Since our day out to Inveraray was a complete disaster a few weeks ago, I thought I’d share some tips and tricks we’ve learned to make sure that we still have a good time, even when we can’t do what we planned.
1. Have a back up plan
When you’re planning a day out somewhere, always try to have an alternative in your back pocket, just in case you need it.
All sorts of things can happen to cause a hiccup in your plans; car trouble, weather, the place you want to visit being unexpectedly closed. Your back up plan doesn’t need to be a fully formed itinerary, just an idea of an alternative so that you can easily adapt to avoid cancelling your day out completely.
The spousal unit and I have a list of places, divided into ‘Public Transport’ and ‘Car’. The Car places require the use of the car to get to, while the Public Transport ones can be reached by bus, train or on foot. This means that when we need to change our destination at a moment’s notice, we can pick something that suits our budget and go on our way, rather than floundering for a replacement idea.
2. Think about food
Try to think ahead about where you will be eating because no one is happy when they’re hangry, especially not a toddler!
Obviously, if you might need to change your plans at the last minute, knowing where you’ll eat can be a little unpredictable. It’s easy enough if the place you’re heading has a cafe or somewhere to eat nearby, but some attractions have limited options, may be expensive or don’t cater for the whole family’s dietary requirements.
An obviously solution to this is to carry some snacks with you when you’re out. My Go To snacks for the Noodle are little boxes of raisins and cereal snack bars, mainly because they come in their own packaging so it doesn’t matter if they’re hanging around for a while because they’ll stay relatively fresh.
Make a point of refreshing the snacks you carry on a regular basis (I generally replace what’s in the bag every couple of weeks) and if your bag gets drenched in a downpour, soaking the raisins you didn’t realise were in there, take them out and bin them before they go nasty, or better yet, put them in something waterproof!
3. Consider how your littles will travel
The Noodle has four modes of transport; his pram, his buggy, the babycarrier and his feet (usually with his backpack reins on, in case he doesn’t want to hold our hands). Depending on where we’re going, we’ll select a different method of transporting him.
The big pram is good if we’re going somewhere on the train. It’s bulky, but gives us plenty of storage space underneath and if he wants to nap we can recline it. Now he’s 18 months, walking confidently and so very long, it’s not always the most practical option. It also takes up all of the car boot so we mostly use that closer to home now.
The buggy is lightweight and folds up, making it perfect for use on the bus. It doesn’t have a raincover though and so it’s not ideal when we get caught in torrential downpours.
The carrier is a ideal when we’ll be outside walking or somewhere that’s got lots to see at adult eye level. It’s a bit of a faff to keep lifting him in and out of it though, so it’s not so useful when he’ll want to keep getting down to interact with things.
And walking is great fun, plus it tires him out, but it’s not always the quickest way to travel, especially when there’s things to distract him. There’s also the safety aspect of being a toddler hanging around next to roads and trains.
Of course, sometimes we get it wrong and end up carrying him when we thought he would walk, or regretting our choice of wheels because the ones we brought aren’t suitable for the terrain, but a little bit of thinking ahead (and asking other people what they’d recommend for the place you’re visiting) can make all the difference.
4. Budget it
No one wants to put themselves in debt for a day out so think about how to make the most of your available funds for your trips. It’s easy to focus on entry costs for places and overlook the transport and meal costs, suddenly your day out that was only going to be a fiver each is looking more like fifty (or more).
We take a trip to the mainland every other Friday so we immediately have the ferry costs to factor in. To help balance that we try to avoid taking the car more than about once a month; we try to travel by public transport as much as we can to save the days out by car for when we really can’t avoid it.
You can save money by keeping an eye out for special offer days (if you’ve got small ones, term times can be better for some venues which has an added bonus of being quieter as well), student discounts, yearly passes (if it’s somewhere you go regularly you could ask for these as a birthday or Christmas gift) and visiting with a friend or local group and getting a discount can all help. We generally eat out when we visit places but bringing a packed lunch can save money (and is doubly helpful if there might be difficulty finding food that everyone will eat).
You could even set aside a little money each week or month in a ‘days out’ fund and plan your trips based on what you’ve got available. If your children are older you could involve them too, letting them keep track of what you’ve got saved and what their options are for places to visit.
5. Make fantastic memories
Regardless of how much planning you put into your day out, sometimes things will go wrong. Perhaps the ferries will be disrupted, perhaps the trains will go off, perhaps the perfect storm of delays prevent you from getting to the place you want to go.
You’ll absolutely be disappointed when that happens, and that’s okay. Acknowledge the fact that you’re sad about not doing what you’d planned, but then pick something else to do and enjoy it. Turn the day into an adventure. Take advantage of having time as a family and just talk or eat together, doing something a little bit silly or special.
There’s that saying about how it’s not the destination but the journey that counts and that’s probably true when you’re spending time with your family. Don’t make the day about the destination, make it about the time you’re spending together. At the end of the day, you can spend hours planning for the perfect day out, but all you really need for it is to be present with your offspring. Take some photos and write down some of the things you do so that you can look back on them in years to come.