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Citizen Enfants

How To Plan A Great Family Getaway

Take the stress out of arranging a family holiday with some clever, but simple planning strategies. 

It’s the holy grail of travel once you are a parent: the perfect family holiday. The trip where everyone is happy, you all get to have fun and of course make those all-important ‘special memories’.

But planning a trip with children of any age can be stressful and sometimes overwhelming as you try to juggle the requirements of adults and kids. Here, Citizen Enfants Editor and mum-of-three Morag Turner shares her top tips and advice on how to plan a great family getaway.

Location is key

It’s the number one thing to consider when you are travelling with kids: where is truly the best place to take them. Pre-kids your dream holiday might have included gorilla trekking in Rwanda or sailing around the West Indies, but with little people in tow, are those still the most viable options? The realistic answer is no. Of course, they are in theory possible, but if you don’t want your two weeks out of office to turn into a gruelling marathon of endurance, some destinations are best left until your offspring have passed their GCSEs, or are at least out of nappies.

This doesn’t, however, mean that adventure is off the table completely. It is entirely possible to have an exciting, fulfilling experience with your children. You just need to do a bit of prep and enlist a little more help. Book with specialists who can put together a package that meets your needs, depending on the age(s) of your kid(s). That could be an excellent kids’ club that allows you to enjoy a spa session while the children try their hand at pottery and pizza making; child-focused city tours; or family tennis lessons.

Don’t rule out something all together more adventurous like a safari or island hopping, it just needs to be planned with kids in mind and tailored slightly. Book with the right people and you’ll be able to create a dream itinerary that ensures everyone has a great time and, crucially, get time to relax. Speak to the likes of Scott Dunn, Original Travel and Stubborn Mule who are all well versed in all manner of bespoke family holidays.

Focus on the Facilities

If you have very young children, it’s often better to book for the hotel, rather than the destination. When your kids are under five, how much sightseeing are you actually going to do? Venice with a buggy is just not a good idea. Instead, find great accommodation that really meets all your needs, and with hotels considering families more and more, you’ll likely find a great offering in a destination you want to visit. Family-friendly hotels the world over are reinventing how to enjoy a holiday with kids. It’s important to think of a check list of seemingly endless yet practical tips, including how far is your room from the beach; is the room/ suite large enough for a cot or extra beds; excellent room service so you can relax on your balcony/suite while your baby sleeps; transfers with age-appropriate car seats; and, kiddie-kit like high chairs and sterilisers in plentiful supply.

These are the things, along with varied children’s menus and engaging kids’ clubs, that really make a difference and are the key to parents getting some much-needed downtime. So while one five-star beach resort might seem just the same as the next in a similar type of location, ask yourself if that really matters or if great facilities and a child-friendly atmosphere are in fact much more important than proximity to unique architecture or bucket list level sightseeing (at least when you have younger children with you).

For reliable and seamless five-star family service check out the Ikos Resorts in various locations across Europe, the Sani Resort, Forte Village in Sardinia and the Seven Pines in Ibiza, as well as our regularly updated Citizen Enfants family travel column with the best family friendly resorts and hotels.

Explore all the Childcare Options

Consider your childcare options carefully. It’s completely acceptable to want to have some grown up time to relax and nothing to feel guilty about. Looking after young children is both wonderfully fulfilling yet simultaneously totally exhausting: parents need and deserve a break while on holiday.

Check into a hotel that has a regulated (often by UK based Ofsted) or accredited kids club, creche or babysitting. There are so many and a quick internet search will help you find them in your chosen destination. Or consider booking through a trusted UK tour operator who can offer recommendations.

If you are staying in a villa then booking a nanny might be a more convenient option. One Fine Stay, Scott Williams and Plum Guide all offer that service. Other useful sites include Vacation Nannies, The Travelling Nanny or Little Ones who can arrange for a nanny to travel with you. If you’re skiing, speak to the experts at Meri Nannies who have been working with parents across France and Austria for over 20 years. Or if you already have a trusted nanny, ask if they would like to come with you and work part-time, giving them the chance to explore the destination when not on duty.

How far is too far?

There are parents who think nothing of taking their newborn on a 24-hour flight to Sydney and then there are those who balk at the idea of short haul with little ones. There is no right or wrong answer, but weigh up if a lengthy journey is really worth it, or is there a nearer alternative that will remove the stress of long haul with a very young child. If you have your heart set on somewhere far flung, then preparation is key. Ensure you have all the necessary kit for a longer journey to make the process smoother. Gadgets like the Tommee Tippee GoPrep Formula Feed Maker Kit that lets you make up bottles on the move. And check out apps like Timeshifter that can help you adjust your kids to different time zones. Alternatively, park the long haul adventures while your kids are very young and explore other similar options closer to home. Swap the Maldives for a beach break in Oman or ski in Austria rather than Colorado.

If you can’t face a long journey with children then remember there are some truly excellent family resorts and hotels in the UK. For all out luxury head to Gleneagles (know as the ‘glorious playground’ as there’s so much fun to be had), The Lakes by Yoo in the Cotswolds, the Mole Resort in Devon, or one of the excellent Luxury Family Hotels such as Fowey Hall in Cornwall, or the freshly renovated New Park Manor in the New Forest. There are plenty of options that are packed with activities for families, offering five-star service and, crucially, are only a few hours away by car or train.

