A romantic holiday is a mere fantasy for parents with small children. The early mornings, the prospect of no time alone, the very fact that the everyday grind of looking after small children doesn't leave you just because you've gone away, is what makes it seem like an oxymoron. Indeed, this is what I believed before I actually embarked on our recent trip.
Having just returned from six weeks in Europe, with three children in tow (the youngest was 20 months), I can put my hand on my heart and say that it IS possible to have a romantic holiday with three children in tow. We were celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary and returning to the Amalfi Coast in Italy, the site of our elopement, but this time we were a family of five.
There are some essential elements that need to be present for the magic to happen, and it doesn't involve expensive babysitters, resorts or a useful mother-in-law who you can deliver the children to and make your escape. I'm talking about a warts-and-all family holiday.
The key elements that created the magical moments for us were:
1. The location is key
Choose your destination carefully. It needs to have meaning, either for you, or in a general sense. For example, Paris is the City of Love so that would be a natural choice. We visited where we got married, so already we were starry-eyed. But living in Australia, a quick trip to Paris or Italy isn't that realistic.
Fortunately, no matter where you live in Australia there are so many accessible and beautiful places to visit. It doesn't need to be as far afield as Europe, or even overseas. It could be an hour down the coast, or camped on a river bank, the destination of your first weekend away as a couple, or somewhere with some happy shared memories, so before you even set off you're feeling a bit 'warm and fuzzy'.
2. Accommodation is also important
Don't book a three-bedroom, fully equipped apartment or you'll just spend your time doing what you do at home. Also, don't assume that for romance to happen, luxury is essential. It's not. The key is the novelty-factor. On a pit-stop in Paris, our pre-booked 'one bedroom' apartment turned out to be a studio flat. So the five of us camped out in one room. Five people in one room for four days ... the thought of it filled me with dread when we first realised the mistake. But it's one of my happiest memories from our trip. Once the children were asleep, we sat by the half-light of a lamp and shared a bottle of cheap french champagne; whispering and giggling like teenagers, trying not to wake the kids. It was simple, low cost, but most of all, it was romantic.
3. Schedule your activities so everyone's needs are met
Be mindful of building in daytime sleeps and down-time for older children. Finding the right balance between the needs of your kids and what you want to see or do, is essential. If you try and do too much you'll all be cranky and tired; allow plenty of down time and the kids will be happy. It's the down time where often the romance happens. If you are relaxed you'll be much more open to romance.
4. Challenge the notion that romance is only about two people alone together
Before we left for our trip we showed the children our wedding album and when we returned to the village where our wedding took place, we re-took some of our wedding photos but with all five of us in them this time. There was romance in the fact that we were two, and here we are 15 years later, in the same place, but now we are five.
On another occasion, our co-joined rooms had separate balconies - I told the kids we were each having cocktails on our balconies. I organised 'mocktails' for them, and cocktails for us. They were on their balcony and we were on ours. So while we we weren't officially 'alone', it was still romantic sharing a drink and watching the sunset, with the kids far enough away for us to enjoy some adult conversation.
Everyone felt part of it, embracing the fact that we are no longer a couple, but rather a family of five, meant that our trip was a romantic holiday, with three kids in tow, and not just an arduous pilgrimage.
It is in the small things where the romance appears. Sitting on the beach, holding hands while the kids play in the sand, or packing a picnic, with some plastic champagne glasses and a bottle of sparkling (it doesn't even need to be champagne!) and sitting somewhere picturesque.
Save some budget to spoil yourselves (including the kids) so everyone feels pampered and relaxed. It doesn't need to be excessive, it could even be as simple as a dinner out at a local restaurant, or an ice-cream at the end of the pier.
Having a romantic holiday with children is definitely a mindset, and a mood of appreciation and gratitude is important. If spirits are high, through the novelty of the circumstances, you're much more likely to feel loved up and starry-eyed.