You know what they say about families? They’re mostly sweet, but with a few nuts! Travelling to visit extended family can often bring out the nutty side. You might arrive home and feel like you need a holiday from your holiday. But taking your kids to visit their grandparents or to see places that are special to your family is a really lovely adventure to embark on.
I recently took a family trip to Europe, where we caught up with relatives and friends, but also managed to squeeze in what we wanted to do. Here are my top tips for staying sane on a family holiday back to your home town.
This is probably the hardest part of the trip. How do you see everything you want to see without upsetting those who want to spend the most amount of time with you? Priorities will always come to the immediate family, but don’t spend your whole holiday pleasing others as you’ll return home exhausted. Be flexible with your dates and try arranging to have a few extra days back home to settle before going back to work. Be sure to split time between seeing your relatives and friends, and spending time alone as a family unit.
Instead of flying straight through on a long haul journey, consider stopping off for a couple of days somewhere that is closer to the time-zone you are visiting. This will help you avoid jet lag. It will also switch you into holiday mode ahead of facing families and friends. This type of side trip can work wonders especially for the children and you probably won’t suffer as badly as you would have if they flew straight through!
Where to sleep
People always feel obliged to offer to let you stay at their house. Sometimes, however, the logistics of fitting an entire family into one house can be a daunting task. If you know the person and their house and you think it will simply be too hard, suggest booking into a local pub or hotel that offers basic but clean and reasonably priced family rooms. Everyone will probably be grateful for the reprieve. Try and book as far in advance as possible to make the most of good online deals.
Staying for more than a few days
If you plan to stay somewhere for more than a few days, a space to escape to is very important – not only for the kids, but for the grown-ups too! Being able to close the door and watch your own TV and have some “me” time can keep the family dynamics smooth. Have a look at Airbnb for hiring an apartment, but make sure you do this well in advance as the good places get snapped up quickly. A more expensive option is to book either 2 interconnecting rooms in a hotel but this can be very expensive. Some research and negotiation will reveal options that suit your family – we used some frequent flyer points to offset the expense and we were very happy with the Citadines one bedroomed apartment we had in Paris. It had a kitchenette and a large sofa bed which converted into two single beds which was perfect for the kids.
If you’re travelling long distance for family, don’t forget that your kids may be visiting your old ‘home’ country with fresh eyes. What is familiar for you will be fascinating to them, so don’t skimp on the sightseeing. Are there any beautiful beaches nearby, castles or major tourist attractions like Stonehenge? Use these side trips as a way to show the kids the local area and also use it as an opportunity to spend quality time with other family members. If it’s the weekend you can always meet up with the cousins at their favourite local attractions, killing two birds with one stone.
If you plan to stay somewhere for a few days, it is a good idea to have a couple of evenings at home. A bowl of plain old pasta in-front of the TV goes down well with the kids. After a solid day sightseeing or being on their ‘best behaviour’ in front of family and strangers, the kids will relish in the opportunity to decompress. It may seem simple but it makes a world of difference to the kids, and is an easy way to avoid the expense of eating out.
We take the weather for granted in Australia. Anyone who has lived in the U.K. or Europe for a long period of time knows that the weather can be very unpredictable. Catching colds will not make your trip easier. Pack at least one jumper and one rain-coat each to be prepared – you can always buy more of whatever you need when you are there.
Breaking up the return journey
This is an absolute must for our family. Make sure you add on a few days of rest or resort time on the way back before you head home. Asia is a great cheap stop over if you can afford it. There are some great half board deals around. Your kids will benefit from some down time and may transition back into the school routine more quickly.
Hiring a car
Hiring a car is a must if you have family scattered all over the place. Choose a sizeable car with a large boot. We booked our vehicle through Holiday Autos, which is a comparison website for 8 different hire car companies. Make sure if you are renting a car that you feel refreshed before you jump behind the wheel, especially if you are driving on the wrong side of the road.
Top Tip – International driving permit (IDP) in addition to a valid Australian driving licence to legally drive a hire car in the UK. If you are planning to hire a car in Europe you will need one so make sure you do this at least 2 weeks in advance of your departure date otherwise you may need to rush off to your local NRMA ( or equivalent automobile association) office, which can create one of the spot if you have a valid passport photograph.