Spoiler alert, there are no 'tips and tricks' in here, just my experience from our first family holiday abroad, which, I survived, just about. With the weather hotting up and headlines about airport chaos and cancelled flights here's how it went for us...
To set the scene, Penny is 1 and Brae is 3 so Brae's been abroad once, to Ibiza when he was 5 months old but obviously doesn't remember that and since then we've all been living with the C word and no one's been able to travel really.
The plan for our first holiday abroad was to keep it simple. We booked an Air BnB in Spain for 10 days. Dan went ahead in the car - he's strange and likes long drives plus the price for car hire at the time was insane so it actually worked out cheaper to drive and save the flight.
Our flight was crazy early from Gatwick so I stayed the night before with the kids in the Bloc Hotel. Wow, that's an experience. They are REALLY compact rooms...very cleverly done and with everything you need but so small and sleeping with a 1 year old and 3 year old was interesting, even in the 'Family Room' which was the size of a normal hotel bathroom. The kids loved it as the windows overlook the runway so they watched the planes taking off and landing. The room did the job and is literally in the terminal so a 5 second walk to security. This bit was a bit tricky as Penny can't walk yet and was in her buggy so there's a whole awkward part where I got her out of the buggy, sat her on the floor (soz P), folded the buggy, loaded the trays and then went through with her. Brae did as he was told (thanks little man) and went through on his own and found it all very exciting. We'd booked the lounge (one of the only bonuses of Covid was not being able to use airmiles that we'd gained previously so it was very cheap to upgrade for us on such a short flight especially as we were only paying for mine and Brae's flights).
I would probably still look at booking a lounge - they're about £25 if you are travelling with kids and especially on an early flight as the queues outside each restaurant were insane and mostly only accepting people who had bookings. Plus, when you're in the lounge you can go back and forth for food and the kids can graze. Yes, I had a glass of bubbly too at 6am - it's my holiday!!!
The flight was fab - the plane didn't go too fast which is what Brae was worried about ;-) Dan collected us from the airport and we headed back to the villa. It was perfect - nothing crazy flash but very homely and just what we needed. The kids had a bedroom each and we had a spare room which was good as friends stayed for a couple of days. It had a pool with an area for kids, a tonne of sunbeds (no getting up at 5am to put your towels down!) and lots of outdoor eating and sitting areas which meant there was always shade.
One of the things I love about going abroad is the supermarkets!!! So much more fun than ours... The kids loved them too as everyone there is much more chilled that at home, all stopping to say 'ola' to babies especially. From the fresh orange juice machines to the giant watermelon's their minds were officially blown. I took our Summer Survival box with us so had the essentials like Sett's suncream that we could all wear, the best shampoo and conditioner from Living Proof for my frizzy holiday hair, Benefit's Roller Lash mascara, the only make up I wore, Cultured BioMeCare Mist which I kept in the fridge with Faace's Sweaty Face moisturiser and CACI's hand mask for when I did my nails - I do them every week and holibobs is no exception, then grabbed things like washing tablets and the other fun essentials from the supermarket.
As I mentioned, we had friends stay for a bit who had kids which was lovely as they all played nicely and made lovely memories, plus the number of adults increasing helps take the pressure off - divide and conquer people, divide and conquer!!
We did a mix of eating out and staying in for BBQ's which worked well so some nights the kids went to bed at their normal time and had some sort of routine but other nights we stayed out later (I mean crazy like 10pm mumma!!). Penny still has two naps a day (thank you Lord) so again, being in a villa rather than a hotel room meant that we could put her in her cot and let her sleep as we would at home without one of us having to sit in a hotel room or on a balcony while she makes zz's. She's never been a buggy sleeper so that's not an option and even in the shade it was probably too hot for that. At around the same time Brae would often get a bit hot and tired so he usually went indoors and played or watched some TV and generally just had some chill time. As did I...I read two bloody books, 2!!! Firstly, I barely read and secondly I didn't expect there to be any down time with a 1 year old and 3 year old so I was pleasantly surprised.
