Odessa has recently learnt the power of the words 'I don't want....' it took her a while - for long time she was always saying 'yes' - but at the moment she is trying to gain some control over her life.
So I said, "That's ok, we wont go on holidays. Do you want to go to Sardinia instead?"
"Oh yes!" Odessa answered all excited again. Of course my three year old child didn't know what Sardinia is, but somehow changing one word made a huge difference.
So we did go to Sardinia and it was the best trip we have ever done together.
Let's start from the beginning... Travelling with children requires some planning. When I was younger I used to go to other countries not knowing much about them, with little money and sometimes not even having a place to stay, but I loved the spontaneous part of it. Having a child means I need to act responsibly on holiday, however that doesn't mean it has to be boring. First of all you need ask yourself what kind of break would your child enjoy - children all being different means it's a bit of an open question, but we have it easy with Odessa as she has been travelling with us since she was very little. Plus we have never had anyone to take care of her for us, so she was taken pretty much anywhere we happened to be going: pubs, restaurants, festivals, she travelled by buses, trains, plains, sometimes longs distances. So she is used to anything really and nothing scares her.
Odessa on local Sardinian bus.
A year ago we went to Paris and pretty much walked through most of the city and have seen many Parisian playgrounds! Odessa loved the experience, especially being on the train and splashing in the city fountains. Paris was an amazing adventure but this year we needed something different. Because of very poor local weather in London - we decided we wanted a proper summer experience - ie, lots of sunshine, swimming in clear blue water, building sand castles and eating fresh fruits without worrying about anything.
When it comes to choosing a holiday destination I always recommend detailed research - don't rely only on one particular website, read what people say elsewhere - tripadvisor, lonleyplanet or google. Be wary of all all-inclusive cheap deals - I have heard a few horrid stories; there is often reason why they are cheap - maybe an unattractive location (remember not all the beaches are nice), unhealthy or old food, poor transport links or dirty hotels. Don't feel that when you have children you need go with companies offering pre-planned holidays - of course if you are just simply tired and fancy a completely hassle free break there's nothing wrong with it, but don't feel it's the only option.
I'm quite fussy when it comes to choosing the accommodation and I don't really like big hotel complexes and buffet food. I don't believe you need a "soft-play" when you have the sea next to you! The most positive thing about flight+accommodation deals is the price. However, cheap flight operators like Ryanair or Easyjet offer attractive holiday destinations (Italy, Canaries, Turkey, etc) and I recommend booking flights well in advance before the season starts (much cheaper).
After doing a bit of research and calculating prices we decided to go Sardinia. I love Italian culture and food (Odessa could eat nothing but pasta), Sardinia is still a very authentic place, not dominated by tourism with a stunning coastline.
When it comes to finding accommodation I like take my time to find little gems without spending fortune. I was looking for a stylish place with character close to transport links but also we needed more than one room as when Odessa goes to sleep Tim and I still would have some space to enjoy ourselves (open a nice bottle of wine, play cards, be able to talk comfortably or listen to music). Fortunately I came across airbnb.com (The Guardian rated it as the best travel website a couple years ago). And it is really the best - I am completely in love with airbnb! If you don't know it yet go and check it out (hopefully you won't become an addict like me). The website it fantastic, very easy to use, with amazing places to stay all over the world, from private rooms, big villas or little charming family run B&Bs. There are artist's studios in central Paris, houses in the rain forest in Costa Rica or even the odd tree house. Lots of places I found are amazingly designed and truly beautiful. The website also gives you opurtunity to meet people from different countries (you directly contact your landlord/hotels owners and you meet them later on arrival) - so you really benefit from local knowledge and advice about the area you chose (where to eat, where the best beach is, etc).
After studying a few options we decided to stay in a small, charming B&B run by local artist Alessio. The place caught my attention straight away - the amazing décor and beautifully designed details - it had a genuine Mediterranean feel. It is a converted flat in the block in residential street (so we were living among Sardinians rather than with other tourists). The B&B only has two room which we took so Odessa could have her own space, we could also use the kitchen, sitting room and beautiful terrace - where we would sit every evening after putting Odessa to sleep.
Every morning Allessio prepared a lovely breakfast for us with home made yoghurts and fresh fruits.
