How to do your OE with kids

A six-week trip around seven countries with two little daughters in tow? Kiwi fashion designer Kelly Coe not only did it, she managed to have fun too. She shares six tips for making it work.

Things were not off to a particularly auspicious start.

The week before Augustine fashion designer Kelly Coe and her husband Nathan were set to jet off overseas with their two young daughters, Coe took four-year-old Demi to the paediatrician. She had been suffering from constipation, and the doctor’s advice was to prescribe medication to “get it all out”.

Staring down the barrel of four long-haul flights with one toddler now stuck in nappies thanks to laxative medication, Coe was decidedly unimpressed.

“It was the worst timing ever,” she laughs. “So we were back and forth to the toilet a lot. But it was fine. We were prepared.”

Packed and ready to go

Flying Right

Coe – who is expecting her third child – approached the impending six-week trip with military-grade organisation. Midway through last year, Nathan’s brother had announced he was getting married in Birmingham in the UK that September. The Coes had split reactions.

“My husband was like, ‘Oh it’s going to be amazing!’” recalls Coe. “But I said, ‘You’re not thinking of the logistics of taking two little people on an aeroplane for that long.’ We had been on family trips to Fiji and even on that three-hour flight, I was tearing my hair out.”

And so the planning began.

The family in Santorini

The 33-year-old designer took the opportunity to tack on a work trip to China, where she goes regularly to source for Augustine, and added in the two places that are top of her bucket list: Cinque Terre in Italy, and Santorini in the Greek islands.

Before Coe and her husband knew it, the itinerary was sitting at six weeks, visiting seven countries in total. Flying across the world from New Zealand is no joke – and when you’re spending long hours on a plane entertaining small children on either side of it, you want the holiday to be well worth the effort.

However, thanks to the mammoth trip with her family, Coe discovered some valuable truths, and found that it really is all about the journey, not the destination. Here, she shares what she learned.

Disneyland in Hong Kong

Lesson one

You can never be too prepared

The first leg of the flight was 12 hours to Hong Kong, and Coe was determined to have multiple tricks up her sleeve. Colouring books, Play-Doh, iPads, games, sticker books… you name it, it was squirreled away in Coe’s carry-on.

“I had a lot of people tell me it was a good idea to wrap up little presents; every hour you give them a present to keep them interested,” Coe says. “Obviously it backfired, because they were then asking for them every five minutes, but it was a distraction.

“Being prepared on the first flights is really important, but they do adapt to it, so by the time the last flights came around, they were happy to watch a movie and fall asleep.” Coe also packed easy snacks like instant noodles, so her girls had something to eat whenever they needed.


Lesson two

End each location with a kid-friendly activity

The first destinations were China and then Hong Kong, so that the family could start getting used to the time difference and Coe could do some work while Nathan looked after the girls.

This is where she learned an invaluable tip that would hold the entire family in good stead for the next six weeks: no matter how dull the day or the destination, if you finish with something fun, the kids will have fond memories of the place.

“Every time we stopped somewhere, when I had to do work or something adult touristy, then we’d take them somewhere fun on the last day so that’s what they would remember. They forget the fact they had to sit in a hotel room for one day while I worked, because then they got to go to Disneyland in Hong Kong. It was the same in Europe – we’ve been to every playground in Europe, basically.”

Indi in Santorini

Lesson three

Hire a campervan

After the family wedding – held in a castle in Birmingham – the Coes flew to Paris and picked up a campervan, which was to be their home for the next two weeks. The idea of being trapped in a room-on-wheels on the wrong side of the road with two small children initially sounds like claustrophobia hell – and Coe says her friends’ reactions were a collective ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ – but it turned out to be a stroke of genius.

They had not exactly packed light, with seven suitcases and two buggies, but with everything onboard the campervan, which included a tiny kitchen, the road trip from Paris down into Italy was relatively painless.

“It was such a good way to travel – you can stop whenever you want! There’s always a toilet! They could watch a DVD! It felt really relaxing to be doing whatever we wanted… we got to see all these little towns that we would never have seen if we’d flown instead.”

Cinque Terre

The meander down to Rome took them past Grindelwald in Switzerland, Florence and Venice. They also took a side trip to the Cinque Terre, the collection of seaside villages tumbled in and around the cliffs of the Italian Riviera.

“It was the one place I’d always wanted to go,” Coe says. “But it was a terrible place to take kids – with a buggy, and both of them on the side of a cliff. We were 20 minutes into the walk that’s supposed to link them when someone told us there was at least another hour and a half to go. With a buggy. On the side of the cliff. We turned back and took the train.”


Apart from one power chuck, courtesy of eldest daughter Indiana, five, life in the campervan was peaceful. Until the final trip into The Eternal City. All roads may lead to Rome but one in particular turned out to be tricky.

Their GPS guided them right into the city, where you’re not allowed cars, and they got stuck. “Because it was all one-way roads, we were there for half an hour, with policemen and pedestrians all around us and the kids in the back saying, ‘Why are so many people yelling at us?’”


Lesson four

It’s never too late to do the big OE

Heading overseas for a year or two is practically a Kiwi rite of passage, but Coe had missed it the first time around because she met Nathan when she was 23, and started the Augustine business a year after that before going on to have children. So when she finally made it to Europe, it wasn’t quite the typical experience. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth the wait to set foot in Santorini, after years of hoping to get there.

“It was exactly how I had pictured it would look,” Coe says. “It really did feel like it was my OE, but doing it with my husband and kids. So there were no wild nights… but it was so exciting to be able to finally get there.”


Lesson five

A child’s perspective on the world is priceless

Travel is messy and hard and tiring and stressful, even as an adult, and by the time you throw two kids into the mix it’s the perfect storm. Coe jokes that when she returned, all her friends had assumed – based on the photos she had been posting on Facebook – that it had been smooth sailing for the entire six weeks. The reality was a little different.

“There would always be times when we would be out and Indi would start crying, and Demi would poo herself, and we would realise we didn’t have a change of clothes. And there were some days when they would be completely over it. Because it’s Europe, and there are so many old things to look at, we’d get to, say, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and they were like, ‘Don’t care. It’s just another old building.’”


But on the flip side, seeing Europe through the eyes of little people meant finding magic even in the more mundane aspects of travel. Coe says for every tiny disaster – a camera bag left in a taxi, endless tears between the two girls, wrangling buggies through international airports – there were enough magic moments to make it all worthwhile.

“They’re fascinated by things you wouldn’t necessarily look at,” Coe says. “And it was just amazing to spend time as a family… Seeing the world for six weeks, it’s got to mature them in some way. And they looked older when we got back, even though it hadn’t been that long.”


Lesson six

Packing light is overrated

Remember the seven suitcases? Well there’s a reason for those. With nearly 115,000 followers on Facebook, social media has become an invaluable marketing tool for Coe to showcase new season Augustine looks out and about. And with six weeks in Europe, her daily outfit photos were going to have some fairly spectacular backdrops – so she packed accordingly.

“I did actually take enough clothes to wear a different outfit every day for the six weeks,” Coe says. “I took a lot of chiffon, silk and polyester dresses that don’t take up much room – like I could fit 30 in just one side of my bag. My suitcase looked like a rainbow!”


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