Surviving a staycation with a baby or toddler… and actually having fun
Calling a holiday with a baby a 'break' is probably a bit of a stretch
I'm just back from a lovely week in Achill with my brother's family and also my best friend and her lot. And it was mega.
I've been excited about the trip since we booked it in January and, with all that's going on, I was dying to get away.
There was also some trepidation over my first staycation with a baby. It didn't help that two friends who are new parents came home early from their staycation this year, saying that it was more trouble than it was worth... feck. So I had my doubts about how it would go down.
I'm happy to report that I had to be practically dragged home at the end of the week, but with that said, I can see how it could have been a disaster.
I made mistakes, got some things very right and learned a whole lot along the way. Hopefully my experiences can help other new parents heading off on hols decide what to do and, more importantly, what not to do.
Here's how it all panned out.
A very big house in the country
Holidaying in Ireland is expensive, this much is true. It's also been really challenging to find accommodation that's available, let alone affordable, for the last couple of years. Thankfully, my sister-in-law was on the case. She booked a huge house with another smaller house beside it, on the same plot of land, on AirBnb back in January. We paid as much as we would have paid for a hotel, but a hotel room with my one-year-old son Ziggy would have been an absolute disaster.
We knew what we needed and this house had it all, so it was worth every penny. When you're on this sort of trip, you spend a lot of time back at base. It's not just 'somewhere to lay the head' like the boozy holidays of yesteryear (sob), so it's worth making sure your accommodation is right.
First and foremost, we needed enough room for everyone. The main house comfortably housed my brother and his wife and three kids, and me and my son. The adjoining house had plenty of room for my bestie and her husband and son, and even an extra visiting pal for a few days of the trip. We got to be together, without being on top of each other. Gone are the days of bunking in and making do on trips. We're all grown-ass adults who require comfort, but above all, we needed space to handle baby business.
It's safe to say the décor wasn't exactly to our taste, but practicality had to come first. I'd put up with that white leather couch every year for the level of comfort and space we enjoyed.
So my advice is, when it comes to baby hollier housing, the extra space is worth the money and go for function over form.
This isn't the most environmentally-friendly piece of advice, but I don't actually own a car and use public transport where possible, so this was very much a holiday arrangement. Basically, we brought a sh*t load of cars.
Me and my son borrowed my friend's car and they brought their second one. My brother and his wife and kids came in two separate cars. The reason for this was simple — naps. Not for the grown-ups*, but for the three tiny people on the trip. It meant that, when we were heading out for beach days or day trips, we left at naps times and the little people could go in separate cars and sleep all the way there. If they were still asleep on arrival, no problem, their respective parent could keep driving around or hang out in the beach car park with them until they were sandcastle-ready. If they were too tired for whatever was going on and a parent needed to bail with them, no problem. It was honestly the best idea ever.
Babies also need a lot of stuff. A friend recently said that the best thing about staycationing is that you can pack everything you need into your car, but the worst part of staycationing is that you have to pack everything you need into your car. Preach.
In short, if you're holidaying as a family and are lucky enough to have access to two cars, or can afford a rental, it's worth thinking about.
*I may have had a car nap too.
I've learned that the key to bringing a baby away is surrendering to the fact that it's not going to be like other holidays. There were things going on that I would have loved to be part of, but when it wasn't feasible I reminded myself that there'll be plenty of future holidays filled with kayaking and pints in tiny local pubs. This one was about sandy toes, boardgames and making memories, and that was totally fine by me.
The one time I got cocky, I paid for my mistake. I thought playing Crazy Golf with my one-year-old would be fine. He'd potter about and we'd let him fish the balls out of the hole. He'd love it, I decided. Reader, he did not love it. The course was on a hill, which meant lots of big steps and small walls for him to fling himself off and over. This in turn meant I had to carry him. The issue there being that a) he is not light and b) he did not want to be carried.
You can imagine how much craic that was — approximately none. I bowed out at the second hole, but it was also one of the only days we didn't practice our multiple cars trick either. I had to distract an unhappy toddler who just wanted to go back and play golf with his big cousins, in a hot car on the side of a busy road.
Lesson truly learned. If something isn't going to work, don't put yourself through it. Stay back at the house and catch up on Love Island while your son plays with your makeup brushes. (This advice may be overly specific. Feel free to adjust accordingly.)
Something magical happened in Achill, this year. I got to go out. I had a pint of Guinness in an actual glass, made of glass. I'm still not over it.
It was in a sort of tent thing beside a pub, granted, but that was close enough for me.
Unbeknownst to me, a deal was struck amongst the men and women on this trip that meant the girls got to go out one night, if the lads could on another occasion. I'm not ashamed to admit that I almost cried when I found out. The last time I set foot in or outside a pub was last December. We were out at 9 and home in bed by midnight, but it was a little slice of heaven.
This won't apply to everyone's holiday, of course. But if everyone going out together isn't possible because there's a smallie in tow, taking it in turns might work for you too.
As I write this I realise that the men never got their payback night out.
That's it. That's the advice. Snacks and lots of them. In every pocket, buggy basket and glove compartment. Do not run out of snacks.
As a single parent, I'm not accustomed to being able to hand my son over to someone temporarily while I do luxurious things like pee or wash. On this break, I got to do just that a few times a day, and let me tell you, my mind was blown. I can't believe people get to leave a room without someone shouting after them and inevitably crying their ass off until you give in and come back. How exotic.
My extremely helpful nephews are probably the main reason this really did feel like a break, to me. And listen, I fully subscribe to the notion that grooming and grocery shopping alone should never be described as 'self care' for mothers — it should be the bare minimum. But sometimes, just sometimes, a shower without a baby monitor is a bloody wonderful thing.
Ok, this last part isn't advice, it's just me saying thanks to Charlie and Oscar. You're the best.