How to relax on holiday with a toddler

Image: Getty | Words: Sara Conway

What do you remember from your holidays pre-kids? For me, it’s feeling totally relaxed, waves lapping the shore. The clink of a glass, the weight of the sun, a book open on my chest. The last time I holidayed like that was in 2015. Then along came our daughter and that was the end of all that.

I knew holidaying with a toddler was unlikely to be relaxing. To be honest, I put it off for a long time. I couldn’t figure out what to pack, where to go, how to cope with the journey, how to be on tour without all of our stuff. And, of course, it isn’t what we’re used to. But despite everything, we are having fun. And we are managing to relax… really! Partly, it’s the magic of making memories. She’s learnt to say “beach!” and “seagull!”. The first thing she puts on each morning is a swimsuit. She demands to go to the pool now instead of the park.

It’s also about accepting a different kind of holiday. Yes, I yearn for sun-downer cocktails by the pool. I’d love to lie in beyond 6am. But the beach is cool, quiet and calm at that time. Plus, we’re lucky – our two-year-old naps. You can fit in a cocktail and a siesta while a toddler sleeps.

So, here’s my guide to grabbing some horizontal sunbed time in between the craziness. I hope you find it useful and it encourages you to book that holiday this summer.

Pack their toys
I’ve never been good at packing lightly. But I tossed out my different-pair-of-shoes-a-day and threw in my daughter’s favourite toys instead. Best decision ever. She sits happily under a parasol doing jigsaws, colouring in and looking after her baby (for 15 minutes anyway!) I put the jigsaws in food bags to make them small.

Take it in turns to parent
I don’t mean sleep in the hotel next door (although that’s tempting!) But it is possible to lie on a sunbed, drinking in the sun and lapping up a cocktail – you just need to strike a deal with your other half. They give your toddler lunch while you relax by the pool. And vice versa. An hour bobbing around on a lilo feels extra-luxurious when you’ve escaped toddler time.

Don’t fight it
You’ve got big plans today and your toddler’s going to love it… the beach, an aquarium, ice cream! But they don’t want to put on sun cream, get dressed or do anything helpful. For an easier life, accept that sometimes it might be best to drop your idea of the perfect day and embrace theirs. Leave them to it, pick up a magazine and step out on the balcony.

Holiday with your family
If taking a trip with your parents reminds you of your teenage self, plugged into a Walkman and despising them for breathing, then maybe it’s time to refresh your view. Kids LOVE grandparents. Grandparents LOVE kids. And those extra hands mean lots of free time for you. Plus, you (they?) have might have changed a bit since you were a teenager… maybe.

Make sun safety easy
We invested in a full-length UV suit and a good quality once-a-day sun cream, with a high-factor spray to make sun care easy. You slap on the cream, pop on the suit and then only have to worry about spraying the exposed bits after swims. It’s also good to time lunch and their nap so they’re not in the sun between 12 and 3.

Believe it will be OK
On the last day of our holiday we really wanted to eat in a grown-up restaurant we’d spied. We decided to go early and hope for the best. Getting ready was terrible. We had to wrestle our daughter into her clothes and carry her, mid-tantrum, out of the apartment. When we got there, we realised there was NOTHING she liked to eat on the menu. It should have been a disaster. But our raging child smiled sweetly, sat in a high chair, ate food she usually refused and charmed everyone in the restaurant. Sometimes, you have to do what you want to do and let the Holiday Gods take care of the rest.