For the past 6 years we have spent our summer holidays in Portugal with my parents, brother and his family. If you had told my student self that this was what was in store for me 20 odd years later, I would probably have run screaming. Having spent my pre-kids life grabbing any opportunity for travel and adventure, two weeks in a villa on the Algarve seemed the antithesis of everything wild and free...
But…leap forward a few years with 2 small children in tow and the idea of a gated pool and on tap childcare starts sounding like a little bit of heaven. And if there’s one thing that my children have taught me, it’s that adventure doesn’t have to equal dirty backpacks and mosquito-infested hostels in far flung lands. When everything is a new experience, adventure becomes as much about how you approach the everyday, than about planning the next life changing event.
However, I am still not a total resort convert, so Martinhal in Sagres is a great choice as it’s fairly low key, offering the perfect blend of rugged coastline and waves for me, with a bit of luxury for the grandparents and trampolines and pizza for the kids! Also, now that my kids are 7 and 5, they are a brilliant age to try new things, so this trip was very much about blending the familiar with some new and exciting experiences.
So after a few days of pool and beach, we decided to hire some bikes to go and explore the national park which surrounds the resort. What sounds like a relatively simple plan, became more complicated when we realised we needed to accommodate ages 1 - 71 for an 18km bike ride. Thanks to the very well resourced bike shop on-site and a lot of negotiation, we eventually ended up with a combination of trailers, bike seats, electric, mountain and even a tandem bike. Just collecting the bikes that morning was a mission in itself, with several trips back and forwards and what seemed like an endless collection of constantly disappearing helmets. We got there, however, and by 11am we were finally ready to hit the road...
After some last minute dashes for water bottles, toilets, cameras etc, we set off in a rather wobbly snake formation up the hill- my brother at the front on his tandem with his 5 year old on the front, followed by my sister-in-law with the baby on the back, my son on his mini mountain bike, my dad with my daughter in a trailer, my mum very excited to on her electric bike and me bringing up the rear (or ready to collect the pieces…) 5 minutes later, with my son having nearly wobbled his way into oncoming traffic three times, we all swapped places as I decided the only way to get him through in one piece was to effectively pin him to the kerb.
At this point I was starting to seriously question the logic of this plan. I hadn’t realised there would be so many roads involved, I was exhausted from the anxiety and we were only 3km in…However, as we continued through the national park, (and a few position and bike swaps later) we started to get into some sort of rhythm and I found my focus was on the scenery, rather than mere survival. We did, nonetheless, decide a short cut to the second best ice cream shop in Portugal was probably a sensible course of action.
20 minutes later and fuelled up on Alice’s ice cream, we navigated the final 30 minute stage down through Sagres with only a little bit of off road and a couple of dogs to contend with. Despite my Dad managing to tip over the trailer at the final hurdle we had made it! Everyone was buzzing - partly through sheer relief that we had got back in one piece, but also because we had achieved something which, at the start had seemed almost impossible…
So, on the basis of this initially rocky, but ultimately fun experience, here are my top tips for getting the most out of multi-generational adventures…
1. Break it into small chunks and celebrate every step achieved. For us, even juggling the logistics of the bike hire arrangements felt like a major hurdle. It’s easy to get bogged down in the sheer admin of it all and either become totally frustrated or give up. Treating each step as part of the adventure helps to release some of the tension and also build excitement and anticipation for what lies ahead.
2. Set your own expectations low and exceed them. By this, I mean be realistic. This is not the time to set records in speed or distance. The goal of a multi-gen adventure is about making it as a team and everyone getting something out of it. This is something that used to really frustrate me (and I still don’t have it totally nailed…) However, I have learnt that there is a lot of satisfaction in enabling others to achieve something they didn’t think they could do, whether it’s kids or grandparents. You can always find another time to go for a blast!
3. Allocate jobs. Kids love to be involved and getting them to help out makes them feel important and in control. My daughter was very proud of being in charge of the Go Pro and water bottles in her trailer. Make sure that the person who is least stressed by the activity takes responsibility for the water, food, spares etc - for most people, the activity itself is enough to think about!
4. Don’t be afraid to quit. Or at the very least vary the route to accommodate everyone. Remember the goal is enjoyment and to get your team round - you want everyone to finish buzzing for more!
5. Take lots of food. And make sure there is an ice cream or cake shop on route. Enough said.
Our family adventure was not without its challenges and there were defitneitly times when we questioned our sanity! Looking back, however, I am really glad we took the plunge and am so proud of my parents and kids for giving it a go. We talked about it constantly for the rest of the holiday and my Dad is even looking at investing in an electric bike! The best bit for me was my kids seeing their grandparents on the adventure with them - if nothing else, they now have it firmly implanted that age is not a barrier to adventure; something I hope will stay with them for life.