The inspiration to start two point four came from Richard’s unforgettable adventure with his family around the world. We’ve said previously about the importance and benefits that travel brings to children, so for this blog post, we’ve found another person passionate about travelling with the family.

We’ve been speaking with Clare, the travel writer behind the amazing Suitcases and Sandcastles blog. It’s full of tips, ideas and inspiration on how to make travel and culture fun for families. This struck a chord with us as Clare has also travelled around the world with her family. We wanted to know more about their family adventures so we sent a few questions over and here are their answers.

The article was originally posted on the Suitcases and Sandcastles blog here. Please find the story below as a guest article.

Family Travel Stories from Suitcases and Sandcastles

Do you want to know more about me and the family behind Suitcases and Sandcastles? Our family travel stories reveal a lot more about us: that all-important first trip with a baby, our best travel memories, the meaning behind our favourite holiday snaps and the kinds of holidays we like to take. You’ll also find out why I became a family travel blogger and the many ways in which travel keeps having such a positive impact on our kids and us as a family.

 I’ve been working with Two Point Four Travel, a new travel operator offering family travel adventures for families with children as young as two. They want to inspire families to travel so they’ve asked me to share some of our family travel stories.

So here’s our story.

 

Introduction to me and the family

I’ve been writing about my travels ever since I wrote a column for my local newspaper while I was backpacking around India after university. I then spent several years writing and editing articles for the travel section of The Daily Telegraph newspaper. I’ve swum with sharks in Belize, bathed naked in Slovenia and walked around Machu Picchu at dawn in my dressing gown – all in the name of a good story.

I started Suitcases and Sandcastles four years ago because I wanted to use my experience writing city guides for newspapers to create fun city guides for families. I wanted to share family travel stories from the UK and abroad, to tell stories about our travels using words and photos that would make the reader feel as if they were right there with us and hopefully inspire other families to go on their own family travel adventures, whether that be a bucket list trip to Vietnam, a secret Greek island or a day trip to London.

Our travelling family is made up of me, my husband, Chris, and our two boys, Edward (age 16) and Harry (age 13). Home is in a tiny English village near Winnie-the-Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood. 

Edward is really into history and reads so many books that he sounds like a walking encyclopaedia on pretty much any topic you care to ask him about. He loves France and would like to live there one day. He’s very keen to go to Russia and China too. When he’s at home he likes playing the piano, baking cakes and trying different teas from around the world.

Harry is the creative one. He writes, takes photos and dances around the house. He loves visiting stately homes and climbing mountains. His travel highlights of 2019 were going to New York on his birthday and climbing Mount Snowdon in Wales. He wants to go back to the United States and climb more mountains in Scotland and Norway.

What is your background with travelling, experiences and holidays?

For us, travel has always been about having new experiences, doing something fun and having a break from everyday life. Our rule is that wherever we go it has to be fun for everybody in the family.

We do a lot of different sorts of holidays. We’ve taken the boys on city breaks since they were little. We’ve seen flamenco dancers in Seville, explored the canals of Venice in a gondola and admired New York at night from the top of the Empire State Building. We love searching out the lesser known parts of the world and we like avoiding crowds wherever possible so if we’re in a really famous place we’ll look for the hidden gem rather than the tourist trap.

We’ve been going to Greece since the children were small. We love the quieter, more low-key islands that have more of a traditional, laidback feel than the well known islands – and they’re far less crowded in the busy summer months. 

Wherever we go, we like to take it slow and stay awhile. We’d rather spend time getting under the skin of a place and creating meaningful family travel stories than just scratch the surface by rushing around from place to place.

We love staying in boutique hotels but we often rent apartments in cities and we love anywhere quirky – in the last few years alone we’ve slept in a cave, a converted horse box and a boat.

 

Our holidays have become more adventurous as the kids have got older. This summer we had a big adventure in Vietnam – we hiked into the jungle, swam in caves, did a cooking class and explored palaces. We’ve also been cycling in France and climbed to the top of Mount Snowdon in Wales. But our holidays need to include some all-important flopping too. We’re all big readers so we love lying beside a pool with a good book or relaxing on a beach, building sandcastles and having fun on an inflatable flamingo.

We’ve always tried to make cultural experiences fun and interactive. Both our boys are really into history so castles and palaces are always a big hit whether it’s the Tower of London, the Palace of Versailles (which they begged us to visit) or the multicoloured turrets and towers of Pena Palace in Portugal.

 

A good family travel experience doesn’t need to be an expensive holiday abroad. We really enjoy renting a cottage for a week in the UK and going on long walks with the dog, looking for fossils and running on a beach in the winter when there’s no one else there. 

How old were your children on their first trip to another country?

Our eldest son was six months old when we took him abroad for the first time. Like a lot of new parents we wanted an ‘easy’ holiday, somewhere we could relax and enjoy the sunshine, so we booked a week at the Four Seasons Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt. The resort was the indulgent treat we’d been hoping for and our suitcase was packed with nappies, books and sun cream.

But the holiday was a bit of a wake up call for me. In all the excitement of getting ready to go away it has somewhat slipped my mind that I’d still have a baby to look after when I get there – and all the work that involves. There was a lot less sunbathing, snorkelling and reading than I’d been used to pre-kids.

A few months later I felt confident enough to fly alone with Edward to Biarritz in South West France. I was keen to go back to writing weekend city guides for the Daily Telegraph. We don’t have grandparents around to help with childcare so the only option was to bring baby along for the ride.

