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There’s nothing like having a kid in tow to make you radically rethink your travel style.

For a start, while a long-haul flight might once have seemed a tedious necessity pre-kids, it becomes a battle for survival once you’ve got a baby or toddler in tow.  You’re likely to find yourself scanning flight schedules for the departure times that offer maximum chance of your child sleeping for at least some of the time, rather than spending the best part of 10 hours kicking the chair in front, screaming for juice, and then knocking said juice all over the person in the seat next to you. (Word to the wise, airports and planes are not the place to rigidly impose screen time limitations, if it takes a Peppa Pig marathon to keep everybody vaguely sane, so be it…just be sure to invest in a travel tablet like this one, or similar, so you don’t have to battle to regain control of your own phone whenever you need to scan boarding passes )

Suddenly, places that would have once looked super-chic begin to look fraught with danger: every pristine white wall becomes a potential canvas for your crayon-clutching offspring; every tasteful ornament is weighed up for its potential to shatter on contact with a toddler limb; every elegantly-appointed breakfast room looks designed specifically to embarrass you when your kid starts noisily throwing bits of fruit across the room.

On the flip side, a patch of grass with an upturned bucket of toys suddenly looks an enticing place to sip a coffee, and a friendly host with a genuine affection for babies and young kids is far more appealing than a sharp-suited receptionist wearing a look of barely disguised disdain for anybody under the age of 25.

As a British guidebook writer raising my British-Brazilian daughter Sofia in Rio de Janeiro until she was four-years-old (at which point we moved to Portugal, as I was unable to go cold turkey with the return to British weather and lack of sandy beaches), I travelled quite a lot both visiting family in the UK, and carrying out site visits for work.

Now it’s no secret that freelance travel writing is not a ticket to great wealth. Or even mediocre wealth. But it does mean getting to stay at some super-fancy places in the name of research (even if you do have to get there on the bus). And pre-Sofia, there was nothing I liked more than an invitation to a fine dining restaurant or a five star hotel.

Travel with kids

Once kids come along, though, I found my idea of what constituted luxury really changed.

The more elegant and upscale the place, the more anxious I became that Sofia would scribble on the coffee table books or break a priceless ornament. I remember really enjoying a stay with my daughter at the chic La Suite in a ritzy ‘millionaire’s enclave’ in Rio, but being terrified that she was going to take a flying leap into the infinity pool the minute I blinked. Similarly, we visited the upscae Casas Brancas Boutique Hotel and Spa, in the swanky resort town of Buzios. 

Red Beach Cove on Ilha Grande in Angra dos Reis, RJ with its paradisiacal landscape of tropical jungle and mountains with the ocean

Rio De Janeiro state delights

One of my favourite places in Rio de Janeiro state is a beautiful nature reserve island (imaginatively called Ilha Grande – ‘big island’), around three hours along the coast from Rio city. It’s a fun place to visit with friends and hang out on the beaches, and a nice place to come with a kid to get away from traffic and big city smoke, and just get back to some serious tropical beauty. I took a trip to the island when my daughter was three, and like many of my trips it was half-work, half family visit. My daughter’s Brazilian grandparents lived on the mainland nearby, and I had arranged a press stay the first night at a very charming guesthouse (the lovely Pousada Recanto das Flores) that I was assessing for the guidebook. The next night I had, on my very modest budget, booked rooms in a super-simple lodging for myself, my daughter and her Brazilian grandmother. 

The press stay pousada was a delight – all crisp white sheets, elegantly-presented breakfasts and a garden filled with vibrant tropical blooms – but I was really pleased we weren’t staying there any longer when Sofia suddenly got a really upset stomach. We had already pitched up at the simple family lodgings, and it was a relief not to have to worry too much about lowering the chic tone with a sudden onset of everything exploding from both ends. I was also glad I was on my own modest buck and not on a press stay. 

And let’s face it, kids don’t have the most complex taste in the world.(Although by age five Sofia was verbally ranking hotels in comparison to others she’d visited, usually in front of the manager…).

Give young kids friendly faces, tasty food and space to run around, and they’re going to be a lot happier than in a formal five star. One carnival, I took Sofia on a trip to the Brazilian hilltop town of Visconde de Mauá. We stayed at a (sadly now closed) family-run pousada, run by a boisterous chef named Ivan. He referred to himself as ‘Tio Ivan’ (Uncle Ivan) and gave us the most delicious food and bountiful breakfasts you can imagine. He drove into town to look for us in his VW Beetle when it started pouring down while we were out on a walk, and provided a hose and a big rubber tyre for Sofia to play in as she rampaged around the resolutely non-manicured gardens. She had so much fun that she insisted on play-acting ‘going to Tio Ivan’s house’ as soon as she woke up every morning for months afterwards.

Just as my daughter’s favourite toy for years was a tatty, scribbled-on Doodle Bear I picked up from the ‘free to a good home’ bucket outside a charity shop in Glossop, Derbyshire, so her favourite travel memory wasn’t of sitting in an elegant breakfast room being served eggs en cocotte. It was of racing around a big grassy field with a hose, waiting for Tio Ivan to bring some more really tasty homemade bread. 

Recommendations:

If you’re lucky enough to have a healthy travel budget for your single mum travels, one chain I really recommend is the Portuguese chain Martinhal, whose luxury hotels are all designed with kids (and their parents) in mind. But if you don’t have big bucks for your travels with a young child, don’t worry. Cheap and cheerful is likely to win out every time. 

For some more travel tips click here.

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2 Responses

  1. I love your content! Adding kids to ANY task makes it 100x more challenging and keeps us on our toes. We focus on including kids in our home improvement adventures at http://www.homearise.com and it’s always more time consuming (and more entertaining) with them tagging along, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. 🙂

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