Can Holidays With Toddlers Ever Be Relaxing?

“I think we need to rethink our holidays now we’ve got children.”

We were driving back from a week in Norfolk and I managed to blurt out a thought above the cacophony of The Gruffalo (as read by Imelda Staunton) being played for the 100th time on the car stereo.

Mrs B nodded in a half awake daze from the passenger seat before being jolted back to reality by high pitched screaming from the back seat.

“Mummy I don’t want Gruffalo/sandwich/panda/this dummy!” (delete as appropriate).

Yes, we need a holiday to recover from our holiday.

I expect this is a common theme among parents with young children. And in our experience two children under three is (please say it’s true) as tiring and stressful as it gets. I mean, even if you have some older children at least they can help out? Maybe?

So the point was made and agreed upon. Next time we’re doing things differently. Not that we hadn’t had any fun.

There was the ten minutes I spent running up and down a small hill at Blickling Hall with Little B pretending to be a lion.

Or eating ice cream in the back garden of the cottage with Little B and grinning at each other as it rolled down our chins.

And the blissful half an hour lying on the grass playing with my beautiful baby boy who I never get to spend enough time with (due to work or his demanding older brother.)

But then we realised we could have done all of this at home.

We could have done all of the relaxing things, like sitting on the sofa together in silence listening to the baby monitor, without spending a whole day packing and another day driving for five hours (including stops to feed Baby F) to Norfolk, and then spending each day wrestling the toddler into the car to drive somewhere to let him run around/eat ice cream/play with his cars.

We really should have learned by now. After all, we had a holiday with our first boy when he was six months old and a second trip last year when he was one and a bit.

But I think we were still trying to get away with having the kind of holiday we had when we were child-free adults. And because we only had one baby who didn’t answer back or have tantrums we pretty much got away with it.

You’ll have noticed from previous posts that our holidays are not very ‘extreme’. We don’t go rock climbing or mountain biking or swim with sharks. If you do want to go mountain biking how does that work with pre-schoolers?!

All we want is to wander round quaint towns and go to cafes and pubs and stately homes, and yet despite our modest requirements having two small people in tow nearly messed it all up.

All our toddler wanted to do was lie on the ground playing with “Caaaaars!”

The last five months since we had Baby F have been stressful and tiring as having a new baby  when you already have a toddler is full on hard work. And going on holiday doesn’t get rid of the need to get up early and spend the day feeding, changing, and trying to play with the baby while the other person is driven round the bend by the ever changing demands of the toddler.

North Norfolk is of course a very popular holiday destination and with good reason. The beaches, villages, towns, and countryside are all beautiful and the pace of life is very relaxed. I think with older children it will be a great place to visit.

We stayed in Holt and this was a great base as it has everything you need in terms of shops and cafes, and a children’s playground, but is small enough to easily escape to coast and countryside.

Our potted highlights included the aforementioned Blicking Hall; truly stunning building and plenty of gardens to get lost in. For some reason Little B attacked an ornamental duck.

And we visited Holkham Hall where Little B spent a happy morning at the adventure playground and then pretending to drive a tractor for the afternoon.

And we’d love to go back to the 1940s weekend in Sheringham and Holt when the boys are older. This was two days when the local population really put on a show for no other reason than it being great fun to dress up and parade around in uniforms and civvies without the downside of there being a war on. There were also lots of vintage cars and model trains and steam tractors to admire!

I found myself next to a gentleman in the Home Guard on the steam train from Sheringham and he told me it had been going on for around ten years and gets bigger and more popular each year. I hope it doesn’t get so big that it overwhelms the town but if you are a fan of vintage fun this is one weekend not to be missed.

And we rounded off the week with a highly recommended cream tea at The Folly tea rooms in Holt.

But the days flew by and after six exhausting days we were in the car doing the journey in reverse. So once the boys had gone quiet/to sleep we talked about what a holiday needed to be with two pre-schoolers. And these were our top suggestions:

