Last updated on Nov 17th, 2020 at 04:32 pm

By Bridget McNulty

Travelling with young kids is… tricky, and that’s an understatement!

There are so many factors to consider: nap time, snack time, food in general, noise, meltdowns, entertainment, sleep. It’s no wonder many parents opt to stay at home until their children are older!

But I’m happy to report that a recent trip with my young kids (aged two and four) revealed to me some secret ingredients for a perfect family holiday. Ready?

1. Choose your holiday carefully

There are some holiday options that are just not going to work, so you need to do some homework before you choose what kind of trip you want to go on.

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But there are also trips that seem impossible – a game reserve, for example – that are actually totally doable if you choose the right one. Many game reserves are in a malaria area (a no-go for young kids), don’t allow children on game drives at all, or are so difficult to get to that you’d spend most of a day just getting there.

Shamwari, an hour outside of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, is malaria-free and has a special family-friendly lodge (Riverdene) that has been recently renovated and is perfectly suited to families.

The game drives are all in close proximity to the lodge, there’s an amazing playground, there are childminders who can look after young toddlers, and an entire ‘Kids on Safari’ programme for kids of four years and older. It’s kid heaven (and pretty great for adults too)!

2. Sleep in separate rooms

Is there anything worse than being on holiday and having to creep around after the kids go to sleep, because you’re sharing a room? Or having your kids stay up late and get increasingly grumpy so that you can all go to bed at the same time?

Shamwari offered us interleading rooms, which meant that it felt like we had one giant room during the day, but we could close the door and feel like adults once the kids were asleep. An absolute must!

3. Find the balance between kid and adult holiday

No adults want to go to a giant playground on holiday, no kids want to go to a relaxing beach getaway with nothing to do but lie on the beach and read. So you need to find a happy balance between the two.

Shamwari was that happy balance for us, because they had an amazing playground (seriously, one of the best I’ve ever seen) but they also had childminders to watch the kids while they played. That meant the best of both worlds: adults relaxing by the pool, kids playing in safety, to their hearts’ content.

Read more: Make holiday plane travel with kids a breeze, not a chore

4. Accept the lack of routine

No matter how strictly you stick to a routine at home, that will all go out the window once you’re on holiday. This can be liberating and fun, or exhausting and hard – depending on where you’re staying, and on your attitude. The key is to have a degree of flexibility around your children, specifically regarding mealtimes.

Our ranger was such a help with this – she made sure we always had snacks so that my four-year-old didn’t get hungry on game drives and happily answered all his millions of questions.

5. Relax!

Holidays with young kids are not always relaxing… In fact, they’re mostly not relaxing. But if you can find a place that caters to both kids and adults (as we managed to do), there will be slices of relaxation amid the adventures.

There is also something quite magical about seeing wild animals through the eyes of your children: their first zebra! Their first giraffe! Their first Big Five! That sense of wonder is one of my favourite parts of being a parent.

We’ve always been avid travellers – even with children. But this was the first holiday we’ve gone on that truly felt like a getaway from reality. Weeks later, we’re still talking about all the adventures and memories and details… It’s already turning into a family story.

And if that’s not the mark of a successful holiday, I don’t know what is!

Images: Mark Peddle

Read this next: 4 Reasons to consider a cruise for your next family holiday