Mums' Holiday Guide
If you've ever wondered what the secret to organising the perfect family holiday is, then this handy new guide is just the ticket.
If it sometimes feels like organising a holiday is just one big headache, you're not alone. At HomeAway.co.uk we surveyed over 1,000 mums and found that more than half of you find planning family holidays to be a stressful experience.
To help take some of the stress out of planning your next holiday, we've combined our own expert knowledge with feedback and comments from real mums to produce this guide to making your holiday easier in every way.
Click here to download our Mum's Holiday Guide
It's brimming with top tips to help you plan your holiday, enjoy it to the full and then relive those happy holiday memories upon your return home:
Planning your great escape - getting the family involved
As a family, decide on a short list of destinations and limit the number to three or four. Set the kids a challenge to go online or get travel guides or books from the local library to do a bit of research about each destination. Encourage them to look at what activities and facilities are on offer and make a note of those that could be of interest to each family member.
Once you've completed your research, discuss the best options, take a family vote to reach a decision and use the opportunity to get everyone excited about the holiday. Once you've reached a decision, encourage the kids to research the history and culture of the area, which adds an educational element and helps you plan what to do when you arrive. Older kids can download useful details to their MP3 or iPod before you set off, as many travel websites now feature downloadable guides. Or they can simply print off details or bring along useful books or guides they've found.
Deciding where to go
The good news is there are plenty of destinations out there that can satisfy the whole family's needs! HomeAway.co.uk offers over Error: number_of_properties is not defined fantastic holiday homes in over 100 countries worldwide, with a huge variety of locations and accommodation.
Our experts have come up with some brilliant suggestions of destinations that can cater for the whole family. They're broken down into sections based on the types of holiday most families look for, to give you some ideas. For more inspiration our family friendly holiday ideas page is also a good start.
Deciding where to go: sun sea and sand
Further north on the Costa Calida, the resorts around Cartegena and Mar Menor offer warm, shallow waters that are ideal for families with small children, as well as easy access to the world-renowned golf resort of La Manga, where it is also possible to stay. Finally on the Costa Blanca, the Alicante region provides a good range of both busy and quiet resorts. If you fancy an alternative to Spain but still want those blue skies, the Algarve and Costa de Lisboa in Portugal are firm family favourites too.
The Algarve is especially appealing to golf-loving Dads, as it is home to many championship courses and top-class resorts. Albufeira and Vilamoura provide particularly good beaches, entertainments and excursions for families. Closer to home, the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of France are home to many fantastic, well-established beach resorts with plenty of family-friendly activities on offer.
The Atlantic coast is a more reasonable option, providing rugged scenery and great water sports conditions; try La Boule in the Western Loire, La Rochelle and Royan in Poitou-Charentes and Biarritz in Aquitaine. The Mediterranean offers warmer, calmer waters and a more laid-back vibe. Try somewhere along the coast of Languedoc Roussillon for a cheaper alternative to the Riviera, or if budget isn't such an issue, try Saint Tropez, Cannes, Antibes or Nice. For a quieter option, Theole-sur-Mer and Villefranche-sur-Mer are wonderful, providing attractive towns and ports, safe beaches and a more tranquil atmosphere. If you're on a tight budget and are looking to try somewhere new, Bulgaria is a brilliant option, offering excellent value for money plus an abundance of cheap flights and family-friendly coastal resorts.
The 378km of sunny beaches on the edge of the Black Sea are separated by fishing villages, secluded vineyards and romantic peninsulas. The beaches are safe for children, with no currents, gently sloping beaches and blue flag accreditation. If your kids are a little older and you fancy somewhere different, Croatia and Montenegroare often overlooked when it comes to Mediterranean holidays and Montenegro is one of this year's hot new destinations. In Croatia, head to the Dalmatian Coast, while in Montenegro, base yourself in one of the towns around Kotor Bay or along the 'Budva Riviera', which boasts 12km of sandy beaches. If the kids need persuading, let them know that Montenegro is where some of the latest James Bond movie was filmed!
For those who prefer to avoid the hassle of flying, don't overlook good old England, Scotland and Wales! Not only does a holiday closer to home provide an eco-friendly and low-stress option, but our coastline is home to over 130 Blue Flag beaches. A Blue Flag acts as a guarantee to tourists that the beach or marina they are visiting is one of the best in the world. Visit the Blue Flag website for a complete list of accredited beaches in the UK. Pre and Post Summer Sun – February, May & October half terms Southern Europe is still a great option outside the peak summer months, providing warm, pleasant weather. The south of Spain and Italy, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Malta are all good options for pretty much guaranteed sunshine.
