The family holiday has a lot riding on it these days. As tired and over-stretched parents, we look forward to the chance to unwind, re-energise and spend quality time with our partner and kids. But many of us also want something more than just a simple break from the routine.
Adventures abroad aren’t just for footloose twenty-somethings: parents get wanderlust too. From the aquamarine lakes of British Columbia, to Thailand’s golden temples and the majesty of the Alps – the world is just as incredible as it’s always been. And having kids doesn’t mean you can’t get out there and experience it.
Yet travelling with children does add a whole other layer of responsibility – and potentially stress, if things go wrong. With careful forward planning though, many holiday headaches can be avoided. Follow these three straightforward steps, and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying the time of your lives.
Step 1: Avoid passport and visa panic
Weeks before you start asking yourself, ‘have I packed our passports?’ you need to ask whether your passports will be valid for entry.
Each country has its own requirements for visitors’ passports. For some, it’s enough that your passports stay valid for the duration of your stay; others ask for an extra period of validity. You might need a certain number of blank pages in your passport, or to have an e-passport (which all visitors to the USA under the Visa Waiver Programme now must). Remember that all your kids (including babies) will need their own passports, and may also need individual visas.
Visit the FCO website for passport and visa advice as soon as you’ve chosen you holiday destination and before you book. That way, you can avoid the nightmare of not having enough time to sort out your travel docs before you set off.
Bear in mind that the urgent passport services (either one-day or one-week) can get extremely busy at peak times, and you may have to wait a week or more to get an appointment.
Step 2: Choose your holiday with confidence
Booking a holiday in a far-flung place can be daunting. Who knows what really lies behind those glossy images and brochure spiel? Luckily, some conscientious local businesses and small holiday providers have got your back. Not only do they go the extra mile to protect you, they’re also committed to keeping your travel experiences authentic and personal.
Bristol eco-travel stalwart Sawday’s is your go-to provider for rural getaways. Many of their sustainable cottages, guesthouses and glamping options are in Britain, but they also offer holidays further afield in destinations such as Spain and Italy. Sawday’s cherry-pick their holiday places after a thorough vetting, so you can feel confident in the knowledge that they’ve visited every property in person. Many of their places are ideal for children – browse through their family friendly collection to find out more.
If you want to go further afield, i-escape offers a similar, ‘hand-picked’ approach to boutique hotels, B&Bs and villas, but with a worldwide selection. Also based in Bristol, this local business was proclaimed ‘Awesome for Families (runners up)’ in the 2015 family travel awards. Not content with offering a ‘with kids’ collection, i-escape has created an entire ‘with kids’ version of their website, so no matter where you navigate, you’ll only see information that’s relevant to families. The ‘detailed search’ option lets you get to the nitty-gritty of what you want – whether it’s restaurants within walking distance, kids clubs or rooms with cots.
For real family adventure in exotic places, look no further than Brighton’s Responsible Travel. This independent company offers once-in-a-lifetime tours from over 375 small operators – each one carefully chosen for their green and/or social credentials. Their buyer protection scheme and over 7,000 holidaymakers’ reviews give added reason to book with confidence.
Step 3: Plan ahead to stay healthy and safe
Safety is every parent’s priority, and holidays often involve risks you don’t encounter at home. It’s important to plan for healthy family holidays well in advance, so you can take the action you need to stay safe.
If you’re going to Europe (to a country within the European Economic Area), make sure each family member has their own EHIC card, and that they’re all in date. If any of you are unlucky enough to fall sick on your travels, the cards will give you access to state healthcare. You can apply online, and your cards will usually arrive within a week.
Sort out your travel insurance as soon as you book your trip, and make sure it covers all your planned activities. If outdoor/adventurous sports like horse riding, canoeing or mountain biking are on the itinerary, you might need extra cover.
Don’t forget to contact your GP or practice nurse at least two months before you travel, to find out whether you’ll need any jabs. The NHS website has more information on vaccinations, and is worth checking out for a wealth of great travel health tips.
Budget travellers: Look out for our tips for holidays on a shoestring, which we’ll be publishing later this summer.
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