There’s no denying that life BC, before children, is very different from life after. Setting off on your travels with kids in tow doesn’t have to mean swapping Costa Rica for Center Parcs, you just need to be prepared and, like every good traveller, go with the flow. Here are 16 lessons you’ll learn along the way:
1. The world is your oyster
Let them catch the travel bug early. You can go anywhere and do anything, within reason.
2. They’ll remember the strangest things
Children will recall the funniest details – not the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower but the colour of the bedspread in the B&B where you stayed a single night. However random, cherish this store of mental postcards, scribbling them down in a scrapbook if you can, before they're long forgotten.
3. Whatever the distance, it’s a long way
However long the journey, however many times you've made it, however many times they've already been told, your young passengers will never tire of asking "when will we get there?".
4. Extra time is invaluable
It will feel like your small brood has multiplied and you're parent to quintuplets when you're against the clock, trying to rush everyone through check-in and security at record speed. It's stating the obvious, but get to the airport early.
5. Too much extra time is excruciating
There's no point boarding early, however momentarily smug it makes you feel, if your seats are booked anyway – most budget airlines allocate seats these days. It just means kids having to sit longer in a confined space, strapped in, which is asking for trouble.
6. Kids are a cheap date
Children under 12 have been exempt from UK air passenger duty since May 2015 (and from May 2016 under 16s will be off the hook too) – a small saving on European flights but more significant for long-haul destinations. Even so, having to pay adult rate air fares for over-twos is a bitter pill to swallow. Before that age, the low price of travel is matched by the piddling chances of their remembering much of it, but it’s still worth making the most of those cost-free first two years.
7. They will surprise you at every turn
They'll defy expectations – sitting still, sleeping soundly and behaving angelically through one flight, only to howl and fidget through the next.
8. You’ll be humbled
Do not judge the family floundering at check-in or struggling on board with the screeching kids. There but for the grace of God... See above.
9. Games are essential
You need more than “I spy” and “ten green bottles” in your games and songs repertoire. Audiobooks are perfect for long car journeys, of course, but other good standbys are singalongs to favourite musicals or classic albums plus edible prizes for the first person to spot a certain vehicle – purple digger or orange VW camper van anyone?
10. You’ll go to bed a lot earlier than usual
Particularly if you're all bundled into one hotel room, it's early nights and early starts all round. All the better for making the most of each day – just try not to reminisce about long, lazy mornings and late night cocktails. That was in a different life.
11. You have no shame
Modesty goes out the window and embarrassment thresholds leap sky high. There’s no time to worry about what people might see as you try to struggle into your swimsuit before your toddler eats another handful of sand, or what the locals think as you holler after an errant child in an otherwise perfectly peaceful village square.
12. You’ll be able to fake fluency
You'll nail a few basic child-related phrases – 'acqua bollente, per favore?' for bottle-feeders in Italia, 'il y a one chaise haute?' before you settle down at a French restaurant table, for example – and repeat them so many times, with such increasing confidence and nonchalance, that you’ll start to feel almost fluent.
13. You should always read the label
You may be tempted to pack a case-load of Ella's Kitchen pouches to get through a trip with a fussy eater in tow, but no matter how large your bag, you're always going to need to top up – and of course you and your infant would be sorely missing out if you didn't. On Italian horsemeat paste baby food, perhaps.
14. The toilet rules all
Your itinerary (not to mention the journey itself) will be governed not by the weather, range and proximity of unmissable sights or accessibility of public transport, but by toilet breaks. Frequent, inconveniently timed, always urgent. You'll remember the most desperate ones and their scenic locations – a pee from the old city walls in York, for instance.
15. Sand will get everywhere
Between their toes and in more painful spots. It will also turn up in kids’ pockets and shoes for days to come, a gritty souvenir. Brush on talc to get rid of sticky wet sand before you slather on the sun cream.
16. You should never leave home without wipes