Slightly further afield, the Atlantic coast of Morocco is home to some delightful beach-front towns including Essaouira, Agadir and Tangier. Easyjet and British Airways both offer some great value flights to Morocco, making it an affordable option for some out of season sun. Cultural and Historic Destinations If you want to add a cultural element to your holiday, Europe provides a multitude of options; from famous cities to entire regions steeped in history, scattered with ancient buildings, towns, villages and more. Paris, Barcelona, Venice, Rome, Lisbon and Prague are some of the most popular cities, while all regions of France and Italy provide fabulous settings for a cultural break, offering plentiful historic sites, villages and vineyards, all set in sensational countryside. Particularly popular regions include Aquitaine, Languedoc Roussillon and Provence in France, and Tuscany and Umbria in Italy.
Further afield, Marrakech in Morocco, with its stunning skyline, enchanting atmosphere and rich history, is another great option for a holiday combining culture with a spot of sun. For an active, fun-filled family holiday, you can't beat the Disney theme parks! Orlando in Florida has become one of the world's top family holiday destinations thanks to its vast collection of theme parks including not only Walt Disney World, but many others too. However this isn't just a dream holiday destination for the kids; Orlando also has a great array of golf courses, beaches, parks, and shopping centres.
Disneyworld Orlando Florida A holiday here also provides great value for money too. Not only will things be cheaper once you get there due to the strength of the pound against the dollar, but the accommodation is second to none. Villas in Orlando provide everything you could possibly need on a family holiday; not only are they extremely spacious and luxurious in the most part, but many also provide private pools with Jacuzzi's and even large kids games rooms too. In addition, there are many with five or more bedrooms, so they're great if you're travelling with extended family or friends. However, if you don't want to fly the family to the USA, don't forget there is now also Disneyland Paris, which is just a short hop across the channel by Eurostar.
Stay in the park itself or rent an apartment in Paris city centre to enjoy both the glamour of the City of Lights and the sparkle of Disney. Rural Retreats If your idea of holiday heaven is an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, why not make a break for the countryside? A base in the country will offer peace and tranquillity so you can really relax and unwind, while at the same time providing the perfect backdrop for a huge range of outdoor activities to the keep the kids occupied. Rural Retreats The Lake District and the Scottish Highlands in the UK boast some spectacular scenery and numerous adventure activities, while inland Andalusia in Spain has some of the most diverse landscapes in Europe.
Finally anywhere in France and Italy is a good option as both countries are world-renowned for their splendid and diverse countryside. Intrepid Travellers Those with a sense of adventure, older children and slightly larger budgets might want to venture further afield or try somewhere a bit more exotic. Egypt enables families to combine a break in the sun with a spot of culture, while South Africa is a popular option for safari tours, with its dramatic landscape, abundant wildlife and very handily, no jet lag! Thailand and Bali also combine all the elements that make a great family holiday with a completely different culture that will be a fantastic experience for older kids.
In our survey, a massive 88% of Mums said they preferred self-catering accommodation over hotels for a family holiday, and it's no surprise. Self-catering accommodation provides more space, more privacy and complete flexibility when it comes to mealtimes, which is a great advantage with kids. It leaves you free to eat in, or to sample the delights of local restaurants. It's also a much better option for larger families. How often have you struggled to find suitable, affordable hotel accommodation if you're a family of five or more?
Thanks to the many Brits who now own holiday homes abroad, these days there is a huge variety of self-catering accommodation to choose from worldwide and it's never been easier to find the perfect place for your holiday. The internet allows you to pick and choose from thousands of options, from city centre apartments, to villas with pools and incredible country retreats. Here are just some of the different options that are ideal for family holidays:
- Villas with private pools - Often the top of the wish-list, a villa with its own private pool means no more fights for a sun-lounger and parents can relax by the pool-side, while kids wear themselves out splashing around all day.
- Resort apartments - Great for those on a budget or with small children. Shops and other local amenities are usually right on the doorstep so there's no need for a car, but you still have the benefits of separate bedrooms and living space, and kitchen facilities.
- Farmhouses or farmhouse apartments with pools - Farmhouses are great for a relaxing, rural break, most often found in peaceful settings in beautiful countryside, but within driving distance of the local town or village. Find one with a pool to keep the kids amused on days in.
- City centre apartments - If you're taking a city break with the kids, consider renting an apartment instead of paying for a pricey central hotel. Not only will you get more space and facilities for your money, but you'll also enjoy a more authentic experience.
