Holidays or hellidays?

Nothing demonstrates with quite such clarity the difference in your world, and that you are no longer the centre of it, as going on holiday after you’ve had a baby.

Pre-kids the holiday starts before you depart, with body prepping and shopping for flimsy summer clothes that make you feel good and will enhance the tan you’ll be picking up from all those hours lolling by the pool, dabbling in a bit of reading and supping something cold. The airport provides another opportunity to shop and buy a few magazines for lazily flicking through, before you casually stroll to the plane and sit next to your loved one holding hands.

Our first holiday as a couple was a luxurious and magical two weeks in Mexico. We mooched, we ordered room service in the middle of the night because we could, and we’d…er…worked up an appetite. In the middle of the night for goodness sake. We’d just got engaged and the world was beautiful. I did make a shocking discovery about my husband-to-be on that holiday that threatened to prematurely end our blossoming relationship. Before we left he mentioned that he’d pack his black bag for our passports and money. ‘Practical and thoughtful’ I thought, possibly a bit smug at my catch that kept getting better. Turns out this black bag was a bumbag. That’s right, the man of my dreams owned – and used – a fanny pack. In 2007. The saving grace and what stopped me from having to restart the search for Mr Right is that he wore it on his shoulder. He still argues it was simply ‘a bag with an optional use for the strap’.

Fast forward a few years and I’m wishing that had remained the most offensive thing about our luggage. Normal, day-to-day running of babies requires a lot of stuff; nothing prepared me for the holiday packing. The combination of babies and a fear of the unknown leaves you with only one option: pack everything you EVER owned for EVERY eventuality and then shove in a few other things just in case. The black out blind, the sun tent, the toys that will hopefully bypass a meltdown, the thicker-than-paint suncream, summer clothes, warmer clothes in case it gets cold because you can never trust the forecasts, beakers/bottles/spoons, travel steriliser, favourite snacks that they can’t possibly have in a country such as Spain. As much as possible gets crammed in to your hand luggage because you might just need it on the plane. The space for your own clothes is reduced to a tiny corner of the suitcase, but you don’t care because *sniffs* it’s just old crap anyway and you’ll look rubbish in it. Then when you’ve spent the best part of a month planning, buying and packing everything, you’ll be expected to stand on ceremony when your partner finally gets involved to put it in the car. He’ll repeatedly mutter that he’s not sure it’s all going to fit (as panic rises in your stomach – you NEED the goddamn fold-up stairgate) and then will finally stand back looking proudly at his efforts, like his skill at packing the boot can be directly linked to the size of his manhood.

Suitcase of booze
Someone had the right idea

So you arrive at your destination and think ‘ah, now the holiday can begin…we can go out this evening and put the kids to sleep in the buggy whilst we enjoy a few drinks and some dinner and reeeelax’. How hard can it be, right? My friend took a double buggy abroad with just that in mind. “We took it in turns to manically rock the baby whilst the other momentarily sat with a drink, diving up every two minutes to run after our toddler Evie, who was high as a kite and keen to explore. Then Evie disappeared and I had the hotel on lockdown and the DJ making missing child announcements. We recovered Evie (in the toilet) and eventually got them both to sleep, managed to neck a glass and headed for the lift to go to our room on the 10th floor. Except the only way we could get the stupid fucking double buggy in the lift was to partially fold it in on itself, whilst trying to avoid crushing two sleeping children’. My friend finished the story ‘It goes without saying the hotel flooded within two hours of our arrival due to horrendous storms’. Welcome to Hellidays.

How does all this play out for the happy couple?

I can only speak for myself and Doug when I suggest that there were moments both of us thought ‘why have we bothered’. Stress levels can get quite high and the through the teeth ‘isn’t-this-lovely-you-forgot-the-fucking-sandwiches’ bickering isn’t fun for anyone. When those pictures of Simon Cowell and Lauren Silverman on the beach with their fresh-from-the-womb son were in the paper, everyone was talking about her body or the fact that they were out and about so soon. I found myself searching the pictures for tell-tale signs of her muttering ‘for the love of god Simon, would you cover his skin from the sun’.

