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Tips for a stress-free South African holiday with your children

Before you start planning, get the family together and ask each one what their requirements are. Picture: Pixabay

Before you start planning, get the family together and ask each one what their requirements are. Picture: Pixabay

Published May 3, 2021


A sunny spot to read my book, that's all I crave when going on holiday. Do I ever get the chance to sweep my fingers through the overused, brittle pages? Nope, but it's a fantasy hold dear.

It's a whole different story for my children. When planning a trip, their requirements rival that of a pop group's tour rider.

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Sometimes I think my eldest places the outrageous demands on me just to get a kick out of my reaction. No, dear son, you cannot get 24-hour butler access and a PS5 in your room. And no, the pool does not come heated.

As soon as the planning starts, so do the questions. Is there internet access? What about a pool? Can we take the pets?

As a parent, I’ve learnt to carefully sift through the craziness until we have a complete wish list of what my children's great expectations are. But, sometimes, even the best plans get shot to a glorious piece of turd.

I am reminded of this exactly an hour into our holidays, when we're on the road and I turn the music up to drown out the protestations and shouts of “how long still?” and “I need to use the bathroom”.

For the sake of keeping your sanity, I've outlined tips to keep in mind when embarking on the great South African family holiday:

Start as one

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Before you start planning, get the family together and ask each one what their requirements are. Most kids will say wi-fi access and a water source. Once you have everyone’s wish list, you'll have some idea where to head.

Self-catering or hotel?

If you're a family larger than four, then it would probably be easier on your pocket to go the self-catering route. Most resorts and self-catering establishments offer special rates if you book during the week. It also works in your favour because you'll practically have the place to yourself after missing the weekend hordes.

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Some hotels have specials where kids under 12 stay for free. Just make sure you read the T&Cs carefully before confirming your bookings, in order to avoid a nasty hotel bill afterwards.

Safety first

Our infection numbers might be down but that doesn't mean Covid isn't around. When travelling with a family, you need to be extra cautious, so find out about the establishment's Covid policies. For instance, do they deep clean after every room check out? Are there sanitising stations in the room/unit? What is the establishment’s mask-wearing policy and do guests abide by it?

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Road trip preparation

When travelling by car, make sure younger children are kept occupied. Load their favourite shows onto a tablet or device, stock up on healthy snacks and stop intermittently for a quick walk, so they don’t get ansty. It is hard for them to be cooped up in a car for a long time.

Also, keep some hard boiled sweets handy if any of them are prone are motion sickness. A pack of wet wipes should be within easy reach because we all know accidents can happen.

The babysitter

As much as it’s a holiday for the kids, sometimes mom and dad need a little break as well. Make arrangements before the time with the hotel to make use of their babysitting facilities.

Some establishments even have a kids club to keep them occupied for a few hours.

Cancellation policy

Children get sick, it’s inevitable. One minute your packing for a holiday, next you’re sitting in a doctor’s surgery with an ill child. It happens.

In this case, you need to be sure you can get your money back or at least most of it if your trip was paid in full. Some establishments on Airbnb and have an up to 24 hour cancellation policy, so make sure when booking that this policy is in place.

Expectations vs reality

It’s frustrating when you reach your destination and nothing goes according to plan. Your place is too small. The kids are bored after just an hour or so.

The best advice is to just roll with holidays. the punches and remember that it’s okay to deviate from the plan.

If the place where you’re staying offers nothing to keep the kids occupied, do a quick Google search for places close by that do offer activities. One year, we booked into a lovely self-catering cottage on a working farm. Everything was perfect. The only problem is that we had got there a day after heavy rains. The nearby river had overflowed and was not safe for swimming.

We eventually found a resort an hour away and ended up having one of the most memorable holidays.

Oh, and don’t expect to have a relaxing holiday, that’s not included in the vocabulary until they’re teens. Instead, know that it’s going to be crazy, exhausting, but most of all fun.

Read the latest IOL Travel digital magazine here.

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