Watching my husband load the car to go on our self-catering holiday reminds me of playing Tetris; I can almost hear that tinny tune as he picks up our excess baggage at speed, his eyes scanning for remaining space, searching for a footwell not yet taken up with toys or toilet rolls. “We need to buy a roofbox,” he sighs. It’s one of those reluctant milestones in a man’s life, like when he sold his motorbike; a firm reminder that family comes first and you can’t travel light with a wife and two kids in tow.
Pink Jobs and Blue Jobs
We are, as usual, fulfilling the prescribed gender roles we seem to have fallen into as many couples do. He will check the route and do all the driving while I have packed for myself and the girls, remembered everything from nappies to toothpaste and taken a tub of home-made bolognese out the freezer to defrost during the journey for a quick meal with pasta when we arrive hungry and tired. We aren’t going to starve; a supermarket delivery van will pull up later outside the cottage, bringing more food and booze. We aren’t staying in the back of beyond and I do know there are shops and restaurants in Cornwall but even though we will pop into a nice little deli and treat ourselves to a pub lunch and fish and chips on the pier I still like to know the fridge will be stocked.
Advice for a Novice
A self-catering holiday virgin posted in The Motherload® Facebook group hoping for advice. Rebecca admitted she was more used to staying in hotels so had no idea what to pack. When the MOLOs gave her a comprehensive list she replied with thanks but it dawned on her she was going to need a lot of wine to make it through the week!
The question is, if you stick the phrase “self-catering” in front of the word “holiday”, do you get an oxymoron? Can it ever really be a relaxing break away from the daily grind if you are still making meals and wiping down kitchen worktops while your children squabble at the table?
Why do so many of us choose the self-catering option if it ultimately means more work? Founder of The Motherload® Kate Dyson says she actually finds it more relaxing. “I utterly loathe being holed up in a hotel room sitting in the dark at 8pm because the kids need to sleep, “she says, “I would much rather rent a lovely farmhouse in France and take every day in our own time, at a slower pace. I love cooking anyway and we shop for food at local markets.” The freedom to set your own schedule also appealed to Jade who stayed in a self-catering apartment in Gran Canaria: “When you go half-board or all-inclusive, you are often restricted to set times for meals which don’t work if breakfast doesn’t start til 7am but your toddler wakes at 5am or they usually have their tea at 4.30pm but dinner isn’t available til 6pm. We mostly ate out but used the fridge to keep his bedtime milk in and for brioche and yoghurt for breakfast.”
What to Pack
If you’ve booked a family self-catering holiday whether it’s in a caravan or a cottage, what do you need to remember to take from home or add to your online order? It’s wise to check the website or ring ahead instead of presuming certain things will be provided as it could cost you dearly if you end up having to buy in a convenience shop on a campsite or the local village where they know exactly what you’ll have forgotten and mark up the prices to fleece the out-of-towners. You might get towels for the bathroom but not for the beach, there could be a washing machine but no detergent, a travel cot may be available but without bedding and unless you are staying somewhere really swanky, the fridge won’t come fully-loaded with wine.
Keep in mind these suggestions from the MOLOs who have been there and done it all before…
Let’s kick off with the boring basics, the household supplies that you can’t do without on a daily basis. You might get a starter pack with a teeny tiny bottle of washing up liquid, a couple of dishwasher tablets, one cloth, one scrubby sponge and a tea towel, but they won’t last long so bring more, the same goes for loo rolls. Now think about the things you reach for everyday like clingfilm, tinfoil, kitchen roll and bin bags. When it comes to food you will probably think to order the ingredients for your main meals but what about salt and pepper, oil for cooking and if you want your child to actually eat anything you serve up, don’t forget the ketchup. Several MOLOs said they recommend taking a slow cooker to throw a load of meat and veggies into when you head out for the day to return to dinner ready to eat. Planning your meals is worthwhile so you don’t over-buy and go easy on yourself and take a few shortcuts maybe buying stuff you never normally would, like ready-grated cheese or a sauce in a jar instead of making one from scratch.
When you’re taking the kids away from their home comforts, it’s a good idea to think about what they need to keep them happy or help them sleep. We often take DVDs just in case the telly doesn’t have CBeebies and some toys for the bath along with the non-slip mat. If your little one won’t settle if there’s a chink of sunlight, think about investing in a portable black-out blind which has suction cups to fix to the windows or fashion your own with black binbags and masking tape.
The list seems endless and that’s before even mentioning clothes for everyone, bearing in mind the tendency for British weather to do that four-seasons-in-one-day thing where you need shorts and flipflops in the morning then raincoats and wellies after lunch. One of my top tips is to put your holiday packing list on a notes app on your phone so you can tick everything off before you leave and then add the items you wish you had brought so you never forget them again.
Worth the Effort
For many families, self-catering holidays are laid-back, affordable and enjoyable. Lucy says cutting down on costs means they can go away more often: “I couldn’t bear the thought of us all being in the same bedroom so it works for us. We eat what we want, when we want and are free to come and go as we please. I use more convenience food than at home so it isn’t hard work. We also fill the freezer with shop-bought ice creams which probably saves £50 over the course of a week. I love a place with a washing machine so we have fewer loads to do when we get home.”
So is it all worth the effort? Can it really feel like a real break when you’re self-catering? Yes! They say a change is as good as a rest and even though there will be times when you feel like you’re doing the same things in a different house, you can still switch off and relax more when you’re away from home.
Enjoy your holiday and if you come up with any more ideas or items to add to the list, let us all know!
About Jill Misson
Mum of two girls who fortunately likes the colour pink. Jill works in radio, producing and presenting programmes which basically means she gets paid to talk. Loves baking and eating cakes but no longer gets to lick the spoon now she has little helpers.