A few friends have used the term ‘same shit, different location’. One friend said she wept the entire way home from her first holiday – one of those slightly awkward times when the tears just won’t stop coming even when you’re saying ‘I’m fine’ on repeat. She was in mourning for holidays of old, and aggrieved that time she had so been looking forward to with her little family felt like anything but a holiday. Another said on her first holiday with two kids she was counting down the days until she got home, and felt like an old person that couldn’t wait to get back to the safety of her own house and the comfort of her own bed. I think it’s quite common to feel this way on those first holidays with kids – it’s impossible not to have an expectation that you can recreate what holidays used to be ie relaxing, leisurely lie ins…Sir Cliff promised us no more worries for a week or two, and he wouldn’t lie. Except if it involves a baby in their first year or so, it’s unlikely they’ll suddenly sleep in until 9am, there are timings and naps to incorporate, restrictions on what they can eat and, let’s face it, mum is possibly still a bit unhinged and hormonal, and sad because the thing she needs most in all the world is a bloody holiday. Plus someone always always gets the shits or a virus. Doug and Mabel both ended up in ‘I love Palma Aquarium’ t-shirts when Mabel got through two outfit changes and covered her dear old Dad on a day trip last year. I know there are people that love travelling with kids and don’t feel like babies need to put a stop to their adventurous holidays. They must be considerably more laid back than me.

I found the first couple of holidays with a baby like pretty much all the ‘firsts’ of anything that could be directly compared to my old life – hard work and a bit disappointing. That’s not to say that I didn’t still enjoy them and spend time in between meltdowns enthusiastically chanting ‘this is the life’ and ‘aren’t we having a lovely time’ (possibly whilst holding a gin). It’s just so very different. However, I have some good news. With each trip I have got more accepting that holidays are no longer what they once were, I am able to embrace a different kind of holiday, and they have become something lovely again. We were in Wales for five days last week. We drove there at a leisurely pace, we stopped on the way at a pub for lunch where both kids could eat from the menu, and – best of all – now that Mabel is 20 months we didn’t need all the extra shit! Partly because she can just use normal cups and chairs, but also because I’ve learned from lugging items such as foldable stairgates that didn’t even fit the doorways that it’s unnecessary shit. Perhaps I no longer have the fear that is all encompassing when they’re younger. I should probably also acknowledge the power of the iPad as an excellent holiday weapon for travelling and general moments of angst.

We went to the same place in Wales when Mabel was 7 months old and Buster was two, and it felt so bizarre because I could completely remember how I felt when we were there a year ago. Sad, lost, exhausted – desperate for ‘me’ time, but too anxious to actually take it. Looking back I was still in the fog. I’d just stopped breastfeeding so my hormones were going wild, I was anxious about keeping to a routine so we didn’t screw up everything we’d been working for in order to get some actual sleep. Once they’re a bit older all the timings are a bit more flexible and the all-important food and sleep is a bit more reliable. The place we were at had activities like bug hunts and hobbit walks and the kids were so bloody happy it was infectious. Buster – previously terrified by the wave machine – doggy paddled his way down the lazy river, panting and spluttering ‘Mum I’m doing it!’. I watched Mabel happily spend 30 minutes kicking and throwing a beach ball around the pool, one delicious dimpled bum cheek permanently hanging out of her swimming costume, and batting off any kids that tried to take her ball. Come the evenings, the kids would go to bed exhausted and we’d have a whole uninterrupted evening to ourselves, no washing to do, no work to get ready for, just us. Necking wine, talking (can you imagine?!) and doing what a married couple in their 30s do with their alone time…that’s right, we watched Breaking Bad and ate paté.

The best thing about a holiday now is that it gives us a chance as a family to capture a moment in time that will never be the same. Both of us are there to witness whatever phase the kids are going through, lots of photos are taken and memories made, and getting the evenings to ourselves we find that we actually rather like each other. Yes, I miss lying on a beach without a care in the world. I have it on good authority from parents with older kids that this phase, where they’re testing your agility skills as they make another dash for the water, is shortlived. These people return from holidays looking rested and with a TAN. I shall hang on to that reassurance and in the meantime feel incredibly grateful for my lovely little family and all the new things they – and we – are learning

My all-time favourite holiday photo.

And if it’s more of a helliday, well there’s always gin. Lovely big holiday measures of gin.

Have you found holidays a bit…different? Do you still manage to be adventurers? I’d love any comments


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26 thoughts on “Holidays or hellidays?

  1. Jane says:

    Currently sat on a sunbed in Greece with two weeks ahead of me with an 11month old. We’re with the grandparents (thank fuck) but still! Very glad I read this at the beginning of the holiday! Beautifully written thank you x

  2. Jess Helicopter says:

    Aw Steph….i didn’t see this last year. I think i’ve actually missed loads of your posts. I should have read this before writing my recent one about holidays being hell with small kids! This is so much more positive than mine! You put me to shame! Bless you for looking on the bright side…i’m just a moaning old caaaaaw (said in best Pat Butcher voice). Holidays now must be even better. I am so looking forward to holidays once both are nappy free! Xxxx

    • Steph says:

      Ha – I’ll have to have a read of yours! The good news is – it’s DEFINITELY getting easier. Some actual enjoyment in the mix! And a lot of bribery… x

