We survived. Our first holiday abroad with children, and you’ll be pleased to know we made it out the other side! So as much as I’m no expert, I’ve decided to write a blogpost about how we got on, and share some tips for taking kids abroad for the first time after I was given so many great ones.
If you read my blogpost last month you’ll know that we were about to take our boys, aged 7, 5 and 5 to Majorca for 10 days. This was the first time we’d taken them abroad altogether, always previously choosing UK holidays up until now rather than international travel.
There were many reasons for this – largely cost, not being keen on taking kids abroad whilst they were small for the sake of our own sanity, and my possibly over-irrational fear of them falling into a pool before they were old enough to swim. We just couldn’t be arsed with long-haul flights, long travel days, and lugging stuff like a car seat or baby carrier across time zones.
The other rather big reason was that we wanted it to be a holiday for us too. Not just them. Call me selfish, but when you’re forking out thousands on a sunny break away, I didn’t think it was too much to ask that my husband and I got to enjoy even just a tiny bit of it too. Others might say it’s all about the kids. That’s not me!
Taking kids abroad – We survived it and enjoyed it! (Mostly)
So I can now report back that not only did we survive it – but we actually enjoyed it too! I mean, not every single minute of it, and anyone with small children who does the same and tells you otherwise is clearly lying. Three young boys, heat, late nights and a whole load of sugar from the all inclusive desserts? It’s not exactly a recipe for perfect bliss is it?
But we were off to a good start for taking kids abroad on our recent trip when we realised we could check our cases in at Bristol airport the night before our early morning flight. Genius idea if you ask me, and was perfect for us as we were staying 2 minutes down the road. This ‘twilight check-in’ as it’s called, meant that at 5.30am the following day we didn’t need to queue, and headed straight through security. It also meant the boys got their first proper glimpse of an airport the night before and then could stand in the window of our overnight accommodation and watch the planes take off, revving up their excitement even more!
Okay, so trying to get them to sleep with all 5 of us in the same room the night before their very first flight was never going to be a walk in the park. I think they were all still awake at 10pm, despite the alarm going off at 4am. Although the late nights ended up being a bit of a regular thing for the next 10 days.
The next good omen was when the air hostess on our Jet2 flight invited them to go in the cockpit after I told her it was their first time on a plane. Once we landed in Majorca, the boys were allowed in to meet the pilots who were fabulous. Well, I say ‘the boys’. Actually it was just the twins, the seven year old stood outside, looking nervous. Afterwards he told me he was too worried he’d accidentally press a button!
Only slight problem is that they’ll now think that this is a totally normal thing to do on a plane. And as predicted on the way home Twin Two asked when he was going into the cockpit again. I explained – probably never!
Boys soon got used to it
Over the next few days the boys were really well behaved – by their standards. I can even remember telling my friends who had texted that it was all going well and they were being brilliant! I think they were nervous at first, wary of the whole experience, not really knowing what they had to do. But they soon got their feet under the table (literally in Twin Two’s case – who would confidently march ahead of us at mealtimes to find us a place to sit).
It was amazing to see their confidence grow in so many ways. Getting their own food at the buffet, going off to the toilet on their own, even going back to our room on their own (we could see it from the pool), to fetch something. It’s like because we were on holiday we allowed them to do more than they would at home (including eating WAY more ice cream than usual in a day) and it really benefited them. I mean, obviously they’re too young to go anywhere by themselves at home, but it’s like they’re actually more grown up now we’re back. It was definitely a benefit of taking kids abroad for us.
The other thing that has improved, which we expected, was their swimming and confidence in the water. They all still go to lessons every week, and don’t get me wrong, they weren’t exactly doing perfect front crawl or butterfly across the pool. But their confidence in the water increased 10-fold. All they wanted to do was jump in the deep end, swim to the edge, climb out and jump back in. Twin One was even doing back flips into the pool by the end of the holiday. It was amazing to see!
In fact they weren’t even bothered about the six waterslides in another pool at the hotel. They only went on them once – which was typical seeing as I based our choice of hotel all around those damn waterslides assuming they’d love them. I’ll know for next time that all they need is a deep end, a couple of small inflatable rings and some dive sticks! They spent hours in the pool or in the sea and absolutely loved it.
