Toddler Travels

It feels like an age since I wrote my travel post last June. It IS an age. Mountains have risen and fallen, stars have been born and died, and somehow Arthur has turned from a baby into a toddler, much as I hate to admit it.

 

This holiday has been slightly easier in the sense that we’ve come to my family’s caravan in the Lakes. We spent the first week in a lovely holiday place with extended family, which was great fun and awesome for Arthur thanks to all the attention he got. I’m going to talk about our second week at the caravan since that’s probably more true to most people’s holiday experiences, with no willing babysitters! It’s a place I’ve known and loved for fifteen years, and even though it requires a little jiggery pokery in the second bedroom to fit Arthur’s cot in, we make it work. There’s so much I love about coming up here, but honestly the sense of peace and oneness with the landscape is the best bit.. The “van” is on a working farm, with sheep, rabbits and cows dotted around and the work of the farm continuing around us. The view from the living room window is straight out over the fells to the best sunsets in the world, and I love nothing better than watching it dip behind the landscape with a glass of wine or beer. It’s different every time; sometimes gentle pastels, sometimes a blaze of riotous colour. If you’re lucky and it’s a clear night the sunset will give way to an inky black sky that will eventually put on the galaxy’s best light show; aka the Milky Way. But enough about the location; it’s time to talk about what we’ve done right and wrong so you can learn from our mistakes.

 

Let’s start with the bad news, shall we?

 

  1. Overpacking. Yep, despite the fact that toddlers really do need lots of crap, they really don’t need that much crap, especially when they’re in a new and exciting place. I also didn’t need this many clothes, even for two weeks. There’s a launderette near where we’re staying and it’s very easy to drop off our clothes and get them all nicely washed and folded for us. We could have done this holiday on a lot less. Our biggest issue on the way back will be TOYS. We’ve got enough toys and books for Arthur to open his own shop, most of which have been, ahem, picked up thanks to extremely generous relatives since we’ve been here.
  2. Sleeping arrangements: I don’t think we’d really got this organised properly before bedtime on the first night, which meant it was all a bit of a disaster. Lots of howling and a good old-fashioned three hour wake-up, which meant the whole family was in a complete grump the next day. We needed to rearrange all the furniture in the room to make it work, and it would have been much better if instead of trying to stick rigidly to bedtime we’d let Arthur explore his surroundings and enjoy the excitement. He simply wasn’t ready to go to bed, and forcing the issue made things worse. Lesson learned.
  3. Baby-proofing. Last time we came to the van Arthur was crawling and cruising all over the place, but his first steps were still a month or so away. We could build soft-play cushion forts and not worry about him. This time he’s opened every cupboard about 50 times, tried to climb up the shelves in the kitchen, pulled the fireguard down, learnt how to open the flipping doors, hidden one of his shoes in the fridge and on and on. Worst moment so far was when he opened the front door to the caravan and fell out onto the stone steps. Only my husband’s cricket reflexes stopped him from falling head first and hurting himself; as it was he just had a shock. The doors are well and truly locked as routine now, and the next time we come we’ll do a quick scout round to make sure everything is Arthur-proofed, which is a level up from normal baby-proofing, alas.
  4. We didn’t download any of Arthur’s favourite CBeebies buddies. ERROR.

 

The good stuff!

 

  1. Frankly, coming somewhere we know like the backs of our hands. No stress, no drama, just somewhere we adore. We don’t have to worry about finding out where to go or what to do (although we have researched local soft play places), we can just concentrate on enjoying it and taking each day as it comes.
  2. Baby waterproof clothing. The Lake District in April = wet.
  3. Being baby led. Sounds obvious, but we’ve worked out a way to get the most out of the holiday whilst making sure Arthur has a good nap each day that isn’t affected by travelling around too much. We get up early (as if we could do anything else), go and do something very local like a walk round the local park, a visit to the swings or a mooch round the shops. We head back to the van for lunch (making this a cheap holiday too), and then do something in the afternoon depending on what the weather’s like. It’s an incredibly chilled out way to do it, and it means we’re still getting to do plenty of stuff and feel like we’ve had some lovely time together. Figure out what will work around your own tiny tyrant’s needs and just do that; forcing whole day hikes or bike rides on an overtired baby is a bad idea. Well, I think so anyway.

 

Hope this helps if you’re planning a Spring/Summer holiday with a toddler or two!

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Hot Chocolate Stories

For as long as I can remember I’ve had this thing for hot chocolate. It’s not so much a drink as a state of mind; soothing, nourishing, decadent and delicious. I don’t drink it that often; it’s as if I forget it exists for a while and then have a sudden wild enthusiasm for it and have it every night for a week.

At the moment I can’t have dairy because of my son’s allergies. Perhaps because of that I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had. I remember them in a way I’d never remember a cup of tea or coffee (although my Dad definitely does the same thing with coffee and has spent his life trying to recreate one he had in Crete in 1978).

A Spanish Stroll

I was seven and we were staying on the Balearic island of Menorca. We’d just been out for tea, me, my parents and my little brothers, and we were strolling through some sand dunes near a lighthouse when we came upon one of those lovely bar/cafes you get on the continent. I don’t remember much about it except for the cool parasols and the fact that it was twilight, and I was wearing my new shawl, because lace shawls were all the rage just then; and that mum and I had hot chocolate. I can still see the thick glass, the sediment in the bottom, and taste the rich sweetness of it. God, it was good. I’d never tasted anything like it before. I’ve never found anything like it since.

