Dad-of-two and Sky Sports presenter Alex Payne looks at the joy (and pain) of travelling with children
My wife is on the case for a holiday. The eternal darkness of winter has been punctuated by casual mentions of drinks in the pool, a bit of water skiing here, a massage there. The sun-drenched brochures left on my desk are working; I can’t bring myself to light the fire with them.
This love of disappearing to sunnier climes in January began with the appallingly named ‘babymoon’ to Mauritius when expecting our first child. The week was about as perfect as life could get. We ate, slept, read and patted the expanding stomach, occasionally rousing ourselves to swim with dolphins or hop on a boat trip to visit an island for lunch. We came back refreshed and ready to become a family.
What I didn’t realise then was how little we really needed that break at the time – and how much we’d need one once we had entered parenthood. For us it wasn’t quite like flipping a switch, more a series of steps, and if the ‘babymoon’ was level one, we reached step two a couple of years later when our daughter was joined by her younger brother. Without labouring the point, his arrival had been a rather stressful process, wrapped with caution and concern. By January, desperate for a pick me up, we booked another holiday to Mauritius. With our boy awake about as often as the low winter sun, we decided he wouldn’t mind being left behind, so we just took our daughter; bonding time with her, less hassle for us. Or so we thought.
The first warning shot was fired before we’d reached our room. There are better ways to announce yourselves at a hotel than leaping into the pool to fish out your thrashing child. As I waded out of the shallow end, the bewildered bell boy (and sunglasses peering over lowered books) suggested that we’d be better suited to a week on the beach.
We duly headed to the sea. Our daughter was paddling and splashing away in no time. And then she started screaming. And screaming. Several jellyfish had wrapped their tentacles around her arm and midriff, so, half an hour after our opening theatrics, we trailed back through the hotel carrying our wailing daughter and towing a string of fussing staff behind us.
Although we came back with some fantastic memories of sandcastles, swimming and seashells, standing in a marble-topped bath splashing one’s own urine on a sobbing child is not among them.
Neither was battling every evening with a monitor that wouldn’t stretch to the restaurant, fighting with the air conditioning to prevent her overheating or turning blue, mosquito bites and sunburn. Suffice to say it wasn’t a holiday with a lot of relaxation.
Tranquility was but a distant memory by step three: our first trip as a four to a family gathering in Scotland. My wife travelled ahead with the children while I joined a day later due to work. Nursing a god-awful hangover, I arrived into a complete vacuum of sympathy. If truth be told, my wife looked worse than I did after the scramble of getting two children, three bags, two teddy bears, one pushchair and her sanity through the airport the day before. In the rush she had left one of the children’s suitcases at the security scanner, which led to an interesting dilemma: abandon it and risk having Heathrow shut down or drag the whole family circus back through the terminal and miss the flight. They made it, with the bag, but the children will never be flustered by mid-air turbulence having survived the ordeal.
Scotland also showed us a glimpse of steps four and five, or more specifically my older brothers-in-law did. On the return journey to the airport, and overwhelmed by eight children singing Let it Go, brother-in-law one accidentally dropped the left side of the minibus into a storm drain while pulling over for another car. The tail end of the holiday turned into full-on crisis management, with frantic phone calls, tractors, winches, deep breaths, fraught wives and stunned children. But that was nothing like the shock brother-in-law two received at check-in. Deservedly switching off during his well-earned break, he had read the arrival time into Birmingham as the departure time from Inverness and so arrived two hours after their plane had left. If you do happen to find yourself as a family of five trying to get to the West Country from the north of Scotland in a hurry, there is a remarkable lack of options.
It has become apparent that there is no such thing as a holiday with children, you’re merely transferring the challenge to an unfamiliar battleground. But there is a surprising absence of this truth in the holiday brochures that litter my desk. Then again, I’ve lost interest in the family section. I’m currently researching trips for the solo traveller on a one-way ticket.