x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A parent must be prepared to be mucky

The success of any holiday with my three children lies in the preparation and the packing.

The most important step on a journey is the point of departure. If you start well, it's likely you'll continue well. This is particularly the case with kids. The success of any holiday with my three children lies in the preparation and the packing. I've developed my own strict baggage allowance rules. To get into our Samsonite, an item has to be either disposable or inflatable. If you can blow it up or throw it away, we'll take it with us. So you might find tucked between our bikinis: a small paddling pool (to place by the swimming pool or in villa garden, so toddlers can splash about within wrist-grabbing distance while the responsible adults lie on sunloungers); blow-up balls; paper bibs; and tatty old T-shirts (for grown-ups and kids), to be chucked away when they get too crusted with sand or soaked with sun oil.

My first mistake as a travelling Mum was to squeeze a complete change of clothes for my newborn into the hand luggage, but nothing for me. Shortly after take-off, my eight-week old was sick all over my lovely blue blouse. My baby arrived in Hong Kong 12 hours later looking all scrubbed and freshly laundered in her clean outfit. I was a mucky maternal wreck. But never again would I be the filthiest member of my family to land at the airport. Two more kids and many years later, I still pack a change of clothes for me in the hand luggage, just in case. I also take plastic bags to store the top that (inevitably) gets soaked in apple juice during turbulence.

It's sticky travelling with kids, but the challenges are often comic - at least in retrospect. And I've always believed that travel is good for you, broadening even a baby's mind. But I'm well aware there are those who think taking anyone aged under 20 further than the local park is both pointless and reckless. When I fell pregnant with my first child, these sanctimonious stay-at-homers rubbed their hands in glee. 'Ha!' they cheered. 'That'll stop your worldwide wandering.' But it didn't.

I was determined to make use of my daughter's first two years when we didn't have to pay for her aeroplane seat. We climbed the Acropolis, camped in the Namib desert, took tuktuks in Penang, motorhomed in New Zealand. The stay-at-homers, all parents of 2.4 children, smirked; 'It's easy with just one.' Then I fell pregnant again - with twins. 'That'll ground you!' cheered the same miserable crowd. But it didn't. By then I'd learnt if you start out right, it'll be all right. And I set about preparing.

Now here we all are - my eldest a teenager, the twins just seven, trotting about with such lust for the world. We're not adventurers - we don't climb mountains, and the one time I went white water rafting I swear will be the last. But we travel, enjoying ourselves the most when we're on the move. I hope, as this column takes off, you - and all your children ? will be sharing many journeys with me. Just don't forget to pack an extra T-shirt when you do.

dbirkett@thenational.ae