Timing matters

Timing can be everything when travelling with children. The early start you took in your stride pre-kids won’t seem so easy in the departure lounge at Heathrow at 6am, cajoling exhausted toddlers or sleep-deprived grumpy teens. Wherever possible, travel at reasonable times of the day. Short haul flights over a baby’s nap time so they snooze on the plane or a journey that gets you there before it’s dark so your children feel comfortable in new territory and you’re not attempting to get your bearings in a foreign country in the pitch black. Arriving at a large hotel at midnight isn’t that tricky. Trying to find the key safe for a villa in the middle of nowhere is much less pleasant with over-tired little travellers.

Book In Advance

While it was fun to fly by the seat of your pants before parenthood, the joy of being spontaneous is quickly outweighed by the stress of not knowing if your plans will work out once you are travelling avec enfants. Remove the worry and hassle by booking as much as you can in advance. From the valet parking at the airport and the transfers to the late check out, take satisfaction in the confirmation email arriving in your inbox well before you leave home. Either do your own research or make use of your concierge to book everything from beach club reservations to boat trips. Also, be aware that just because a hotel has a kids’ club, that doesn’t mean you can simply rock up and wave goodbye to your little ones. Some need to be pre-booked or a space won’t be guaranteed. The same goes for babysitters. Make as many arrangements before you go to maximise your time relaxing while there.

Invest In the Right Kit

There are so many helpful and innovative products on the market to make travelling with kids so much easier. Be that parent who glides smoothly on to the flight with a clever pushchair that folds up and fits neatly in the overhead locker. Check out the Bugaboo Butterfly or the Joolz Aer for cabin approved buggies that fold up instantly to fit in the overhead locker. Combine this with a practical changing bag that has all the compartments and features your need when packing for a flight with a baby. Storksak and JEM+BEA are great options. Above all travelling with young children requires keeping things streamlined as possible. Whether it’s a plane, train or car journey, getting the basic kit right is a game changer.

Keep Kids Entertained – and Well Fed

As any experienced globetrotting mother will testify, you can never be under-snacked when travelling with kids. Choose food you know they will like and pack more than you need. The same goes for all forms of distraction. From colouring books and crayons to comics and games, carry plenty of entertainment for those with shorter attention spans and your journey will be more pleasant. A pack of UNO cards should be metaphorically glued to your passport. And of course never underestimate the power of everyone’s favourite digital babysitter: the iPad. While no one wants their kids to be transfixed to screens, if there was ever a time to hand over mummy’s phone willingly, it’s a flight or a long train journey. Switch on Peppa Pig, feel thankful for technology and read a magazine in peace. Just remember their headphones too.

Pack Smart

Pack well and travel as light as possible. Lay everything for everyone out on the bedroom floor and then try to remove half of it. Do they really need a different swimsuit every day? And all those shoes? Nope! Be ruthless. “Consider a capsule holiday wardrobe for each child,” says Anna Bromilow, expert stylist and mother of three girls. If it all co-ordinates, it’s easy to throw together outfits, and if, no, when certain items get covered in ice-cream there’s always else something that matches. So many hotels and villas offer laundry services too so you can always call on that if you need to. Look for travel size options for kids’ toiletries too. Child’s Farm, Little B and Spots and Stripes all have great little kits. Packing cubes are an amazing way to make the process smoother, as is getting each child to carry their own hand luggage (look to NERE for the colourful suitcase options). A cute little personalised backpack from My First Years or a little wheelie case from Koko Blossom are the ideal way to encourage them to take charge of their own carry on and its contents.

Adapt As Your Kids Grow

As kids get older the faff of buggies, purée and nap times become a distant memory. But planning a trip with tweens and teens comes with its own challenges. Suddenly buckets and spades are replaced with gadgets, but there are plenty of ways to have a super holiday with older ones too. Focus on their interests and book hotels with something to offer them too. Be it water sports, golf, tennis or arts and crafts, there are tons of great hotels that run activities for kids of all ages that they can do with their peers or their parents. Super sporty families should check out Neilson for trips packed with things to do in and around beautiful Mediterranean beaches. Or check in to the likes of the Peligoni Club or Marbella Club that both have oodles of activities as well as plenty of hang out areas for teens and family-friendly restaurants. Plus, these are five-star luxury properties that parents will be thrilled with too.

At this age, city breaks are back on the agenda, but even the most culturally literate youngsters are unlikely to want to wander around galleries and museums all day. Try clever tricks like asking them what one or two things they would love to see while there and make a beeline for those. This might not be your dream experience, but once kids feel their needs have been met, they are much more likely to willingly visit something their parents fancy seeing. Book tours and excursions that are designed to entertain and engage children and teens to ensure they aren’t bored by subjects and conversation that is over their heads.

Above all, include older kids and teens in the planning of any trip. That’s not to suggest that they should have the final say on big holiday decisions, but discussing and deciding as a family makes them feel much more considered and valued, helping everyone to get on board with and feeling excited about the trip. After all. a family holiday should cater for, well, the whole family.

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