Illustration: Naomi Wilkinson


How to survive a long-haul holiday with kids (by someone who just about did)

Robyn Wilder learned a lot during two 18-hour flights and a non-child-friendly trip to Bali

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By Robyn Wilder on

Reader, I have just returned from a week in the tropics with my family. That’s me, my husband, a three-year-old, a one-year-old, 36 hours’ total flight time and a great deal of heat, humidity, unpredictability and testiness. We travelled to Bali to celebrate my brother-in-law’s wedding, and – despite the fact that I’m the sort of person who gets flustered if I have to transport both kids out to the playground – I have somehow come out relatively unscathed, only a little sunburnt, and with all my luggage, to boot.

If you’re facing a trip like this and you’re anything like me, you may do it testily, because you’re a cold-weather person, and trepidatiously, because every second you’re in a plane is a second you might be falling out of the sky. And, once you get home you might decide to just… stay on Bali time forever, because starting your day at 1am is better than trying to explain jet lag to a preschooler.

However. My point is that I’m living proof that such a trip is possible. Here are the lessons I have learned.

1 Book your plane seats as soon as possible

Oh, God, do this. I didn’t, because I’m an idiot, and I spent 18 hours each way tucked far away from the rest of my family, with my one-year-old on my lap, jammed in between two sleeping strangers he was determined to slap. As a result, I didn’t eat or sleep, or catch much of the Han Solo movie, for the entire flight. Next time, I am reserving our seats within milliseconds of booking the flight, so we can all share the load together.

2 Be mindful when planning your holiday wardrobe

Things you need to be mindful of: the heat. The humidity. The fact that you’ll need upwards of 20 pockets for all your parenting paraphernalia. The access to your boobs for breastfeeding purposes. Your baby’s tendency to drool and drop food on you. The likelihood of one or both children succumbing to “Bali belly”. The likelihood of them succumbing to it on you. You may find that your ideal outfit combines a button-down camouflage jacket with leopard-print shorts in order to hide a multitude of sins. But that’s fine. This trip isn’t about you throwing a sarong over a bikini – it’s about survival.

3 Infinity pools are not for you

Bali, and the tropics in general, are packed with infinity pools and swim-up cocktail bars, hot tubs and other luxuries. These are not for you, you parent. You know what’s for you? Finite pools. Finite pools ringed by a sturdy, child-proof fence, with a three-lock system on the gate. Also not for you: surfing, white-water rafting, any sort of alcohol consumption, late nights, sunbathing or closing your eyes near any body of water. Hope you enjoy getting your phone out to Google Translate “Where is the nearest soft play?” for the locals!  

Bali is packed with infinity pools and swim-up cocktail bars, hot tubs and other luxuries. These are not for you, you parent. You know what’s for you? Finite pools. Finite pools ringed by a sturdy, child-proof fence

4 Aim for convenience, not culture

I spent at least a little time trying to “do” Bali. We took our kids to the Monkey Forest, only to discover that they are (rightly) petrified of monkeys, because monkeys a) have enormous fangs, which they like to b) bare at you, while c) trying to violently divest you of your nappy bag, all while a ranger shouts, “DO NOT LOOK IT IN THE EYE! DO NOT LOOK IT IN THE EYE!” over and over. We visited the beach, only for our kids to lurk in the shade because the sand was too hot to walk on. And, when we visited the bird park only for it to transpire that our oldest son had zero interest in birds, you know what we did? We hung around in the restaurant for eleventy billion hours, because they serve you drinks there, there’s a play area and sometimes the wise man takes the path of least resistance.

5 Pack mosquito repellent

Not for your kids, who are apparently fucking invisible to mosquitos, but for you – because, within hours of landing, you will be bitten so often, and swell up so much, that you’ll resemble a pink version of the Stay-Puft marshmallow man from Ghostbusters, and your kids will make great sport of painfully doinking your massive, cushiony bites with their poky little bastard fingers.

6 Don’t expect any time with your partner

You’ll spend all your time trying to ensure Kid A doesn’t fall off the verandah, or stopping Kid B from plunging into the pool without armbands on. And, at night, everyone will be freaked out by the squirrels in the roof and the cicadas/dinosaurs outside the window, and the fact that it’s yesterday at home, so it’s just easier to claim a kid each, crawl into separate beds each night and hope that you all get at least some sleep.

7 The littlest moments will be the best moments

Once you stop trying to have fun is when you’ll have the most fun. For us, it was when we decided to stay home for the day and splash around in the pool. My older son invented a water-based game called Tiger Vs Lion Vs T Rex, my younger son quickly got over his suspicion of the water and we all ate pizza. And, later that evening, my younger son took his first few steps. Which we might have missed had we kept trying to “do” stuff.

And finally…

8 Take a buggy you know how to collapse

Or you’ll end up rage-smashing it against a curb in 100-degree temperature while locals look on, amused, and you have to end up carrying your sweaty, grumpy baby through a busy marketplace. Er, apparently.

Tropical holiday, I have survived you. However, next year we’re off to Bognor and that is non-negotiable.


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Illustration: Naomi Wilkinson
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