By Laura Potts
It may not feel like it, but summer is on its way. And if your summer holiday has ever been rescued by a old plastic shark that cost 20p from a charity shop, you will be well aware of the value of preparation.
Entertaining kids on a family holiday is not something to go into lightly. Quite apart from the obvious considerations of location, timing and cost, a holiday with children is full of potential pitfalls, but chief among them is how to keep kids happy without sacrificing your own health, safety and sanity.
When we were kids, no one took fancy family trips because before the invention of PlayStation, MP3s and iPads, parents knew that a holiday with children was a special kind of torture dreamed up by travel agencies.
I have a vague recollection of camping in national parks with my parents and three older brothers, but I’m fairly sure it’s just a fragment of my imagination; why else can I only picture glossy, brochure-style images of mountains when the reality would have been extreme annoyance and boredom punctuated by heinous injuries and emergency calls to the ranger?
But times change. Parents have become susceptible to cleverly packaged ideas of holidays with children that promise fun (maybe), bonding (of a sort) and relaxation (out of the question). It is possible to spend an enjoyable week or even two together, but mark my words: if you want to make the most of your holiday, just cede all control to the kids.
Ergo, consider these top tips from someone who has attempted a summer holiday with kids and has the world’s most terrifyingly realistic shark toy to prove it.
1. Don’t gamble on finding gold in charity shops
It was a rare stroke of luck that provided the aforementioned shark, bizarrely beloved by my kids, but it was borne out of panic and desperation.
We had banked on the unspoilt beauty of the beaches of south Wales to provide for our every need; we had not anticipated a fortnight of rain like stair-rods and a cottage in the land Wi-Fi, mobile signals and television reception forgot. Twenty-pence sharks come along once in a lifetime – don’t leave your kids’ entertainment options to chance.
2. Consider outsourcing your children’s fun
Seriously, leave it to someone who knows what they’re doing. Unless you’re some kind of martyr, your own holiday can only be enhanced by making sure an array of on-site options are available to keep your kids happy, no matter the weather. Holiday parks are created with families in mind, so older children can have a bit of independence while younger kids are catered to with activities, games and competitions, designated play areas and swimming pools. Parents, meanwhile, might actually get to sit still long enough to finish an entire sentence or (whisper it) eat a meal together.
3. Bring re-enforcements
It’s scientifically proven that more children make less work because they’ll entertain each other… At least until the point when they get into a spat or the borrowed child becomes homesick.
Bear in mind, though, that the borrowed child’s parents will owe you a huge favour and you can look forward to having space from not only the ungrateful extra mouth to feed, but your own little darling.
Alternatively, you can arrange holidays with your friends who have kids of a similar age, but beware of the perils. Better yet, rope in the grandparents. Sell it as quality time with their cherished offspring but don’t take the mickey or they’ll never agree to it again.
4. Make it about them
Your interests are in inverse proportion to what your children will take pleasure in, so accept that if any fun is to be had, you’re better off tailoring a holiday to their hobbies or things they’d like to try. For teenagers this could be surfing, horse riding, rock climbing, coasteering or – at a push – fishing, fell walking or visiting a nature reserve, museum or historic treasure.
Younger kids won’t mind that all those things you already do when you’re home, like enduring soft play areas, miniature railways and zoos, are no different just because you’re on the other end of the country. And you can’t go wrong with Legoland.
You might be daring enough to take them to a festival. Personally, I can think of nothing worse but I’ve heard rumours to the contrary.
So there you have it. Summer will be here before you know it, so start looking, get booking and don’t forget to pack your lifelike marine wildlife toys.
About the author
A one-time journalist for metropolitan daily newspapers in the USA, Laura Potts moved to England in 2005 where she is a writer and editor (and mother). Her undying gratitude goes to the Pembroke charity shop that produced the beach toy that saved summer hols 2012.