Over the last few years, we’ve become increasingly gun-shy about taking family holidays. The effort of packing, unpacking, transit time, and acclimatisation was all too epic. And in some cases the holiday was almost harder work than staying at home because we didn’t have the ‘stuff’ we needed handy to keep the boys comfy and occupied. Plus, I think we were still hoping to have those pre-baby style holidays when we spent endless hours by the pool reading books and sipping cocktails (remember those days? Bliss!)
But recently, we plucked up the courage, packed up the little ones, and jetted to New Zealand for a week – with thanks to Tourism New Zealand – for what was the easiest, cruisiest, most spectacular holiday we’ve had in a long time.
And what was the key to the ease? Pre-planning.
Investing the time to plan your holiday up-front will almost guarantee you a ripper of a family vacation when you’re on the ground – kiddie tantrums not withstanding.”
So here’s a handy check-list of pre-holiday to-do’s. They’ll help you enjoy a smoother, easier, and more stylish family vacation that’ll leave the whole clan with happy memories for a long, long time after.
1. Book ahead and double-check!
Before you had kids, not booking things in advance and just ‘winging it’ was no big deal. But those days are over. Instead, lock & load your accommodation, car rental, and even your activities well before you leave. It’ll save you loads of time.
And double-check your bookings. Scrap that, triple check them. I found this out the hard way:
“When we landed, the age-appropriate car seats we’d ordered for the boys via the car rental people had been forgotten, and we wasted a good chunk of a day sorting it out. If I’d triple checked that car rental booking we would’ve made it to our resort faster, the kids would be moving their little bodies in the playground quicker, and that welcome drink would’ve made its way into my hand sooner. Lesson learnt.”
2. Choose family activities that you’ll enjoy too.
Yeah, yeah it’s great to take the kids to fun parks, playgrounds, and zoos, but it’s your holiday too! Look for places that you’ll all get a kick out of, like a toy museum with a gargantuan Barbie doll display, tobogganing where you can satisfy your need for speed, or nature walks where you can take in the local scenery.
3. Read up about where you’re going beforehand to avoid disappointment.
Because that restaurant you’ve been dying to eat at might have long waiting lists, that gallery you’ve got your heart on visiting may be closed for renovations, and because some activities for kids are limited to age or height.
4. Seek out kid-friendly airlines.
Some do it better than others, and it can make a huge difference to your trip. Take a look at our 23 Tried & Tested Tips for Flying with Kids in Style, here.
5. Ask friends if they’ve been to your destination before, and find out what they loved.
I posed the question on the Fox in Flats Facebook page one afternoon: “Who’s been to Queenstown, and what’s worth checking out?” and was inundated with insightful ideas. A burger joint called Fergburger kept coming up, so we stopped by to check out what all the fuss was about – and were rewarded with wonderfully helpful and thoughtful staff, kid-friendly treats, burgers the size of my face, and beers in the sun. Cheers friends!
6. Pack not to wash.
Doing laundry is boring, and ‘boring’ should not be part of your travel itinerary. To avoid laundry while you’re away, pack enough sets of clothing to last both you and the kids for the entire trip. Then when you’re packing to head home, simply throw all the dirty clothes together into one suitcase, ready to sort and wash on return. And heaven help the customs guys if they choose to open that particular bag.
7. Make sure the place you’re staying at reflects the type of holiday you’re planning on having.
Our trip was a mix of action and relaxation, and our accommodation reflected that: a resort with world-class beauticians, landscaped grounds for relaxing walks and duck chasing (sorry Millbrook Resort about that…), and later in the trip, a family-sized serviced chalet equipped with everything we needed for before and after a long, physical day on the slopes.
8. If staying at a serviced apartment, order groceries online beforehand to be delivered just before you arrive.
You’ll save money by avoiding expensive local general stores, you’ll have treats ready to go as soon as you get there (instead of raiding the minibar), and you won’t have to spend precious holiday time in a supermarket aisle. That said, if you do venture into the supermarket with the kids, take the time to dance.
9. Pack your outfits according to your itinerary.
This will save you loads of time when you’re in holiday-land, free up space in your luggage, and will allow you to tailor your looks to the activity that day. That said, my equestrian-inspired look for our kids’ horse-riding lesson may have been too OTT…
10. Pack a GPS.
Getting lost around the vineyards with your partner in Tuscany is one thing. Getting lost anywhere with tired and hungry children in the back of the station-wagon is quite another. If you are driving, a GPS – preferably pre-programmed to your itinerary – will make the trip much less stressful. And if you’re overseas, try to hook into a voice with the local accent, just for fun.
11. Book yourself a luxurious treatment.
Ironically, holidays with kids can be extra exhausting. So pre-empt this by seeking out a spa at or near your accommodation, and booking yourself in for an aromatherapy facial or massage mid-break. It’ll give you something extra to look forward to, and that little bit of ‘me’ time will leave you rejuvenated for the rest of the trip. Here are some great tips I learnt from Leanne after my blissful treatment at The Millbrook Resort Spa.
12. Doing ‘nothing’ is essential.
Down-time is when some of the most memorable family moments happen. So try to plan time where nothing is scheduled in, so you can all just relax and soak up the atmosphere.
13. Don’t forget sunscreen!
Care for your skin, and your family’s, whatever climate you’re heading to by packing enough sunscreen for everyone. If you have it with you from the get-go you’ll be less likely to skip a day while you track some down, and burnt skin can ruin a holiday. And yes, this applies equally for cold and hot climates.
14. Book in-house childcare or organised activities and lessons for kids.
Personally, this takes me a little out of my comfort zone because I like to know the people who are looking after my kids. But the reality is, the places that offer care or kid-focused activities usually have stringent rules and regulations about the carers they recruit. For peace of mind, though, make sure you thoroughly understand how the place works, and search out reviews online as well as from your social network.
And while you’re there, remember to check on the kids regularly.
“We left our boys with ski schools for two days at Coronet Peak and Cardrona, the carers were fab, and once the kids warmed up, they had a blast. Plus, we had time to rip up the slopes on our own. Then, we were able to watch them ski safely from a distance – on the cafe’s second-storey deck while eating lunch, cold beer in hand. Win, Win!”
15. Sign up for local lessons.
Going to structured shows at tourism destinations can seem a bit like being back at school, but the things you learn about the local area are fascinating.
For instance, at Kiwi Birdlife Park we discovered that the Kiwi bird, when pregnant, has an egg-to-body ratio of 1:3. Props to these hard-core birds.
16. Make sure your hotel has a mini bar, order wine in advance or pick up a bottle duty free.
Because unpacking after a day travelling with kids to a holiday destination begets a glass of wine.
With careful planning, a family holiday can be full of awesome adventures for everyone. We were in New Zealand for only 5 days, yet were able to combine loads of fun, family friendly activities, while still feeling like we’d had a relaxing break.
Clockwise L-R: Kid’s ski school at Cardrona and Coronet Peak, View from our hotel room at Millbrook Resort, we also stayed at the Gold Course Road Chalets, my OTT ‘equestrian-inspired’ outfit at the kid’s riding lesson at Timber Creek Equestrian Centre, a taste for Barbie-mania at the National Transport and Toy Museum. Need a visual about those poor, brave pregnant Kiwi birds? Ouch. Kiwi artwork by my son who has not stopped talking about them since the trip.
With the school holidays looming, I’ll bet loads of us are in vacation planning mode again. What are your tried and tested pre-holiday must-dos?