I am writing this article as we are enjoying the latter part of a fabulous five-week family holiday to America, UK and Holland.
Since we moved to Sydney we had been planning to take the kids to the UK to meet extended family. This would be a very different holiday for the kids. They are used to camping trips, holiday houses by the beach and visiting relatives in New Zealand. Long plane trips, hotels and extended train rides would be a novelty. It would also be very different for my husband and I, the last time we visited Europe, we had leisurely lunches, shopped all day, took our time in art galleries and ate out really late. This would be a very different holiday indeed. What was that I was saying about being grateful?
I am what could be described as a control freak and it would be fair to say I had to let a lot go of a number of ideas in both the planning and during the actual holiday. You simply cannot keep all parties happy all of the time. We did however need a schedule. Winging it, was not going to be an option. We needed a mixture of activities for young and old and we needed to ensure as a family we had space for the kids to just be kids at times.
The first decision was when we would travel. Traveling to the UK, one can never expect to have good weather (apologies to my British family and friends, but this is a fact), however summer generally heralds warmer days. This was not to be for us, as my husband’s work meant spring or autumn Australian school holidays were our only options. There are however a number of perks to traveling off season namely less queues and congestion, which is a bonus when traveling with young kids.
The second decision was where to go on route. We needed to primarily be in the UK, then Holland. I had a good friend in LA, and family in Auckland, New Zealand, therefore the route was obvious. Not as reasonable, but obvious. This then lead to the choice of airlines. If cost is your number one priority, then sites such as www.webjet.com.au, www.compareandfly.com ,and www.kayak.co.uk are brilliant to find the best rates. My preference is always to fly Air New Zealand, because they have such great service on board.
The itinerary: April 2016 Sydney – LA – London – LA – Auckland – Sydney with an EasyJet cheap flight over to Amsterdam in the middle of the trip to see my 97 year old aunt.
To manage the daily itinerary, which involved meeting up with my husband’s family, I needed a conflict free way to get decisions made and agreement from him. Not always the easiest thing when he is seldom home from work prior to me falling over in a heap from exhaustion after running after two young boys all day. Printing off a sheet with the entire month of April and May by day on it, armed with a pencil, one Saturday afternoon we managed to get the basic plan out. This left me free to get the remainder of the holiday requirements booked. We purposely left the last weekend free as we had a few options to stay with friends or family or book something last minute in London if we fancied it. This turned out to be a great decision.
My prerequisites for accommodation were:
- Enough room for us and the kids
- Proximity to family
- Proximity to tourist sites where relevant (mainly in London)
- Free WIFI
- Self catering where possible (easier with jet lagged kids as long as you have a supermarket close by for supplies)
The main booking site I used for accommodation was www.booking.com. I highly recommend them. You can easily book and cancel for free, this allowed me to book things and email my husband to review where necessary and make great joint decisions on accommodation. For the accommodation for our Norfolk country stay, I utilised Google for self catering cottages, depending on where you are staying there are plenty of options both high end and mid range pricing. The key to making good decisions, know what your criteria are, view about 5 properties that match them, make a call on what's good enough.
For activity planning, the following are great sites for planning kids activities:
- www.mylittlenomads.com ;
- http://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/family-activities ;
Even with all the planning in the world, things will not always go 100% to plan, and we certainly had our fair share of hiccups. It started with my husband having to be in Houston the week prior to our trip, which left me packing and travelling alone with the kids for the first leg. We had the cold weather in LA, that was unanticipated, my youngest son had a stomach virus on route to London, that led to a day in hospital and the Spring in the UK brought hail and light snow. All these things have been taken in their stride as we have had an absolutely unbelievable holiday creating awesome memories together.
Our highlights that come highly recommended:
London & Surrounds:
- Harry Potter Experience https://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/about-us
- Natural History Museum
- Hamleys Toy Store
- Tower of London
- Keukenhof Gardens (only open in Spring, go early, be there for opening)) http://www.keukenhof.nl/en/
- The Hague Escher Museum (an outing for a school unit of enquiry)
- Sampling Poffertjies, Stropewafels and Bitterballen (all great Dutch food available at a variety of traditional bakeries and cafes)
- Eating out in Holland, the food is fabulous, good value and great quality.
- This has been our wind down time as we prepare to ramp up for Disneyland next week. Renting a farm cottage next to a quaint village comes highly recommended. It's ideal for hibernating if the weather sets in, ours had heaps of board games etc for the kids to play and yes the obvious TV and electronic devices to aid an 8 year olds boredom. There are also plenty of quirky villages to visit and kids attractions such as Dinosaur Parks.
What have I learnt on our holiday?
Have a plan, however be willing to go with the flow if things need to change. Treat it as one big adventure with the kids.
How to balance visiting relatives and doing fun things with the kids?
Have a plan, make sure hubby is on board and supportive and communicate in advance with relatives about what your plans are. Invite them along, where possible. Remember this is your holiday and you cannot keep everyone happy all of the time.
How to travel with boys?
No brainer, lots of food and snacks at all times. A bucket full of patience and when that fails, wine.
How to manage jet lag?
Get up when you feel like it, don’t force the kids to sleep, if that means being at the Tower of London as it opens, do it. Nap when needed and go out late again. Throw out bedtimes and run with how you are feeling. The body adjusts after 10 days. Drink plenty of fluids.
Biggest gripe traveling by plane?
This is probably obvious, but the food. Who gives a child scrambled eggs, hash brown and baked beans after a 10-hour flight? And yes, this was the kid’s option. A continental breakfast for kids would be a far better idea, so thank you to the awesome flight attendant on Air New Zealand, who arranged granola and yoghurt for my kids.
My favourite new traveling tool:
The MasterCard travel debit card supplied by my bank in Australia. A free card to bank customers, allowing the transfer of Australian Dollars into eight different currencies onto the card, with transfers available via mobile app on my iPhone. Saved heaps on credit card international transfer fees.
My favourite freebie?
My comprehensive travel insurance also provided by my bank through my credit card. (Think I actually appreciate my bank, this is a first)
Things to BEWARE of:
- When travelling on different airlines, make a note of their baggage allowance. These vary considerably. Airlines are also becoming far stricter about per bag weight allowance.
- Many of the public transport systems require travel cards to be purchased which can then be loaded with money on which to travel. These can be purchased in advance online and sent to your home address, otherwise make sure you allow time to purchase them at tourist information centres.
- Watch out for bicycles in Holland!
My three tips for planning a family holiday across three continents?
- Set out your itinerary 6 months in advance and speak to family and friends as early as possible about your plans?
- Utilise websites that allow you to explore, book and cancel accommodation so that you make the best decision.
- Keep communicating with your other half about what each of you want out of the holiday. It's a long way to travel and have any regrets about not getting to see something or someone you wished you had.
It’s funny but the thing someone once said to me before my wedding day popped into my head whilst in Holland, “take moments to be still and take mental snapshots of where you are and who you are with and enjoy them” , I think they actually said “remember to spend time with your husband on the night and take mental snapshots as it passes so quickly”, very close though.
Yes our holiday has been different from those as a couple, but we have thoroughly enjoyed watching our kids grapple with the new and different, relish in the fun and exciting and marvel at meeting people who can tell them stories of how their Dad hid chocolate biscuits in his socks as a boy. Good, wholesome family fun!