I love interviewing different families from around the world but this month is a special one because I get to interview a fellow Doha expat. This month it is the turn of Emma from Wanderlust and Wetwipes to take our Fearless Family Travel Interview!
What is your family travel? Full-time, part-time, digital nomads etc.
We travel part time although it seems like we are full time sometimes! We live in the Middle East and travel frequently (around every 6 weeks). I’d love to be digital nomads but I’m not the sort of person who relishes the thought of home (or even world) schooling the kids so that will have to wait another 15 years or so for our youngest child to fly the nest.
How has your travel style changed since becoming a family?
My husband and I had both been backpacking before we met and that was very much the style of travel that persisted through the early years of our relationship although we did mix it up with city breaks or week long hotel stays. Since having kids we have struggled with getting the right balance of holiday for us all. It was easy at first but after they started getting mobile and needing more stimulation we had a few times where the holiday was too kid or parent focused. Recently I feel we have moved towards utopia but, of course, as the kids get older then the balance will need to shift again (and again and again)! We never used to book accommodation in advance except MAYBE the first night somewhere. I prefer a bit more certainly now but I would love to get back to it someday when they are a bit older.
What was your baby(ie)’s first trip? Why did you chose to go there? What were the highlights/lowlights etc?
Thing 1 (our son, who is now 5) travelled from Houston to Malta when he was 9 weeks old for a wedding. It wasn’t the ideal first trip but it actually went fine. We did a road trip the weekend before to test out things we took but didn’t need or didn’t take and did need. The lowest point was the flight departure – we had timed it to perfection making sure he would get a feed as we were taking off but of course we were delayed and it all went to pot. It was a late flight and they took over 3 hours before they dimmed the cabin lights which was overstimulating so he was screaming (yes we were those people) and I was super stressed as a first time mum who was (and is) a bit militant about kid sleep. Luckily when the lights went down he went straight to sleep and peace and was restored. I’m not sure if this counts as a highlight or a lowlight but I also remember breastfeeding in the back of a taxi with my bridesmaid dress around my waist. In retrospect it was an achievement that I was confident enough to do what it took but at the time I couldn’t believe how much my life had changed! The highlight was routing the trip through London so we could catch up with all our friends and family in the UK so they could meet him. That was really special and we would never have done it so early if we hadn’t needed to.
Thing 2 (our daughter, who is now 3) was 5 months old for her first trip. The 18 months leading up to this holiday had included us relocating back to the UK, buying and renovating a house, a new job and having a baby! We went for a cheap and cheerful, all-inclusive package holiday, which isn’t normally our style. The advantages were never having to think about food (I was exhausted!) but it meant we were held captive to the hotel timings (lunch started at 1pm – mid nap –and dinner started at 7pm – kids bedtime). It was kid friendly with a little low buffet (full of yellow food of course but at least he ate it). We stayed in a little 2 bedroom duplex so we had our own rooms plus space for keeping cool during the day. We were more relaxed on this holiday having travelled with Thing 1 when and, while it wasn’t our best holiday, it was exactly what we all needed. We kept it all super chilled and just spent loads of time at the pool hanging out and playing together.
What is your favourite family travel gadget and why?
It used to be white noise but we have we have moved past that. Now it is probably iPads for the kids and iPhones for the adults (well, me haha).
What is your favourite family travel destination and why?
So far definitely Bali. We spent Christmas there and it was a huge success. We had been there pre-kids so I was a nervous about it living up to expectations but it was absolutely amazing. There is loads to do in Bali for kids and adults. We didn’t try to cram too much in and made sure we had chill out days factored in. They have things that tick boxes for everyone like temples with monkeys in them so at there is something for everyone to look at and do. Accommodation-wise we had a mix of villas and a hotel so we moved around but not too much. I have found that 7 nights in one place is too long for us (unless there is loads to do in that place) but moving every 2 nights or less is too stressful so we aim for 3-5 nights. Overall we found it extremely kid friendly with great activities and restaurants.
What is the most family friendly accommodation you have ever visited?
On the whole we have been really lucky with most of our accommodation. Generally we prefer renting villas / apartments as it is nice to have your own space and is definitely a more economical way to travel. If we go to a hotel we look for ones that offer 1 or 2 bedroom suites for a bit more space and a guarantees that we will be near the kids (adjoining rooms usually aren’t guaranteed). We also look for hotels with kids clubs – not because we use them a lot but they are useful for getting out of the midday heat and they tend to be a bit more geared up for kids with friendly staff and kid-friendly food.
Family travel bloggers can be guilty of showing only the good stuff – what is your worst family travel experience?