- Unique properties - such as converted mills, cave houses and even churches! Usually found in beautiful countryside settings, these can be a great base for a unique and memorable break.
As well as choosing the type of accommodation to suit you, it's a good idea to check the facilities on offer, as these can make a big difference to the enjoyment of your holiday. Some key benefits of renting a holiday 'home' as opposed to staying in a hotel are that the property will be much better equipped, plus many owners can organise a whole host of other services too. Particularly useful things to look out for, or ask about include:
- Properties with a maid service and/or dishwasher to reduce the burden on mum.
- Properties with a washing machine, so you don't need to pack as much.
- Places with a BBQ, to encourage Dad to do some cooking!
- Places with hot tubs or Jacuzzis. These are great for parents to unwind in when kids have gone to sleep and kids usually love the novelty too.
- Places with TV and DVD players. In case of rainy days, or if you want to have a quiet night in and keep the kids entertained.
- Inflatables, games, toys, books and bikes. Many holiday homes have a great selection of additional items you might need for the holiday, meaning you won't have to bring them with you.
- Additional services such as welcome packs, supermarket shops, babysitting and meal delivery companies.
Packing like a pro
The destination has been chosen, the accommodation has been arranged so just sit back, relax and dream about the impending holiday? or so you thought. It's now time to snap into action - packing is where the hard work kicks in!
Here's our handy check list to help you remember all the essentials:
- Passports. Check everyone has one, knows where it is, and that it's in date. Many countries require at least six months left on your passport before letting you in, so check this in plenty of time. If you are travelling outside the EU, check to see whether a visa is required and leave yourself plenty of time to organise one.
- Insurance. Whatever type of holiday you're taking - whether it's a package deal or you've booked flights and accommodation independently, you should always get travel insurance. Don't forget to get your free Euro Health Card (EHIC) form from your local Post Office. This entitles you to free or reduced cost health treatment anywhere in the EU.
- Paperwork. Organise all of your holiday documents in to one main folder and then make photocopies of passports and insurance for each person to put in their luggage so you're prepared if these items get lost.
- Clothes. While it's a good idea to pack for every eventuality, this doesn't mean you have to take an entire wardrobe! One waterproof, one jumper, one pair of trousers and trainers will suffice in case of bad weather on a summer holiday, for example, then a few key staples to see you through. You do not need a completely different outfit every day for each family member. Let kids pick out some bits they want to take, then pack half!
The Mums in our survey also wouldn't dream of going on holiday without these handy items:
- Toiletries - wet wipes and tissues can be a lifesaver when travelling with small children!
- Mobile phone charger and plug adaptors.
- Digital camera, plus charger.
- Things to keep the children entertained on the journey (see our top tips below).
- A small first aid kit (plasters, insect repellent, antiseptic cream and painkillers).
- Sweets to chew or suck on the plane journey, or earplugs to reduce pain.
- Sunscreen and after sun.
Finally, another Mum's top tip was: don't get too stressed about packing. As long as everyone has their passport and tickets, if you do forget something you can usually buy it at the airport or at your destination, and most of the time you'll find you didn't really need it anyway!
Have your baby products delivered direct to your rental
Why not buy all your baby and toddler holidays essentials on line and have them delivered to your holiday destination awaiting your arrival?
An online baby travel specialist such as bebe bel.co.uk can organise this for you, reducing your holiday stress and preparation. If you buy online from their extensive range of UK baby products, inclduing sun protection, swim wear and beach toys, the products will arrive via UPS to your destination even before you do. This handy service will save you excess baggage charges or hunting through foreign shops in search of your favourite brands.
A second tip is to rent all your children’s favourite toys and safety items such as bed or stair gates for a happier and safer holiday. Bebebel provides a rental service in the Almeria region of Spain. For all other areas see the Baby Equipment Hire Association.
Some top tips from mums on preparing and packing were;
- To enjoy your holiday, start preparing passports and other important information two weeks prior to leaving the country. Lay clothes out on each bed so you can easily see what you're going to pack.
- Don't pack too much; the less gear you take the better, and often you don't really need it. Kids don't care if they wear the same clothes three times, and if you are really desperate you can always buy items whilst away!
- We vacuum pack the whole family's clothing, towels etc.., so we only need to take one large suitcase.
- Split clothes between all cases so everyone has something to wear if a case gets lost.
- Put coloured ribbon (all the same colour) on suitcases then they're easy to locate on the carousel and it will keep the kids amused looking for them.
- Tip for mums taking newborns/ young babies away on a plane; give them a bottle of milk/drink to suck during take off and landing. This really helps their ears and reduces chances of screams and cries.
