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 Your Budget
This is the most basic issue. Before you start it is a good idea to calculate how much you have to spend and then whether a particular holiday is likely to cost slightly under that. A little slack is usually a good idea in case of emergencies and allows for a treat at the end if not otherwise needed.
Budgeting Your Holiday
The following is designed to give you a rough outline of what needs to be included:
|?||Per Head||Per Day||Total|
|Tour Operator Cost||?||? ||?|
|Breakfasts (may included with accommodation)||?||?||?|
|UK Transport to and from departure point.||?||?||?|
Worth factoring in to the cost of self-catering might be the cost of regular takeaways or meals out so that you don't have to worry about cooking.
There are significant differences in local costs depending where you are. A mile taxi trip in Tunisia might cost £2, but on the Costa del Sol nearer £12. While a meal out in Corfu might cost around £6 a head, the price in Florida might be nearer £16. This is particularly worth remembering if you are going on a last minute bargain and are aiming to keep everything as cheap as possible.
Note that big resorts can appear cheaper but the entertainment laid on for children like merry-go-rounds, amusement arcades, souvenirs and more, can make a serious dent in the budget.
Different holidays come at different prices and the options are basically as follows, in approximately increasing order of cost:
- A House Swap One of the cheapest options and probably preferable to visiting friends or family unless you know you will get plenty of support. There you may end up feeling obliged to help with chores, but get no extra help with the children.
- Camping including the ready-erected variety which may well be successful even for those who don't consider themselves camping material. This is especially true if you pick one of the warmer destinations and/or a mobile home rather than a tent.
- Staying in Hostels - increasingly family-friendly, practical, and well priced.
- Holiday villages have a lot more laid on in the way of entertainment and a range of accommodation standards.
- Big tour operator holidays to big sun resorts are extremely keenly priced. Unfortunately operators have by now learned most years to match what they offer much better to the number of holidays they are likely to sell. This means that the supply of cheap, last minute holidays is unlikely to be what it once was. As a result you get what you pay for. Cheap will usually mean small rooms or self-catering units, often noisy, well outside any centres of interest, and generally in properties of 200 units or more. Food will be nothing to write home about.
- Self-Cateringis the main option offered to families. This has the advantage of major savings on children's soft drink and ice cream bar bills. However, you will either have to do your own cooking or spend on eating out. Note also that in popular resorts food shopping is unlikely to be a bargain.
For more interesting though generally more expensive options, try one of the smaller specialists. These usually offer a higher standard of accommodation and/or particularly attractive and/or offbeat locations, plus the possibility of extra services like cleaning, cooking and babysitting.
The less well know the area, the better value for money the property is likely to offer. Getting there may cost more than to better known destinations, but not if you take somewhere served by a low cost carrier [Airlines - database].
- All-inclusive holidays [Family Resorts] are increasingly popular with those wanting to budget carefully. These do mean that you know in advance exactly what you are spending and there can again be significant savings on children's bar and snack bills.
However, if the food isn't good ( a real possibility), you are stuck with it. If you pick one which really doesn't suit, you can end up spending more than on a non-inclusive holiday, eating elsewhere and even hiring a car to get out and about more.
Possibly more useful would be somewhere including a decent breakfast buffet in the price, but leaving you free to eat out later.
- Bed & Breakfasts can be an excellent choice for families, though for the better ones adults can be paying £30+ per night in the UK. On the other hand this is a particularly good value option in France and increasingly available in countries like Australia, north America, as well as other European countries.
However, those which don't offer an evening meal can be a nuisance if you have children to put to bed, and you would be well advised to go for somewhere with space outside for running around.
- A Hotel booked direct generally means you can pick a smaller, more characterful hotel which offers exactly what you want, where you want. However, it takes some research to find good options.
Unless you splash out on a large room or even suite, the room itself can feel claustrophobic, encouraging you to go out and spend more money during the day, and leaving you cooped up whenever the children need to rest, and potentially in the dark or stuck in the bathroom at night if you want to have light while they sleep.
