A family holiday that’s interesting, fun for all ages, relaxing and has its share of adventures? With nary a tantrum in sight? Surely that’s an oxymoron?
Although as we scroll through our Instagram accounts and see beaming children and parents, delicious meals and beautiful shared experiences, we can’t help but think that travelling with the kids can be completely wonderful and full of new discoveries for the whole family to enjoy together.
Relaxing on holiday with the kids is possible - and so is a holiday that the whole family loves, from beginning to end.
Here’s everything you need to know before you plan your next family holiday so you can make the most of your precious time together with our tips and tricks on booking a break that will please everybody.
We have a feeling it’s going to be a good one...
Ryo Ohwada via Getty ImagesYou dream of Paris and its romantic bridges, they dream of EuroDisney and meeting Elsa. Like all successful ventures, family holidays are about compromise, and considering what your kids want to do.
"Get the kids involved in the planning of activities during the trip. It allows for everyone to feel considered and avoids tantrums along the way," advises award-winning family travel blogger and mum-of-three Carol Cain, of Girl Gone Travel.
It's a sentiment that Tim Meek, father of two and author of family travel books including 100 Family Adventures and Learning Outdoors with the Meek Family, wholeheartedly agrees with. Not only does allowing for spontaneity and giving the kids some responsibility about what to do and where to go get everyone excited, it also saves money on pre-booking packages.
His top tip? "Lose control! Let the kids make decisions about where to go, what to visit. Let them use the map/timetable/city guide to plan journeys, itineraries and budgets." And if that means ice cream for lunch one day - hey, no one's complaining.
Hero Images via Getty Images"One of the most important factors for organising a family holiday that is easily overlooked is the timing of the flights," says Erin Bender of Travel With Bender, who has visited over 65 countries with her husband and two children.
"While it can be possible to save by choosing a cheaper flight with multiple stopovers, the extra time on planes with kids sometimes isn’t worth the savings, and a quicker direct flight will save a whole lot of sanity."
Bender urges families to think about when their flights arrive in a destination as well, especially when there's a substantial time zone change.
"We find it’s best to aim at a flight arriving around 5pm. This gives us enough time to pick up luggage, catch a ride to the hotel, unpack (and possibly eat), before getting to bed. This is the single easiest drug-free way to avoid jet lag - an instant fun-killer on any family vacation."
Ilya Terentyev via Getty ImagesFamily travel is about learning just as much as it's about having a good time, a philosophy that travelling pro Tim Meek subscribes to. He encourages the idea of trying out a Family EdVenture, a mix of education and adventure that's based on the idea that often the best experiences are shared experiences, and travel is the perfect vehicle for rich, yet affordable, quality family time." His top tips for making it work for everyone?
1. Adventure can be anything! Don’t get hung up on what adventure means, just do something that excites, interests, gives a new experience, pushes your comfort zone slightly. Just do stuff!
2. Education doesn’t have to mean dull, dry learning; learning can be a conversation with someone, sitting and watching, listening, drawing, filming, writing, following a passion… and much more.
3. Encourage boldness: Try to develop a child’s confidence to give it a go and not hold back when trying something new (activity/food/language). Praise the process (effort, determination) not product (end result) to help form a growth mindset.
nata_vkusidey via Getty ImagesAs anyone who's ever been delayed on a plane with a toddler can attest, running out of food is not an option. So don't.
"Always pack a snack, even if you don’t think anyone will be hungry. Someone, eventually, always is," says Cain.
While healthy snacks like fruit, wholegrain crackers and sliced veggies are always good, travelling is a time to relax the everyday regime a little. If sucking on lollies will soothe their ears during take-off and landing, or Haribo sour cherries are a surefire way to put a smile on your little one's face, pack them - and don't beat yourself up for letting the kids have sugar this once. Or twice. Or every day you've been away...
Noel Hendrickson via Getty ImagesThere are a wealth of amazing experiences right here in the UK, for those looking for an adventure closer to home. Car journeys can be a particular source of fun and family bonding as everyone sings along to their favourite songs together, plays "I Spy" or takes silly pics to immortalise the moment.
"If flying seems like too much of an expense, consider taking a road trip. It might take a little longer to get to your final destination, but all the stops along the way makes it fun and worth it. After all, it’s about the journey, right?" says Cain.
Images By Tang Ming Tung via Getty ImagesWhile family dining in a restaurant setting may seem like a great idea, younger children will struggle to make it through a dinner that starts at 6:30pm or 7pm and tantrums will ensue.
Take a tip from Angel Adoree, who swapped London life for a château in France with two young children (catch her on Channel 4's Escape To The Chateau).
"Eat your main meal at lunch. Eating out at lunchtime is ideal when you have small children and all over France, restaurants offer a menu du jour, which usually consists of two or three courses for exceptional value. Enjoy a leisurely lunch and take advantage of the good prices. It will also take the pressure off preparing a big evening meal or looking for a restaurant, which can be a bit of a chore if the children are tired after being in the pool all day."
For those travelling with their families to France, Adoree recommends staying in a gîte (self-catering accommodation) for a more authentic experience, making the most of the local markets and enjoying all of the free public spaces the country has to offer.
Digital Vision via Getty Images"If unable to find seating together for your family, consider calling the airline directly at the time of reservation. It is easier for them to accommodate you at that point than at the airport when most others groups might have already secured their spots," recommends Cain.
It's especially important to block your seats in advance when travelling with babies and toddlers... unless you'd rather let your hubby take over baby duty for the next six hours while you read a book and pretend you don't know who the screaming child belongs to, of course.
JLBarranco via Getty ImagesOne of the stresses about family travel is how sometimes it feels as though everything hinges on things working out perfectly: flights taking off and arriving on time, car journeys that aren't extended due to traffic jams and new activities going smoothly, with kids taking to swimming, cycling or skiing like ducks to water. Things don't always work out as planned, and that's OK: it's important for kids to know that their parents make mistakes and they can, too.
"Help youngsters understand that making mistakes is
important and part of learning," says Meek.
"Laugh off errors/getting lost/using the wrong phrase or word. Remember, failure is an important step along the
road to success."