A French Breakfast

We used to go camping to France every year from when I was nine. One year we arrived on French soil very early in the morning, and we all had the kind of appetite you get after a long journey. We started the drive and had to “keep our eyes peeled” for somewhere to eat breakfast.

Passing through a small town we found a café. Well, I say café but it was actually someone’s front room. We were excited about the fresh, crunchy bread with little pats of butter, the croissants and the steaming coffee, but ten-year-old me asked for hot chocolate. Perhaps I was thinking back to Menorca.

Do you remember those battered metal jugs for water at primary school? The ones that beaded with condensation when the water was cold on a hot day?

The friendly woman (waitress? chef?) brought out one of those. It was steaming, and she set it in front of me. It was full to the brim of creamy, foamy, delicious hot chocolate. “Is this all for me?” I asked, stunned. The woman didn’t speak English but she understood the sentiment of what I said and nodded. Mum (who seems to be ever-present in my hot chocolate stories) peered over delightedly. I hope I offered her some, because I know that jug of delight defeated me and we had to go when I was barely halfway down it.

Hot chocolate served in a jug. Perfect.

Babies and Holidays

We’ve just done a two-part holiday in Cornwall and Devon with the Little Droid, and it was fun (and exhausting). For context, our first place was a Yurt on a family campsite, the second an Air BnB flat. For our first go we decided to take it easy (ish) and stick with the UK, heading to sunny Devon and Cornwall in the family chariot  Here are my top tips. Some are specific to the type of holiday, but point one is a must wherever you go!

Washing Machine And Drier

Staying​ anywhere longer than four days? You really, really need this. You know how much washing you get through now? That doesn’t holiday when you do, sadly. If you can’t manage this, a launderette nearby is a must. In fact, that’s even more use than a place with a washer and no drier; as we had in our second place with no outside space to dry stuff. Then you just have a load of damp washing hanging around in a poorly ventilated flat.

Buggy Access

We really didn’t think about this. Not even one bit. We stayed in a place with steep steps up to the front door, which was doable but very annoying and turned popping out for some milk into a major performance. I think someone should have filmed us huffing and puffing our way up those steps with a 20lb kid and a load of shopping. All part of the fun!

Proximity To Shops

This was where our second place bested the first. We were minutes from everywhere, including the all-important launderette.

Highchair And Cot

Sounds obvious, but you’re going to need these unless your baby isn’t weaning yet and you’re seasoned co-sleepers who can fit in a normal-sized double bed. You may be able to hire either or both, but if you’re hiring then do remember a comfy mattress for the travel cot. They generally come with ones that are OK for one or two nights but not brilliant for longer. See also;

Space For The Cot

In the massive yurt this was no issue. In the flat we had to double up the living room as the baby’s room as both of the bedrooms were too small for the cot. This wasn’t ideal as it meant we had to leave baby sleeping on the bed in our room if we wanted to watch a bit of telly or, you know, talk.

Parking Nearby

If you’re driving, this is an absolute solid gold must. We spent every day at our second location playing free car park hopscotch. It was a massive bore.

Don’t Over Pack

No matter how much I try, I always pack too much. This time we had loads of unworn clothes between me and Husband. Mainly because we were washing as we went!

You can’t really over pack for a baby though. Unless you take a snowsuit in June. We had about a million bibs and still ran out. I was attaching flannels and towels to the poor child in the end. 

Long Car Journeys

Our boy is a remarkably good car traveller. He very rarely gets cross at being stuffed in his car seat. So it came as quite a shock when, on the journey home, he set up a grim, teeth-rattling wail that would have woken the dead. We ended up stopping at three consecutive service stations, skipped the next then stopped at another. Two hours were added to the journey. We hadn’t been faced with fed-up-of-the-car Arthur before; but then we realised.

We did the outward journey at night.

It was great. A sleeping baby and a very quick run. No problems at all. In future we’ll be doing it this way on the way back, too! At least until he learns how to say “Are we nearly there yet?”

Camping Vs Holiday Flat

Let’s be clear, now. It wasn’t really camping. If you’ve electricity, a heater, fridge, microwave and a proper bed, it just isn’t really. It was lovely though, a great big room, loads of space for Arthur to roll around in and the outside basically inside. The massive, massive downside is that with only one room (we had been mistakenly led to believe there were two on the website), bedtime was a challenge. But then, for us, bedtime is always a challenge. Arthur doesn’t​ do bedtime anyway, being a party baby, so really it was business as usual. With a couple of extra tantrums (from me). The other downside was the night it blew a gale. But we’ll gloss over that.

The flat wasn’t ideal for our purposes, I won’t lie. If we could have added a tumble drier, garden, assigned parking and a second bedroom with room for a cot (this time Arthur was in the living room as the second room was entirely bed so again, not ideal), it would have been great. What was irritating is that the cot space situation wasn’t clear from the flat blurb, and we didn’t know to ask. 

However, it did have a proper bath and en suite shower, always a bonus, and it meant we could give Arthur a proper bath. We were also moments from everywhere which was fantastic. No need to drive to the shops, and we had a lovely time pushing Arthur along the Quayside with lots of people commenting on his angelic demeanour. He gets his acting skills from me.

Whatever you’re doing for your holidays; UK trip, abroad, or just a nice week at home, have a great time. And take lots more pictures. As if you needed telling!