Travel has always been my passion. Aged 17, I went on my first parent-free adventure to Berlin with my best friend, Jo. We took a thrilling train journey across what was then communist East Germany, venturing behind the Iron Curtain, emerging in a curious city that had been sliced in two after the Second World War.
The guarded, concrete Berlin Wall, built in 1961 to separate the two sides physically and ideologically, still stood then and it fascinated us. It did so again in 1989 when it was torn down.
From then on, I was hooked on travel. I ‘stowed away’ in my sister’s cabin on the tall ship she was working on in the Caribbean for many a holiday and post-university, ventured further afield, spending a year working and travelling around Australia then returning via South East Asia. What I didn’t realise as we island hopped to the soundtrack of Bob Marley’s Legend, long before Alex Garland’s bestselling novel The Beach caused young tourists to flood to this area, was that travel would be at the centre of my life from then on.
Returning from my travels during the recession of the early 1990s, I needed to pull in some favours to pay the rent. I found myself working for a mate’s mum, who happened to be the public relations manager for Best Western Hotels. At the time I didn’t even know what PR was to be honest!
From there I moved upmarket to Intercontinental Hotels, based at a swanky London office overlooking Hyde Park Corner and then into consultancy, working for a small travel specialist company. And then I was off, literally flying all over the world, working for tourist boards as diverse as Namibia, Los Angeles, Ireland and Australia, as well as hotels and airlines. I loved it.
The job was challenging and always different, from spending a week with Tony Blackburn broadcasting for Capital Gold from a couples’ resort in St Lucia, to taking media out to the opening of LA’s new home for the Oscars just days after 9/11; from dealing with some pretty serious crisis PR as Concorde crashed in Paris, to handling the fall out when a certain high profile popstar was caught with his trousers down in a client’s hotel! The good, the bad and the ugly you might say! Thankfully, most of it was good.
Yes, it was glamorous, too, and I had some incredible adventures, though the long hours and constant travel meant finding my soulmate and settling down eluded me for a long time.Then ten years ago when I was in my late 30s, I decided to escape the Big Smoke and move back to the South West, where I was born and bought up.
Here, travel was to get me once more in the form of a crazy boy called Dan! He was planning a round-the-world trip in a double decker bus he was converting into a luxury motorhome. I had started up my own PR consultancy by now, so persuaded Expedia to sponsor him, and helped arrange his visas and plan routes. Five months later, he returned home from his 25,000-mile epic adventure and we got married.
There followed the trickiest journey of all, years of heartache trying to add a special someone to our travel team. Numerous miscarriages, punishing rounds of failed IVF and five years passed until what I now describe as my miracle baby was born. Alfie entered our lives after a well-planned C section, with me only logging off from emails a few minutes before the birth!
Dan and I had promised each other that Alfie’s arrival would not ground us, as I’m sure many other parents had done before us! But our little bundle of joy did force us to think about how we travel. Yes, he has created more restrictions (he is still only three) but we found that with a bit more thought and forward planning we could still have our adventures. They just started off as little ones, and will get bigger and longer as he grows!
As I work with so many experts in the travel industry as clients, I get to know just what is out there in the form of family friendly travel, and there’s a host of totally brilliant hotels and experiences for those with kids, from magic and juggling lessons in Morocco, to bushcraft camping courses in North Devon, and an incredible subterranean games rooms in a South African beach villa looking directly into the swimming pool – it’s all there.
At just five weeks old, Alfie took his first nano break, a glamping experience on the rooftops of Bristol, where the Brooks Guesthouse had come up with the bonkers but brilliant idea of craning in a number of cool ‘rocket’ airstream caravans to give guests an urban caravanning experience with a difference.
Gentle trips followed to Wales, Dorset, Devon and by seven months old, our ever-curious little boy was on his first plane to Morocco to stay in what has become one of our all-time favourite places, a surf and yoga hotel on the North African Atlantic coast with the most incredibly welcoming and caring staff.
They would scoop up Alfie and take him for a trip around the grounds so we could eat lunch in peace. They loved him and we loved feeling like we were in charge of an A-lister! That’s how they made us feel. On his second trip he was dancing with the surfer dudes down at the beach bar and gaining more and more confidence venturing into the waves in his mini wetsuit, while his mum practiced her downward dogs in the yoga shala. Bliss.
So whether it’s finding an incredible farm stay which offers junior farmer courses, to ‘bambino baking’ at a Tuscan agritourism property, the opportunities for travelling with kids are out there.
I can’t wait to take Alfie to the Icehotel in Swedish Lapland, a hotel I’ve worked for now for five years. But I will wait for a while so we can really enjoy the experience as a family as he is too small right now. Ditto with an African safari. I yearn to take both my boys to Namibia, one of my favourite places, to climb the dunes of Sousslevi together and camp out in a Land Rover roof tent.
We also hope it won’t be too long before we can take a longer road trip together. Pre-Alfie and craving a future ‘project’ to plan, we’d spotted an abandoned Sixties’ airstream caravan in a boatyard while driving through the Florida Keys. Within half an hour, $500 had exchanged hands and we were making plans to ship it back home where it now sits on our drive, slowly but surely being restored. A new adventure is on the horizon…
My tips on travelling with a toddler…..
- Early flights are your friend – you arrive in time to settle down in your destination and tire your toddler out in the hope of a good night’s sleep.
- Don’t fall at the first hurdle – one shocking flight doesn’t mean the next one will be.
- Watch how many bags you take if you are flying – the airlines might allow you extra luggage allowance with kids but just check you can physically carry it all if there is no trolley to be found at the other end!
- Take your own car seat if you can – it means peace of mind that the seat will be safe and also avoids endless hours of trying to work out how to install the one supplied by the hire car company.
- Don’t restrict yourselves on what you try – live like a local, especially in cities where there are often kids’ clubs anyone can access. We enrolled Alfie into a local gymnastics club in Miami when we were out there visiting his Aunt and he loved it.
- Our portable baby video monitor was the best investment we ever made – just plug it in anywhere to give yourselves peace of mind while they are snoozing.
Blatant plugs for some of the brilliant places I have mentioned…
- A great collection of personally curated stylish family friendly accommodation – www.i-escape.com/kids
- Brooks Guest House in Bristol – www.brooksguesthouse.com
- Paradise Plage in Morocco – surf, yoga and family fun – http://www.thehealthyholidayco
- Ice hotel – www.discover-the-world.co.uk/i
- Glamping and Camping aficionados – Cool Camping www.coolcamping.com
- Barford Beach House www.tregullandandco.com
A Guest Blog from Fiona Reece
Fiona is married to Dan and mum to Alfie, aged three. She juggles this with running her specialist travel PR company now based near Gloucester, which turned 10 this year, Fiona Reece PR www.fionareece.com.
She still travels for work, but not quite as much or as far as in her pre-child years with recent projects taking her to the wilds of Eastern Iceland, Swedish Lapland and closer to home to the north Cornwall coast to launch a new luxury beach house, the ultimate coastal family hideaway. Food, wellbeing and boutique hotels are her absolute passion with a generous helping of walking on the side. She particularly enjoys helping start-ups working on innovative tourism projects focusing on both sustainability and provenance.