Planning the perfect family holiday can be a challenge.
Your ideal getaway involves lounging by a pool, a romantic dinner, and an occasional lie-in, while your kids’ perfect break is less about relaxing and more about splashing, using their OUTSIDE VOICES wherever they go, and not sitting still – ever.
Here are 10 ways to get “mum and dad time” while holidaying with the kids.
Pick a destination that balances family, fun and freedom
While your dream holiday may be a cruise or an all-inclusive resort you never have to leave, the best breaks to embark on with your children are those that balance their desire for adventure with your desire to have some much-needed time out.
Luckily for us Aussies, we’ve got more domestic holiday hotspots on our doorstep than anywhere on Earth. The key is to pick somewhere that has plenty of activities and places of interest to explore with your children, but with enough restaurants, sights, and facilities for you to enjoy when you have those precious moments to yourselves.
Australian city breaks are great for families because you get the best of both worlds: great beaches within a few kilometres, plus all the museums, attractions, restaurants and a huge range of activities that cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns have to offer.
Another advantage of holidaying in – or near to – a city is you’ll spend less time travelling and more time enjoying yourselves. Plus, if you stay in the CBD you can take advantage of free public transport in some cities. Sydney has a free shuttle bus service that takes in Darling Harbour, Circular Quay and other top spots, and this year Melbourne introduced a free tram zone, allowing you to hop between the city’s landmarks for nothing at all.
Family-proof your accommodation before you set off
Almost more important than your choice of destination is your choice of where to stay. It can make or break your holiday, and if you don’t get it right you could end up with sleepless parents, over-tired kids and a chaotic start to your trip.
If you have older kids, then you (and they) will want to have separate rooms to sleep in – even if some of you sleep on sofa beds. And if you have a baby or toddler, check with your accommodation provider that they will supply a cot or bed.
It’s always a good idea to check the hotel menu for those fussy eaters in the family and while you are at it, check the price is reasonable, too. Look out for hotels offering great food deals, such as Holiday Inn’s offer where kids 12 and under stay and eat free. See their website for terms and conditions.
If you’re taking your own travel cot, do a dummy run one night at home beforehand to check your child will sleep in it. There’s no quicker way to kill those relaxing holiday vibes than having to spend your nights squashed up next to a wriggling toddler in one bed while your partner sleeps on the sofa!
If your kids are in bed by 8pm, you’ll need a separate space for yourselves to unwind and watch a movie without worrying about waking them.
Give your kids an active holiday
Once you have your destination sorted, you can concentrate on planning your itinerary. While it’s great to be spontaneous while on holiday, if you’re hoping to get some kids-free days, you need to get these activities booked in early.
The sports camps and activity days in particular are very popular. So do your research, chat to your kids about the kinds of things they want to do, then lock something in.
If your child is into a particular sport, start looking for something now if you want to secure a place during the holidays. Australian Sports Camps is a great place to start for activities such as cricket, footy, netball, tennis and soccer. The organisation runs three-day programs in every state, with a residential option that includes two nights’ accommodation for children.
If you just want to give your kids a taster and don’t want to commit to one of the longer sports camp programs, there are plenty of one-day or half-day holiday clubs, especially in city areas. It’s best to check the school holiday activity listings in the area you’re visiting, but AllSportz (Melbourne) and All Sorts Indoor Sports (Sydney) are great places to try.
Let someone else plan the itinerary for a day
Before setting off on your trip, it’s worth finding out if where you’re staying has a kids’ club facility on site. Many larger resorts and hotels will put on sports, drama, craft and other entertainment each day. If these are available, it’s important to do a bit of research in advance to find out what kinds of activities they put on and what age groups they’re suitable for. This is especially good to know if you have older children – they may feel they’re too big for kids’ club, and you want to make sure they enjoy their holiday, too.
If your accommodation doesn’t come with kids’ entertainment (which many don’t), it’s still pretty easy to find a similar set-up at children’s vacation camps. While holidaying during the school summer break comes with a few disadvantages (it’s busy, hot and more expensive), the huge bonus is there are so many kids activities to choose from – and you don’t have to be the person planning the itinerary each day.
Start researching day camps as soon as you book your holiday. The state government recreation department of the area you’re visiting will have an up to date list of what’s on, and there’s usually a huge variety to suit most kids’ diverse tastes.
Take them to the zoo, zoo zoo (but this time without you)
Perhaps your kids are missing the cat, you had to leave the dog with grandma, or maybe they just love animals. Luckily for them, the school holidays is a great time to be an animal lover. There are heaps of kids-only activities they can take part in to keep them entertained while you and your partner take time out.
The bigger zoos tend to have a full program of holiday activities to cater for parents who need childcare for the day and children who could spend all day at the zoo (and all night, if you let them!). Taronga Zoo in Sydney and Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo have a Zoo Adventures program, which includes a tour of the zoo and plenty of activities to teach youngsters about new and unusual animals. It’s also worth checking out Kids Go Wild at Melbourne Zoo and the Zoo Keeper for a Day program at Queensland’s Australia Zoo.