- Keep your packing checklist for that dreaded return journey home. Tick off each item as it is packed again to ensure that nothing is left behind.
- I get everything together and then my husband packs the suitcase. He seems to think he can do a better job, so I let him!
De Stressing the journey
In our survey, it emerged that the journey to and from the holiday destination was by far the biggest cause of stress. Luckily, the mums we spoke to had learned from experience and have come up with some brilliant ideas for keeping the kids entertained and making that journey go smoothly.
A few classic games to play on the journey can also pass the time, keeping you and the kids entertained. Try these out for size:
I spy – The original and still the best. Simple, silly and everyone can join in!
Over the Rainbow – Pick a colour - we recommend a reasonably common one, not “Wasabi Green” or “Mandalay Ivory” - and see if you can spot ten things of that colour as quickly as possible. Red car, red sign, red light, red shoes, red nose and so on.
Count the Cows – The name says it all for this game, so it's best played on country roads. Count the cows on your side of the road, and pick a time or numerical limit. But be warned, if you pass a cemetery on your side your opponent can shout “Your cows are buried” and indeed, you lose all your cows.
Top Tips From Our Mums
- An in car DVD player is a life-saver. Don't take loads of toys - you will get upset if they get lost and kids will make their own amusement on holiday and leave those toys right where you packed them, until the minute you arrive home.
- The beauty of travelling by car is that you don't have to carry anything. There is no chance of forgetting anything - in fact, you will probably pack too much which is fine too!
- I get a surprise present for them for the plane as it keeps them occupied. Travel games are great for this, as well as crayons and a colouring book.
- Take blow up neck pillows so children can sleep, portable DVDs with ear phones are excellent.
- Have a bag of cheap items (pound shops are good for this) all wrapped up and just produce another goodie from the bag whenever they start getting bored. Our daughter had loads of fun unwrapping each little novelty and she was as good as gold for the whole ten hour flight!
- My tip for travelling with young children is to prepare a rucksack each with loads of new games, puzzles, crayons, paper, music, snacks and drinks to keep them amused. We once travelled for 19 hours door to door to Utah in the U.S.A. with friends and four children aged 6 - 9 and had a really stress free journey as we had done this.
- A fifteen meter roll of aluminium foil costs £1.50. The foil can be used to create sculptures, such as birds, dinosaurs and egg cups. If each meter keeps a child entertained for half an hour, you have a while until they start getting bored!
Quality time - Making The most of your holiday time together
Despite the stress that many of you experience planning your holiday, most of you really enjoy your holidays once you are there and said that you rarely row. In today's busy world, a holiday together is a rare chance to spend some quality time with your family and re-establish important bonds, away from the day to day hassles of everyday life. Unless you're very lucky, you only get to do this once or twice each year, so make the most of it!
Take it in turns to decide what to do – One way to make sure that everyone enjoys their holiday is to let a different person have their own 'day', where they get to decide what to do for the day. Taking it in turns to decide what to do is definitely a top tip from the mums in our survey:
Cook up a treat together – When you do 'eat in', encourage the children to get involved by helping you pick enticing ingredients from the local market so you can prepare some dishes that are typical of the country you are in. This will be both informative and fun for them, plus you get a helping hand!
Make time for play-time – The Mums in our survey estimated that on average, they get under two hours of quality time together as a family each day when at home, so after chores and homework, there's limited time left to simply relax and play with the kids. So make the most of the extra time on holiday to be silly together and create those funny holiday memories you can look back on and laugh about. This could be as simple as splashing about in the pool with a bat and ball, or could involve something altogether more inventive!
Relax the rules! – Finally, relax! The beauty of being on holiday is the lack of a set routine. As long as your children are safe and sound, relax the usual rules and leave your everyday problems at home. Holidays are meant to be a break from your usual routine and the more relaxed everyone is, the more you'll enjoy your time together. If you're staying in your own villa or holiday home, it's much easier to let the whole family amuse themselves without having to worry about who's doing what all of the time.
Top Tips On Using Your Holiday Time Well
- We get a guide on the area we are visiting and everyone puts forward what they would like to do. Then when we get there we decide what would be the best day to do each thing so everyone gets something out of the holiday.
- We organise our holiday so that we have a day doing something the children want, a day doing what we want and then a rest day for everyone rotated regularly over the two weeks.
- Have fun together. Relax, de-stress, chill out and remember time is precious.
- Take lots of different musical instruments and all try to learn at least one of them. Last year we had a flute, a banjo, penny whistle and harmonica!