And my over-irrational fear of them being near water got better as the holiday went on. At the start one of us either stood or sat on the side of the pool, or we were in with them (more my husband than me, I have to admit!) This progressed to sitting on the end of a lounger right next to the pool watching them, to lying on a lounger a bit further back but still with full view. I still couldn’t take my eyes off them though. Maybe when they’re 16. So we took it in turns to be on ‘duty’.
Kids Clubs are a joy when taking kids abroad
We also managed to get them into Kids’ Club several times. Despite people telling me that I’d struggle and not to bank on them going, I kind of didn’t give them a choice! Annoyingly I don’t think the club was that amazing, but the younger two seemed to like it. This meant that my husband and I actually got to RELAX. I mean, it was only for a maximum of about 2 hours but it was SO good. I think over the 10 days we managed about 7 hours of child-free time. Where we ignored each other, soaked up the sun and read a book. I actually finished a book for the first time since having children so I was over the moon!
What made it even more satisfying was looking over the top of my book now and again at parents bent over holding the hands of toddlers who were wandering precariously around the pool. Changing little ones nappies, rocking pushchairs at nap times (pretty much 80% of people there had a buggy with them), giving them bottles, or having to be in the pool holding them at all times. Yes I felt very smug indeed (for the 7 hours that I had) chilling out with nobody needing me for the odd hour here and there. Feeling very glad that I’d waited until now to do this type of holiday.
It’s all sounding rather idyllic isn’t it? But you know me, I always have to tell the other side as well. By about Day 5, the boys had become comfy. And tired. Late nights were catching up with them and if I’m brutally honest they turned into complete *****.( If you want the real description you need to read my blog and not a newspaper column.)
When reality of taking kids abroad kicks in
They were massive pains for a couple of days, to the point where I wondered why we’d even bothered. If they were going to behave like idiots we might as well have gone to Cornwall in a caravan!
10 days of being together for 24 hours a day, them sleeping in the same bedroom, fighting, arguing, annoying each other, us sleeping on a sofa bed (!) caught up with us now and again. Or even more than now and again!
But did I really expect anything different? The three of them fight like cats and dogs CONSTANTLY at home, so why would cooping them up in an apartment the size of our kitchen, wearing them out with endless swimming and activities, fuelling them with an all inclusive pick n mix dessert offering make them any better?!
It’s not like we all had a personality transplant the minute we touched down on Spanish soil. They are still 3 boys of similar ages who fight. And I’m still the mum that gets wound up by that and tells them off. We just happened to have a bit more sunshine and a pool to do it in!
Having said that, we must have a good time. I spent several late nights scrolling my phone looking for where to go abroad next year. Now we’ve had a glimpse of what we do and don’t want with a hotel, there’s no stopping us. I just need to get saving…
Tips for taking kids abroad for the first time
If you’re thinking of taking kids abroad for the first time, have a look at these great tips. I was given so many good ones by friends and my Facebook followers I thought I’d pass them on!
- Sounds an obvious one, but make sure they have passports! If it’s their first international trip then they won’t have needed them before, but it’s one of those things that is easy to not even think about! If you’re in the UK, apply with plenty of time to spare before your travel dates and don’t leave it until the last minute. You can take your own photo with a plain white background, and the website will tell you if it’s good enough or not. You also need their birth certificate. I had to renew my eldest’s passport and apply for new ones for the twins. The eldest’s and Twin One’s came back within 10 days. Twin Two’s didn’t arrive for another NINE weeks – despite them all being in the same envelope and me chasing it up on a weekly basis. So one of my best tips would be to ensure you have extra time to sort it. The last thing you want is to be driving in a panic to a passport office 200 miles away. As apparently it’s not the done thing to leave one child at home… Also make sure you have travel insurance when taking kids abroad.
- Spread your packing across different suitcases. Just in case one gets lost. As Sod’s Law it’s going to be yours and you’ll end up with nothing to wear for 3 days whilst it’s relocated. I did this with the boys’ stuff, and just made sure I had a full set of clothes in my husband’s case too. It’s also a good idea to put a change of clothes somewhere accessible in your carry-on hand luggage. Because we all know that we need them on those exact occasions when we don’t have any to hand.
