1. You have to stay somewhere as good or better than home. My very clever friend Other Jess once told me this, and I think she is right. Once you have a child, and probably until they are at least five, for a trip away to in any way resemble a holiday you need to stay somewhere this is not inferior to your own home.
Staying in a crappy hotel when you are travelling in Mexico without kids is fine. You can eat out every meal, spend all day sightseeing, and just use it as a place to lay your mezcal-addled head for a few hours a night. Once there is a small person to consider, comfort becomes more important, because a grumpy, bored, uncomfortable kid makes everything crappy for everyone.
Look for cooking facilities, air conditioning if the climate requires it, a separate living space for your child to sleep in, if that’s what they are used to at home. Some or all of these will make your life more fun. The best place we stayed was a house we rented for a week from the family who lived there, who had gone on vacation. They had a three-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy, and more toys than I have ever seen in one place. For May Blossom, it was like living at play group, but without all the pesky sharing. It was the most relaxing week of our trip because she pretty much entertained herself while we ate chips and watched the Olympics on the massive telly.
2. You can ask more than you think of your kid. Even if at home your child needs to go to bed every night at seven, and you can’t imagine them lasting a day without riding their tricycle or playing with their eleventy thousand toys, you might be surprised at what they are capable of on holiday. They make anything into a toy: at one stage we had a hotel room that was fitted out for people with disabilities. It came with a typewriter-like device to allow deaf people to use the phone. Once unplugged, MB played offices with it very happily for ages.
3. You can’t ask too much of your kid. There is a point where you can’t keep winging it. There is no way to know in advance what that point it. When you reach it, you will know.
Small people like a bit of routine, and they seem to need a fair bit of downtime every day. After three weeks of eating out almost every night, and going to bed at nine-thirty or ten, May Blossom lost her shit in spectacular style one evening at a very fancy Italian restaurant where we were trying to celebrate my mother’s birthday. There was sobbing, wailing and screaming. One of her parents swore angrily and repeatedly at May Blossom, under her (subtle clue there about which parent it was) breath and through tears and clenched teeth. It was no-one’s finest hour.
Try not to reach that point, but I have no tips on how not to. Just be a perfect parent, if you can manage it.
4. A headphone splitter is the best $10 you’ll ever spend. A headphone splitter allows up to five people to attach their earphones to one laptop or iPad. We generally stick to two pairs, because we are conservative like that, but it allows H and I to both listen as we watch something (and by ‘something’ I obviously mean season two of Downton Abbey) on the iPad when we are stuck in a hotel room with a sleeping sprog at night while travelling. How’s that for bringing back the romance?
5. Plane trips end. It’s good to remember that, when you are five hours into a thirteen-hour flight and the sleeping appears to be all done. It will end. It will.
6. Old-fashioned manners buy lots of good grace. We have taught MB to shake hands and say ‘How do you do?’ upon being introduced to new people. It slays them. I think it helps them to look past her often-matted hair and dirty face. I’ve had people hear it and compliment us on our parenting even when she has an unwiped nose, is wearing her shoes on her hands, and is clearly up way past her bedtime. It’s a gimmick, but it works.
7. Buy more cheese sticks than you think you’ll need. Apply this tip to whatever your child’s current snack obsession is. You don’t want to deal with no cheese sticks when you are ten hours from landing.
8. Imaginary friends are invaluable. My brother invented a bobcat named, imaginatively, Bob, to accompany May Blossom on this trip. It was designed to help her not miss Gustocat so much. It worked brilliantly. Whenever she was sad – and not just about Gussie, really whenever she was starting to melt down about anything – all we had to do was ask her where Bob was, and what mischief he might be up to, and about seventy per cent of the time she would cheer right up and launch into some tale of feline naughtiness or other.
9. Break the rules and deal with the consequences later. At home we rarely let MB watch TV. We feed her a pretty balanced diet with lots of fresh food and little that’s processed.
On holidays, that all went out the window. She did eat a lot of fruit, because the Colorado peaches are like heaven right now, but she ate French fries every day, many hamburgers and hot dogs, a lot of salty cheese sticks and chips, and if I had to hazzard a guess, I’d now put her at about sixty per cent chocolate chip cookie, forty per cent little girl. She watched hours of tv some days (most of it the Olympics, with us), and we lost all resistance to letting her play with our phones and iPad whenever she wanted. But we can change all that now we’re back, and it made for a much more pleasant time for everyone.
Robert Frost had six children, but he spent a lot of his summers writing alone in a two-room cabin in the Vermont woods. If he hadn’t, his famous poem would have read ‘I took the path of least resistance and that has made all the difference’.
10. Always check under the bed before leaving a hotel.