Travelling with a Grown up Family
There are lots of tips for handling holidays with tiny-tots or teenagers, but far less information around for managing harmonious travel with grown up, or almost grown up children. These are my top tips for ensuring a harmonious time, rather than a holiday from hell
Time Out Don't feel you have to do everything together all of the time. Your kids are used to being independent so let them have some space. If they don't want to do everything with you and just want to 'chill' at home don't sweat it, it doesn't really matter if they don't tick off everything on your 'sight-seeing' agenda.
Treat your Family Like Friends Although I'm a firm believer that parents should be 'parents' to their off-spring and not their 'friends', I relax this rule a bit on holidays. After all in the same way you choose which friends to travel with you are choosing to take your grown up kids away with you. It makes sense to therefore afford them the same level of respect that you would your actual friends. If that sounds too 'goody-goody' to be true, it really isn't - all I mean is wait untli they are not there to have a moan and gossip about them!
Timings Know yours (and more likely your kids) tolerance levels of how much time they can spend together as a farmily unit before everyone starts driving each other mad. It is quality not quantity that is important! So if after a week or two your grown-up children want to dump you and go back to their uni friends for a few days don't take it as a personal snub. Guilt tripping them is not a good plan. #Just saying!
Phones Do not comment on screen time usage. They are grown ups and can use their phones as much as they like. I was going to say don't feel obliged to foot the bill for extra 4G data when travelling in remote areas, but who am I kidding, just pay the bill!
Reminisce Presumably if you are travelling with grown up kids it is because holiday experiences have been fun in the past. Take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about the good times you've had together.
Play Games In my opinion you're never too old to play cards after dinner..
Assign Roles Keep the whole family engaged in the trip by involving everyone in the planning of the days and the assigning of organisational roles such as navigator or restuarant chooser. If someone doesn't like their role agree to swap the next day.
Keep Busy Have plenty of things to do, Just like when the kids were little ensure there is reading material on hand, cards, games, and plenty of activities to participate in. Be active and keep the endorphines pumping with plenty of brisk walks!
Join in the Fun Joke, be daft, relax, have fun. Be prepared to be the butt of the kids jokes (to a point!)
Be Vulnerable The kids are grown up and it is ok to share with them what it means to you to spend time with them. This will make them feel valued.
Be your Best Self (Well at least for some of the time!) If you are like me half of the conversations that you have with your 'grown up' kids, will be about practicalities and organisational things. Use this time to really connect at a deeper level. Chat with the kids about their lives and even perhaps share stuff about yourself. Ask questions (without being too nosey!) seek their views, and remember and respect what they have to say. In essence, be your best self.
And if all that sounds too much like hard work remember that they are grown up and don't have to come. With that in mind (shock, horror!) my final tip is:
Take a Break from the Family! I've had the time of my life with Mick and our girls on our recent NorthCoast500 Land Rover adventure. Without an ounce of sarcasm, my gratitude book overfloweth. I've loved it. Also, since returning I've enjoyed spending time with my own parents. (I wonder if they are giving advice to their own friends about managing time with a middle-aged interfering daughter?! Maybe, maybe not!) I do though have a quick mini-break planned for next weekend too, and there won't be a family member in sight.!
What was that about being my best self?! It seems it's harder than it looks, but never mind! Watch this space for my next post on the value of nurturing friendship!
During our Northcoast500 adventure we’ve experienced the ‘same same, but different’ features of the guesthouses we’ve stayed in. From luxurious window seat views in Myrtle Bank at Fort William; to characterful local warmth and hospitality offered at The old Manse in Lochcarron; to the efficiency of the tartan carpeted Corriness House at PoolEwe, by Loch Ewe; to the spaciousness and comfort in The Old Surgery in Ullapool; to the magnificence of the scrumptious breakfast and stunning scenery at Aiden House in Durness; all the places we’ve stayed in have been good. Some have been excellent, going the extra mile to ensure we’ve had a very enjoyable stay. Drawing on our experiences of this holiday here is my checklist of what a good guesthouse should have.
Great Guesthouse Checklist
Eco-Friendly Approach. At The Old Manse we loved the provision of every breakfast jam under the sun in their original sized jars from which we could help ourselves. This was waste free and far preferable to peeling open small packets of butter, jam and marmalade, for the waste to end up in landfills. In the same vein the refillable shampoo and conditioner receptacles were welcomed at Aiden House and are less likely to be taken as a 'souvenir' too I imagine!
Staying in guesthouses has not been a stuffy or staid option and has enabled us to travel round a lot, whilst having a little bit of luxury to compensate for bumping in around in a landrover for several hours a day. I’ve been quite envious of the bikers roaring off on their luxurious triumphs and Harley Davidsons, but let’s face it I couldn’t update my blog from the backseat of a bike and I haven’t seen any four seater motorbikes. We’ve seen some amazing places, along our Northcoast500 route and Lazarus the Landrover has served us well squeezing into places that campervans can’t access. Most notably the magnificent Bealach Na Bar pass between Lochcarron and Applecross - I wasn’t at all scared by the single pass traffic and the very steep drops!
