It’s that time of the year again: the January blues are slowly easing off, my inbox starts filling up with attractive airline deals to near and not-so-near-places and my eyes wander East, West and then East again across the globe. All places promise to be the best family vacation destinations in the world for people with children, but travel brochures aside:
what is a good destination for a holiday with children? What is the best transport when travelling as a family and what about accommodation?
The questions are infinite, especially if you are new to travelling with children, and planning can get overwhelming, so I decided to put together my step by step process to plan the perfect family holiday, outlining what I believe are the characteristics of the best holiday destinations for families. Part of the process is similar to the travel planning I know before I had to little people with me, but some of the steps and some of the concerns are, I believe, specific to family travel.
I hope this can be useful to new parents and I am also sure it will come handy for me: nothing like a list to double check what you do and calm nerves before purchasing a possibly expensive trip!
Best vacation spots for kids: how to choose
Where do you WANT to go? I know, this sounds like a silly question but don’t dismiss it just yet, I have a reason to start here. I have noticed that many new parents tend to limit themselves when planning a family holiday, presuming some destinations are just off limits with children. Indeed, there are places that are hard to negotiate with children, but my advice to you is: don’t dismiss a place until you’ve looked into it. Many of my friends, for instance, exclude by default city breaks as ‘surely unsuitable’ with children, but our experience tells us the opposite: we loved Barcelona, Rome, Berlin and had we followed out insecurities we would have missed out on amazing family time. The same goes for more exotic holidays: unfamiliar does not equal unsuitable-for-kids, so at this planning stage, don’t set boundaries yet.
Good vacation spots for families: what to look for
Is it SAFE?
Safety concerns are and should be paramount, especially when travelling with young, children and you need to make an informed decision before going anywhere. The US bureau of consular affairs and the UK foreign travel advice sites can be a good starting point, but also check updated country guides and do look for travel blogs covering a certain area – Babyglobetrotters have invaluable advice for travellers to the UAE, Mum on the move covers Hong Kong and South East Asia, and Travel loving family covers the Caribbean.
While not always covering safety as such, personal experience can speak volumes about the actual risk in a country and most bloggers will also be happy to help should you have a specific question about an area they know well. I also find Facebook groups an invaluable resource: one I love is ‘The family travel group‘ (I am admin of it, so let me know if you want to join) – it’s a group made of parents who love to travel and share ideas and experiences: no trip is too small of too big to be discussed, the atmosphere is really supportive and advertising is not allowed so you don’t have to worry about businesses trying to rope you into buying anything.
How LONG do you have?
How many days do you have and how many do you need to visit your dream destination? With children, you are likely to travel more slowly than on your own: make sure your ideal itinerary makes sense in the number of days you have available and factor how tiring long journeys can be on little people. Always factor in downtime and, especially with very young children, make sure you have some extra days to make the plane back, should you need an extra stop.
How much does it COST?
There is no getting away from it: have a look at your budget and see what is actually feasible. My best advice is: be specific about costs. It is very easy to overlook costs and be bitten while on the road by bills that are way steeper than expected. To avoid this, make a precise list of what you are likely to pay for: tickets, accommodation, meals (will you eat out or cook?), possible luggage fees, supplies – factor in anything and a bit more. This can be a depressing exercise but it is useful and sometimes gives pleasant surprises: we often dismissed a trip thinking ‘it will cost loads’, but when we put ‘loads’ into numbers we realised it was something we could actually save for. So once again, don’t exclude anything until you’ve done you research. Also, go back to your budget at different stages of your decision-making process: start with the ballpark and then check specific costs adding up as you go. With kids, always factor in possible extras: from booking fees for sitting together on a plane to the cost of extra beds in hotels: take nothing for granted, even babies sharing a bed with you sometimes incur in accommodation surcharges!
How will you GET THERE?
Flight, boat, train, car? How many changes/layovers are needed? And once there, how would you get around? Especially with really young children, getting there is half the battle, so be realistic about how tiring the trip can be and evaluate if you and your children are up for it. When looking for an airline, make sure you check their family policy: some are very accommodating to people travelling with children but others are not: start from the official website of the airline you are considering but also look for personal experience: the already mentioned Baby Globetrotters have excellent airline reviews to get you started
Is it FUN FOR THEM? I believe it is possible to bring your kids pretty much anywhere at pretty much all ages, but I also believe some holiday choices are less fair on them than others. My daughter went through a phase when she was terrified of sand: she would scream and get really upset as soon as we brought her near a beach and would refuse to leave her buggy anywhere near what she would consider ‘dirt’. Could we have gone on a beach holiday with her and apply a bit of tough love? Sure, but would have it been fair on her? We tried for a couple of days and she hated it so my advice is:
I believe it is possible to bring your kids pretty much anywhere at pretty much all ages, but I also believe some holiday choices are less fair on them than others. My daughter went through a phase when she was terrified of sand: she would scream and get really upset as soon as we brought her near a beach and would refuse to leave her buggy anywhere near what she would consider ‘dirt’. Could we have gone on a beach holiday with her and apply a bit of tough love? Sure, but would have it been fair on her? We tried for a couple of days and she hated it so my advice is: know your child and put yourself in their shoes. Create a list of activities and places you would like to include in your holiday and ask yourself: who is this for? Maybe your children will like scouting archeological sites (my kids loved the Roman Forum for instance) or maybe they would hate it: you know your children so make a decision based on your specific family.
Is it FUN FOR YOU?
I believe a family holiday should make the whole family happy and that includes you. The activity packed camp would probably be heaven for the kids, but does it make you run for the hills? Then, don’t go: you’ll end up resenting your kids and longing for a holiday to get over the holiday. The same goes for your expectations for the holiday: if you want to lounge on the beach with a cocktail, maybe the resort with kids activities is the best choice! Your holiday is YOUR holiday, make sure it works for you too.
What are the ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS?
What kind of accommodation works for your family: hotel, self-catering, yurt, home exchange? Is it difficult/easy to find? After narrowing down a destination, see if they offer what you are looking for and check seasonal availability and price. Also, make sure there are no hidden costs: sometimes hotels charge for extra beds (even cots!) in the room, so make sure you check and double check family policies
Does it require SPECIAL PREPARATION?
Travelling with children always require a little bit more planning than if you were on your own, but some countries are harder than others. Especially if you have children in weaning age, you need to ask yourself: is baby food readily available, or will I have cooking facilities to make it? How about nappies and supplies? Babies are born everywhere in the world so supplies will be available but they might not be what you are used to and what you want: have a look at what you need to bring and if it needs extra work, preparation or expenses, factor it in when making a decision.
So, this is it! This is how we go about to choose destinations for our family holidays and our next destination will be…. San Francisco! Do you do the same? Where would you like to go?
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