  1. Home comforts on tap. You can’t lug everything you need or the children might need on holiday, whether on a plane, train, or automobile. So you need a location where baby and toddler things are provided and there are adult distractions. No not THAT. I mean things like Sky TV, free books/music/films to download, a bar on site, a spa, or a gym if you like that kind of fun. And a high chair, bath mat etc
  2. Everything in one place. We spent far too long trying to leave the cottage each day to drive somewhere, get out of the car, spend an hour there, get back in the car (tears), and drive back. To relax you really want to be able to roll out of bed, go somewhere for breakfast, drop the kids off at a soft play/creche/adventure playground (preferably with someone else looking after them) and collapse into a deck chair (or go windsurfing if that’s your thing.)
  3. A selection of good quality places to eat when you want to and a place to buy food if you fancy eating in. These need to be within a short walk of your holiday home or hotel room and offer a mix of healthy options and trash that you want to indulge in – it wouldn’t be a holiday without a bit of what you fancy now would it?
  4. Trusted baby sitting if you need it. Which you will. Because otherwise it’s not really a holiday. Much as we love our children, being with them all day every day leads to everyone getting tetchy and irritated with each other. They need a break from you sometimes too. And you will definitely want to be able to go out at least once to remember what life used to be like. Must. Not. Talk. About. The. Children.
  5. Good value. We spent a fortune on parking, food (some of which was rejected), getting into ‘attractions’ and so on. Holidays are expensive and children really bump up the cost so ideally you need a few inclusive meals and activities that you can fall back on.
  6. Security. I don’t mean to stop people nicking your stuff (although that is important), I mean places with actual gates that stop your small people running off down the road. I lost count of how many times we thought there was no escape route from the cafe/pub/shop only to find Little B had tunnelled his way out. Ideally there should be no open water either that doesn’t have a barrier round it or eagle-eyed life guards.
  7. Not worrying about other people. How many times have you found yourself apologising or cringing inside because your little darling has started singing Wheels On The Bus at the top of their voice in a crowded public place or thrown their food across the room? You just don’t need the hassle. So go somewhere other parents are who will at least smile because it’s not their child kicking off and may even give you some support.

What kind of places provide all this? Well, I haven’t done the research yet as we’ve only just got home. But here are a few we talked about:

  • Center Parcs: Looks expensive but very tempting. I like the idea of being in countryside with lots to do on tap. Probably one for older children though?
  • EuroCamp: Mrs B has fond memories of this when she was little (we haven’t checked if her parents agree). Is camping OK with toddlers? The photo of the dad in a deck chair reading the paper had better not be setting me up for disappointment.
  • Tots To Travel: not a place but a website that promises to craft your ideal toddler holiday. What’s the catch?

If you have tried these or have any other tips I’d love to hear your comments!

PS. Since thinking about all this I’ve also discovered the following good advice from other bloggers on holidays with pre-schoolers – perhaps I should have read it earlier…

Honest Mum: Tips For A Staycation With The Kids

Tin Box Traveller: Cruising With A Baby And Toddler – now there’s an idea we hadn’t considered!

#MondayEscapes – a brilliant archive of travel tips for families by bloggers My Travel Monkey and Packing My Suitcase

Linking up with:

My Petit Canard

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9 replies »

  1. I actually laughted out loud to myself when you said that you realised you could have done all the things you did on holiday at home with the same stress. Its so true isnt it. All we really change when we go on holidays with little ones is the scenary, and maybe the weather if youre lucky enough to go abroad! I love your tips on places to go with little ones and couldnt agree more – home comforts and convieniences all the way! 😉 Thanks for sharing this on #MarvMondays. Emily

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  2. Ha made me laugh. But persist as it’s totally worth it. We only have two but we are avid holiday fans. For a super treat Sani Beach Club in Greece is amazing – all baby equipment even free homemade baby food. Everything is on a broader complex so enough to go out and do but also on your doorstep. Clydey Cottages out of term time preferably in Autumn as this is the only time we can afford, brilliant and again all baby equipment. Soft play, pool, playground and animals on site plus babysitting a hot tub and spa treatments. Baby friendly boltholes have lots of places. We also like polzeath area in Cornwall and there are many baby friendly places to stay – and an amazing soft play/restaurant, the combo of wine whilst children play appeals to me! I have reviewed a few places on my blog but defos ask tots to travel and baby friendly boltholes. And make the most of it whilst we can do holidays not in term time! #marvmondays ps center parcs is good but I think more to do for older kids x

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  3. Ahh yes I can say that holidays with toddlers are not relaxing! I can highly recommend eurocamp though we have stayed with them (in the static homes) a few times and they are fab. Popping over from #marvmondays

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  4. Definitely agree, we changed our minds last minute to go away this October as we knew it would probably be seriously stressful and we’d be paying a fortune for the privileged. Instead John just has a week off and we’re going to try and cram in as much nearer home as we can.

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