«Our holidays start when you lot go back to school»
Our three-week family holiday in Denmark has come to an end. Was it at least slightly relaxing? Here’s my report of what went down.
It’s still dark outside, the car radio down low. My wife and I are enjoying the tranquillity in the packed-to-the-rafters car. Destination: Denmark. If there’s one thing I can tell you already, it’s that the peace and quiet came to a swift halt – but we still had a lovely holiday in Denmark. And once again, sadly, it was over all too quickly.
But as my colleague Katja correctly observed in her how-to article just shy of a month ago, holidays without children and holidays with children are not the same thing. Malicious tongues would even claim that the latter don’t deserve to be called holidays at all. Vacations with kids don’t exactly contribute towards relaxation. As the father of a soon-to-be eight-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old son, there’s one thing I can say for sure. The term «holiday» has to be completely redefined if one or more children are involved. With young children especially, you might return from holiday feeling even less refreshed than before. The good news is the relaxation factor goes back up as the kids get older – so I’d always thought. So, did this hold true on our summer holiday in Denmark this year? Here’s my verdict.
1. Before departure
In this article, I explained how to get your car set for the journey in the most chilled-out way possible.
But as we all know, theory and practice are two very different beasts. So packing the car wasn’t exactly a stress-free endeavour for me this year either. With the high fuel prices in mind, we decided to forego the roof box this year. As a result, I had my heart set on packing the car as efficiently and smartly as possible, which is probably what stressed me out. «Smartly» can mean a lot of things. Like, for instance, bunging all of our shoes into a large Ikea bag, although we could’ve easily stashed them individually into the various nooks and crannies in the car.
And though I’m famously not that fond of bike helmets, four of them actually made it into the car boot this year – and we even used them most of the time.
2. The outward journey
God knows, a 15-hour drive is no picnic. For starters, what’re you meant to do when the kids are awake? Back in the day, the entertainment offerings were so meagre, we wouldn’t even ask ourselves this question. I still remember surviving the almost 15-hour drive to Denmark as a kid with no games or DVDs. Okay, we at least had Switzerland’s kids’ classic Kasperli on cassette at that point. Apart from that, the only thing left to do was stare out of the window for hours on end, looking for distractions wherever possible. It’s how I, for example, came to gather statistics on how many cars from which countries were on the road, and which brands were most common. At the same time, I unintentionally became aware of the slowly changing landscape; how the deciduous trees morphed into pines. Sadly, my own kids barely notice these changes. My wife and I do try to put off the DVD-watching for as long as possible. But once the first of what feels like 30 discs borrowed from the city library is in, there’s no going back.
There’s a good portion of selfishness at play here, too. After all, as long as the headphones are on and the kids are staring transfixed at their screens, oblivious to the outside world, we parents are free to listen to our own music, podcasts and audiobooks in the front.
To reach our destination faster and to ease the strain on our wallet (which would start haemorrhaging cash soon enough), we brought some car snacks that we’d prepared the night before. Too bad we’d wanted to flog the kids’ car seats on resale platform Ricardo some day. After a 15-hour trip with crisps, sweets and Coca Cola, however, we’re unlikely to get more than one franc for the things.
3. Our stay
Families in particular tend to always choose the same holiday destination. As regular northern travellers, this applies to us too. There’s a simple reason for this. Firstly, it’s relaxing for us adults to know what to expect when we get there, and not need to completely readjust to our surroundings. Secondly, it’s wonderful when a holiday destination instils a sense of «home» – especially for kids.
As my colleague correctly points out in her how-to guide: «happy kids, happy parents». With this in mind, it really is advisable to adapt your holiday itinerary to your children’s needs. In the beginning, young parents in particular make the mistake of thinking that they can plan their holidays the same way they always have. But most parents, ourselves included, swiftly realise that it’s pointless to pretend that nothing’s changed besides the number of family members. That’s not to say that adjusting your plans to the children’s needs automatically means running roughshod over the interests of the parents. In the last few years, our kids have wanted to build sandcastles, as they so often do. Long after they’d gone back to playing in the sea, yours truly was left diligently finishing off the sandcastle. The main thing was that it was bigger and cooler than those of the other dads – a sort of sand-based pissing contest. This year, we went to a big amusement park in Copenhagen. What was actually supposed to be an activity for the kids quickly revealed itself to be the best kind of thrill ride for me.
Of course, three weeks is a long time – especially for little ones. When two siblings have to get along for that length of time, they occasionally enjoy giving each other a hard time, bashing each other over the head with increasing frequency as the holiday goes on. The solution? Travel with another family. The advantage of this is that the children entertain each other while the parents can do whatever they want (besides drinking). The very significant disadvantage of this – which is also why I’ve ruled it out (sorry to all my friends) – is this: planning the holiday in a way that pleases your own family is challenging enough. But to adapt to the rhythm, mannerisms and quirks of another family as well? No way! That’s also why we left day trips like the one to the amusement park until the end of the holiday. Distraction and thrills are sometimes the best remedy for those holiday tantrums that erupt between siblings.
However, the «happy kids, happy parents» adage doesn’t just go one way. Provided you actually feel the need to do it, I’d recommend everyone follow my colleague’s example – each parent should take an hour per day for themselves, for example, to exercise, relax, go fishing or read. At the end of the day, though, it’s not always easy to put this into practice, and on this summer vacation, it was no different. The two weighty tomes I’d bought especially for the holiday came home virtually unread. The only book I managed to read was «Sex» by writer and philosopher Alain de Botton. So, sex happened theoretically. And in practice? Well, we’ll leave that issue for now. The matter of «sex on holiday» would be outside the scope of this piece of writing and is deserving of an article of its own.
4. The journey home
As with the outward journey, long trips in the car are best started at night. We didn’t do this. To make matters worse, on the way back to Switzerland, I had an appointment with a tattoo artist, who gave me my very first ink.
We’d originally planned to split the trip back to Switzerland into two phases. However, we did what so often do. At 10 p.m., just before Frankfurt, came the question: «Babe, we’re just over four hours from home now. Do we really want to look for a hotel now or shall we just keep driving?» My wife is all too familiar with these rhetorical questions. Of course, we – or rather, I – kept driving. With a plenty of Red Bull and a decent amount of electronic music in our ears, we drove on towards Switzerland, doing 160 on the near traffic-free motorway. My daughter soon fell asleep, though that wasn’t the case for my son, let alone my wife. She was sitting up in the passenger seat, sticking to the motto «four eyes see better than two». We finally arrived home shortly after 3 a.m. While my wife and son lay sleeping, I, wide awake as I was, unpacked the car and immediately put on the first load of laundry.
Pity we all woke up the next morning at 8 a.m., already confronted with a temperature of over 20 degrees. We then spent the next few days contending with a sort of jet lag, so doing the homeward journey all in one go wasn’t totally without its drawbacks. Our vacation in the not-quite-so-hot North was lovely and relaxing – either despite or precisely because of the kids. After all, I’m the type to want to cram too much into one day, whereas kids basically force you to take it down a notch. This relaxation factor, however, didn’t stop my wife and I from saying: «You know what? Our holidays start when you lot go back to school» to our kids on more than one occasion.
Half-Danish dad of two and third child of the family, mushroom picker, angler, dedicated public viewer and world champion of putting my foot in it.
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