After 18 years as a host on travel program Getaway, Catriona Rowntree has been to countless countries and still loves to travel. Since having her kids Andrew (4) and Charlie (2) the type of trips she does has changed but she’s just as enthusiastic about packing her bags. The bubbly host tells suitcases&strollers about why she enjoys everything about travel – from the airport lounges to airline food. Yes, really.
Before you had kids, how frequently were you travelling?
For work I'd travel for around 42 weeks of the year, loving every second of it. This included speaking engagements, other media commitments and, of course, Getaway. Throw in a long distance relationship and I may as well have set up a swag at the airport. But hey, I was young and babies were not even on the radar.
How many countries have you been to?
I've lost count. It strains my brain to even think about the number. I’d add up the countries in my passport, but the fact that I've been mugged twice and gone through many passports makes it a bit challenging.
Before you had kids, where was your favourite destination to travel to?
If you combine the fact that I love to shop, chat, eat and explore then you'll understand that I was thrilled wherever I was sent, not to mention incredibly grateful for the opportunity. I truly love every aspect of travel, even airline food. Plus I've never met an airport lounge I haven't liked...there's always the potential to shop or meet someone of interest everywhere I go. Is that sad to admit?
How has travel changed for you since having kids?
Now when I leave my babies to travel, the guilt kicks in even before I've left home, I just always feel guilty and probably make up for it with lots of pressie shopping.
When I travel with the boys, I find now that my needs take a back seat. Who cares how I look, as long as I've got them organised and happy. I'm pretty sure every mum can sympathise with me on this one. Gone are the days of sleep and relaxation. Hello activities and fun for my loved ones.
If I thought I was organised before, I've now taken that up a notch; we're talking “military operation”.
How frequently are you travelling now?
I've found since having children I look for work opportunities that require 2 to 3 hours, rather than 2 to 3 weeks, away. So I do still travel, but for shorter periods that before, and the sky is yet to fall in.
Do you bring your kids with you when you are travelling for work?
I initially took Andrew on the road with me for Getaway, maybe out of guilt, but I found it was hell for all involved. He loves a routine, he needed sleep and meal time. But when we work, we power, we have to use the daylight, maximise visual opportunities, be a team. My baby was so unhappy I thought “Who am I doing this for? No one’s winning here.”
So I set up a support system at home so I could leave him happy, in his own environment, surrounded by love and his normal routine. However, for shorter trips, I’ve found that a lot of people I work with are happy for me to bring my children. Every situation is different, but so far everyone is happy.
Where is your favourite destination to travel to now?
Hamilton Island, [Australia]. What can I say: direct (relatively short) flight, great accommodation that offers in-room services like a microwave and loads of activities. [To read more about Hamilton Island, click on the suitcases&strollers story here]
We also love any beach location and we recently had a great time on the Gold Coast [in Australia]. I was there for work and brought my family. We stayed at Jupiters Casino (where my work was) and I loved that the room had no balcony (less anxiety with a toddler) and the hotel had this amazing pool. We were close to the beach, but best of all, I took everyone to SeaWorld. No words! Amazing. Best time ever!
I would never have thought a casino could be so great with children and my only regret was not going to more of the theme parks. Ah…times have changed. [To read more about the Gold Coast, click on the suitcases&strollers story here]
Where is the one place in the world that you want to take your kids?
When my children are older, I'd love to take them on a safari. Wouldn't that be amazing? But I do think they have to be of an age that they can appreciate the experience, let alone remember it. [To read about safaris with kids in South Africa, see the suitcases&strollers stories Addo Elephant National Park, Nambiti Private Game Reserve and Madikwe Game Reserve.]
I have also never been to Disneyland in L.A. (every other one on the planet, but not the original) and I'd love to go on all the rides with my sons. I just love scary rides, always have, and I can't wait to show that side of me to my sons.
Is there anywhere in the world that you would not recommend for kids?
There are so many wonderful places to go to overseas as a couple, save them for the two of you. Whilst you have children, explore Australia. I'm saying that as I was recently in an airline queue overseas when I overheard a mum asking her young child, “So, where did you love best? Fiji, Bali or Disneyland?” and her son said, “I dunno?” It got me thinking that you can get so caught up trying to impress people with your holiday locations, but your children truly just want to be with you or to have fun. They couldn't give a hoot how grand a place is; can they have fun or not? “Substance over style,” I say.
Which are your top 3 don't miss family-friendly holiday destinations?
· Merimbula on the south coast of New South Wales, Australia. My sister-in-law insisted we try this place for a group family holiday and I was dead against it. I don't think I'd even heard of it before she mentioned it. Well, I had to eat my sun hat as we had one of the best family holidays ever. (OK, to be fair, we've only had children for 4 years.) It was so low key, had so many activities and fantastic day trips. I just can't deny we had a great time.
· Tassie [Tasmania, Australia]. I can't wait to take the big ferry over and have a bit of a drive trip around the island, just stopping wherever, eating ourselves silly, no two days the same.
· Hire a Halvorsen boat and sail around the Hawkesbury [River in New South Wales, Australia]. This is the child in me speaking now, but every Easter my parents would hire a boat and we’d drift around the Hawkesbury River. True, your children have to be old enough to swim competently, but gee I loved those holidays. We'd fish, play cards, swim, explore. I have such happy memories of those holidays. I do believe most boating trips, preferably on calm waters, can be memorable. [For more travel tips on things to do in and around Sydney, see the suitcases&strollers interview with former Wiggle Sam Moran here.]
Is it important for kids to travel?
It is fundamentally important [for children] and for the same reasons that I would recommend to any adult. To broaden your mind, to sample different cultures, to break down judgments, it's just all good.
That said, I think that when your child is young they don't really care how snazzy the location is, but they do care if you’re happy and can spend time with them. Trying to impress a 4 year old with a trip to Disneyland is a waste of money, but being happy and loving whilst on holidays is priceless.
What do kids get out of travelling that they don't get staying at home?
Wonderful experiences, funny stories, improved social skills, better manners, cool toys...should I go on? They love it but, for my children, the most important thing (and they are young, so I know this isn't for everyone) is to enjoy the above as a family and that that joy is reciprocated.
What are your top tips for finding a good family-friendly holiday destination?
Just go with your heart. You've just really got to do your homework to avoid disappointment and Googling a picture of the resort is not enough; you need to seek opinions, ask questions. Look for activities, easy access and a room with features like a mini-bar and microwave.
That said, don't over-pack. Sure, it's annoying if you forget something, but the world will keep turning and you won't strain your back in the process.
What’s your one essential travel tip for parents holiday with a child for the first time?
If there is only one lesson I’ve learnt taking my babies on the plane, it’s that they must have something to swallow, suck on or chew on ascent and descent. When you hear that baby screaming, it’s there little ears hurting from the air pressure. Have the water or milk on the ready and it will ease things.
I also try to avoid sugar on the fight. You want them to be calm not ramp them up, so take books and games. It's all about distraction. But please trust me on the ears tip. [To read more travel tips about managing flights with young kids, click on the suitcases&strollers stories here]
If you weren't doing Getaway what would you be doing instead?
I'd love to be the assistant to Paul Bangay the landscape designer. To be creative, working with interesting people and amongst nature. Ahhh...but I can never stop talking, so I don't know how long poor Paul would put up with me. I can dream though!
To read about another suitcases&strollers mum who gets paid to travel with kids (and review luxury destinations no less!), see the suitcases&strollers story Luxury Travel Mom.