Mr & Mrs Smith dish on their favourite family friendly destinations and why they love travelling with their kids…
I got the chance to sit down with the hilarious, warm and very well travelled James and Tamara Lohan, the masterminds behind Mr & Mrs Smith. We met at one of their favourite hotels in Hong Kong, the Upper House and chatted about their favourite destinations, travelling with kids and why it’s so important to spend time as a family.
What has been your favourite destination to travel to with your kids?
Tamara: My absolute favourite destination is Brazil. I lived there for a year before kids and even danced in the carnival!
James: Tamara went to Rio for her 40th birthday with her girlfriends. They called themselves the Rio Trio and went for ten whole days. She owes me for that one!
T: I needed to share Rio with my family, so we all went last year. We loved it because it’s such a family friendly destination. The Brazilian government are real advocates for breastfeeding mums. I would say they’ve got one of the most progressive initiatives for breastfeeding! We love everything about Rio from the culture, to the music and food.
J: We took a plane out to Trancoso, Brazil that had the perfect family beach for all ages. We’re talking about the best gentle surfs that are great for body boarding. Our eight year old son was totally in his element and our six year old daughter loved playing in the waves too. Right around the beach was this gorgeous lagoon where you could paddle board. It was definitely safe for babies to play in the water too. We even did a bit of horseback riding along the beach which was great for the kids!
One of the most important factors for me on any trip is the consistency of the sand! I mean, we need to build proper sandcastles. We love tunnelling as a family, so the perfect sand is important! All the kids on the beach at Trancoso joined us as we built together and it was one of the best afternoons of our entire trip to Brazil.
T: Back at the hotel in Trancoso, there was this common ground where all the villagers would come out during the sunset.
J: The kids from the hotel would start playing soccer with the Brazilian locals. This shared space made us feel a part of the community. The kids could go out and it felt totally safe. There are no cars allowed in during that time.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter where we are in the world, we just love having that time to do things together. Go on adventures and be outdoors, it’s what our family loves.
How has having kids changed the way you travel? Changed your travel destinations/activities?
T: For the both of us, we’ve always said that just because you have children doesn’t mean you suddenly need to drop all your expectations of what you look for in a destination or hotel. What you do need from your hotel/resort is for them to understand there will be a bit of rowdiness from the kids. We want the feeling that a hotel will be well suited for families.
What are your top tips for keeping kids occupied on planes?
T: When they were younger though, we would give them a roll of cello tape and let them go crazy! Sometimes, we would wrap small presents like wind up toys or something small in tape. It would take them some time to peel off all the tip which was a great distraction. Sticker books are also popular in our family. We would get stickers that could create whole new worlds and let them go nuts on the back of the seat.
Now that they’re older, we usually give them an iPad. However, it’s that question that most families always ask, how much of the iPad do you allow your kids to use on the plane? It’s always a tough question. For my kids, they’re a bit older and have their own favourite games loaded that they like. Before any trip, I upload brand new educational apps that I’ve found and make a folder called “Mummy’s Picks”. After they’ve played their favourite games to death, they’ll go into my folder and love discovering all the new apps they can play. This usually helps with keeping them entertained on flights!
My daughter loves this app called Monkey Maths as there’s a cute monkey that makes the funniest sounds. Our son loves Time Ninja. It’s fantastic! He’s learned to read the time through it. It tracks their learning by giving them different coloured belts after passing each level.
J: Stay away from sweets! One time on a flight to St. Lucia, our son was given some sweets and he could not stop walking up and down the aisles. It was a rough flight! We usually try to feed the kids at the airport before we fly. The food is always better on the ground and if they don’t want to eat airplane food, it’s ok.
Read more: Tips on Travelling with Toddlers
Do you prefer city breaks or beach holidays when travelling with your kids?
J: No, the beach! I like the beach because it takes us out of our usual city life.
T: I would have to say Rio for the city and Trancoso for beach. I love to have a bit of both – juxtaposition and variety, in my travel. Brazil was really the perfect holiday. In cities, you can see all the different cultural aspects and beaches are great for relaxing.
