It might feel like they only just went back, but another round of school holidays will soon be upon us. If you're planning on heading away, Sarah Pollok has 11 tips for surviving the ultimate family holiday.
I was 10 years old when my parents decided to take me, along with my older brother and sister, on a three-week trip to Europe. As a kid I remember it being an incredible adventure filled with gelato, screaming hot days and the occasional family disaster. As an adult, I look at my parents with admiration and awe for choosing to cart a trio of temperamental teenagers around the greatest museums and attractions in the world. Quite frankly, given the choice, I would have ditched us and stayed in Paris an extra week. But if, like my parents and countless others, you're selflessly set on an adventure for the whole family, here are 10 ways to make it as smooth as possible.
Location, location, location
The key starting point for any great family trip is choosing the right location. Though most places on the map are increasingly accessible and enjoyable for every age, certain things like amenities, activities, and overall safety can make a big difference and give you peace of mind. Spots like Singapore, Fiji, Vietnam or Italy will be a hit with the whole family, while nearby gems like Australia's Sunshine Coast or even NZ's outdoors have something for everyone.
Embrace the 'all-inclusive'
It's easy to turn your nose up at the seemingly tacky all-inclusive holiday but when you're trying to provide food, accommodation, transport and activities for the whole family (who never seem to like the same things), a holiday package can be a lifesaver. From cruises to safaris, island trips or hotel deals, there are countless options that take away the burden of planning and responsibility so the whole family can relax.
Quality beats quantity
When you're going to the effort to cart the family across the globe, it's tempting to try to tick off as many cities as possible in the time you have. But for a truly successful holiday, resist the temptation; travel to fewer places and stay longer. Transit can be unsettling for kids and stressful for parents, leaving little time to actually explore where you are. So try to have at least three full days in each location if you're moving around.
Plan like a pro
Here's the truth; every hour spent planning and organising will save you three hours of arranging and stressing while you're travelling. From airport parking and hotel transport to accommodation, tours and activities, in these glorious digital times, almost every part of a trip can be organised without even leaving your desk. Though it's important to leave some things to chance, booking and planning before departure day doesn't just give you peace of mind while travelling, but often cuts down on queues and prices for child entry.
With so many things to do and places to see it's easy to fully book every single day. But that's a surefire recipe for disaster. Travelling can be exhausting, let alone with kids, so make sure every few days you incorporate a rest day, or split each day into "halves" and have a morning of activities and afternoon of relaxation.
If your family is anything like mine, they all have very different ideas of what a great day looks like. My sister's would be spent shopping, my brother's would involve a lot of good food while my mother would visit at least nine different cathedrals. So, to ensure an unforgettable trip for everyone (and to keep the grumbling at bay) take turns to choose what you eat and where you explore. Who knows, your cheeky 5-year-old or moody teen's choice may end up being the holiday highlight.
Always leave more time
Here is a truth that any parent will know; with kids, everything takes twice as long. Whether it's getting ready for school or getting on an international flight, between packing snacks, finding that lost shoe and getting everyone out the door, you'll always be surprised at just how long the simple things can take. So, when travelling with family be sure to give yourself plenty of time for airport security, checking out of hotels or even a day's activities.
Transit entertainment is key
Airport terminals, museum queues, hotel lobbies, or tour groups, travel almost involves as much waiting as exploring. Keep the "are we there yet"s at bay by planning ahead and packing portable games and entertainment. Resist the urge to settle down on iPads and smartphones and instead pack activities the whole family can enjoy, like playing cards, colouring sets or word puzzles.
Stay off technology
As a kid, boredom was often met with a pen and pad or an encouragement to use my imagination. These days, between crying kids or grumpy adolescents it's all too easy to bring along the iPad to the Louvre or the iPhone to the Great Wall of China. While a family holiday certainly isn't the time to enforce a brand new "no technology" rule, try to limit everyone's time on devices and instead focus on where you are. You've put the time and money into organising an adventure for everyone — don't let your kids (or partner) miss it while they look at a screen.
Push that comfort zone
At the end of a long flight or a busy day, it's easy to find a fast food chain or spend the afternoon watching hotel TV. While these familiar comforts can be a lifesaver at times, one of the greatest parts of travelling abroad is experiencing unique cultures. Try to find a balance between sitting in your comfort zone and pushing yourself to try new cultural experiences. Encourage everyone to try a new food each day, or learn a new phrase in the language. And remember, kids follow your example, so lead the way and give things a go.
Prepare for problems
Maybe your partner leaves their phone in an airport bathroom or your youngest catches a stomach bug. Maybe you plan to visit a great museum or ancient building only to arrive and find it's closed for renovations. No matter how much you plan and prepare, travel is always going to be full of situations you just can't anticipate. The question isn't whether or not these expected little disasters will happen, but how you will face them as a family. Will you let it spoil your time or create space for an adventure you never would have had?