Getting away from it all - with a family of nine?

Going on your first ever family holiday abroad can be stressful enough at the best of times - but what about when you are packing and planning for a family of nine? Jen Hogan tells all.

Jenn Hogan with her children Chloe (15), Adam (12), Jamie (10), Luke (7), Zach (5), Tobey (3) and Noah (1) ahead of their first family holiday.

Fifteen, fourteen, thirteen. Every day my morning greeting from the six year old includes the number of sleeps left. The eight year old meantime hops from one foot to the other grinning while reminding me that “it’s getting really close mammy”. And it is — our first ever foreign holiday is just around the corner.

Everyone looks forward to holidays, we’re not unique in that, but not everyone takes as long as we have to finally manage that seemingly elusive, first family holiday abroad.

Our Walton-esque sized proportions have played their part. The cost of a family holiday for nine people is significant, exorbitant even, particularly if you travel during the school holidays, but this year we were determined. By hook or by crook we were getting away.

So with the holiday booked — two apartments of course because we couldn’t all fit into one, the onerous task of organising passports was ours for completion. Birth certs, Garda signatures, RSI numbers, all needed, along with the perfect passport photos. No easy undertaking when the youngest children automatically default to the “cheese” pose as soon as a camera is pointed at them.

Several hours later, the lady in the pharmacy finally breathed a sigh of relief as we left, perfectly posed, though questionably recognisable, photos in hand. I’m sure I caught the Garda who signed the endless supply of forms, sniggering at mine.

The children are so excited at the prospect of going on a plane. The four youngest children have never been on one, so mammy guilt has naturally been eating away at me for a while. There doesn’t seem to be any first time flyer nerves, yet, and one child will have a birthday while we’re away. “It doesn’t get better than that” I’ve been told.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this excitement, I need to work out how to pack for this larger-than-average sized family. My natural inclination to bring everything but the kitchen sink, will not be accommodated by the airline weight restrictions. When I consider the amount of jocks and socks needed alone, I wonder how I’ll ever fit everything – maybe the three year old has a point with his deeming of underwear as an unnecessary evil.

Because we’ll be in two separate apartments, packing is a slightly more complicated affair. There have been strategic choices made about which children will go in each apartment — all in the interest of family harmony. Two very young children will also need serious policing in terms of safety. It’s suddenly sounding a bit less like a holiday.

“Prioritise” I’ve been advised by friends and family. We won’t need several different outfits for each day I have been assured. Mix and match is the key apparently, as is clothing made from quick drying material. As I think about the differences in some of my children’s appearances before and after mealtimes, I know that this one will be a challenge.

Lots of factor 50, for my many blondies and sun suits are an essential. I’ve been assured that they’ll spend lots of time in these, which is helping to abate my minimal amounts of clothing worries. Sunglasses and hats another important. At least I know my underwear resisting “threenager” will happily comply here.

I’m worried about water safety if I’m honest. My eldest is a lifeguard. In contrast none of the others can swim well yet, and some not at all. Some of the kids are quite nervous of water, but it’s the ones who have no fear of anything that worry me most.

My sister in law has warned me that foreign pools can be very deep. One was 12ft deep in a complex that she stayed in. ”Armbands or lifejackets for weak and non-swimmers are non-negotiables,” she says.

And then there’s the plane. The much anticipated plane journey. Our flight is very early in the morning. The fact that the children will need to get up in the middle of the night, effectively, is just adding to their excitement. My husband and I meanwhile need to work out airport and boarding logistics.

My teenage daughter is not overly impressed at the prospect of liquid restrictions. They potentially compromise the amount of false tan, perfume and make up that she was planning to bring.

But beyond the restrictions is the need to keep the children occupied on the plane. Four hours — four long hours, with a three year old beside me and a one and half year old on my lap. My children don’t rate sleep so I’m not holding up much hope that they’ll doze on the plane. Again my expert, better travelled friends and family advise me that a small rucksack filled with colouring books, reading books, hand held games consoles , travel games and a snack are a must for occupying those travelling hours. I’ve even been advised to include a change of clothes in the rucksack in case of any mishaps. This is music to my ears.

There is a little fear in the unknown, but there is great excitement too. Huge excitement really, and it’s not just the kids. “Twelve sleeps” the six year old chorused this morning. “I know” I replied. “I can’t wait!”

To the poor unfortunates sitting near us on the plane, my apologies in advance. You’ll have to excuse us. We’re newbies and are SO excited!

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