Peter and Bridget Helliar, authors of Trippin’ With Kids, reveal how parents and children alike can have fun on family holidays with these tips, tricks and hacks.
What do you think makes the perfect summer family holiday in Australia?
Being close to water is a key part of the perfect Aussie summer for us. The smell of saltwater mixed with sunscreen is one of our favourite scents; sure, we wouldn’t wear it as a perfume/cologne, but it is the smell of summer for us.
We also love getting riverside up on the Murray with a caravan and swags for the kids. Rivers are great places to be with family and friends – you can decide hour to hour if you have plenty to do or absolutely nothing you need to do right now.
Do you have a favourite Aussie summer destination that ticks all the boxes?
Being Victorians, nothing beats the Mornington Peninsula. It ticks the boxes for everyone and there are so many family-friendly activities: wineries and breweries are accommodating children more, incredible food, relaxing beaches, great surf beaches and there are places you can go to escape the summer crowds.
Point Leo Beach is a wide open beach perfect for beach cricket; the surf can get a bit choppy there for those with younger kids or nervous swimmers. Safety Beach in Dromana doesn’t offer the expanse of Point Leo but has much calmer waters.
If you could distil your book down to three tips to having fun on a family holiday like you used to before you had kids, what would they be?
1. Leave the expectation of doing everything you want to do at home: trying to cram everything in is a recipe for disaster. Accept that having kids travelling with you means moving at a different pace, which may include ducking back to the hotel for naptime.
2. Plan but be prepared to adapt: be prepared to pivot and change your plans at a whim. Perhaps get a temporary tattoo before leaving that reads ‘what will be will be’. Sometimes it will be because the kids are too tired, or the weather has not been kind but often it’s because you’ve heard of an attraction that you hadn’t considered before arriving. Embrace surprises.
3. Do activities that interest adults: it doesn’t need to be a play gym tour of the world. Focus on destinations that offer experiences for both the kids and the adults. Include your kids on the planning stages of your trip.
Given that we are all holidaying here for the foreseeable future, where are some new Australian destinations you would like to discover this summer?
There are so many. We would love to spend more time in the Blue Mountains, go hiking at Cradle Mountain in Tassie, see Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia and the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. We would also love to visit the communities devastated by the bushfires over the summer.
What do you hope your kids will take away from a family holiday?
Most of our holidays have included some education or cultural experience. We want them to see how important culture and history is. Australia is just one place in a big wide world and there are so many different ways people live, eat, pray, interact and pay respect. Also, just having the time with Mum and Dad and their brothers. I think we are all at our most engaged when we’ve been travelling with the kids.
What are the five essentials to packing for a family holiday?
1. Dryer sheets: if you haven’t heard about these an internet search will open a whole new world to you. And throw some in your luggage to keep it smelling fresh.
2. Multiple port USB fast charger: often you will all be trying to charge all your things at once. This will save you from many a family argument.
3. Click lock bags: from packing treats for day trips to storing things that may spill in your suitcase, different sizes offer different purposes. They’re extremely handy.
4. First Aid Kit: for obvious reasons. If you are travelling with any family member with a particular medical condition to a foreign country, make yourself up some laminated cards in the language to help notify locals of their condition if needed. For example, our eldest Liam is anaphylactic so we had cards made up in French to inform our waiters he cannot have certain nuts.
5. A pack of cards: from playing some blackjack with your partner to kids learning card tricks, they come in handy in downtime.
Why are kid-free nights important to you?
No matter where we have travelled, whether it be an international holiday or camping by a river, it’s important for adult time. Some holidays are filled with non-stop sightseeing, and some are about the kids going skiing, what they are eating, getting dressed and then needing to go to the toilet with seven layers of thermal wear on.
Holidays can get stressful, even in the most desirable destinations. Everyone deserves to be happy on holidays and if that means Mum and Dad have a few hours to talk without the interruption of ‘I need to go to the toilet’ then do it. You also may have your eye on a particular dining experience, but you don’t want the pressure (and expense!) of taking the kids along and worrying about them knocking the carafe of French red onto the white tablecloth.
What are your best cost-saving tips when holidaying as a family?
Travelling outside of school holidays is the best saver of all. The younger the kids the easier it is to take them out of school and they learn so much during trips you feel good about the decision. If you are heading to places where tickets are purchased, theme parks for example, look into day passes, several-park tickets or early birds. Same goes for travel within a country or city; cities will usually have a tourist day/week pass which is more cost effective.
Check what age children need to be for free public transport. Eat as many meals at home as possible. We try to book apartments or a place with a fridge and small kitchen so any meal of the day can be had there.
Is it possible to keep everyone happy all of the time on a holiday or is keeping the majority happy 65 per cent of the time a win?
Having a discussion before you leave about compromise is a good idea. There will be days that may be more for Mum and Dad, days that are more for the kids, and other days where everybody’s a winner. No matter the age group, there are ways to do most of the things you want. If you are going to [a museum] with a five year old, see the things you want to within an hour or make it a treasure hunt for the kids.
Trippin’ with Kids: How to have fun on family holidays – just like you did before you had kids by Peter and Bridget Helliar is published by Hardie Grant Travel; $34.99.
Visit our Reclaim Summer hub for more ways to experience the best of summer.