My family recently returned from a two-week vacation to London and Wales. My husband and I keep remarking on what an incredible holiday it was and, for the first time since having kids, we came back from our vacation feeling rested.
The impetus for the trip was a big celebration for my dad’s 70th birthday. He grew up spending his summers in Wales and he also proposed to my mum there. So when we started planning this celebration Wales became the favoured destination. My brother, his wife, and my two nephews flew over from Virginia, and all of my aunts and uncles (who still live in England) scheduled their holidays to coincide with our visit to Wales as well. When we were planning the trip, we decided to tack on some time in London beforehand for just my husband, my kids and me. I used to live there so it was a chance to show the kids one of my favourite cities, and to see friends.
Our children are now six (almost seven) and four years old and we have often joked that my husband and I have needed our own mini-holiday after a family vacation. But this time we came back energized and inspired to plan our next big trip.
So, what was different about this holiday? Why was it so successful? We’ve come to the conclusion that the following seven factors had a lot to do with it:
I’ve never been so organized for a trip. We booked everything online beforehand and had printouts of every reservation as backup. We spoke to friends who travel to the UK a lot with their kids, and our backpack for the plane was fully stocked with everything we might need. From healthy snacks and travel games to the kids’ favourite books and blankets, you name it, we had it.
My husband and I are usually keen on hotel stays. But with this trip we opted to rent a flat in London for the four of us, and a large farmhouse in Wales for my family, my brother’s family and my parents. Renting our own accommodations turned out to be the best decision. This allowed us the luxury of space, the ability to make our own meals, and do laundry when we wanted. It also gave us a built-in place to relax and socialize after the kids were in bed.
Although we were super-organized, we went into the holiday with the attitude that our schedule would be super-relaxed. There were certain things that we hoped to do, both in London and Wales, but we didn’t overplan. There were a few days when we threw our original plans out the window and ended up having some unexpected and wonderful experiences. One example was during our stay in London: we had planned to do a bus tour of the city one afternoon but it felt too rushed to fit in. We decided to go on the London Eye instead, and ended up bumping into my brother, his wife, and kids there. So we had a special reunion on the London Eye and an impromptu family afternoon hanging out on the South Bank together.
This one is directly related to being flexible with our schedule. Since our kids are at different ages and stages, they each had days when they were tired or cranky or didn’t feel like doing stuff. My husband and I tried to read their signs, and instead of trying to do “everything as a family unit,” we would split up and do different activities suited to each child.
My nephews are the exact same ages as my two kids and they adore one another. Likewise, both my husband and I really enjoy spending holiday time with my brother and sister-in-law. We know how lucky we are for this. The kids loved having part of their holiday with just me and my husband, but they had a fantastic time with their cousins. Having built-in playmates made it more fun for them, and gave us parents a bit of a break too. Add into the mix special time with my mum and dad (the grandparents), my own cousins and aunts and uncles, and it was a week of great family adventures.
Neither my husband or I have taken a two-week vacation since having kids. We are now completely sold on it. Usually by the fifth day of a one-week stint we’re already thinking about returning home. This time, we were able to truly relax into the holiday and really didn’t think about home until it was time to pack up.
I'm a big fan of managing expectations when it comes to holidays. We’ve traveled with the kids a lot, but never overseas and we had no idea how it would play out. We went into the whole adventure assuming that we would have some fantastic experiences, but with full knowledge that there were many variables at play: overnight flights, change of time zones, driving on the other side of the road, renting a flat and house we’d never seen before (aside from the websites), lots of family staying in close quarters, the age of the kids, etc. My husband and I had discussed strategies in advance of how we would cope with certain circumstances. And since we didn’t have unrealistic expectations, we were happily surprised. The kids were really adaptable to the time change and all the travel, we didn't have any major travel hiccups, the kids were open to lots of new experiences, and it was fun to watch them interact so positively with many relatives they’d never met before.
We all had an incredible time and have many special memories to look back upon. Now, this is not to say the trip was without its moments: my four-year-old son pressing the flight attendant call button continuously during the last hour of our eight-hour flight home comes to mind. Overall, though, we’re in agreement that the trip was a huge success.
And we’re already drawing up a wish list of places we’d like to go in future. Any suggestions?