Many friends have recently asked me how we manage to get away with two children twice or three times a year.
When you live on an island that’s so detached from the mainland, going on holiday can be expensive and a lot of work. We don’t swim in money and my husband works around the clock to provide for us and to earn a little extra cash so we can afford our little getaways, so money is always at the top of our list of priorities when we’re planning a holiday.
To start with, you must understand where we’re coming from. Both my husband and I started travelling when we were teenagers and our travels were either funded by our respective families or by ourselves once we started working. When we met five years ago, he had been back on the islands for a couple of years after having travelled the world on the ships he worked on for the previous five. He never intended to settle down in one place, but starting a family with me would not have happened had he gone off to sea again. So, we settled down on this tiny island but we never stopped dreaming of leaving together. We discuss moving our family elsewhere all the time. At this point, it might never happen. The older the children get, the harder moving away would be. Meanwhile, we try to get away whenever we can, as you have probably gathered by now.
So, how do you get away when you are raising two children (one of whom has very expensive hobbies) and you aren’t rolling in money? This is how we do it:
1. Lower your expectations. Our favourite city in the world is Paris. There we have our favourite cafe’, our favourite restaurant, our favourite park and know our way around most of the arrondissements. The first thing people tell us when they hear of our love for this city is that it’s too expensive. Sure, if you stay in a five star hotel, eat at Alain Ducasse restaurants and shop on the Champs Élysees, then it will certainly cost you an arm and a leg to spend a week there. If, however, you set your sights a little lower, you can find out that luxury doesn’t only come in the form of Egyptian cotton sheets and nouvelle cuisine.
2. Live like the locals. When at home, do you eat out everyday? Do you buy every dress you see and like? For most of us, the answer would be no. We try to keep that in mind and are raising our girls to think the same way. It’s not that we never eat out when we’re abroad but we usually limit our visits to restaurants to twice/three times per trip. The rest of the time, we go to the closest supermarket and stock up on fruit, vegetables, snacks and other staples which we know we’ll be able to create a few meals with. The rest of the time, we prepare packed lunches or have a picnic of baguettes and cheese. Our downfall is coffee. That’s one thing we don’t save money on. If it’s good, it’s worth paying for.
3. Hotels are not the only places with a bed and a bathroom. Before Robin was born, we’d always stay in hotels. I’m not the type to rough it and would never sleep in a hotel if it wasn’t comfortable, clean and decorated to my tastes (bad hotel decor can easily ruin a holiday for me. I’m shallow, I know.). I used to think that the more stars a hotel boasted, the better the experience would be. I was wrong. The fewer the stars, the more you risk a crappy stay. That much is true. But if you do your research and consult Trip Advisor and friends who have already visited the place you want to go to, you’re bound to find a little gem that will really make your holiday. Hotel du Champ de Mars is one such place.
When Robin came along, we realised that most hotel rooms would be too small for all of us (or too expensive), so we started looking for alternative accommodation. That’s when we discovered AirBnB and we’ve been faithful users ever since. When you rent an apartment or house (or a cabin, like we just did), you get something a hotel cannot give you: privacy. And with two energetic children who are used to using a trampoline at home, a place we can retreat to without having to worry about next room neighbours is priceless. Having a kitchen at our disposal also means we can save on meals out (see 2 above) and if one of the girls wants a glass of milk at midnight, we can just go to the fridge and fetch it. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the convenience of having a washing machine at hand. Getting rid of most of the laundry while still on holiday saves me a lot of time and energy when we’re back home and it also means that we can pack less (and avoid more luggage fees when flying).
4. Low-cost airlines are a necessary evil. I cannot tell you how much I detest low-cost airlines. I feel paranoid from the moment we start looking for a flight. Is this really a good price? How much will the added fees inflate the cost? Will we be charged for being overweight? How many hundreds of adverts will we be forced to hear during the flight? We’ve had our fair share of mishaps with one particular airline, but we keep going back to them. Why? Because their fares are the only ones we could possibly afford. That’s the plain and simple truth. We know by now to travel light and not to pack unnecessary items (there was a time when I used to travel with my pillow).The children are allowed to bring a couple of special toys and I pack a backpack with activities and snacks for them before we leave.
If something important is needed while we’re away, we buy a substitute while on holiday. There’s nothing, except for Twistees and Kinnie, you can’t buy in other places. Another trick we’ve learned? We’re each allowed one piece of hand luggage with Ryanair (the airline we use most often). If the children share one hand luggage, we’re left with an extra one which we can use to pack clothes in, thus saving us paying for another checked-in suitcase.
5. Prioritise. Our flat is bare except for the essential furniture and our own stuff (of which there is too much). We have a long list of things we need to buy and have done for our place to be more practical and not look like we just moved in. For now, however, our priorities lie elsewhere. If I had to be honest, I’d rather skip a holiday and have more storage space instead, but I can never say no when my husband shows me a good deal on air tickets.
Are there any other tips you can share? We’re learning what works for us as we go along, but I like learning through the experiences of others.