How to holiday with a toddler

Holding hands with my 18 month old son as we look out to sea - how to holiday with a toddler

Sunset sea adventures

We just got back from a 10 night holiday in the Algarve, near Albufeira, which is why I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks. It was beautiful, relaxing and wonderful to have some sun. The last one seems especially important as I’m now back in UK’s July, sitting in the house with the heating on while it rains outside.

It’s fair (obvious?) to say that holidaying with a toddler is a completely different ballgame to pre-parenthood vacations. It was still fab, but there were a few things I learned on our first trip abroad as a family, that I’m going to bear in mind for the next time.

This may be useful for anyone else like me out there, who is still occasionally struggling with the transition to motherhood (18 months in!) No matter how sussed you have things at home, going on holiday reminds you of the freedom you had before kids and highlights the contrasts between your life then and now!  Plus, if you’ve never done it, you may be wondering what to expect.

With that in mind, here are my humble opinions and tips on:

How to holiday with a toddler

  • Let go of the idea that you may be able to lie by the pool and sunbathe all day, nibbling tapas and sipping prosecco, before lazily making your way up to the room for a pre-dinner nap then donning your most glamorous outfit for a night in the most chic restaurants and cocktail bars.  It’s probably better, in the run-up, to imagine that you are going camping rather than summoning up memories of exotic holidays past – keep those expectations realistic. You’ll be staying in more nights that you have done on previous holidays, so plan a couple of easy, tasty recipe ideas to enjoy with a great bottle of wine.

Tips for holidaying with a toddler
Kicking back

  • Embrace the toddler timetable. Small children go through circadian rhythms much faster than us. Just as you are getting into the swing of things at the pool or beach, it will be nap time, or they will get cold, or hungry or just plain sick of this thank you very much. Unless you have the the most chilled out, complacent, sleep-anywhere child on the planet, you’re looking at a maximum of 2 hours in any one place. Accept that visits to the beach or pool will require one of you to be exploring with toddler, while the other one reads and surreptitiously pretends not to notice it’s their turn to supervise. By the way, you don’t need to take tons of stuff to the beach if you are just going for a couple of hours.  Some articles on Pinterest literally suggest taking a wagon-load of stuff! A spare nappy and swim nappy, wipes, sun lotion, snack, drink, beach toy and towels are pretty much all you need.
  • Get a self-catering apartment on a resort with a restaurant and shop. There’s no need to fork out for the uber baby friendly apartments advertised on Tots to Travel or Baby Friendly Boltholes. I’m not knocking those travel companies. I’m sure the equipment they supply is a lifesaver with small children, but I spent a long time looking at these and found the places I liked were either too expensive or lacking good TripAdvisor reviews. The apartment we stayed in was brilliant because it meant we could make food easily for LP and sunbathe on the terrace when he napped. There was no need to trek into town for food shopping as there was a perfectly good little shop on the resort and we had a buffet breakfast each morning.
  • Prep for the flights but expect that planned entertainment could go unheeded.  I checked out some other blogs to get ideas for items to take on the plane and they were useful, but you’ll still need to walk the toddler up and down the aisle at some point.

    We took:

    • New small toys and books (novelty is key)
    • Stickers and paper to play with
    • Snacks
    • A bottle or cup with a straw to suck instead of boiled sweet on take-off
    • The iPad with several episodes of Something Special, Twirlywoos and In the Night Garden downloaded from BBC iPlayer (this held his attention for approximately 5 minutes, but was useful at bedtime on holiday)
    • All the normal stuff – nappies, wipes, change of clothes

By the way – infants are entitled to their own 5kg “baby bag” even on Ryan Air, so this was a useful way to carry some of the clothes needed without going over our own baggage allowance

  • Take a lightweight, easy to fold pushchair. You can take it up to the steps of the aircraft. It needs to go through the scanner at security though, so being able to quickly fold and unfold is a must.

Mmm spaghetti bolognese

Mmm…spaghetti bolognese

  • Let the toddler join you at dinner time if you don’t want to get a babysitter. All of the restaurants in Albufeira are baby friendly and lots of staff seem to genuinely like children. LP loved the attention and spent the mealtimes smiling at people walking past the table. We were even able to have a post-dinner cocktail a couple of nights – the deal was that we’d buy ourselves a cocktail and LP would get a new toy car. He increased his vehicle collection quite a bit! The evening we took LP down to the beach after dinner was my favourite.

Cocktails in Albufeira

Not a great toddler friendly activity…but we sweetened the deal with toy cars

  • Find the activities that you can all enjoy and have a great time. Mealtimes were the obvious activity we could all enjoy together! But just exploring the environment, walking, splashing about in the pool, playing in the sand were the best times for LP. He was too young for the kids club but he enjoyed watching parrot and reptile shows that came to the hotel. So there’s bound to be other family friendly activities that will suit your little ones.

If you are wondering where we went, it was Balaia Golf Village, Albufeira, Portugal, I highly recommend it – although it was quite a steep walk down a slope to the beach – so best to get Daddy to push the stroller back up if you can!

Happy holidays however you are spending the summer.





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