Monday, 3 November 2014

Lessons Learned: Family Road Trippin'

I think the first family holiday must be some kind of rite of passage for a mother. It puts your planning and list making skills to the test and reveals the type of parent you really are. In my case, I was that mum who had the wall space above our spare bed covered in colour coordinated lists with squares instead of bullet points for easy tick-offing. The suitcases were open and piles of clothes and necessities were stacking up a week or more before the day of departure. This was going to be an almost three week trip. And I was going to be prepared. 

Overall, it was such a special time for our new family and the hundreds of photos we did take just don't do it justice. It's one of those times in your life you wish an invisible cameraman was following you and later, whenever you want, you could pull out the video archives and replay the memories. I'd like to think all the hard work I put into planning helped it be such an enjoyable time. Here are some valuable lessons I learnt throughout the process of planning, packing and travelling on that first family holiday. 

Photo credit, Jim Champion

Lesson One: If you're packing for one week, you may as well pack for three!

A one week holiday plan quickly turned into a three week holiday plan. I was determined to make the most of this time together as hubby hadn't taken any leave since bub was born (we set off when she was about six months). In the first five minutes of thinking about what we'd need to take I realised that it was going to be a bit of an ordeal, so I made the quick decision that this holiday was going to be a decent one and combined a few stops over three weeks instead of one stop for just over one week. There was a particular drive near the family we were visiting we wanted to do and I was eager to go to the Hunter Valley so I created our journey to include these things.

Lesson Two: Over, over, over-estimate how long it will take you to drive somewhere.

We could have made the trip to see family in seven hours, but as we hadn't taken bub on a car trip that was longer than an hour and a half before, we decided to stop halfway. All our car trips were no longer than four hours direct to make sure that if bub needed a long stop or eight short stops we wouldn't arrive anywhere when it was dark and we would be able to get set up and put her down at a reasonable time. 

Lesson Three: Pack whole day and night outfits together.

Maybe the best advice I was given regarding packing, and oh so helpful for the husband, was to pack combinations of clothing in snap lock bags for day and night. We travelled in August/September, so the weather was cooler meaning a few layers of clothing every day. I was originally going to pack all onesies in one bag, all socks in another, all leggings in one etc etc BUT this would have meant a lot of zipping and unzipping of bags for every change. Instead, I would put her in a singlet, bodysuit and wondersuit for nighttime (all in one bag), then in the morning I would grab a bag that had a T-shirt, pants, socks and bib and put this over her nighttime singlet. I packed a spare day zip lock bag in the nappy bag (that also had a spare singlet for soak throughs) and, ta-da, all sorted! After each wash (stay somewhere with a washing machine!!!!) I would re-sort the clothes back into the bags. Her suitcase looked like neat little packages all inside. No rummaging for an outfit that matched and bits and pieces everywhere. So easy! Check out the blog link in the photo credit below for more great tips on packing with kids. 

Photo credit,

Lesson Four: Have an idea of what you want to do, and what time, the day before.

We had a few places we wanted to visit while we were in certain towns. It is important to know what day places are open (some are closed certain weekdays) and what their trading hours are. When you arrive somewhere decide what day you'll go where (including 'just relax at the accommodation' days), and then work out the best time for your family to visit these places. We knew our bub would always cope better earlier in the day, so trips to the zoo, gardens, tourist attractions and lookouts were planned for her best awake time. We also know that she sleeps really well in the car, so if a destination was a good thirty minutes plus away we would leave for when her nap time started. But YOU know what works best for your kids and you know how much they can handle. Don't overdo it. It's meant to be a holiday. Planning our visits this way meant we saw everything we wanted, we weren't disappointed by a place being closed, we knew how much to budget for entry costs and we weren't dealing with a cranky baby (well most of the time), when we just arrived at a destination. I can also vouch for tourist information centres as well. Look at the flyers for different places. Half of our trip was decided by seeing advertising at our first tourist attraction. 

Lessons Four 'b': Research online for discounts/off-peak rates and specials

I can't stress enough the importance of planning and researching to get the best deals. We got two bedroom accommodation for under $100 a night because we travelled off peak season and midweek. We got in a few dollars cheaper to attractions because it was cheaper to buy their tickets online. It is well worth the time to do a bit of digging and comparing first.

Lesson Five: Make sure you ALL get in the photos. 

I love family holiday happy snaps, but PLEASE make sure they feature your whole family. Don't let one parent get stuck behind the lens the whole time meaning that there aren't any photos that show you all having fun when you look back on them. You are naturally happy and relaxed on a holidays, so it will most likely make for an excellent quality family photo. Ask a fellow tourist, use a tripod or the car bonnet and timer. Whatever you do, get some whole family or at least rotating parent snaps. BUT don't get into the trap of seeing your holiday through a viewfinder. Take some photos when you get there, maybe some video footage to capture sounds and movement, a shot for Instagram or fb if really needed, then put the camera away to enjoy the place where you are. Pull it out for special moments again, but don't have it glued in your hand the WHOLE time. 
(I have found that a lot of family photos we've taken since bub was born are very close up portraits - which can get quite mundane. Include the surroundings in your shots with people featured, as jut landscapes can get boring too). 

Lesson Six: Pack only what you NEED and pack the boot sensibly.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you need to think logically about what to bring and where all your stuff is packed, especially when travelling with a baby! After deciding on everything we would use with bub over a few days I tried to think about what could double up, what we could really do without and what would take up a bit more room, but actually make life a lot more comfortable for us while we were away. I booked places with bathtubs (or laundry sinks), I didn't overpack consumables like baby food and nappies we could pick up on the way, I bet on washing every three days, I chose very different but very few baby toys and I didn't worry too much about adults stuff (I was happy wearing the same thing for a couple of days). When you have a pram, portable high chair, port-a-cot and a change pad in the boot already, there's very little space for suitcases and the few bags of extras (like towels, shoes, coats and beach gear). We decided we wouldn't need the pram until after we arrived at our first accommodation, so that went in first, with the cot etc. Anything we needed quick access to, like the nappy bag, went in easy access spots. It seems obvious, but it's amazing what you might need and how it sneaks its way under everything. 

Lesson Seven: Have fun!

Family holidays are times to relax and have fun. Be considerate of the other family members. Plan things that each person will want to do, even if not everyone agrees. A little give and take goes a long way and you might even end up enjoying something you didn't think you would. Try to avoid being too connected to the phone and if you need to make contact with work, limit it to half an hour just before dinner, for example, and switch the email alerts off otherwise. Just remember that all too soon the holiday will be over and your kids and family will never be just the way they are at that moment ever again. Cherish it. 

Photo credit, Global Panorama

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