- I relish family holidays as times for us to sit around and read, play cards/ games, generally muck about and relax.
- We hired a villa in Mallorca for two weeks. It was so stress free; coming and going out when you like, sitting round the pool until bedtime and your children doing what they want, when they want. None of the hustle and bustle that comes with package holidays. Bliss.
- I have learned not to worry if my son wants to eat pasta every meal time or stays up beyond his usual bedtime. It is, after all, a holiday for all the family not just the parents. Kids are so much fun so lose the stress and enjoy!
Treating yourself - It's your holiday too!
While you are in your little slice of paradise do not ever make the mistake of missing out on 'me' time. Yes, it's a holiday for your kids, it's a break for your partner but don't forget that it's all of the above for you as well.
Take the grandparents for a helping hand – The ultimate pampering idea is to have constant help at hand - so take the grandparents! This will give you time on your own, time with your partner and time with more of the family.
One Mum commented, "We took my parents on holiday as a treat to them and they helped out with the kids. We didn't worry about the kids because they were always in our sight. Everyone was content - my parents spoiled me and my husband by cooking evening meals on the barbecue and getting the kids their breakfast in the morning. We were also able to go out at night on our own if we liked as my parents offered to baby-sit. We really chilled out! A villa is certainly the way to go for a relaxing holiday."
A villa or holiday home, with the space and privacy that they provide, is perfect if you do plan to bring the grandparents, or to share with friends and their children. If you like this idea, but would still prefer a bit of space, look for somewhere that has multiple properties on the same site; for example an apartment complex or a converted farmhouse with separate cottages.
Take 'DIY' spa treatments and set aside some 'me-time' each day – If the grandparents can't join you, there are other ways for you to relax. How about taking some of your favourite beauty products to pamper yourself with at bath time? You could also put aside one hour a day with no disturbances, allowing you time to delve into that book you've been meaning to start, swim a few leisurely lengths in the pool, or simply sunbathe in blissful peace and quiet.
Eat in during the day so you can spoil yourself with some nice dinners out – One of the great things about holidays is the chance to enjoy mealtimes together, but don't fall into the trap of preparing every single meal like you do at home! A key benefit of self-catering is that it gives you the flexibility to eat in OR out, so save money by eating at home during the day, so can you treat yourselves with some nice dinners out. Limit the cooking by stocking up on fresh bread, croissants, cold meat, fruit and cheeses etc? for breakfast and lunch, and let the family graze on whatever they like during the day and see to themselves!
In addition, if your accommodation has a BBQ, make the most of it! Even if Dad never goes near the kitchen at home, you can bet he'll be dying to fire up the BBQ and try his hand at being Jamie Oliver, so let him do the work for a change!
Make some time for romance, tea lights work a treat! – Just because you're on a family holiday, this doesn't mean there's no time for romance and some quality time with just your partner and you. Once the kids are asleep, make the most of your time alone. Even if you're just staying in, a balmy night, plus your balcony/terrace and some simple tea lights should be enough to set a romantic scene.
Coming home - Relive those holiday memories
It's time for one more holiday meal, one final walk together and then the journey back home. All too quickly, the holiday is over. Most of you come back from your holiday feeling refreshed and relaxed. What's more, time proves itself to be a great healer as over half of you are immediately ready to begin the task of planning the next getaway, but don't let the memories of the holiday you've just had fade too quickly!
Why not recreate the culinary delights you enjoyed during your time away in your own kitchen? This will inevitably lead to the children getting involved, reminiscing around the table and helping to prepare the meal. Who knows, without the BBQ facilities, Dad might even chip in!
Encourage the kids to help you put together a holiday photo album, scrapbook or collage. You can all gather around the table to pick out the best photos and then have fun getting creative together. Alternatively, after you've uploaded your snaps, you could get them to help you with an online album, as many sites now provide the facility to do this, and then you can share it with family and friends too.
Finally, get them to write down their thoughts on the holiday; this could either be included in a scrapbook, or posted online as a review on a travel website to help others. Like many travel sites, HomeAway Holiday-Rentals now has an area where you can review your holiday. This is great for deciding on what to do next time and provides invaluable advice for other families trying to plan their next trip away.
We hope that our guide will help you plan the perfect holiday for you and your family, and ensure you enjoy it once you arrive too. Holidays are meant to be the best times of the year and a wonderful opportunity to spend some fun, quality time together as a family. There's no reason why planning a holiday should cause too much stress, so we hope you look forward to planning your next great escape!
Finally, we would like to thank all the mums who took part in our survey for their feedback and their top holiday tips - we couldn't have done it without you!