A couple of weeks ago, we took a family trip to the Lake District. It was a long weekend at the start of the children’s half term holiday and was supposed to be fairly easy and fun. It was not. Our trip was an unmitigated disaster, the likes of which we have never experienced before while travelling with the kids. Sure, we’ve had ‘off’ days but not an entire family trip that went wrong.
Just after we got back, I was debriefing with a good friend, as I like to do. I relayed all the things that had gone wrong, and she told me that I should write it up for my blog. I looked at her with a raised eyebrow – why would anyone want to read about a family trip gone wrong? And she replied: “Because it’s important that people hear about what happened and what you took from it.”
Now that I have calmed down a bit, and the children are back at school, I see what my friend meant. I often find myself looking at the highlights of other family’s trips on social media and wondering how they manage it. Sometimes their lives look effortlessly perfect in comparison to mine! But the tales that resonate with me the most are the honest ones. Families who share their challenges and how they overcome them. Parents who aren’t afraid to admit that they’re still learning and that sometimes things don’t work out as planned.
That’s why I decided to share this story of our first family trip gone wrong: because I hope it will resonate with other families. Travelling with kids is not always easy – actually, it’s very rarely easy – but it’s always worthwhile.
We have been wanting to take the kids to the Lake District for ages. We are only 1-2 hours away from this gorgeous area and we had a couple of great trips there before we had the children. Since we’ve got into hiking as a family, we thought it would be a lovely place to visit together and do a couple of walks. We thought the kids would love the landscapes as much as we do.
As it was a fairly last-minute idea, we wanted to keep the cost down. I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at the price of a family stay in the Lake District, but it definitely cannot be described as a budget destination. It’s extremely popular with domestic and international visitors and the cost of accommodation reflects its desirability. Luckily, I came across an Airbnb place just outside Kendal for around £65 a night. It’s a beautiful Georgian townhouse in a lovely village and an easy drive to many of the main attractions.
We kept our plans for filling the two days of our stay fairly flexible. We all wanted to go on a boat trip, and we thought the kids would be happiest with space to roam. I wanted to go on a hike together and found a great blog post of child-friendly mountains to explore. We had ideas and we were prepared to change plans depending on our moods and the weather. In theory, we planned the perfect family getaway and we would all come back feeling refreshed and ready for the half term ahead.
What went wrong
Our tense moods
As soon as we arrived at our gorgeous Airbnb, us parents started to feel on edge. Although it was clearly a family home, it wasn’t our family home, and we weren’t comfortable with the kids rampaging around. Unfortunately, six- and three-year-olds aren’t big on respecting other people’s property, and having spent a long half term at school, they had a lot of energy to run off. They were wild, and while this may not bother us (as much) at home, we couldn’t relax while in someone else’s place.
On our first evening, we all snuggled on the sofas and watched some of Mary Poppins. It was really lovely and I must remind myself that there were some positive experiences during the weekend. However, shortly afterwards, our eldest bent down energetically to pick up a toy and punctured his forehead on the corner of the dining table. Yes, punctured. With my extensive knowledge of wound care picked up while raising two boisterous children, I knew this needed medical assistance to heal correctly.
Our eldest and I had a terrifying drive on pitch-black back roads to the nearest Accident and Emergency department, followed by a two-hour wait. Luckily, the nurses glued his head and sent us off with three stickers and instructions to avoid water for 24 hours (in the Lake District, rainiest place in Britain).
On Monday, we set off for Knotts Rigg. An hourlong journey turned into just under two hours due to traffic. Luckily, we had plenty of snacks and scenery to look at on the drive. Our first challenge was finding somewhere to park. We had a drive alongside Derwent Water and back, patience thinning before we found a spot just outside Buttermere. The next hurdle was a lack of mobile data. I realised at that point that I should have downloaded the planned route to my Ordnance Survey app before we left so that we were not stranded with no internet and no idea where to go.
This was the last straw for the FGE parents, and a whisper-shout argument ensued. The children’s patience was also wearing thin, and they spotted a sign for ice cream, so proposed forgoing the hike and “just getting ice cream”. Determined to enjoy some beautiful views, I stomped off to the hotel in Buttermere and managed to log on to their Wifi (thank you to the very lovely and sympathetic receptionist who helped me to calm down at that point).
Route downloaded, I triumphantly marched back to my waiting family, who had all given up on the idea of a hike. We compromised by walking around 500m up a hill, taking some photos, and walking down again. It wasn’t super-relaxing, because our youngest boy was screaming “I can’t do it!” the whole time, but this did make the tea and cake at the cafe all the more rewarding. And the views were nice.
What we learned
After a heavily-delayed journey home, Guy and I had a long talk about why this trip went wrong. I admitted that I felt like cancelling our plans for another Epic Road Trip next summer and booking a Eurocamp with a kids’ club. We went over what hadn’t worked and came up with some ideas for what we can do differently.
We realised that we didn’t book this trip with our family in mind. We wanted to go to the Lake District and we thought we’d find stuff that the kids found fun. Of course, it wasn’t all bad, and they enjoyed the boat trip (although it’s impossible for three kids to sit next to the window at a table with two benches) and Wray Castle was a big hit for all of us. But as they get older, it gets more difficult to just shoehorn them into our plans. And really, that’s not what we want to do. We want to adventure and explore as a family, and that means taking into account everyone’s needs.
Our Airbnb was a Georgian townhouse and so lovely. It had a cosy, lived-in feel and the owners have a young child. There was nothing about the accommodation that set us on edge – it was worrying about the damage the kids could do. They are vibrant and energetic children, and there are three of them. As it turns out, we should have been more concerned about the damage they could do to themselves…!
We had a really fantastic day at Wray Castle, a National Trust property on Lake Windermere. A friend had recommended it and we showed the children some photos so they could see what to expect. There were activity rooms, games, an outdoor play trail – all designed with children in mind. Our kids were happy and we all enjoyed ourselves. We’ve learned that we need to plan more activities that our children will enjoy. It makes sense because that’s what we do at home. However, when we are away together us adults often want to wander and explore a new city. That is not fun for our children, so we need to find stuff that is – a cool museum, play area, tower, for example.