In the years BC (Before Children), Heather and I were keen travellers. We stood atop the top of the Great Wall of China and in the ruins of Pompeii. We celebrated New Year’s Eve in Sydney and Chinese New Year in Malaysia. We clocked up thousands of miles on road trips in California and New Zealand. Since our three children arrived, however, we’ve stuck to destinations closer to home: Tuscany rather than Thailand, Butlins not Bangkok.
Of course, any form of travel, whether planes, trains or automobiles, is as exciting for children as it is stressful for parents. But as our kids get older (they’re now six, four and two), things start to get easier and a world of opportunities opens up again.
Our four-year-old, Toby, is fascinated by foreign countries and what he might find there. In recent months he has discovered the joy of maps and atlases, and learning the famous places you can see in different nations.
In addition to many of London’s landmarks, he has already ticked the Leaning Tower of Pisa (formerly known as the Leaning Tower of Pizza) off his list. Sadly, I had to break the news gently to him that, even though we were in France for our summer holiday, we would not be taking him to the Eiffel Tower on account of us being nearly 300 miles away. To him, of course, it was just a couple of centimetres on a map! For now, he has had to settle for posing in front of its miniature facsimile at Legoland. He didn’t seem to mind.
Now that he’s started down this road, there’s no stopping him. He’s like a selfie-obsessed Japanese teenager, desperate to see and photograph all these famous sights he is currently absorbing from books, TV and films.
I’m loving this. Toby’s new-found passion for faraway places and famous landmarks is one of the things that has really brought our taciturn boy out of his shell. He’s constantly drawing and talking about them. It’s got me thinking about all the places I’d like to visit with him and his siblings over the coming years. Here are my top five:
1. New York: The boys love the hustle and bustle of London and its sights and sounds. I’d love to see how they react to being in Times Square or seeing the Statue of Liberty. With the same child-like sense of wonder that I did on our first visit, I expect.
2. Egypt: Seeing the Pyramids would tick one of the biggest things remaining on my personal bucket list, and I’m sure the luxury of the resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh would appeal to all five of us. Then there’s the beaches, the bazaars, the Temple of Karnak, the Luxor Temple and Valley of the Kings, not to mention the Nile and the Red Sea. As a destination that would appeal to parents and children alike, it would meet all our family holiday needs.
3. Sydney: If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be here. Sydney is one of the most cosmopolitan yet laid-back cities in the world, and although it has a population of close to five million it feels much smaller. Plus Toby does a great impression of a human Sydney Opera House.
4. Paris: One day, hopefully soon, I will have a photo of him standing in front of the real Eiffel Tower to go alongside the ones I already have with the Lego version. A couple of days at Disneyland Paris would also make for a good trial run for a possible future trip to Disney World or Disneyland.
5. New Zealand: We spent 2½ weeks pre-kids haring around this most beautiful and varied of countries. Maybe one day we’ll spend an entire summer with the kids rediscovering it at a more leisurely pace in a camper van.
The one challenge we will have to overcome is that travelling with three kids is somewhat more complicated than when it was just two of us. Back then we were happy to rough it and all we needed were passports, credit cards and the relevant Rough Guide. Nowadays we value child-friendly facilities and activities and the knowledge that we’re unlikely to encounter any nasty surprises.
For a familiar destination such as New York or Sydney I’m happy making our own arrangements but for, say, Egypt we’re more likely to use an established tour operator such as First Choice, whose years of experience in destinations such as these means they can provide an all-in-one solution to meet our needs and take the stress and uncertainty away. Which is what family holidays should be all about, really.
Now where did I put that atlas?