby will nap on the 10-hour journey to our destination.
I have friends who've returned from family holidays abroad so stressed that they've vowed not to leave the UK with their tiny tots for the foreseeable future. But do we really need to turn the idea of travel with little ones into such a big deal? As we gear up to our Brittany holiday on the ferry with one wonderfully feisty 3 year-old and a perma-teething 1 year-old I've tried to think about the best ways to make it enjoyment not endurance.
To start with there are the obvious military-style preparations to make things run smoothly. Ensuring you're always well-armed with snacks, hats, favourite cuddly toys and colouring books. Researching suitable excursions, choosing family friendly accommodation and packing the right kit for every conceivable activity and weather condition. So far, so predictable.
But logistics and sensible planning aside, it seems to me that the real secret to family travel success is attitude. And it starts with expectations. Accepting that you're not actually going on 'holiday' in any (seriously, any) pre-kids sense of the word is half the battle. What you are doing is going on an adventure - anticipate it in the same way you would an expedition to climb Kilimanjaro. It's an exciting challenge for which you'll need energy, resourcefulness and hidden reserves of strength but if it goes well there'll be an amazing sense of bonding and shared achievement.
A healthy dose of perspective and humour is important too, real-life doesn't look like a Boden beach shoot and inevitably there will be at least two vomiting incidents and someone (probably a grown up) will have a tired tantrum at the top of a mountain beauty spot. Our first holiday as a family of four coincided with the baby's 'four-month sleep regression' and toilet training for the toddler. We staggered around swigging coffee in a sleep-deprived haze having to stop every 10 minutes to frantically fish out the porta potty and dart behind a tree with our 2 year-old. Relaxing and glamorous it definitely wasn't, but I have incredibly fond memories of that surreal week away as we found our feet as parents of two.
And that's the whole point of family holidays. These are the trips we'll reminisce about in years to come and any minor calamity is just a funny anecdote that our kids will love to hear about when they're fully grown. Amongst the general chaos there will always be those magical, unexpected and unforgettable moments that only happen when you're away from the cosy, familiarity of home. The happy memories we make on holiday can bring joy and comfort for a lifetime.
One day we'll be able to lounge about on holiday, uninterrupted and sipping margaritas, so we should cherish the happy mayhem with our little ones while it lasts. And if tensions really start running high, putting some music on, ordering ice-creams and pouring a large glass of wine is always the answer.
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