I've had a beautiful week this week with my family in Queensland on the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast here in Australia. It was time for some sun amidst the dark winter days, time to catch up with some wonderful friends in the hinterland and for me to attend a conference for two days - during which my husband would have some *relaxing* time with the kids. We've come home feeling... refreshed. Relaxed? Hmmm. Not SO much. But it was worth the break and I want to explain why.
I'll preface this post by saying that we haven't ever done a resort holiday - as a couple or as a family. I've heard they're amazing, and perhaps even relaxing if we want to go that far. I'm sure if we had been on one we'd have been be able to take advantage of the incredible kids clubs, nannies or babysitters and swimming pools all to ourselves in the sunshine. Don't get me wrong - we've swum in swimming pools and longed for babysitting at times, but these aren't the holidays we have chosen for ourselves. Not yet. One day in the not too distant future we'll explore an option like this and I'll be sure to write about my experiences. Until then, adventure and exploring all the way.
My husband and I have always been travelers - the sort of long term travel where you have to budget for 9 to 12 months of living on the road, and you move through incredible towns, villages and cities with just a bag on your back and camera around your neck (back when we started phones didn't take photos!). We've bought a 4WD in eastern Africa and lived in tents that were too small for both of us, we've frequented backpackers through eastern and western Europe, we've lived in camper vans around Australia and we've couch-surfed all over the world. Maybe you could say that our lack of 'resort' experience is because we're grasping desperately onto the 'old adventurers' in us, but we've also had some great adventures since we've had the kids. We're still (mostly) sane so I think we're doing alright so far.
But can a trip with a 3.5 year old and 12 month old be truly relaxing?
In my experience of traveling with our babes - relaxing is not quite the right word. Restorative? Yes. But given they are usually tiring, maddening, rambunctious affairs and often just down right frustrating, relaxing is not the word I would use. But our memories of these trips are that they are full of adventure and a renewed sense of energy and fun for all of us.
So if we give up on the 'relaxing' part and go with the flow of adventure and energy on these trips - how can a holiday with a baby and a toddler be 'restorative'? This holiday we found our groove and came home still feeling somewhat 'refreshed' for what I think were three key reasons: we learnt to breathe even MORE deeply than usual; we embraced early bed times with the kids when we had to and we let go of routine for the sake of our sanity and in embracing the present moment. Each day we found a sense of peace amidst the chaos and renewal despite the noise.
TAKE A DEEP BREATH...
I know that everyone always says that before we yell, or get frustrated with children (or ourselves!) that we should take a breath and perhaps just walk away. Even if only for a moment. Well, it's not so different when you're traveling with small children and want to try and not only retain your sanity but actually ENJOY the day to day moments despite the throwing of tantrums, resistance of day sleeps and the sibling love/turbulence that starts even in the baby years. When you throw in an unfamiliar bedroom, air conditioning or a rental car/van, the need to pause and take a moment to breath is all the more important.
When my husband and I found ourselves getting frustrated with the toils of traveling and tantrums away from home we would stop, lower our voices and take big, long, slow breaths. Oxygen deep into the body really does incredible things - even if it is just slowing down the response that we WANT to give, and giving us more time to consider how unsettled the kids might be feeling, or that they've just not had a great sleep and that they can't control their outbursts like we can as adults. But practising mindfulness whilst walking, eating, even just as passengers in a car while driving - anything and everything helps. There is a reason why more people are choosing to be mindful in their every day lives and becoming aware of the breath in any given moment is a great way to bring this into daily practice. When you're away from home and your familiar go-tos with the kids, sometimes the breath is all you have!
VERY EARLY BED TIMES (FOR US!)
We spent the last three nights of our time away in a hotel room. One big, open hotel room with a portacot and a king sized bed. We normally do apartments or campgrounds so we didn't really know how this was going to play out. What we did know was that an attempt to do anything else you might do in a hotel room (we're talking movies here people) was just not. going. to. work. We didn't fight it. We came prepared. Head torches and a book each. It was strangely romantic to have our amazing little lady dozing in the portacot next to the bed, our toddler in between us fast asleep and us in bed by 7.30 and reading by head torch light, occasionally brushing hands or admiring our sleeping babes.
What that also meant was silence and being together without the need or ability to speak. We read for an hour and then slept ourselves and our kids (who wake up in the early stages of the night quite a bit) were settled and peaceful because we were right there alongside them. We slept beautifully for these three nights because we chose to give in to the reality of a big, shared room and go with it. I read more than I expected I would and on those nights - had far more sleep than usual.
LET GO OF STRICT ROUTINES
This is a big one - we've always had early-ish but not set bed times for the kids (not 'must have them in bed by 11.30 on the dot and 7pm on the dot every day) but they are normally in bed between 6 and 7. We also haven't been the sort of parents to keep their kids in bed when there are rare adventures to be had past their bed time. As someone prone to getting stressed out about work and study - I just don't have room in my life for more stress about whether my kids were in bed by 7 or 7.25. So if there ARE rare and exciting adventures to be had past bed time, my kids will be there for the fun and making memories alongside the rest of us. But even if you do tend to keep on a really strict bed time routine - this recommendation also fits for you. Because unless you are staying in the one place for the whole time (and you may well do that - if so, this may not apply), it just won't happen that you'll be able to stick to your usual routine. You're away from home - it will be anything but usual. Bring the teddy, the stories, sing the song and put them in the sleeping bag that they know and love - but don't add stress or ideals about bed time perfection to your holiday. Letting go of that expectation is rejuvenating. You are, after all, on holidays!
A SENSE OF RENEWAL. A SENSE OF REST.
So if you are an active, adventurous traveler and are taking your small children along for the ride - can I first just say, good on your for making memories for your kids. Even though my kids probably won't remember driving through the western USA in a campervan, tramping through New York City, or driving the Australian coastline as they have to this point, they'll have learned to go with the flow, be inquisitive and adapt to the situations around them. Travel is in their blood.
But if you do prefer this kind of travel it may not be possible to have a truly relaxing holiday with a toddler and baby in tow, but you can feel refreshed, rejuvenated and come home feeling renewed and ready to face the world anew.
You see, the very act of taking time away from your busy life - whether it is five minutes, five days, or five weeks - is in itself an act of renewal for your body, mind and soul. You are giving yourself time and space in a different place and throwing routine and 'normal' to the wind. It's empowering.
It will feel fabulous most of the time. If you have small children as so many of us do at these early stages of our professional and working lives, you can still go on holiday and have those crazy, amazing family adventures, but just know that the sense of rest that you'll come home with is more as a result of taking a break and allowing yourself that space away from 'normal life' - not from hours of sleep whilst lazing by the pool!
I came home more physically tired than I had been when I left and a little battle sore but I also came home with fresh eyes, a better attitude for all I have happening in my life right now and an appreciation for my family. Not to mention more of those amazing memories of adventure.
I may not be relaxed but I am renewed, I am rejuvenated and I am refreshed. To me that is also what holidays are all about.
I'd love to hear of your stories about traveling with little ones!