In that first year alone, Edward was my willing – and increasingly engaging – travel companion to Barcelona, Fez in Morocco (where he was entranced by a belly dancer and I had to negotiate the narrow alleys of the souks with a pushchair) and New York (which was so cold that I had to buy him a new wardrobe just to keep him warm.)

What motivated you to travel with your family?

Not travelling with my family was never an option. My love of travel is an important part of who I am and I wanted to share that with my kids in the hope that I could inspire that same love of exploring with them too.

Travel is one of the best ways to learn about the world around us and it offers such an exciting range of new experiences for children. I have watched my two become more open-minded and curious about the world as a result of our travels. I have watched them use experiences that they’ve had and places that we’ve visited in their imaginative games. Travel has ignited a love of adventure and opened their mind to new possibilities. And that’s motivation enough for me.

What have been the best memories from travelling with your family?

There are so many. Experiencing the world through my children’s eyes and sharing that experience with them constantly inspires me. I have such good memories of our trip to Brazil with our then 20-month old. People thought we were mad travelling so far with a toddler but we had the most marvellous time. We used to walk to this amazing beach past a fishing village, through a wood and across a shallow stream. Little Edward was in a rucksack on our back and we turned every journey into a ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ adventure.

Sleeping in a cave lit by candles in Matera in Southern Italy, one of the most ancient cities in the world, is another highlight, as was this year’s trip to Vietnam. Paddling in a kayak on Lan Ha Bay, surrounded by limestone karst mountains and listening to the sound of monkeys calling to each other from the treetops is something I’ll never forget.

But good family travel stories are just as often made up of the little things, like eating fish and chips out of newspaper while you’re sitting on a beach on a cold winter’s day in Suffolk.

Are there any other moments that have stuck out for some reason?

I love going on one-to-one trips with my boys, I took our eldest son to Paris when he was 10 and we had the loveliest time doing all the touristy things like going up the Eiffel Tower and taking a boat trip down the Seine. But we also made sure to visit more unusual places like the wonderful Museum of Magic and I loved introducing him to tiny restaurants that I’ve been going to for years.

 Our younger son’s first trip alone with me was to Amsterdam which he adored, but my favourite trip with Harry was going on our own little adventure in Crete. We spent hours travelling by car, going down hairpin bends on a bus and then taking a boat to the remote fishing village of Loutro. We spent our days there kayaking and hiking in the hills and our nights eating delicious Greek food and drinking non-alcoholic cocktails.

Where else is still on the bucket list?

 There are so many travel experiences that we’d like to have while the boys are still children. Costa Rica is high on our list and we’d love to take them on a safari, especially somewhere like Botswana. I’ve always wanted to visit the Scilly Isles and we’re all keen to go on a sailing holiday too. I spent nearly a year travelling around India and I’d love to take the boys there.

What are your favourite photos and why?

I’ve picked two. The first is a picture of Edward and Harry having fun with a lovely Greek lady we met in Crete. Meeting locals and learning a bit of the local language is something we all get a lot out of when we’re travelling. This picture is particularly special because of the sheer joy on the boys’ faces. Our eldest son had had a really difficult year at school. He had been so unhappy and we were all really stressed and at the end of our tether. That holiday in Crete was the beginning of a new phase for all of us, but especially for Edward. It’s a great example of how travel has been therapy for all of us over the years. 

The second photo is one of my favourites from Camber Sands in East Sussex. I always feel happiest near the sea and this photo was taken on a freezing cold winter’s afternoon. We’d spent a few hours in the pretty medieval town of Rye and then drove to the beach so that the boys and the dog could have a run around and let off some steam. The light was so beautiful and my fingers went blue from the cold but I managed to capture a really special moment. 

What are the biggest tips you can give for travelling with children?

 

Slow down. Travel is a wonderful opportunity to make special memories with your family and you’ll experience far more if you slow down and enjoy the moment. Its far better to see a few things well than rush around trying to tick off everything in the guidebook.

Try and find the right balance between activities and rest time. Mix a cultural visit to a museum or historic sight with local foodie treats and a run around in the park.

Don’t expect everything to work out exactly as you planned. When you travel with kids, things will go wrong sometimes – but that becomes part of the story. And your family travel stories will be all the better for those tales of the unexpected.

Be prepared for everything (hunger, tiredness. boredom) but most of all have fun, and remember that children are far more adaptable than you think.

For more family travel tips, take a look at our Fabulous Family Travel Tips.

What have your children learned from travel?

That every day can be an adventure when you’re travelling, whether you’re exploring a castle near your home, learning how to snorkel in Bali, cycling past temples in Vietnam, trying frog’s legs for the first time in France or sleeping in a cave in Italy. It’s all about trying new experiences and learning more about yourself and the world around you at the same time.

Travel has made our children more open minded and more open to new experiences. They have learned to be curious about the world and to embrace other cultures, to accept that difference is a positive thing. Travel has made them more tolerant and more adaptable to change. They often use their travels to find out more about the place that we’ve visited by reading books and watching TV documentaries about the castle, country or city that we’ve just been to.

What are the biggest benefits to your family because of travelling?

Travel gives us the chance to reconnect as a family and enjoy the moment. Everyday family life can feel overwhelming at times – an endless round of mundane daily tasks like cleaning, cooking, homework and getting ready for school. 

Travel provides us with the opportunity to spend time with each other and experience something new without any of those distractions. It’s a chance for everyone to put down their phones and connect more with each other. The digital detox does us all so much good.

What are your favourite family travel stories?

CLARE THOMSON, SUITCASES AND SANDCASTLES

 

 

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