We recently took a trip to Dorset (otherwise known as the Jurassic Coast) in which it was freezing, windy, and rained a lot. It was February, but for a change of scene and a low season holiday cottage, we were satisfied.
My pre-holiday research consisted of about 15 minutes of scanning daysoutwiththekids.com, writing down some places with postcodes for satnav, and keeping this valuable piece of paper in the glove compartment.
This turned out to be mostly useless, as almost all the places were shut in February. I forgot that Dorset does not switch on for the tourists until April. I spent the week we were there thinking up day trips that would keep Mole and Hedgehog amused but not drive Mr M&H and I insane at the same time. Keeping warm and dry was also a bonus.
I’m pleased to report that we found more than enough to do during the week, that I don’t recall a single bored moment, and that Dorset is beautiful whatever time of year it is. I herewith compile a list of recently learned wisdom for keeping the toddlers happy when on a trip, while keeping your own sanity at the same time. I hope that some other tired and frazzled parents out there find it useful.
Get a holiday cottage with a TV in it. When the kids get up at 6am, take them downstairs, give them some milk and toast, then stick them in front of Cbeebies (otherwise known as the babysitter). It will buy you at least another hour lay-in. You may even get to have morning sex. Something that probably hasn’t happened since the first one was born.
Spend lots of time having lunches, mid-morning snacks, mid-afternoon teas etc, in cafes, pubs, or just anywhere that has space for a buggy, and is warm and dry to sit. Bring a shed load of wet wipes and a bin liner to clean up the mess with when you leave, or just pay quickly and then run.
Get the family out of the house and into the car by 10am at the latest. This allows enough time for a decent day out and still get home before dark and dinner. I found the best way of getting them out of the house was to pretend to go without them.
Get an online grocery delivery for when you arrive.
Make sure you’re happy with the décor of the holiday house, as you will be spending at least half of your days inside of it.
Keep the car trips to half an hour at the most. This reduces the risk of tantrums in the car (from the parents and the toddlers), or of falling asleep in the car, at the worst possible time of day, like 2 hours before bed time.
Baby proof the house when you arrive, like putting any breakable items out of reach and putting up the fire guard. Mole is semi trustworthy now with breakables, but Hedgehog is a total liability. Even so, I can’t stand marshalling the two of them like a permanently anxious helicopter all week.
Travel light. Food can be delivered, clothes can be washed (make sure there is a washer dryer), and the new surroundings will provide plenty of new toys.
Bring a picnic with you if it’s a sunny day, even if it’s cold. You can wrap up warm and have the picnic on a deserted beach, and pretend that you are the first pioneer family ever to have a picnic on a beach. Also you won’t be forced to leave the beach before you’re ready to out of hunger.
Hide the chocolate and the wine, then consume in large quantities after they’re in bed.
The best bits for me were sitting on the beach wall in Lyme Regis, contemplating the clouds rolling in above the green sea and watching Mole and Hedgehog make sand castles. Looking for fossils on Chesil beach and building stone cairns with Mole. Chasing the crashing waves in and out with Hedgehog and laughing when Mr M&H got wet. Walking around the Sub-tropical Gardens at Abbotsbury that smelled of the Mediterranean. Spending 2 hours in the Teddy Bear Museum in Dorchester, while Mole put the teddy bears to bed 200 times. The views from the coastal road between Bridport and Weymouth.
Mole and Hedgehog’s best bits were watching Cbeebies (with an expression of sheer joy on their faces), and having lots of tea and cake in cafes. More specifically they liked making a big mess with tea and cake in cafes. Oh, and Monkeyworld, they loved Monkeyworld. Mole and Hedgehog seemed more taken with the indoor soft play area than the monkeys, but they did get very excited about choosing a toy monkey in the gift shop. Mole came away with a strange looking pink monkey that she now calls Cat. It’s a monkey with an identity crisis.
The phrase I will connect most with this trip is Mole’s favourite question of the week “How did the dinosaurs die?”, which she asked 111 times. Despite visiting 2 dinosaur museums, she is still pondering the answer.