Clare Mackintosh: Travelling with tots

This is everything I've been waiting for! We have reached Optimum Family Holiday Age (c) petrenkod /

This is everything I've been waiting for! We have reached Optimum Family Holiday Age (c) petrenkod / Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

‘We tried a hotel once, not realising we’d be trapped in a room from 7pm, drinking warm wine out of plastic toothmugs’

Ah, holidays B.C. (Before Children). Remember those? Faliraki foam parties, Calais booze cruises, sun-baked Spanish beaches...It’s another life entirely, back when you could see your feet without leaning forward, and before walking upstairs sounded like someone had strapped crisp packets to your knees.

In the first few years after meeting my husband-to-be, we would take off to sunnier climes each summer. Him, me, a map of France, and a tent just big-enough for a blow-up mattress and a battery-powered radio. His Citroen Saxo (it was that or my MG Midget and its tendency to discard pieces of metal at inopportune moments) had no air conditioning, and in traffic we’d hang out of the rolled-down windows like panting dogs, desperate to pick up speed just so we could cool down. We’d take turns to drive non-stop down to La Rochelle, one of us always waking with a start in the early hours to find the other was driving on the wrong side of the road in a (fortuitously) deserted street. When we were too knackered to drive any more we’d pitch our tent at the first campsite we found, drinking cheap wine and having noisy sex, before emerging at noon the following day, forced out by sun on canvas.

They were heady, happy days. When we have kids, we said, we’ll still do this. Road trips, camping holidays, round-the-world back-packs. We’ll fly to foreign climes, explore exotic cultures, taste every food going. Our children will be worldly-wise and full of adventure. No package deals for us; no kids’ clubs or entertainers or all-inclusive ice-cream buffets. Oh, how little we knew about Life After Children...

With three under 15 months, and 500 nappies a month at their peak, it was a while before holidays featured in our budget at all. A generous invitation to join the in-laws in Portugal sounded amazing, but all I remember is breastfeeding twins in the cool of the villa while everyone else swam in the sun, and the sound of three children screaming for a three-hour flight. Never again, we said. Kids don’t need to go abroad, anyway, we said.

We tried a hotel, once, on a short break to London, not realising we’d be trapped in a room from 7pm, drinking warm wine out of plastic toothmugs and speaking in whispers because the babies were finally asleep. “We could take it in turns to go and have a drink in the bar?” I suggested. It wasn’t quite the holiday atmosphere we’d hoped for. Self-catering cottages were the answer. They remained the answer for several years. Wales, Devon, Scotland… sometimes in the sun, mostly in the rain, always having a fun, if exhausting time. “I need another holiday now,” was the usual refrain on our return, self-catering holidays being really quite hard work. They require, of course, the usual chores – shopping, cooking, washing up – but without any of one’s usual home comforts (assuming you consider a washing machine, DVD player plus variety of Disney films, and a bed that’s actually wide enough for two people that aren’t hobbits to be home comforts).

A decade later, we have finally started going abroad again. The children are old enough to stay up as late as us. They’re old enough to spend a three-hour plane journey immersed in a book, a film, or some unintelligible game. They’re old enough to have interesting conversations, to argue their viewpoint and celebrate victory or concede defeat with (mostly) good grace. They will load the dishwasher and make their beds. They love restaurants as much as we do. They will play in the pool for an entire day, while I supervise from a sun-lounger, slipping into the water only when it gets too hot. This is it! I can read books again! This is everything I’ve been waiting for! We have reached Optimum Family Holiday Age.

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Now the pressure’s on. By my calculations we have approximately five summers left before my happy, biddable children morph into glooming, monosyllabic teens who sleep till sundown, think Portugal is lame and mutter constantly why couldn’t I have gone to Magaluf like everyone else? Sorry, can’t stop – I need to get to the travel agency...

Clare’s third novel Let Me Lie, published by Sphere, is out now. Book four is on its way!

For more information or more from Clare Mackintosh, visit her website or follow her on Twitter! @claremackint0sh