Ursula Hirschkorn, the mother behind the fabulous blog Four Down, Mum to Go is our latest fantastic blogger to offer her wise and very experienced thoughts on how to travel with tots in tow and how to have a happy family holiday. She has four boys, including twins. Aside from her blog musings, Ursula can be followed @fourdownmumtogo.
Travelling with children should probably come with a health warning, particularly if you are foolish enough to have four boys like me. That said, as a parent of a 10-year old, an 8-year-old and five-year-old twins, I find myself in regular need of a restorative break, even if the children do have to tag along.
Pros and Cons of family travel
I firmly believe the key to a successful break, en famille, is to ensure that there is enough in the way of activities and amusement to keep everyone happy, no matter where you go.
There is precious little point in booking a meandering wine tasting tour of Provence with four little non-drinkers in tow. I should know; I tried it once with disastrous results. I can now declare with confidence that long, boozy lunches in posh French restaurants and English toddlers, who eat nothing but pizza, do not mix well.
Equally, as I didn’t actually have all my brain cells sucked out along with the babies during labour, I cannot bear a holiday that involves nothing but ‘child-friendly’ activities. I am sorry, but it is not a holiday if I have to spend it pushing a buggy at the bottom of endless rollercoasters while the older ones get their thrills at a theme park. Nor do I consider chain restaurant burger and chips an exotic treat.
So the magical formula is to find a location where there is enough fun stuff to keep the kids happy, but enough culture, food and, alright I admit it, shopping, to keep the parents happy. That being the case, some of my most successful holidays have been to the States.
The United States
America, arguably, might not have much to offer in the way of culture, but it certainly knows how to welcome a family, even one as large and boisterous as mine.
Contrary to popular belief, the food is a great mix of favourites the kids will eat and top quality dishes that leave parents equally satisfied. Even better, there appears to be no such thing as a child-friendly restaurant, because all restaurants make small diners feel at home. When my jet-lagged four-year-old fell asleep draped along a banquette in a smart California steakhouse, no one batted an eyelid.
As for activities, well I will admit to a serious weakness for American shopping malls. Normally, shopping with my sons is something I would avoid like the plague. But American malls come complete with play areas and plush baby and child areas playing Disney DVDs on a loop.
I can leave my husband to kick back in a recliner while he keeps an eye on the kids in the play area, while I let myself loose in Macys without fear that they will get bored and start bothering me before I’ve covered a single department.
But it’s not all about me (unfortunately) and we have enjoyed many attractions as a family including the fabulous USS Midway aircraft carrier moored in San Diego (I particularly loved posing with the same plane Tom Cruise flew in Top Gun), watching baby dolphins play in the Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage, and the amazing Mystere show by Cirque du Soleil at Treasure Island, both in Las Vegas.
We have also done the requisite Disneyland Florida trip many times and, while the plastic jollity of the theme parks isn’t for everyone, I have always made the trip tolerable by tacking on a week in one of the delightful Florida coastal seaside resorts. Anna Maria Island is particularly beautiful, with acres of pure white sand and blue sea to provide an adult antidote to Mickey and friends.
Staying at home
Despite the delights of America, you don’t have to cross the Atlantic for a fabulous family holiday. Staying at home in the UK has plenty of benefits, too. As long as you can hack the drive (DVD players, iPads and a mountain of snacks are the only way to go), there are some stunning places to explore.
My top picks would be Northumberland, with its Harry Potter castle at Alnwick and endless sandy beaches, Pembrokeshire for its cliff top walks and rockpools, or Shropshire with it’s rolling countryside and fascinating Ironbridge museums, that would take a whole week to explore properly.
So, while a family holiday has the potential to be harder work than staying at home, if you pick your destination with care it can be the recuperative break all parents crave. And if money were no object? I would whisk my brood off to the Turks and Caicos in the British West Indies. I spent my 26th birthday on the paradise island of Providenciales and remember celebrating by standing at midnight up to my knees in the deliciously warm crystal clear sea, wriggling my toes into the soft, powder white sand and raising a glass of champagne to the starlit sky. It was the most perfect moment in the most perfect place, so where better to have the perfect family holiday? I can imagine nothing more idyllic than building sandcastles and snorkelling with my boys on the Bacardi-ad beach of Grace Bay.