- Twilight check-in. If you’re flying before midday, see if your airline does Twilight check-in or something similar. We were able to take our cases to the airport and check them in between 4pm and 9pm the night before. It then meant when we arrived at the airport at 5.30am for our 7.30am flight there wasn’t the panic of having to join a large queue. We were able to go straight through to security. It was a real help, especially with kids.
- Clear plastic bags. If you’re staying near the airport the night before and doing Twilight check-in, you’ll need to pack cleverly in terms of toiletries. Think about what you’ll need at your accommodation and then again on holiday. Take some clear plastic bags. That way you can take some smaller bottles of liquid/make-up through security without having to have packed it in your suitcase and checked it in the night before.
- Squeezee squash. If your kids aren’t keen on drinking plain water, get a couple of those squeezee concentrated squash bottles. You’re then able to buy water or fill up their water bottle from a fountain once you’re through security at the airport and mix in the squash. Also helpful when you’re actually on holiday and can get water more easily than squash.
- Sweets for the plane when taking kids abroad. It might not hurt our ears when the air pressure changes, but kids are different. Two of mine didn’t like it and cried as we came into land in Majorca. Drinking or chewing/sucking a sweet helped. And they liked the excuse to eat more sweets! We also cheekily told them that the first time is the worst, and after that each time you go on a plane it gets better. They totally fell for it and were fine on the way home!
- Travel sickness stuff. If your kids are known to get travel sick, buy the wristbands or travel sickness pills. I even took some sickbags as my eldest is known to barf on coaches. Luckily we didn’t need them! But add them into your general first aid kit just in case.
- Take things to entertain them on the flight. Each of my boys took their own rucksack with things to keep them occupied on the flight. Our journey was only 2 hours so was easy, especially seeing as all 3 boys had tablets and headphones, with plenty downloaded on them to watch. I also packed a pencil case with pens/colouring pencils, a travel activity book, a colouring book, and a reading book each. They basically watched their tablets or looked out of the window the whole way. But if you’ve got long haul flights you’ll need to think a bit more outside the box than just screen time to find the best way to keep young kids happy. Some people buy new toys or little games for their young children and give them one every hour or so which is a good idea. It will all depend on the age of your kids as older children will be more likely to watch some downloaded TV shows or, dare I say it, even read!
- Ask to go in the cockpit. Why not pluck up the courage to ask one of the fight attendants if your kids can go in the cockpit? I was intending to ask but as soon as I mentioned to the air hostess it was the boys’ first flight as we got on the plane she beat me to it. She said to ask once we landed which I did, and it totally made their year! I’ve since heard that Jet2 do this often, so don’t be shy! They will have a great time.
- It’s all about the snacks. Buy snacks. Then buy some more. They probably don’t even need to eat but if you’ve got them everything will be fine. For the waiting around at the airport, the journey and once you’re there. You can never have enough snacks. Just not of the melty variety if you’re going somewhere hot.
- Pack swimming stuff in hand luggage. That way if you arrive a lot earlier than you can get into your hotel room, the kids can get in the pool while they wait. Rather than having to rifle through your suitcases to find it all.
- Hooded towels. I took hooded towels as well as beach towels. It meant the boys could get out of the pool and throw them on, to warm up or get changed underneath them.
- Rash vests. To either keep them a bit warmer if the pool is a bit chilly, or to protect them from the sun, rash vests were great. I also took 3 different swimming trunks for each of the boys so there was always something dry.
- Sun cream. Take loads, you go through a lot. And if you’re going on holiday early in the summer you’ll always use it when you get back, so just bring it home with you again. Just try to use one bottle at a time, so you don’t end up with 3 half-used bottles to bring back in your case.
- Take inflatables with you. If the pool you’re going to allows inflatables, buy them at home and take them with you. It’s a much cheaper option! Check if you’re only allowed small ones though, as we were. I also took dive sticks that the boys loved playing with in the pool, and we bought a little ball whilst we were there.