  3. Lisa g says:

    Steph this is awesome!! So bloody true it’s scary. I have yet had the pleasure of an abroad holiday, however I did have a holiday at the start of May planned, only a 5 day trip to croyde bay, North Devon. Lovely little break for us, na that didn’t work out. Gar, the other half, just got a new job and couldn’t come so dropped us there and collected us 5 days later. I was sooooooooo tired, it was definitely a great experience for the kids but bloody hard work for me. Molly’s 3 and Elliott’s 2 next month. Molly was really quite good, I’m sure she understood that mummy was alone and she had to stay close – most of the time. Young master Elliott on the other hand has no concept of fear, running at break neck speeds towards anything dangerous, water, cars, cliffs etc, made it interesting to say the least!! Luckily we had friends visit for a couple of days and Molly’s friend from play group was there too which hugely helped at cheesy disco time when Elliott decided to disappear under tables, through the doors to the arcade and gaze lovingly at the Henry And hetty teddys in those ‘claw’ arcade machines that steal money in broad daylight!!! I am very lucky however to get a tiny piece of that olden day relaxation as some friends and I are off to Cardiff for a spa day and night on the town this weekend, woohoo!! Looking forward to the next dose of reality soon, much love xxx

  4. Jewel says:

    I remember going on holiday with our son when he was a baby (in the middle of weaning too). It did nothing but rain for a week, and I had to buy him a coat because it was so cold. For his first time on the beach, I made him some sandcastles but we have a photo of him looking as if he’s wondering why on earth we have brought him to this awful cold place. I just tried to look on holidays when he was little as a “change of scene” and not an actual holiday for me i.e. rest as such.

    It has become a lot easier and more civilised as he’s got older, especially once we didn’t need all the baby equipment any more, although he did manage to be sick in the middle of the night on our last holiday. Also I still have about 100 items of clothing to clean, dry, iron and put away once it’s all over and that seems to tire me out more than the holiday gives me a rest.

  5. Lisa says:

    There were definitely holidays like that. But I think it just reflected the same panic / everything is overwhelming feeling that you get when you leave the house for the first few times with a new baby. To be fair I still feel anxious whenever we head towards a plane. I LOVE road trips. At least you don’t need to stress about the kids screaming or squabbling bugging anyone else. Plus we’ve got allergies to manage. MAJOR stressor when travelling.

  6. Emma says:

    This is so true! We went abroad for the first time with both kids as I needed some sun (after spending the last 2 years in the rain in a caravan) so we put it on the credit card and looked forward to a sunny holiday with the kids. Unfortunately a week before the little one had just learned to walk properly, the villa we hired had a pool that was unfenced and all the cupboards opened at the little one’s height. We spent a lot of time making sure he didn’t fall in the pool or break all the crockery. Also the local restaurants didn’t open till 7 so it was hard to eat out for dinner with a 14mth and 4yr old! But they loved the beach and we did have fun. It was hard work though and felt I needed a holiday to get over the holiday! Another brilliantly honest blog. Thank you, it makes me feel better that I’m not alone in feeling disappointed about that first holiday! X

  7. Jenny says:

    Great post and so true. We recently took our 2 year old and 8 month old at the time to Lanzarote for our first proper family holiday. I am really lucky to have two very great sleepers so we brought our double stroller with us and every night fed them and put them to sleep in the stroller with our snooze shade then Mr P and I would go out to eat while they slept and have drinks and walk the beach front all while they slept it was truly magical. I think it will be our one and only as now they are about to be 1 and 3 and the next family holiday isn’t for awhile I don’t think they will be young enough to go to bed in a stroller while we make the most of our time together. I think that was the one and only time age wise we will ever get away with it. Next time I will just have to bring the MIL with me to babysit in the hotel. lol If only. Glad you still took pictures and made great memories. I love travelling so I hope in future my kids are good travellers. So far they are but they are still young and when they are young they are so much easier. Getting into toddler age its much harder! lol Baby times are a easy times. IF only we knew that as first time parents. hahaha Great post. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me. #sharewithme

    • Steph says:

      So true – we could probably have been more adventurous with just one baby, but were too nervous to mess it all up and now it’s too late! Thanks Jenny x

    • Jade says:

      Completely agree! As a first time mum you don’t realise how portable a baby is and then they hit toddlerhood and you long for the days of them staying where you put them!

  8. Jade says:

    I just spilt my tea laughing at ‘isn’t-this-lovely-you-forgot-the-fucking-sandwiches’!

    My first holiday with a child was last summer with my then 16 month old to a caravan in Devon for a family wedding. I took EVERYTHING, including 7 homemade, prepared in advance, meals for the freezer! It turned out to be a rather lovely holiday, thanks to all the family, and therefore babysitters, that were also staying on the same site!

