Just in time for the half-term exodus, journalist, Recipe Rifle blogger and
chronic overpacker parent Esther Walker shares her (wry) take on family-holiday essentials…
If you want to stay being my friend then under no circumstances make fun of how much stuff I pack when going on holiday with my kids.
It’s not funny, packing for children, especially if any of them are under 18 months. Or, frankly, still in nappies. When I had only one baby I would complain long and hard to anyone who would listen about how going away for the weekend was like putting up and taking down a circus. Now I have two, the monumental amount of stuff we need when we go away beggars belief. We arrive, set everything up, have a cup of tea, then it’s time to pack everything away and go home again.
But, listen to me: I do not overpack. If anything, I underpack. I rarely take any toys, for example. Other people turn up for the weekend with great laundry bags full of toys, which Kitty has to then steal like a latter-day Artful Dodger. But even without toys, the list of essentials is simply endless. I look at the holiday kit assembled in the hallway and I know that there is nothing in any of these meticulously sourced and packed bags that we can do without.
Without the Dream Tubes, Kitty will fall out of the single bed that she will be sleeping in. Without the packet of soup pasta, Sam will not be able to have tea on Sunday night. Without his Lamaze Elephant that plays tunes when you squeeze the hand, Sam will be sad. Without his bath chair, Sam will not have a nice bath, which is a vitally fun 20 minutes in his day. Without Kitty’s new travel dollshouse she will be bored and demand to watch TV and show me up in front of our hosts. And so on. It’s enough to drive you to drink, let alone anything stronger.
But the thing about packing for small children is that no-one else can do it for you, only you know what you need and where it is. So until my kids are old enough to survive on holiday, (as I used to), with one bathing costume, one large T-shirt and a toothbrush, I will continue to spend a few days gathering everything under the sun for our trips away, and fill any available space in our car with essentials.
Because without the right stuff, you can’t relax – and what kind of holiday would that be?
• Dream Tubes, which turn a single bed into a cot.
• Magic Blackout is brilliant for keeping light out of bedrooms with flimsy curtains.
• Sunsense Toddler Milk Factor 50 is the best kids suncream ever: one bottle lasts the whole holiday.
• Kitty zones out on flights with her iPad mini and JVC toddler headphones (in pink).
• The MacLaren TechnoXT is the best travel buggy.
• Aden + Anais giant cotton muslins always come in useful on holidays, as a sunshade, towel, vomit-absorber…
• My new Longchamp mini backpack is both stylish and practical and doesn’t get in the way like a cross-body bag.
• A bottle of Piriton cures all known travel ills, from sleeplessness to insect bites.
Esther Walker is a writer for The Times, The Evening Standard and Grazia magazine. She also blogs about food and motherhood at Recipe Rifle. She is married to food critic Giles Coren; they have two children Kitty, 3 and Sam 1.