How to have a happy and harmonious family beach holiday
After a trying year, a soothing, sunny getaway has never sounded so good. But, as any parent will tell you, kids and relaxation don’t always go hand-in-hand. Luckily, family travel expert Amy Hopkins is here to share her beach-busting tips to ensure your next seaside escape is a restorative one
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A friend of mine refers to beach holidays with her children as ‘anxiety abroad’, a phrase that played on my mind as I prepared to take my baby daughter away for the first time. However, three years and several family holidays later, I’m happy to report that travelling with kids – particularly to sun, sea and sand destinations – doesn’t have to be a stress fest. With a little careful planning, you’ll soon be enjoying the blissful, tantrum-free break that you daydreamed about during the long months of lockdown.
I first took my daughter, Annie, overseas when she was three months old and discovered that babies under six months make surprisingly good travellers. For one thing, pre-crawling kids stay where you put them. They travel light, too, especially when they’re breastfed. The best way to prepare for your first beach holiday with a baby is to adjust your expectations. A ‘beach day’ is likely to last only an hour or two, and much of your time will be spent rocking, feeding and playing peekaboo. A beach is a sensory wonderland for little ones, and I’ll treasure the memory of my daughter giggling as she wiggled her toes in warm sand for the first time.
Beaches with soft sand and shallow, calm waters, such as Es Grau in Menorca, Spain, are best for tots. Our first holiday as a family of three was to Normandy in northern France – far enough to feel as if we were ‘getting away’, but a manageable journey from our home in London. While it’s possible to travel long haul with young children, in my experience, the shorter the flight and smaller the time-zone difference, the better – at least initially. Toddlers tend to be routine-led creatures and, confronted with a new place, new food and new climate, this can make holidays a little challenging. We took our toddler to Crete and kept her routine to UK time (two hours behind local time) to minimise disruption to her body clock. It also allowed us to enjoy morning lie-ins and eat out in the evenings and still be back at our hotel for her bedtime.
We took our toddler to Crete and kept her routine to UK time (two hours behind local time) to minimise disruption to her body clock
A villa, rather than a hotel, is a smart choice for younger children, preferably if it provides a highchair, cot and stair gates, with an outdoor shower to hose down your little adventurer. If resorts are more your scene, the award-winning Sani in Halkidiki (opening image), Greece, on the gorgeous Blue Flag Bousoulas beach (main image), is a mecca for families. For beach days, pack a baby carrier, as sand and buggies don’t mix. A pop-up, UV-protected tent makes a great shady spot for babies to nap. I like to dig a shallow, circular pit in the sand and throw a towel over it to create a makeshift playpen. For UK beach trips, a festival wagon is brilliant for ferrying all your stuff on to the sand and carting exhausted children back to the car. Wherever you go, you’ll want gallons of sun cream, a sun hat and a full-body, SPF-protected rash vest for your little one.
Group holidays become even more important as your kids get older. You might want to consider travelling with friends who have children of a similar age. When my daughter was 18 months old, we camped in the pretty seaside village of Bigbury-on-Sea in South Devon with three other families with toddlers. My husband and I were grateful to have help with childcare and friends to socialise with once all of our children were tucked up in their tents.
Of course, beyond the toddler years, children and teens will need more than a bucket and spade to occupy them. And as soon as they hit adolescence, they’re (sadly) unlikely to want to hang out with mum and dad quite so often. Ideally, holiday near a beach with a lifeguard, surf school and food trucks so they can enjoy some independence. Look out for beach destinations that offer activities, watersports and excitement to keep them entertained, while you and your other half can savour some much-needed quiet downtime. At Watergate Bay in North Cornwall, you’ll find two miles of golden sands, a trendy surf school (The Extreme Academy), beach cafés and the fabulously family-friendly Watergate Bay Hotel and Beach Retreats. There’s also a RNLI lifeguard on duty from May to September, and lively Newquay is just down the road.
Whatever age your children are, beach safety is a concern for parents. Once my daughter was on the move, I started dressing her in bright neon beachwear so I could spot her instantly. I also scrawl my phone number on her arm with a marker pen, but more organised parents can buy wristbands or temporary tattoos to do the job. It’s also vital that as soon as your kids can swim independently, you drill into them that they must only swim when the water is calm and never alone.
The unpredictable nature of travelling with kids can be a source of parental anxiety, but it can also lead to unexpected moments of magic. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned about family holidays is to go with the flow, accept that things will go wrong from time to time, and be ready to laugh when they do.
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