The guesthouses we chose are considered quite good value for money and typically priced for the NorthCoast500 route. Travelling with grown up kids needing their own space does bump up costs, but what can you do… we don’t want to leave them at home and gone are the days when we’d all bunk up together. Would I come back and do it all again? Definitely. Have I got a favourite guesthouse from the above. Yes, but it wouldn't be fair to say which it is.
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Day 2 of our ‘Northcoast 500 in Scotland trip has started fairly well. We’ve waved off MrytleBank Guest House in FortWilliam. The staff were very friendly, with their ‘wee this’ and ‘wee that’; the view from our room was stunning; and the facilities were excellent (just as well as we were all obliged to stay inside yesterday afternoon and channel hop between the cricket and the tennis.) The tyre swing was a hit with my kids (yes, I know they are allegedly grown up), so all is well in our world. The locals keep telling us to enjoy the beautiful weather, but I did nip into the town this morning to buy a new, very reasonably priced fleece, just in case the breeze picks up. We are in Scotland after all.
My plan had been to wear my landrover t-shirt (a gift for Mick that was too small!) for a departure shot each morning in front of Lazarus, but I’ve realised that this will create a whiffy rather than cool vibe so I’m having to rethink that idea. I’m feeling a little nostalgic as I love this time with just the four of us, but wondering how much of this ‘same same’ we can have with the kids before the ‘different’ starts. I’m starting to wonder if we are quirky ‘holiday makers’ or if all families are like ours. What do you think?
Same Same - Family
Different - Family
It’s time to dump Tim. Mick picks out Sexy Serena as our new SAT Nav Guide. I object and choose the more straitlaced Jane, she has a direct, no-nonsense, trust me voice. I think she sounds reliable until I hear her lilting and teasing ‘roundabout’ inflection. Can we really count on her to get us to our destination? Our first family trip for a while and our first road trip in the UK for absolutely ages. We’re in Mick's new Landrover. No comment!
We’re leaving Broughton in Lincolnshire and heading to 'Broughton Place' in Edinburgh for two nights. Home from home perhaps, perhaps not. Mick announces that he is unimpressed with the bed and breakfast we are going to. I agree. The reception staff’s clipped English pronunciation phone voices and ‘the computer says no’ approach to changing the date of our trip was not the Scottish welcome we were hoping for. Our stoicism, or is it stubbornness, is admirable. Fine - if we can’t change the booking we’ll bloody use it, even if it means listening to Mick’s Scottish accent all the way there.
Jane claims it is only a four and a half hour drive to Broughton from Broughton, but the AA Breakdown Insurance, prudently joined prior to departure, claims it is six. Time will tell.
It is, of course, peeing it down with rain.
We’re four minutes into the journey. I have eaten a bag of prawn cocktail flavoured Walkers crisps and I’m halfway through my first cheese and cucumber sandwich. Delicious, though already a little squashed. I’m not greedy, it’s just that whilst the rest of the family lingered over coffee, muesli and yoghurt, I was forced to frantically tidy the house. Everyone knows that towels need to be straightened and the toilet bleached just in case burglars pop by. We do have standards. I wish we had some wholenut chocolate to munch on. How far is it to the first ‘pit stop?’
Eight minutes into the journey. We’re greeted by a flurry of traffic cones closing off two lanes of traffic and get stuck behind a big yellow van driving in the remaining single lane. It’s driving slowly, very slowly. Time for another sandwich.
The kids are bickering: “She’s lying to you.” High-pitched squeaks and giggles.
I’m making factual observations about the new (23 years old) car.
“It’s steamed up in here.”
“Well open the window.”
“Surely it has a de-steamer thingy.”
Annie announces she will take music requests later but she is starting us with a ‘chill’ playlist. I’m not sure what a playlist is, but it is soothing. So far we’ve listened to Stop This Train by John Mayer, Beyond by Leon Bridges and Top of My List by Lime Cordial (I’d never even heard of them before!).
Twelve minutes into the trip and Mick asks for a can of diet coke. He has to shout above the engine noise, though he denies this. Perhaps it will settle down into a purr soon - the car, not Mick, though the idea of a purring Mick amuses me. The request for the can of coke is relayed to the back and the can is retrieved and passed forward from the big green eski-bag. It is refreshingly cold. I silently reflect that even the ’50s perfectly coiffured housewives, unlike me, probably didn’t always remember the eski-freezer packs. A fleeting sense of smugness coarses through my veins. Mick delights in having found a little spot in the dashboard to keep his can of diet coke in. And he raves, “as it is in front of the vent, my drink will stay cold as well as upright!”
He loves his car. I almost smile.
Jane tells us to take the exit and meet the motorway. Delay signs flash aggressively at us in orange text.
As a family of four we’ve had hundreds of road trips. Our first ones were also in a landrover back when we lived in Tanzania twenty odd years ago. We gave it a name – Larry. This isn’t like us, we’re not the car naming types, but in memory of Larry, it seems only right that we give our new landrover a name too. Lazarus fits.