- Buy thin beach towels. I bought each of us Dock and Bay quick drying beach towels in the sale. Even though my husband thought I’d bought him a giant tea towel they were brilliant. Not only did they dry really quickly (obviously!) but they were ideal for taking to the beach when I was trying to pack light. Our beach was a 20 minute walk away and it would have been much more painful carrying 5 giant, thick beach towels, than the really thin, light ones.
- If you’re likely to be going to the beach, take talcum powder. It gets sand off feet easily and is much less likely to cause moaning. Just remember to actually pack it in your beach bag – and not forget it three times like I did.
- Insect repellent and cream. We were lucky and it was only me that got bitten (I generally attract them), but take insect repellent spray/roll-on and bite cream just in case the mozzies are on the attack. Nobody likes an itchy mozzie bite.
- Take some plastic boxes. I wouldn’t have thought to do this but someone suggested to me to take a couple of picnic boxes in case you wanted to take any food from the breakfast buffet for later in the day. We were all inclusive so there was always food on hand, but I did do this to take a few mini croissants and biscuits on the days we went to the beach just to keep us going with a snack.
- Stuff to entertain them at mealtimes. I was keen not to let them have screens at mealtimes, although not totally against it if I needed it. So I took a bag to each meal with their pencil cases and a plain jotter pad as all my boys love a bit of drawing and colouring. It meant that they did that whilst we had an extra coffee at breakfast, or finished our meal (or wine!) at dinner. I also took a ‘Would You Rather for Kids?’ book which was hilarious. Things like ‘would you rather have four arms or four legs’, or ‘would you rather smell like stinky armpits or smelly farts?’ Fun stuff the boys engaged with and also got them reading too!
- Things to keep them busy next to the pool. My boys spent most of their time in the pool, but if they wanted a rest they sat on a sun lounger under an umbrella and did their travel activity books. Twin Two was obsessed with playing Hangman every spare minute of the day. Which wears a bit thin when they’re five and can’t spell very well! I also took Uno, and several different card games that were small and light to pack.
- Take washing liquid. Okay so you don’t want to be doing laundry on holiday but it would pay to take a little bottle of liquid or some powder. You can always leave it there. I actually used it several times in the bathroom sink when the boys had stained their brand new t.shirts with chocolate or bubblegum flavoured ice cream. Had I left it until we got home I’d have been screwed. I also washed a whole set of the twins’ pants too – having quickly realised I didn’t have enough. So buy way more than you think you need. I literally don’t know how they were going through them so quickly!
- Extension lead. I was given this tip by a few different friends and it was super helpful. If you don’t have many adaptor plugs for the country you’re going to, just buy one and then take a four-way plug/extension lead/double adapter type thing with you. All your chargers etc can plug into that and then you only need one foreign plug. Genius.
- Pegs for sunloungers. I bought giant pegs to ensure the towels didn’t blow off the sunloungers as someone suggested it. Did I really need to? No. Did I like them? Yes!
- On the subject of pegs, why not buy a cheap clothes line and set of pegs for all the wet towels (or pants!) you’ll have. We actually didn’t have anywhere to hook ours up as we had a terrace rather than a balcony, but it would have been handy if I could have used it!
- Travel money card. If you don’t want to take a wholeload of cash, have a look into a travel money card. I bought one last year when I went to New York on my own and it was great. You download an app and you can move money onto it from your bank, and can use it like any other debit or credit card without the fees. It’s contactless and you also get a pin with it. If you don’t spend all your money you can either convert it back into pounds and spend it or change it into whatever currency your next holiday needs. They are brilliant!
- Take a bit of local currency. We had the majority of our money on the travel card but took about £100 in cash. This was handy for deposits at the hotel for things like the basketball we ‘hired’, PlayStation games the hotel rented out, and any tips.
- Reusable straws. A friend had suggested buying some and I never got round to it, but will next time. We didn’t see a single straw whilst we were in Majorca, and from an environmentally friendly perspective that’s good. From a ‘how do I drink my slushy?’ perspective, not so much.
There are probably tons of other tips I’ve missed, or I just didn’t need due to the age of my kids. What are your tips for taking kids abroad for the first time?
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