There’s no denying that only a handful of years ago I would have turned my nose up to the very idea of a caravan holiday. Spoilt by years of long haul holidays to tropical destinations, we’d have shuddered at the thought of spending our precious annual leave slumming it in a tin hut and spending our evenings down at the clubhouse soaking up the entertainment…
It’s amazing how becoming a parent alters you.
I have come to realise that Mum and Dad are only really happy and relaxed away from home, when the kids are happy and relaxed. So that means foregoing your ideal holiday agenda, and prioritising theirs. As such, spending a small fortune on a long haul flight (and hating every second of it), to a tranquil dream paradise just wouldn’t work for our G-unit. I salute those who do retain their sense of adventure, after all we’re all different, but our kids seem to prefer the simple old-school holiday style. Which is great news for our bank balance.
Since we had Tigs, four years ago, we have done the caravan holiday thang every summer. Thanks mainly to a leading newspaper chain and their ‘got to be too good to be true’ offer. (Which is, somewhat more expensive than £9.99 but still a bargain no less). We’ve enjoyed the ability to holiday mid- term time (including for the last time just last week), we’ve gone it alone, with family, en masse, with friends. We’ve braved arctic conditions, heat waves, stomach viruses and asthma attacks. We’ve had some lows, some ‘never again’ moments, but also some precious holiday memories and had the time of our lives.
So, for any of you about to embark on a caravan site holiday with a young family, here’s some top tips I’ve learnt along the way…
- Most caravans have a basic kitchen set up with a hob, oven, fridge and sink. Unless you’ve paid for some top end upgrades, you’ll need to pack up your kitchen essentials to save spending a fortune in the (sometimes) over priced on site shop: Tea towels (>1), washing up liquid, hand soap, extra loo roll, bin bags, anti-bac wipes. You know the score…
- For a family of four, you may have gone for a two bed option. If you have an infant (like us) as well as a bed dweller, you won’t fit a travel cot in your room, or in the spare room alongside the twin beds. You can either hire a bed guard from reception, or as we have become pro’s at – dismantle one of the beds (usually can turn onto it’s side) to make enough space to fit a travel cot alongside the bed. If you really didn’t intend to have the travel cot in with the sibling, you’ll need to put it in the living area or upgrade to a 3 bed.
- Which leads me on to upgrades….forget the extra linen package, if there is an option to upgrade caravan size, it’s seriously worth looking into. Don’t suffer with caravan envy…be the envy of your fellow holiday makers when they find out you paid an extra £15 and seem to have a WAY better caravan…these often include extra bedrooms, carpeted areas (v important if you have a crawler), bedroom heating, balconies, and so on and so on….it’s surprising how cheap an upgrade can be.
- Pack efficiently, and stay on top of the organisation. You will arrive on day 1 saying the caravan is ‘the best one we have had yet’, and ‘it’s so spacious’, yet by day two it seems to have shrunk a foot in each direction, and by day three you may want to break out due to the claustraphobia… the more lived in it gets, it seems to close in on you. Keep your gear in bags – a toy bag, a food bag, a kitchen bag…and make the most of the storage available.
- You will probably have packed towels for swimming, and may or may not make room to squish in hand towels, face towels, bath towels. If you can squeeze any additional towels into any spare space into the car it’s a godsend – if the weather isn’t great there isn’t many places to dry towels, so the handful you brought by the end of day one’s swim and evening shower will be wet. They may never completely dry so by day four, they will feel totally gross after your shower, and you’ll have probably used one as a floor mat as the bathroom floor gets really wet and won’t dry on it’s own (wet sock phobia). There is of course a launderette on site, however you may not, like me, want to spend your holiday doing the laundry. It’s a holiday, after all.
- Which leads us nicely to the launderette. Now there may only be one time you choose to go there, and that’s if there is no other option. When our daughter picked up a vomiting bug on one holiday we were so grateful for the facilities available. We were however robbed blind for some harsh laundry powder we would never normally use – so if you can, pack in a small size non-bio or your usual laundry detergent. The free sample ones are great to keep for holidays.
- If you have a travel stair gate and a baby / toddler, it’s worth sticking in the car. In warmer weather you will probably want to open the caravan door to let air through, and those kids can spot an escape route a mile away. Those caravans can warm up like an oven, and the windows are often precariously easy for kids to climb out of, especially if your child is an adrenaline junkie like ours.
- Buddy up…some of the best holidays we have had have been with friends or family with kids. Having another group with you can make even the most stressful of times a giggle, and you might be more inclined to be more sociable…stay up late at the entertainment, have barbeques together, have the kids over to play… Family time is great, but for us, these four night UK holidays have been the best when we have enjoyed them with others. If you are keeping it fairly local you can even invite friends in for a day and get a day pass free of charge.
- Brace yourself for some ‘naughty treats‘. The on site food for these kind of caravan parks isn’t going to fit in too well with your slimming world / clean eating plan. But hell, you are on holiday! The onsite food options will probably be fish and chips, bar food, pizza and burger joints. If you want to give you and or the kids some nutrients you’d be well prepared to take a bit of easy food you can knock up in the caravan – pasta, eggs, veg, a mountain of fruit. Save you a few pennies as well.
- Pennies you might end up spending in the amusements. If you aren’t adverse to introducing your kids to a little gambling, you’ll enjoy the 2p machines, grab a toy, racing cars, ride ons strategically placed next to every toilet, food establishment, soft play area and corner of the complex. If this is a problem you may want to head out and explore the local area for non-money swallowing based fun.
- Break free from the old routine. When our first daughter was a teeny toddler, we wouldn’t dream of letting her stay up late for the kids disco, and we’d be back in the caravan by 8 in our PJs. Fast forward a couple of years and we have just watched our 18 month old have the time of her life at the disco – dancing, playing and joining in with the games till way, way past bedtime. These places are geared towards kids with giant st and it’s worth giving it a go – see how they get on, before ruling it out totally.
- Last but not least, a few key items to squish in the car if you can –
- Scooter, to make walking back and from the main complex more fun.
- Extra blankets, because sometimes it snows in April.
- Camping chairs, so you can enjoy your patch of grass outside on sunny days (here’s hoping)
- Towels, towels and more towels.
- Bucket and spade – there’s nearly always a seaside nearby.
Most of all, enjoy, embrace the chaos, laugh, make memories and remember – it’s not about what you love, but what those little mini holiday makers will love…