Dreaming of a family holiday to Europe? Here’s why the same beach spot is a better choice
Howard Williams and his partner Jen took their teenage children to Europe for the dream holiday this year.
Only it wasn’t such a dream.
“The best night was when we left the kids in the room and they were happy on the TV and Instagram, and we had a great night in the restaurant with no fighting,” Howard said.
They can be in the most happening city in the world and they’re bored.”
He decided that taking them to a caravan park in Australia, where there are other kids the same age would have been much better.
Howard isn’t alone, Tourism Research Australia figures show a 24 per cent increase in us holidaying in Australia over the past five years.
Why do we go on family holidays?
To relax, to connect, to get away from our environment.
It’s also about building memories according to Professor Alan Hayes, the Director of the Family Action Centre at the University of Newcastle.
The highlight of his childhood beach holidays was walking to an ice cream shop each evening to get a flavour they couldn’t get at home.
These simple things become shared family history that people reflect on.”
“In a time-pressured world, it’s good for kids to see how adults can relax and switch off,” Professor Hayes said.
Sarah Brill and Chris Dauth take their three sons camping a few times a year because they want that regular time being together.
They’ve holidayed on Cockatoo Island in Sydney, in Kakadu and up and down the east coast.
“In Sydney we race from one thing to another but camping you can just spend the whole afternoon in one spot,” Ms Brill said.
She said the kids’ remember their nights around the fire, the conversations with adults and stories.
Planning a holiday
Mr Williams said they went to Europe for the cultural experience, but once there, he realised it was what he and his partner thought would be good for the kids, not what the kids wanted.
“It’s a parent-led idea,” he said.
“We went on an amazing road trip and they argued the whole time because they wanted to sit in a particular seat and they wanted their screens.”
In the future, Howard said they would have a family meeting to plan kids’-based holidays.
Professor Hayes believed a big overseas trip can be great for a family if it’s not stressful, and if it’s what everyone wants.
We can over-project what we think a holiday should be like, and that’s really what has been marketed to us.”
“It’s not much fun if they’re being dragged around a lightening trip of Europe.”
Dr Kimberley O’Brien, principal child psychologist with Quirky Kids and she weighs the parents’ needs above the kids, as the leaders of the family.
“It’s a good idea to consider the kids interests but it’s also good to acknowledge that you need to have a say in what you do in your time off,” she said.
She suggests looking back at what you have enjoyed before, building on what works for you as a family and balancing everyone’s needs.
“It’s really important to map out holidays in advance,” she said.
“Anticipation is a huge part of going away — it’s about prioritising family time and stress management.”
The more relaxing the holiday, the longer the residual happiness lasts according to a study by Tilburn University.
Relax with other kids
The Frost family has been holidaying in the same campground every Christmas since the 1940s.
This year, four generations are setting up next to each other in Sawtell Caravan Park.
Greg Frost has spent every Christmas there since he was a baby.
“You can’t beat it really, it’s pretty laid back,” he said.
You still just over head to the river behind the caravan park and everyone stays together.”
They have become friends with other families who have spent generations of Christmases in the park.
“Because you see them there in that relaxed environment it gets so much better,” he said.
Professor Hayes believed there were benefits to holiday relationships.
“Friendships develop differently in that different context, and that can be powerful for kids,” he said.
Ms Brill said they always try to holiday with other families so everyone has people to enjoy being around.
Being in Europe with language barriers was hard because Mr Williams’s kids wanted to hang out with other people.
“Kids look for other kids and then they get frustrated because they can’t speak the language,” he said.
Mr Williams said his family spent thousands on their trip, and it felt like a waste of money.
Parents are under a range of financial pressures, and Professor Hayes said kids can sense that, so holidays that lead to financial stress impact on everyone.
“Oftentimes it’s when people get home and that bill shock that happens, it undoes the benefits that happened on the holiday,” he said.
Dr O’Brien agreed that children pick up on the stress of money pressures on a holiday.
She believed regular trips were better than one expensive holiday and recommended at least two short trips and one longer holiday every year.
“Childhood goes fast, and soon they’ll be holidaying individually, so you may as well lock it in when you can,” she said.
Mr Frost said the teenagers in his family love their yearly holiday and don’t even want to use their phones much.
“I think even the younger people want to get away from it themselves.”
But phones and digital devices can add to the tension on a family holiday.
“You could take kids to Paris or New York but at the end of the day they’d rather be on their phones or be on Netflix,” Mr Williams said.
Parents are just as guilty of using phones to connect to work and life stresses while on holiday according to Professor Hayes.
“You can be in another place but just undergoing the same pressures as you experience at home,” he said.
One option is to sit down with the kids and make a device agreement before going away.
“Perhaps propose to not charge the phone for a few days, or negotiate to check in every second day,” Dr O’Brien suggested.