I remember distinctly breaking down in Larry, near Morogoro National Park. I was left with my parents and a six month old baby as Mick headed off into the unknown seeking help. His final action before he left was to pass my dad an extremely large, heavy spanner, “just in case”- in case of what? Eventually, we were towed home in the dark on a busy motorway. The car lights gave up the ghost and my poor mum waved a flag out the back window of the car alerting other traffic of our presence for the duration of the journey. My parents didn’t visit Tanzania after that. This trip down memory lane makes me worry a little bit about Lazarus’ reliability, though to be fair, so far we are bombing along.
We have now got things ‘off to a tee’, so whether you’re travelling with a seven month old or a seventy year old, if you follow these tips you will be guaranteed a good journey, even in a landrover as old as time itself.
I just asked Mick for more tips about how to make journeys smooth and enjoyable. From his sarcasm soaked driver's seat (and why does he always insist on driving anyway?) his response was to suggest that the driver requests silence from the passengers. I’m not sure if that is because of the racket the karaoke queens are now making in the back seats. He’s now trying to back track and claim he was joking! We’re an hour into the journey, so it is definitely time to stop for chocolate and to remember that we are on holiday!
As a family we are going up to Edinburgh at the weekend. Saturday is also the day that Betsy is due to get her IB results - yikes! We've been saying we will need to be somewhere with good internet access and phone reception, both for receiving the results and completing any follow up emailing or phoning regarding university places.
This is probably going to sound a bit daft, but I genuinely have just revisited my own book (co-written with Lorraine Illing and illustrated by NokIsMe), giving advice for parents surviving the IB. I needed to find out what to do both in the positive situation that the results are what Betsy hopes for, or in the (fingers crossed this won't happen) sticky situtation if they are not.
It is hard to believe that it is two years since Annie went through the IB and Betsy completed her IGCSEs, yet here we are again. Annie has already had her results for her second year at UCL, and all good there (well done Anniepops!), but I can't pretend I'm not nervous about Betsy's IB. It's a gruelling course, entailing studying six subjects along with completing Community, Action and Service based activities and doing a 4000 word Extended Essay plus some Theory of Knowledge learning too - great preparation for uni but a blooming challenge and no mistake!
Anyway, I've decided to focus on the positive in this post. If you've not been through the IB before, (and I'm pretty confident A levels are similar) these might be useful tips for next steps if the results your child receives are what they need to go university.
In the next few days, check out the process for accepting university places. If your child's results are available online, eg at the IBO website, make sure that they know their username and password and what time they are available. Don't panic if the site goes down, there will be massive demand on the server so you might need to wait a bit for them. Have the correct info to hand for applying to university and accessing school support. This is especially important if, like us, you are not going to be at home.
Check your Correspondence
Once your offspring has accepted a uni offer make sure that they keep up with the correspondence from them. It is easy to neglect emails in the summer. Be careful not to as you can miss out on important information such as accommodation offers, health care information, activities and insurance.
With the accommodation Annie was contacted by university catering and accommodation departments to make or confirm choices about the type of room and the catering options they offer. If this doesn’t happen then don't wait too long before contacting the university accommodation department yourself. Worldwide, first year students and particularly international students are given priority for accommodation on campus or in the city near the study areas. I'd recommend finding out when registration for accommodation opens as for some universities it is distributed on a first-come first-serve basis.
It is likely that your child will be given loads of info about things s/he can join. I'd encourage signing up now and engaging in uni social media groups. Your child will probably be invited to join the Student Union facebook page which will have lots of information about Freshers’ Week and upcoming events.
Health Care Provision
When Annie went to uni getting signed up at a Health Centre was a pain, so once you have a place it might be worth getting this done early, or at least setting the wheels in motion. It's also worth checking any vaccine requirements the university stipulates.
If your child does super well then they might be eligible to apply for a scholarship. If you receive good news on 'exam results day' then be sure to double check for this perk, as that would be lovely.
Blimey, writing all that, has just made me nervous all over again about the results. The kids put so much pressure on themselves, these days, that probably the biggest tip of all is to make sure that whatever happens, your child is reassured that if the results aren't quite what they'd hoped for then it isn't the end of the world. Of course, we want our kids to do well, especially if they've bust a gut to do so, but at the end of the day, life will go on. There's no way, in my view, that young people should feel defined by their school exam results. Gosh that sounded quite sincere for me. Time for a reality check - looking around our living room Annie is lying on the sofa wearing Christmas pyjamas, nagging her dad to set up his new scalextric set. I'm thinking that a bike (to enable healthy living) might have been a better present and am a tad regretful of my rashness re the purchase of aforementioned scalextric! Betsy, on the other hand, is in trouble for using bad language whilst watching Love Island! The nerves have abated and normal service resumes.
Finally, once again if you are interested in buying A Parents' Survival Guide to the IB do get in touch. At 6.99 it's worth every penny. Once you've finished with it you can donate to your school's library!