Parents of the world will hardly need reminding, but the school holidays have arrived. That means it’s time (if you haven’t already) to start considering… the family holiday. Those three little words are enough to inspire trepidation in even the most capable of mums and dads.
From what I remember, family getaways when we were young mostly involved my brother and me fighting in the back of the car, ice creams upended in sand, trips to foreign pharmacies for antihistamines to relieve prickly heat and the nagging sense that we’d all be better off at home. When my parents did eventually succeed in getting us to the top of a mountain to enjoy the view, we’d usually reward them by asking where the sweet shop was. The Waltons we were not.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be like that. These days it’s a lot easier to find a deal that’s right for you. And taking your brood for a well-earned break needn’t necessarily be the financially crippling burden many fear. Keenly aware of the economic strain faced by many families, lots of tour operators are offering kids-go-free deals and family discounts this summer.
So fret not, parents. Just follow this 9-point plan and you’ll be fine:
First stop: Travelzoo
Make Travelzoo’s Family-Friendly page your first port of call. This is where you’ll find all the best up-to-the-minute deals -- from camping and caravanning to all-inclusive long-haul getaways and kids-go-free theatre tickets. We’re constantly on the lookout for the best deals out there so you don’t have to spend time searching -- there, that’s one less job already!
It sounds obvious, but it’s critical -- choosing the right family holiday is not just about selecting the best bargain out there; it’s about choosing the one that’s right for you and your brood. If your kids are on the energetic side, make sure you’re going somewhere where there are plenty of activities you can do together, or kids’ clubs they can join in with (bored kids = no fun for you). Similarly, if you’ve never taken the kids camping, you might want to try a weekend away as a warm-up before you commit to a week-long expedition in the back of beyond.
All inclusive or self catering?
There’s no right or wrong answer here -- it’s more a matter of considering the relative merits of each and deciding which one works better for you.
It’s no coincidence that self catering is the preferred choice for many families; mealtimes with kids (particularly the youngest ones) can be challenging to say the least. Pebble-dashing the furniture/walls/other people’s faces with flying spoonfuls of Weetabix might be OK at home, but it goes down less well with fellow diners in hotel restaurants. Most parents love the flexibility of being able to choose what they prepare, serve it when they want, and be less upset when it gets rejected. If you think your kids would enjoy sampling the fare at a few different local restaurants, self catering is the way to go.
On the flip side, there’s a lot to be said for the all-inclusive option. Family meals out can be expensive and this is an easy way of controlling costs without having to constantly watch your budget. Don’t underestimate the feeling of freedom that comes with taking your family out for dinner and not having to take your wallet with you. Having someone else clean up after your kids makes a nice change too -- you are on holiday, after all.
Plan, plan, and plan some more
You might have spent the past six months dreaming of a week on the beach in some far-flung land, but kids would sometimes rather just be at home with their toys. Get them excited about the destination before you go -- show them maps, look at photos, maybe even watch a film set in your holiday destination if possible. It’s also worth getting them to help you plan a few activities beforehand -- have something up your sleeve for those days when the weather lets you down.
Keep a travel journal
Before you go, buy a scrapbook and some glue, then fill it with stuff along the way -- postcards, ticket stubs, boarding cards etc. Encourage the kids to draw in it and write about the holiday. This is a great way of getting them to take an interest and keeping them occupied (for a minute or two at least), and makes a perfect memento.
Manage your own expectations
Children are the enemy of to-do lists -- remember that while you’re on holiday. The more you expect to achieve while you’re away, the more likely you are to fail. It’s fine to have plans, but keep in mind that you’re on holiday; it’s time to ease off the pedal and let things unfold naturally. If you’re heading from A to B with the kids in tow, you should probably expect to go via C, D, Q and Z. That’s just how it is -- the more accepting you are of that, the more fun you're likely to have.
Factor in some “family time”
The younger your kids are, the more you should expect them to delay you. Avoid last-minute bumps in the road by factoring extra time into your schedule. If you have to be at the airport at midday, and usually you start moving at 11am, try to be ready by 10.30am. Do yourself a favour -- don’t start the holiday stressed out.
Before you head off, collect up any emergency phone numbers and information about local hospitals/doctors that you might need -- just in case. You probably won’t need any of it, but you’ll feel a lot better knowing that you’re prepared should some unforeseen disaster befall you.
Send in the clowns
Children’s entertainment -- it might all look a bit ridiculous to you, but that’s not the point. Louise Hodges, head of public relations at Travelzoo, says, “The best family holiday we ever had was on an all inclusive in Gran Canaria. One of the best things about it was the entertainment for children -- a kiddies’ disco every night with entertainers. Being able to sip a cold glass of white wine while your children tire themselves out with a man dressed as a big chicken may sound the opposite of relaxing; however, it allowed us to chat knowing the children were safe, having a great time and the whole family was out together.”