In love, have kids, will travel
Romantic getaways suggest candlelit dinners and strolls alongside beautiful vistas. But are these still achievable once kids are added to the mix? Author Helen Whitaker finds out…
In 2014, my boyfriend (now husband) and I went on a much-anticipated trip to Japan. The itinerary, taking in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Osaka and Kyoto, was a heady balance of hip hotels and ryokans, shrines and shopping, vending machine ramen and high-end sushi, and we zipped between cities via the famous Shinkansen. We tracked down the best okonomiyaki in Hiroshima and drunkenly belted out karaoke until the early hours in Osaka, before spending one last blow-the-budget night in the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo and our last yen in the bar on the 38th floor, which had incredible views of the skyline. It was the perfect moment to top off a perfect trip with the perfect person.
The following year, we went to Iceland on our honeymoon. Again, we travelled around, starting in ever-cool Reykjavik and heading to Búdir, where we stayed in a tiny, remote hotel with a gourmet restaurant. I was pregnant by this time, so there were fewer bars, but we hiked to waterfalls and geysers and planned our meals around restaurants we were dying to eat in. It wasn’t non-stop activity, though. We punctuated it with long periods of companionable silence where we read books and looked out on to rugged views. Our holiday style has always been in sync. The only thing better than finding your ‘one’ is discovering that you are very compatible at travelling together.
Unfortunately, none of our dream trips were in any way compatible with our life now as parents to a four-year-old. Since 2016, there have been no lie-ins, no lazy reading sessions by a pool or moseying around to find the perfect romantic restaurant. Our holidays, and their ensuing schedules, have been dictated by a tiny tyrant who needs to be fed and kept constantly entertained, leaving little room for spontaneity, never mind alone-time or romance.
So, I’m not here to pretend that a sub-6pm meal in a family-friendly bistro with someone who thinks finishing their food first means ‘winning’ at dinner compares to a mood-lit tasting menu in a swanky restaurant. However, once you’ve accepted that a languorous freewheeling trip isn’t an option (sob), you find there’s a different sort of love in the air when your original duo becomes a gang.
Make sure you’re not all confined to one room, so that post-kid-bedtime you can speak above a whisper, share a bottle of wine while watching the sun set, and relax as a couple – rather than ‘mum and dad’
When the stars align – and between someone moaning about being too hot, too cold, too tired or too hungry (to be fair, it’s not always a child) – there are family ‘moments’ to file under ‘magical memories’ and not just for the Instagram hashtag. For us, it was watching my son’s mind get blown when he went on a plane for the first time, discovering he loved the sea in Portugal, and speeding along in a boat in Bruges. Going on a tram in Vienna never got old for him (when in doubt, take children on public transport – it’s always a winner), and his excitement was infectious every time. The adage that if they’re happy, you’re happy is never truer than when you’re travelling.
But that’s also not to say that once you’re a parent you should put your own holiday wish-list on hold for 18 years and resign yourself to destinations that are only for children. Sure, right now our son is too young to be dragged around endless museums or shrines, and a posh dinner would be a waste of time and money for us (as well as a nightmare for our fellow diners), but our beloved city breaks are still do-able. Anywhere with a beautiful park, square or in-built playground (thank you, Viennese biergartens) means you can enjoy a coffee or drink in an ‘adult’ location while your kid(s) run around to their hearts’ content.
So yes, there’s love and joy in the shared family moments. But there’s also the possibility of grown-up romance, albeit in lower key moments. The trick is to make sure that you’re not all confined to one room – accommodation with a living area and balcony is ideal – so that post-kid-bedtime we can speak above a whisper, share a bottle of wine while watching the sun set, and relax as a couple – rather than ‘mum and dad’ – away from the hassles and stresses of everyday life back home. Not a grand gesture, but the sort of moment that keeps you connected. Oh, and I’m sure I don’t need to explain why a separate bedroom for children is also a necessity.
And, if all else fails, remember there’s one sentence that’s guaranteed to remind you why you find your partner so attractive: “I’ll take him to the pool, why don’t you have a bit of time to yourself.”
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