We all had an absolutely fantastic time. I thing the best part was swimming in the sea. I take Odessa swimming at least once a week in my local gym, so she had some preparation but it was her first time in deeper sea water and she was amazing. She was swimming independently (with her arm bands on) and was very confident in the water. She loved the sensation of floating and the waves made her giggle like a crazy thing. It was such a wonderful feeling to be in the sea and swimming next to her, I will never forget her little legs paddling in the clear, blue water... I was very proud.
We aslo rented a boat for the whole day and visited the coast,. We had a couple lazy days on the beach where we went snorkelling, went on a trip to a little abandoned island and as if that wasn't enough, we had lovely food and drink amazing Italian coffee.
Alghero where we stayed hasn't got a pretty coast but 20 minutes by bus and we have found amazing Caribbean style beaches.
The first one we went to had only few people there, it was a bit hidden and you need to climb to get to it, but it was definitely worth it.
I would highly recommend Sardinia, it's very beautiful and unspoiled and has a lovely happy atmosphere. The people are very nice and always willing to help you (not knowing English doesn't stop them). My impression of the Italians was that generally they love children! Odessa was spoiled and admired everywhere she went. On the market she was given lot's of fruits for free, on the yacht we hired everyone felt responsible for her, people were talking to her on the street, kissing her head and trying play with her (even security at the airport!).
Pictures taken during our boat trip - not knowing Italian didn't stop Odessa making new friends
Some practical advice about travelling to the seaside with children - I know it's obvious, but I will say it anyway - respect the sun! 50 plus factor is a must for little children and it's also important to cover their head. I have seen many children burnt by Sun - as well as being damaging to health, it pretty much means fun is over.
Pack cleverly... if, like us, are going to spend much time on the beach and by water I would recommend at least two swimming suits, and rubber sandals or "crocs" (some beaches have lots of stones and rocks so it's uncomfortable walk bare foot), generally light and comfortable clothes. I bought Odessa a pair of TOMS shoes which are very light and feel lovely (I have a pair as well, I love them). Also TOMS are ethical shoes (they buy a pair of shoes for children in need for every pair sold) which I explained to Odessa and she loved the idea - it made the shoes suddenly much more exciting! They are covered toe shoes but they are still great for hot weather as they are made of cotton. They were also good for walking on sand and when we went into town.
Don't panic too much about packing thought - I know when it comes to children we like to be prepared, but the vast majority of products you can buy are readily available - and it's easier to move around without big bags.
Choose the right area for your family - if your child in not comfortable with deeper water find out where there are beaches with shallow water where your little one can slowly can get used to the sea. If you need more excitement go for beaches with water sports where you can rent a boat or do some snorkelling.
I believe it is well worth researching the accommodation options when you go with your kids - the size of your space really matters, I recommend aiming for separate rooms and possibly some outside area so you can still enjoy the evenings when your children are sleeping.
Odessa having glass of milk on Alessio's terrace just before she went to bed
If you go to a foreign country - explain to your child (even if they are little) about the place you are going to, point out that they speak a different language or have a different style of life - they might not remember the whole experience - especially little ones - but it definitely shapes their personality and understanding of the world.
Try to encourage you children (without pushing) to interact with water , if they are not sure about it, try to make it fun for them ...make up some stories about magical shells that need to be found or a very friendly fish. In case of blood-thirsty child I invented a shark we needed to rescue her dollies from. For older kids I would recommend snorkelling, you can buy mask for few pounds in any seaside resort and it is a fantastic activity - I can't wait for Odessa to be old enough to try it.
If, like me, you love taking pictures of your children I would suggest investing money in waterproof housing for your camera - not only for taking underwater images, but to be comfortable photographing your child in water without worrying you will damage your camera - I didn't have one and found it really frustrating I couldn't take close ups of Odessa swimming, and the big smile on her face.
Make sure you are going to a place which both yourself, child and partner would enjoy - in other words a holiday for the whole family. In our case Tim's dream was to hire a boat which we did and I had plenty of opportunities to do some snorkelling when Tim was building sand castles with Odessa.
and the view frrom the boat
Try to get friendly with some locals they will always recommend the best places, restaurants or playgrounds :-)
Take a good book or even two, nothing better that warm evening with glass of lovely Italian wine and book in your hand (and a deeply sleeping child after a busy day...)
Relax! Holidays should be a happy and careless time, leave the worries behind you and learn from your children - they know best how to have fun!