    We are going back this summer and will have a 3 month old in tow as well. I imagine I’ll be bringing even more crap this time!

    • Steph says:

      Yep – on our last holiday the frozen fish pie defrosted and leaked fishy stink all over all the other food I’d packed! V pleased to make you laugh, and good luck in Devon x

  9. Emma T says:

    My OH refuses to go on holiday, so I do roadtrips to visit friends and family with our son. Means a lot of travelling for me, but at least I can put in extra toys for him/scooters/bikes etc. And no need for getting passports sorted out!

    I would still like to try the hell that a holiday abroad could be with the family – I just know though, that it’ll be me doing everything as I usually end up having to sort out the OH as well, so instead of one big kid, I’ll have a big and a young one to sort out.

  10. Verily Victoria Vocalises says:

    ‘Holidays’ become non-existent when you have a child!! I have to say that it is getting easier as Grace – aged 7 – is starting to occupy herself now. Great post with lots home truths!! Thank you for linking to PoCoLo x

  11. Niki says:

    All absolutely true, and yet we keep trying for some reason??? I make the mistake of insisting on self catering so that it’s easier to feed the kids, but then just end up cooking and cleaning the whole time, it’s just like being at home!

  12. Jackie Pestell says:

    You have just put my day into perspective, thank you. I’m in a soggy tent with 3 boys, make that 4 as hubby too. I’ve had 3 hours sleep each night due to 10 month old being woken up by the 4 & 6 year olds going for a wee on rotation throughout the night. Even the tooth fairy paid a visit last night. But it’s all about the memories like you say and we will look back & say remember the time our tent flooded & you lost your front tooth..what a great time we had! Now is it too early for a glass of something?!

    • Steph says:

      Hey – it’s gone noon now, DEFINITELY not too early! You’re a braver woman than I Jackie – maybe get some you time booked in for shortly after you get back so the resentment doesn’t kick in?! But you’re right – we’ll look back and laugh and remember (most of) it fondly. I hope the rain stops for you! x

  13. The_Secret_Father says:

    Ah yes, the family holiday. You’ve captured the highs and lows brilliantly and I found myself nodding and smiling throughout this post. I understand from people that know about these things (aka smug bastards) that it does get better. Until then, you have gin. Xx

    PS here is a post I wrote on the subject a few weeks ago – Bastard Holidays | The_Secret_Father

  14. brummymummyof2 says:

    Oh yes this is true bab. This years holiday I got sun stroke. Day 2! Now that makes me a real weakling. Obvs holidays are in now way shape or form relaxing at all. However. You are right. At the end of the day they are making memories and when I return I am always sad I am not back there. Despite the utter ball ache of it. I think in three years? It will all be sorted. That’s the plan. Maybe? xxx

  15. Jude says:

    Ha! Great post. We too have an one or two hellidays since having kids. Venturing to Australia with a severely refluxing, screaming 3 month old and having to breast pump in the plane toliet because he wouldn’t latch on and my boobs were exploding was a low point… #pocolo Congrats on the BiBs Finalist thang by the way. Not jealous at all. 😉 But very well deserved! Can’t wait to meet you there! x

  16. Alicia says:

    I sat on my honeymoon eating in pretty much darkness and tried to get drunk in silence on the balcony! A fab fab fab read x

  17. Hannah Beardshall says:

    I still shudder when I remember attempting to board a budget airline, on my own with three kids, having left my husband negotiating the size of his hand luggage with the flight attendant… Baby in sling, many bags, uncooperative children. Not fun. However we survived the flight and it was actually a lovely holiday, a change of scene! The thing I find hardest about parenthood is that feeling of ‘groundhog day’ same thing, day in day out… Holidays help us gain perspective and in my case make me realise how much I have to be grateful for. My favourite bit about holidays? Getting home 🙂

  18. Rachel says:

    Our first holiday after having our eldest was terrible, she was 7 months and we were just about in a routine, nowhere served food before 8pm so we ended up in our B&B every night eating M&S sardines in silence so we didn’t wake her! She of course also had an upset stomach, her car seat was never the same again! Happy to say it has got easier, this week we’re off to Disneyland Paris with our 2 (now 5&7), I can’t wait.

    • Steph says:

      Ha! I’d forgotten about the time we had a night in a hotel with a 10 week old for my birthday (so much to learn…) and ate our dinner by the small light from the bathroom as didn’t want to wake the baby! Thanks for commenting x

      • Rachel says:

        Just realised I wrote sardines instead of sarnies! pesky auto correct. Wonder how many other new parents have sat in the dark eating on holiday!