J: We often wonder how much of the cultural aspects our kids take in. We were in San Francisco and saw the incredible Golden Gate Bridge. As we left the Hong Kong airport, our kids saw the Tsing Ma bridge and asked if it was the Golden Gate one in San Fran! Although they may not always remember some landmarks, they’ll always remember their fondest memories of burying me in the beach for some reason…
T: We also love Los Angeles. It’s really the best of both worlds too – a good mix of city beaches.
J: My favourite beach comes as no surprise… it’s definitely Trancoso. Believe it or not, I think it’s better than the Maldives. There was surf in the Trancoso and none in the Maldives. I can get bored of beaches, but we were there for 10 days and I didn’t get bored. It truly is the best beach for families.
In your opinion, what has been the most kid friendly travel destination in Asia without sacrificing a chic setting for the parents?
T: We loved staying at the Soneva Kiri in Thailand. We were there for three days with the kids and enjoyed everything about it. We loved the family cooking lesson provided by the hotel restaurant.
J: Actually the restaurant is located in the jungle and built especially for the chef. She used to be at the head chef Soneva Fushi in the Maldives and previously ran a hawker stand in Phuket where they found her. Her food was amazing so they brought her to Soneva Kiri.
T: The restaurant was on top of the river. The kids went fishing and then we got to cook our dinner at the restaurant. The staff was great, they even had prepared fish just in case the kids couldn’t catch them too!
Soneva Kiri has the most incredible eco centre. They filter all the greywater from the resort (overflow from swimming pools, showers, tap water etc.) that goes through this pond and is filtered through the lotus roots, then it travels through five pumps. This entire pond is covered in lotus flowers and leaves. It was beautiful to see what was essentially an amazing waste management system! The restaurant sets up a table and you can enjoy your food looking out into this.
J: There’s also a great chocolate room and a separate ice cream room with a ton of flavours that you can access at any time of the day. They really spoil and indulge you while also putting you back in touch with nature. There’s a small beach you take a boat ride to. They also have an excellent kids club built in the tree made from bamboo – like a nest! The space is beautiful, but they also make sure to take the kids out to explore the island as well.
T: It’s the fourth largest island in Thailand but the least populated. It has dense jungles and is also a fishermen’s island. On one of the days, our kids got to meet the local kids from the fishermen village and got to see squid being dried in the sun.
J: Oh and all the villas have pools too! Some of them have slides that connect the room to the pool. The only thing that was a bit negative was definitely all the mosquitoes. Something that can’t be helped if you’re in South East Asia!
How do you use travel to help educate your kids about the world around them?
T: I start teaching them about where we’re going way before we travel. We have a big world map in the bathroom and I’ll show them where we’re going. They usually judge how long the distance is from England to wherever we’re going based on based on whether or not they need to sleep on the plane!
We buy books to teach about culture which really gets them excited about it. We also teach them how to say please and thank you in the native language. We get them to do jobs around the house to earn money to buy souvenirs on the trip.
When we were in Thailand, my son was interested in Buddhism. We had gone to visit the golden Buddah in Bangkok, so when we were in Soneva Kiri, he sat one of the staff down and quizzed her about it. The school he goes to in England is quite progressive and they do meditation. He was asking her if she meditates and what Buddhism is all about. Religion and culture is something he’s interested in.
What is the most memorable vacation you’ve taken as a family and why?
J: They’re all memorable in different ways.
T: Brazil for me. We spent so much time in one spot together which is unusual for us. We tend to move every two to three days. But when we were in Trancoso, we stayed in one spot the entire time. It was truly really memorable.
J: One of my favourites was snorkelling in the Maldives. We all saw a turtle at the same time. Soneva Fushi is one of our favourite hotels to stay at. One afternoon, they dropped us off on a deserted island with a picnic basket. If we wanted to get back we could radio in. Being marooned on a deserted island was really fun! We had all our snorkelling gear so we spent the time diving, picking up shells, looking for drift wood and walking around the island (which took a total of 15 minutes!) Truly a magical afternoon.
We often worry about our kids being spoiled. We realise how lucky all of us are to have the chance to travel a lot but we want to stay grounded. One day, we decided to take a caravan vacation to across the English countryside. We told our kids that not all vacations will come with amazing pools, chocolate rooms and turtles. It would just be the four of us. We went down to Dorset Beach, ate fish and chips and had the best time of our lives! I think we spent a total of 150 quid for the entire weekend. We had a really great time together.
Read more: Family Friendly Holidays in the Maldives