Holidays with children: pack your swimwear – and plenty of patience

Katja Fischer
Katja Fischer
Zurich, on 15.07.2022
Translation: Megan Cornish

Family holidays are about as relaxing as a night in a tent at a festival. Over time, however, they become more relaxed as the children get older and you get wiser. Here are a few holiday hacks.

The first holidays with children are a shock to the system. Sleeping in, reading a book, living for the moment – you can forget everything about previous holidays right now. There are now new rules, at least with a small child. You’d expected it, but the magnitude still hits you with full force. Welcome to family holiday madness! Just like at home, you get up early in the morning (and at night) and plan all your activities around your child's sleeping and eating patterns. And then there’s packing in advance: it doesn’t matter whether you’re going away for three days or three weeks – you spend at least half a day packing up half your house. You might as well stay at home really. It’d be less tiring.

Nevertheless, you decide on the elaborate change of scenery. Because every now and then, it’s just desperately needed. Because it’s always worth it in the end. And because only practice makes perfect. From my own experience, I can assure you: as your children get older (bye bye diapers and afternoon nap) and you gain more and more experience, holidays not only get more relaxed, they become really great. I’ve learned a few hacks and rules over the last few years that make my preparations easier and allow me to enjoy the holiday life.

Before departure

The shopping list becomes a packing list

About two weeks before departure, I start packing. Don’t worry, just on paper. Whenever I think of something that I need to take with me, I immediately add it to my packing list on my smartphone. I don’t mean underwear or toothbrushes, but the many little things that aren’t obvious but are essential when travelling with children. The mini nail scissors, for example, or the zinc cream or Tupperware. I have a list for each child that I create in my «Bring!» shopping list app. It’s practical because I can use it to generate my own items with icons, which are then saved and available to reuse for future holidays. And I can share them with my husband. As soon as an item is in the suitcase, we remove it from the shared list with a simple tap.

I sang the praises of the little digital helper in an earlier article:

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Pack- n’ roll Packing cubes are just as handy, allowing you to categorise your clothes and organise your suitcase or bag. They come in different sizes and colours so you can assign them to individual family members. Whether they also save space is controversial among packing nerds online. However, it seems proven that rolled clothing takes up less space than folded clothing. So, roll that skirt into the packing cube. It took me quite a bit of effort, but I was surprised to find that clothes get even less wrinkled with the rolling method than with the stacking method.

It’s best to roll clothes in packing cubes.
It’s best to roll clothes in packing cubes.

Pack something in your shoes

The inside of your shoes is neglected storage space. Stuff socks in children’s shoes to make the most of those cubic centimetres. Then pack the shoes in shower caps, which you can find in our shop or in almost any hotel, and distribute them in the gaps. Shoes take up too much space in plastic bags.

During the holidays

Take sleeping children from bed straight to the car

You have no control over your airline’s flight schedule. The timetable of your car, however, is up to you. Schedule your departure for nighttime or the early hours of the morning. We lift the sleeping children out of their beds straight into the car – it’s the very last official act before departure. This means we can shorten the long journey time a bit, at least for the children. We parents, on the other hand, spare our nerves and ideally avoid traffic jams.

Tape for the tablets (or mouths)

We say goodbye to our family screen time rules during holidays, at least for the journey there and back. My husband and I try to delay the tablet conversations for as long as possible – don’t give in too early! – but after the fifth (colouring) book, the tenth audiobook and the twentieth round of «I spy», only Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig manage to keep our children happy. The girls share the tablet, so we’ve now bought a headrest mount with an extension arm for the car. Before that, we improvised with duct tape and stuck the tablet between the two front seats for a holiday drive.

A plastic bib just in case

You could throw the bib in the washing machine after every meal. Getting dirty is its main task. You still don’t want to pack ten of them in your suitcase. Years ago I bought a slightly more expensive bib made of coated cotton. It’s indestructible and I can just wipe it down with a cloth or wet wipes after every meal. In fact, I always have it with me, even when we’re not on holiday. That’s why it’s also a great gift for a newborn.

Children as guides

Between whining and meal planning, the fun is sometimes forgotten. Then it’s time to take a deep breath, sit down (with a cold beer or a umbrella-embellished cocktail) and get back to basics: you’re on holiday! HOLIDAY! And children may be exhausting, but they’re also great travel companions. We should let ourselves be guided by their ability to view your holiday destination with childlike enthusiasm and see the big things in many small things. The beach is a gigantic sandbox, collecting shells is just as exciting as it is meditative, and connecting with the locals is effortless. Actually, everything is very easy.

Convert a box into a shoe rack

You have to take two pairs of shoes per person – trainers and flip-flops – even during summer holidays. Depending on the size of the family, this results in a veritable jumble of shoes next to the door of your accommodation. A box creates order: just throw your shoes in and you’re done. We once copied our campsite neighbours, and ever since we have always had a collapsible storage box with us.

A box to combat the jumble of shoes in front of the door.
A box to combat the jumble of shoes in front of the door.

Happy kids, happy parents

We used to say to ourselves: «we’ll NEVER be those parents who take their kids on middle-class holidays to campsites or family-run hotels». Ten years later: my husband and I go on middle-class holidays to campsites and family-run hotels. And not only is that totally fine, we’ve taken a liking to it. If our children are busy and happy, we’re much more relaxed. They like the hotel pool more than thermal baths, and prefer the children’s entertainment programme to sightseeing in a historic city. Crowbar family politics don’t do anyone any good on holiday.

Making me-time a fixture

«Happy kids, happy parents» is true. What is often forgotten with all the children’s activities is that «happy parents, happy kids» also applies. But if you don’t ask for a break, you won’t get one. My husband and I give each other an hour of «free time» every day. One of us takes care of the children, and the other does what he or she feels like doing. Sports, reading or just sleeping on the beach. It brings back a little bit of the old holiday feeling.

I’m still miles away from devouring a whole book. Nevertheless, like every year, I bought a new one for the summer holidays, although I still have a few lying around at home that I’ve already started. It’s well known that hope dies last. Now it’s packed away in the suitcase, ready for the family holiday madness to start all over again. And I’m really looking forward to it.

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Katja Fischer

Mom of Anna and Elsa, aperitif expert, group fitness fanatic, aspiring dancer and gossip lover. Often a multitasker and a person who wants it all, sometimes a chocolate chef and queen of the couch.

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