Family holidays and how to survive them

"There's no such thing as a holiday when you have young children," a friend of mine warned me. "There's only going somewhere different to be exhausted in." Wise words. And she's only got one. We've got two. You remember when you

"There's no such thing as a holiday when you have young children," a friend of mine warned me. "There's only going somewhere different to be exhausted in." Wise words. And she's only got one. We've got two. You remember when you

were single, and you used to come back from a holiday saying you needed another holiday to recover? With small children you need another holiday to recover from the holiday you need to recover from the actual holiday. Fortunately, my eye bags are now so huge they can take some of the vast quantities of extra luggage we always have to take.

There are lessons we can learn from this. I have to admit that I have learned most of them the hard way. Travelling in a hired car for seven straight hours with a 15-month-old strapped into a car seat teaches you much about the meaning of the word "purgatory". There are only so many times you can sing "The big ship sails on the alley-alley-oh". The following, therefore, are mostly the fruits of experience - mouldy, dried-out old fruits that are beginning to stink out the fridge.

Long journeys

Obviously to be avoided at all costs. No small child can tolerate any journey of more than two hours by car or plane. When we drive from London to Devon to visit friends there, we either drive at night, which feels a little like walking a tightrope without a safety net, or we go during the boy's nap in late morning, which might give us two hours' grace. Our daughter is older and does not nap, so must be continuously bribed with sweetmeats, starting healthily (bananas, organic nut'n'gravel bars) and descending into the fiery hell of damnation that is the family pack of Skittles. Plane rides, as ours call them, are initially more entertaining for reasons of novelty, and there's always fun to be had changing a nappy within olfactory range of the pompous middle-aged men sitting in Suit Class. But long haul is unspeakable. Psychiatrists would tell you that flying to Florida with two young children is literally insane - unless you are willing to drug them into a coma for the duration of the flight, as a remarkable number of parents now are.

Train journeys are a little easier: three hours is the upper limit. But if the train in front breaks down, and your journey is extended by five hours, and there's no hot food on board because it's a Sunday - as happened to me recently on First Great Western - then your children's already limited capacity for stoic endurance will soon be eroded. On a particularly packed train, bloodshed may ensue.

Posh hotels

Don't bother. Four-poster beds stand little chance if consistently bounced on by small children, who will need no excuse to unwrap and eat the complimentary toiletries. Watch out, too, if they get into the tennis courts: they're quite capable of getting tangled up in them.

But at least posh hotels expect a certain level of destruction. Certain b&bs may be less accommodating. You know the type: floral wallpaper, too many ornaments, elderly women in the breakfast room who want your children dead. Keep clear.


As previously hinted, the quantity of luggage required for even a weekend break when you have children is marginally more than double what you might have imagined in your worst nightmares. Travel cots, pushchairs, several hundred complete changes of clothes, nappies, assorted medicaments, organic nut'n'gravel bars ... It's notable that fathers of small children pack less and less for themselves, initially out of necessity - you, after all, will be carrying it all - and finally out of sheer bloodymindedness. Passport, toothbrush, spare underwear and a few books: who needs more? Asceticism on this level, of course, can be hugely annoying to other members of your family, which is another advantage. You have to get pleasure out of this somehow.

Adult pursuits

Over many years you have formulated what it is you like about holidays, and those are the types of holidays you take. Whether it's lying on unspoiled beaches, or trekking up mountains, or trudging through indifferent museums behind Swedish teenagers with overloaded rucksacks, it's what you enjoy doing, and it's what you won't be able to do anymore. Some parents try unbelievably hard to force their children to accept that holidays can be this way. They are doomed. In the end all parents give up and take their children to some overpriced enclosed resort in Turkey from which they return looking older and telling everyone: "Really, it was very nice". There will be time to do all those things you liked doing, and that time will be after your divorce.

Shingle beaches

All children are personally offended by shingle beaches. As far as they are concerned, shingle beaches are sand beaches that failed. Just like the parents who took them there.

What small children actually like

After much painful experimentation, we have discovered that if you are staying within half an hour's drive of a steam railway and/or an "adventure farm", you will rise and rise in your children's estimation to the point at which they stop stabbing you with forks. They also like going back to the same places over and over again. We once rented a house in Shropshire with some friends who have children, but these friends cannot bear to go anywhere twice. Indeed, they now feel that they have "done" Shropshire and would probably even resist driving through it. Whereas we now go to the same house in another part of the country so often that our children think it belongs to us. The "adventure farm" is 15 minutes' walk away. There's a bouncy castle there. The children play on hay bales and ride on ponies. The café serves fish fingers. And no, I'm not telling you where it is: you'll have to find one for yourself.

Marcus Berkmann's new book, 'Fatherhood - The Truth' will be published by Ebury Press in January