Thinking it Through Making the Choice
The Underlying Choices
Weather and Seasonal Issues
What Children want
What Parents want
Making the Booking
Practicalities Thinking it Through Childcare
The instinctive reaction of most parents is that this is an integral element of what they require from a holiday, regardless of what the children think. However, success here relies in large part on it being what the children want as well and it is worth considering the practicalities before you shell out.
Places with childcare almost invariably come at a price. The cheaper ones tend to be grottier. Note that just because a hotel offers a kids club does not mean that it is genuinely child-friendly - or that the club is any good.
The first step is to work out whether full-time care, occasional breaks, or just company for your children is what you need. Even if you want a break from your children, you may find that, especially if you both work, your children regard a holiday as time when they want to spend time with you. You may be able to persuade them otherwise for short periods. Not for nothing is the kids club in some resorts dubbed the Nookie Club.
Occasional operators offer a personal nanny but the most popular form of extended care is in kids clubs, offered by a handful of operators [Operators Offering Childcare). Although extremely useful if you want a break, and ideal for gregarious children, this is expensive and standards in other areas like food and accommodation seldom match up to those of the care.
This is an option for parents who want to see a bit more of their children but get a bit of a break. It is generally only for children of at least four plus, and child to carer ratios are not always all they might be. For details of options see [The Major Operators] and [Operators Offering Childcare]. This is less expensive than full-time care but you will still be paying for it, even if officially free.
A Family Destination
If all you need is company for your children, you can make considerable savings by simply picking a destination popular with other families. They need not even be English-speaking families. If your children are young enough (roughly under seven) they will be able to play with one or two other foreign children, though they might find it harder with larger groups.
Broadly, anywhere with a pool in school holidays is likely to see families with at least one school age child. However, you need to be aware that much younger children can be intimidated by teenagers (who can sometimes be careless of them) so it can be helpful to check ages in other parties before booking.
Smaller operators [subscriber database] are often good at telling you whether other families have already booked at a specific property or say in the case of [sailing holidays], on a specific cruise. Alternatively they can will check with a hotel for you.
If all you need is the occasional night's babysitting, a good operator should be able to organise this for you. Where relevant this is indicated in the [subscriber database].
Sharing with Friends or Family
If you want a break from your kids but don't want to have to pay for it, you can consider holidaying with people you could share childcare with. One option is to self-cater with another family, friends who don't have them but like children, or with relations, notably grandparents.
Issues to Watch For
These are particularly important if you are friends with other parents who might be coming, separately from their lives as parents, so you have not had a chance to see their parenting in action.
- Child discipline and manners ,particularly at meals, and this includes with grandparents.
- Child timetables, particularly regarding bed-times.
- Attitudes to noise levels, particularly in older people as children can get very irritated by continual demands to keep quiet.
- Consider a trial weekend a good time to firm up a joint set of expectations and rules.
- Make sure you are working to similar budgets and go for financial division of everything equally from the deposit onwards because fairness over money is important in keeping everyone happy.
- Make sure there is advance discussion of any expected exchange of childcare/babysitting stints, particularly with older relatives who may be looking forward to spending time with you.
- Arrange in advance what toys you are going to be taking in order to get a wide selection which can be shared. But avoid prized items which are likely to be fought over and those (like felt pens) which in the wrong hands could cause expensive damage.
- Beware couples whose relationship appears to be in trouble. A second family may be invited simply to shore it up.
- Don't do it at all if you think the stress could harm the friendship as does happen.
- Remember that just because the parents get on doesn't necessarily mean the children do, even if they are of appropriate ages. (Children who have experienced similar parenting styles seem to become friends most easily.) Children quickly develop a pecking order and this can create tensions in the parents.
- Consider taking adjoining self-catering properties rather than one large one. This means socialising can be restricted to whatever is comfortable, particularly in bad weather when children can be difficult. It also means a crying child can't wake all the others in the night and you can get away from the other lot's children when they get to be as irritating as other people's children usually are.
- If not taking separate properties, consider looking at least for separate bathrooms. Bathroom habits seem to be a particular cause of trouble.
- Try to take your own cars so you can go off as separate parties when you feel like it.
Providing Childcare for Each Other
If you are travelling with just two adults, it is an excellent idea to give each other spells off childcare duty for relaxing.
Inviting a Friend of Your Child's
Particularly if you have an only child you may like to invite along a friend for company. Similar tips apply as when sharing with another family. Try a trial weekend first. Lay down the ground rules and reach an agreement with the other family on what is allowed and how (and if) costs will be shared.
Attitudes to Children
Picking somewhere where children feel welcome will go a long way to making a success of the holiday, to a degree limiting the need for childcare for example during meals out.
A rough rule of thumb is that the further east and the further south you go, the more child-friendly places are likely to be. Proving the rule is Scandinavia which is very child-friendly and smart hotels aimed at westerners can be unfriendly, wherever they are in the world.
The disadvantage in those countries where children are considered fully paid up members of the human race is that , special child entertainment is rarer than say in the UK. That means the waiters will be tolerant of squeaks and shrieks and mess, but you are much less likely to be able to park your children in a childcare centre - unless the resort caters to northern tourists.
Travelling with children in less developed countries can be rewarding as a child opens doors which would otherwise remain firmly shut. Children humanise otherwise distant Westerners and locals can be pleased to find that your children and theirs will play happily together.
The most obvious multi-purpose choice for families of most ages and as good as childcare if yours enjoy everything the beach has to offer. Tire them out there every day and you might not need much else.
Places With Kids Entertainment
Kids entertainment from merry-go-rounds to aqua parks and video arcardes are available at destinations of variable sizes in northern Europe, north America and southern European resorts catering to northerners. That includes a number of European mountain resorts (not as hot as Mediterranean beaches so possibly more suitable). Elsewhere expect for the odd exception such as the more populous parts of Australia for example, you shouldn't rely on there being anything too much. (By the same token neither can you expect much for children in any cultural attraction, including museums.
(updated 15 April, 2006)