Same with going to the beach or staying at the pool, we did a mix of both. Both kids loved the beach and our nearest one had great kids play areas which was perfect as well as shops and restaurants with loos! Brae loves being in the sea and jumping the waves which it seemed like we did a lot and Penny, well, she mainly ate sand. And I don't mean put sand in her mouth and spat it out crying, I mean she'd try and shovel it in her mouth at any opportunity which was interesting!!!
I packed too many clothes for them, as I usually do. There's just no need. We do the washing there so there aren't cases of dirty washing to bring home and it dried in about 30 mins. This isn't for everyone as some people don't like the idea of doing 'jobs' on holiday and love the opportunity to be somewhere where your beds are made and meals are cooked for you which totally makes sense. I just love opening the fridge any time if night or day and grabbing my 'holiday' food or drinks and lazy nights watching the sunset, a drink and a game of Uno - our new discovery! If you haven't played Uno before, it's addictive and simple too. Buy some cards.
The flights home looked to be OK, no delays etc when I checked us in the night before and had my last night's zzz's in Spain. Fast forward 7 hours, 'Your flight's been cancelled' was the first thing Dan said to me when we woke up and it bloody had... They'd put us on alternative flights, yes, flights plural which meant we would have to go from Alicante to Madrid and then Madrid to London Gatwick. Alone, with two kids. Dan definitely had the better deal driving. We even considered all driving back for about 7 seconds but soon realised that could potentially be 36 hours of hell. After waiting on hold for 2 hours to BA they basically said that was the best option so that's what we did. Alicante Airport was chaos with all the cancelled flights and delayed passengers with nowhere to be so the lounge was a life saver again. We met a lovely family who helped with the kids as they saw me struggle with the buggy, a 3 year old and trying to get them food and drinks - people are lovely aren't they? We spent a few hours here and to be fair the kids were happy playing, they didn't have a clue what was going on. I was worrying about Penny missing naps etc but she dealt with it - we could learn a lot from kids sometimes couldn't we?
The plane was tiny - as in so small it was one with the steps that come down which Brae couldn't even reach - again, thanks to the guy who picked him up and carried him to his seat whilst I packed down the buggy and picked up Penny. He wasn't sat next to me initially (go figure, nice one BA!) but another kind soul moved so we could be together - read, didn't fancy stting next to a 3 year old lol.
That flight was fine and we arrived in Madrid which was huge and we were in the wrong terminal so Brae was very excited to get on a train/shuttle to get to the right place. His mum on the other hand was silently panicking about being in the right place at the right time... We got there OK and killed time in the lounge which was out of this world. Brae made a friend and I sat near another family who looked after our stuff when we went to the loo - which we did a lot... Brae who's fully toilet trained shat himself 3 times so an hour before the last flight I had used all of his spare clothes and pants. Remember I only had hand luggage, one backpack at this stage. I was out of nappies too so after googling 'Nappies in Spanish' - panales if you were wondering, tracked the only pack down in the airport. I had been relatively calm up until this point, however my Apple Pay stopped working - a bag had been stolen earlier in the holiday that had all my cards and cash in so I'd been using Apple Pay to this point with no issues. A kind lady behind me paid for the nappies (what an angel) and at this point I cried....I mean, we'd have all done the same thing but that fear of boarding a flight with no nappies was more than I could take at this point lol.
The last flight home was fine. Well, I had a tired 1 year old pulling my mask off my face and fidgeting like mad and I couldn't even have a drink as my car was at Gatwick, joy. Brae was happy watching crap on the iPad and we got home in no time with them both asleep in the car.
So, pack spare clothes nappies, snacks and have cash and cards. Don't stress, the kids probably won't, it's all an adventure to them and make friends/help other families as we're all in it together :-)
I hope whatever you're doing you make some amazing memories.
P.S. check your rights out as we were entitled to compensation due to the cancelled flights which was 250 euros each - including Penny so we got back more than we'd paid for the flights in the first place...it's the small wins mumma!