These days out will give your kids the chance to get their zoo fix (because every family holiday needs a zoo fix, right?), without you having to spend the day there too. Plus, it’s cheaper than buying entry for the whole family.
Sample some sport-free fun
If the thought of playing basketball, soccer, tennis or even surfing sends your child diving for the iPad, then there are plenty of other activities you can take a look at.
Drama workshops run in most cities throughout the holidays, offering anything from short sessions of a few hours to three-day courses that’ll see them starring in their own show at the end of it. These sorts of activities aren’t just for the kids who want to play the lead in the school play – they’re great for building confidence, inspiring creativity and giving them a taste of performing in front of others.
The National Institute of Dramatic Art runs short sessions and workshops in both Sydney and Melbourne for school-aged children, with courses sure to fire up the imagination, including Dragon School, Space Travellers and even Mockumentary making.
And if acting’s not your child’s thing, you could treat them to something arty instead. The Art Factory in Victoria runs half-day workshops at three locations (in Balwyn, Malvern and Essendon) with a different theme each session. And Raw Art in Queensland has plenty of school holiday sessions that’ll capture your child’s creativity for a few hours.
Take their favourite game to the next level
It’s hard to go for a few hours during the school holidays without hearing the ‘B’ word – even when you’re away enjoying yourselves. You may have just come back from a theme park where they got to go on all their favourite rides. But still, at the end of it, that word comes out: “But Mum, Dad, I’m BORED.”
It happens to us all, but you can do something to beat your child’s boredom for a few hours while still getting some quality “mum and dad time” in: find an activity that perfectly aligns with their passion or hobby.
What could be better for a kid that’s into Minecraft or Lego than to have a day dedicated to their passion? The Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in Sydney runs Thinkspace workshops that encourage kids to get creative by making large-scale Minecraft models, stop-motion Lego animations and more.
And if they’re really into Lego, it’s worth taking a look at Bricks 4 Kids. The Australia-wide children’s activity provider runs sessions in most states, including short workshops throughout the school holidays. This is Lego building – but bigger, better and bolder.
Make your child’s routine work to your advantage
If you’re holidaying with a baby or toddler, and they’re often too young for a lot of the supervised activity clubs (unless where you’re staying has a creche). But that shouldn’t limit what you can do, and often means you can sneak a bit extra time for yourselves if you plan your day around your child’s routine. All you have to do is equip yourselves with an ‘on-the-go’ mentality.
If you’re flying to your holiday, it may be tempting to leave your stroller or pram at home and instead pick up a cheap pushchair when you get to your destination. But ask any seasoned traveller-with-a-toddler and they’ll tell you it’s worth bringing the transport your child is used to. Not only are they more likely to sleep in it while you’re out and about, but you’ll be able to take more toys with you to distract them if any tantrums do erupt.
Time your plan for the day right, and you should be able to strike a perfect balance between having fun family time and parent time, especially if your child’s a regular napper who gets lulled to sleep by the motion of the stroller. It’s a great idea to have an active morning with them, then just before their regular nap time go for a long walk with the stroller. It could buy you enough time to have a lovely lunch together, a walk around a museum, or even a spot of shopping.
Prove that a romantic night out and family holidays can mix
Yes, you really can have a night out. But, as with all things when you’re holidaying with children, it just means planning ahead to ensure you have child care you’re happy with.
A lot of hotels, especially in cities and bigger resorts, provide babysitting services, or have relationships with local approved childcare providers that offer night-time childminding. If you have tickets to an event that you can’t be flexible over, it’s definitely worth ringing your hotel or child-minding service a few weeks to a month in advance to secure a sitter. They do get busy during summer holidays and over Christmas, particularly at weekends.
However, if you just fancied more of an impromptu night out, a lot of hotels will organise a babysitter for you at just 24 hours’ notice.
If you don’t think the babysitter option will work for you, there’s another way to treat yourself to a night out. Taking a break with friends or family who also have children gives you an extra child care option. You and your partner can head out for the night while your friends are on child duty, then you can return the favour on a different night.
Give yourself a movie night to remember
If you’ve managed to get a sitter and you’re in date-night mode, or you’ve got a baby that’s portable enough to stay out in the evenings – the movies is always a failsafe option.
But it wouldn’t really feel like a holiday going to the regular movies – this is where open-air cinemas and drive-in movie theatres come in. You’ll find them in most major cities during summer, and they’ll give you a night out that goes well beyond your regular cinema experience, no matter what film you go for.
And the great thing about being in the great outdoors? You’ve got plenty of room to camp out if you’ve got your family in tow, or relax under the stars if it’s just you and your other half.
The Moonlight Cinema has summer screenings in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth Port Douglas and Sydney, and shows films for all ages and preferences – from the Hunger Games: Mockingjay to Top Gun. You’ll also find heaps of other alfresco movie options cropping up throughout summer, but tickets sell out quickly, so it’s best to check ahead and book before your holiday.