I think every holiday has its ups and downs – even the best ones have arguments or things that don’t go to plan and even the worst have some incredible memories or at the very least have taught some good lessons! It’s my nature to make the most of it wherever we are and whatever we are doing so I prefer to focus on the good bit of any trip we take. That being said we have had 2 holidays where pretty much the whole time was a shocker.
One was in Muscat, Oman when our kids were just FERAL. Both of us were at our wits end for pretty much the whole weekend and we ended up being pretty unadventurous which I regret now but there wasn’t much else we could have done. We did successfully leave the hotel 3 times, once to go the grand mosque, once to go to the souq and once to go and hang out with a school friend of mine who now lives there with her family.
The other was our trip to Kerala, India and that was 95% our fault. We massively overscheduled ourselves with long drives every other day. We hadn’t realized when we booked that even on the ‘off days’ we had lots of driving to do to get to the tourist attractions. It ended up being a huge amount of time in the car. We stayed in 5 or 6 places in 10 days and every place involved a battle about cots for Thing 2 including in a couple of places where the cot was a crib for a little baby not a toddling trouble maker! In one of the places the cot was mouldy! So we had a quite a bit of a co-sleeping and interrupted sleep in the mix. At one point I was so tired I asked my husband to look into going home early which we have NEVER done. I’m glad we stayed but it was the hardest work a holiday has ever been and for me that’s not a holiday. I think this photo pretty much summed it up!
What are your top three tips for other families who wish to travel?
Research and prepare – that’s not to say you need an itinerary where you have every minute scheduled (although if that’s your bag then go for it!) but knowing what your options and must do things are really helps and stops there being a debate each morning about what you are going to do. It helps to be flexible about what you are going to do (and when) in case you have to change plans suddenly. For me preparation includes:
- taking our favourite nutritious snacks so I know we won’t be caught on the hop with hangry kids or feeding them yellow food the whole time
- packing some home comforts including comforters / teddies, a few familiar toys that we haven’t played with for a while and some favourite stories
- bringing along some new activity books / toys for novelty factor
- taking tried and tested medications such as paracetamol/acetaminophen, antihistamines, cough medicine, etc. that we know you have a decent flavor and haven’t given us any adverse reactions
Leave your comfort zone but know your limits – it’s always nerve wracking to do new things with kids when you don’t know how they (or you) are going to react but ultimately you will all survive and you never know, you might just enjoy yourselves! You and your kids are more resilient than you give yourselves credit for and I really do think you are more likely to regret not doing something than doing it. That said, constantly going outside your comfort zone isn’t a holiday for any one and will probably result in cranky kids and parents. Make sure everyone has time doing something they like to do. We also factor in chill out time to recharge batteries and to prepare for our next activity. Flexibility is definitely key here too.
Be true to yourself – an authentic holiday is a happy holiday. There’s no point doing a load of stuff if you are going to have the kids whining behind you the whole time, or doing an all beach holiday if you and your partner get bored after half an hour. For me I think a mix of things is best for most families. I go on about balance in holidays a lot but for us it is probably the single thing that has really worked.
9. What do you wish you had known or done before starting family travel?
It’s a contradiction but I wish I had realized how easy and how difficult it can be! The difficult trips blindsided me and the easy ones from the early days left us feeling rather unfulfilled. It got to a point where I couldn’t see how we were ever going to have a holiday that ticked boxes for everyone whereas now we have definitely achieved that balance on recent holidays. I won’t say we have it nailed – each holiday is a new experience and we need to approach it accordingly! (Plus I never like to tempt fate as my kids always find out and act up!). My one piece of advice to new families wanting to travel is just take the trip! I think the thought of doing it can be overwhelming for people who don’t travel much but it doesn’t need to be. Even with our frequent travel, I worry we have bitten off more than we can chew but don’t regret any of the trips we have done. I truly believe we are exposing our kids to places, cultures and experiences that will shape their lives.
What are your future family travel plans?
I am ALWAYS planning holidays! We are about to go to Italy for 3.5 weeks where we will go to Rome, Naples, Lake Como and Sicily. We are meeting family or friends in each place so we are excited to see everyone. On the whole I think it makes life easier to have other kids around as they entertain each other (major caveat – make sure it’s the right kids and that they all get on or you might as well not bother going at all). We have 12 days in the UK in September as we haven’t been back for a year and we want to go away in October but probably won’t travel far. We are heading off with mum for Christmas with destination TBA (current front runners are a Nile cruise and diving holiday in Egypt or a safari and beach holiday in Tanzania and Zanzibar – all recommendations welcome!). Then skiing in February which will be the first time we have taken the kids to the snow, so I’m looking forward to that. After we will probably stop booking things while we find out if we will stay here for another job, go somewhere new or go back to the UK but I am sure we will squeeze in some long weekends here and there to keep things interesting.
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