If you will be requiring specific services such as bottle warming, a high chair, etc, you should get confirmation in writing that these will be available. If the kitchen closes at 10pm you could find nobody is willing to warm a bottle for you. High chairs are all very well but if there are only two in a hotel with 100 rooms, chances are you won't get one when you want it.
In addition, unless you go for somewhere relatively expensive, and often not even then, you will not get decent sound insulation. For parents this is generally less a question of disturbance from next door and more a question of worrying about when next door will complain of the child howling at 2am. Despite all this, hotels are usually expensive, especially in high season.
On the other hand, especially with older children, a hotel can be a dream option, especially if it's big enough to provide plenty of entertainment and potential friends. Children love sizing up the breakfast buffet, eagle eyed for extra treats, even more they love the multiple tv channels in the bedroom, the freebies in the bathroom, and even better for both them and their parents, the fact that they really can treat the place like a hotel and someone will tidy up after them without complaining. Especially fun though is room service, playing at being grown up and being rewarded with food for doing so.
How to Get Better Value
- If you are wanting a mainstream resort, you will pay less booking through a tour operator. Going to a smaller/specialist operator you might end up paying 10% more but in return may get extras like private transfers, possibly an office on the spot and almost certainly greater knowledge of the options when you make your choice.
- If you want something a bit different, away from the better known destinations, booking direct may be cheaper .
- Travel outside the school holidays is of course cheaper. However, if you are holidaying in the UK you need to budget for at least some poor when you can end up spending a small fortune on visiting local attractions. The cost of these can add significantly to the cost of the holiday, often making it more expensive than somewhere in the sun.
- Unless you yourself are a theme park fan, save on visiting the bigger ones until the children are old enough to appreciate what they are getting. A day out for a family of four can cost at least £100 at the big names so if you feel a craving for the type of experience, go for one of the smaller ones first. Around seven is when children start to get value for money out of the bigger names and can enjoy most of the rides. Although very little children may believe in the reality of the characters they see wandering around, unless the parents enjoy the experience as well, it will be a trial.
- Go for somewhere away from the coast - where you always pay more - but with a pool, which suits many children better than the beach.
- If you want a kids club you could cut costs by going for somewhere with a lower standard of accommodation - young children won't mind.
- If you aren't planning to spend much time in your rooms, don't book a room with a sea view or balcony if that is going to cost extra.
- Lood for a good breakfast buffet included in the price so you can save on lunch-time food.
- If breakfast will be charged extra think about buying something from the local bakery instead.
- If you are going to be self-catering take some basics with you from home and enough to tide you over for a couple of days until you have located the best value places to shop.
- If you are working to a real budget avoid places with video machines, including cafes, or make it clear that there is a set spend on them per day. This is an issue on ferry crossings, most of which include them, as do a number of airports.
- Look for accommodation easy and safe walking distance to major attractions such as the beach. Transport, whether public or by hire car, will add to the expense.
- Avoid eating anything out of hotel mini bars which are invariably over-priced.
- In self-catering check if electricity and gas prices are included in the price. If so in colder countries this will probably be high to cover generous use. If not in warmer countries such as Italy note that off season you may need significant levels of heating and electricity is not cheap.
- Don't make advance bookings for anything you can arrange on the spot. Wait until you are there before you decide what you are likely to enjoy most. (If you want protection against anything going wrong, book through your tour operator. If you feel confident that it will be fine, booking through the hotel or a local organisation is usually cheaper.)
- Look out for special local deals for example on family tickets on local attraction passes.
- Pack light. You will be able to use more public transport to get to your destination instead of hire car or taxi, and won't have to pay for a porter.
- Ask for a discount - with a smile in your voice. Almost no-one pays standard (rack) rates unless there's a shortage of rooms. Big European cities like Paris and Rome can suffer this but elsewhere, and particularly if there is any kind of recession on, a discount may be available.
- Ask for special rates. Airlines, car hire and rail companies all operate special deals to encourage business but may not tell you about these unless you ask. Variants include discounts for booking ahead, for travelling midweek/staying a Saturday night, for booking a larger party, plus discounts on upgrades. Last minute bookings may also qualify for a discount but this is probably not something you want to gamble on if travelling with children.
What's Worth the Extra Money?
- If you can afford it most parents prefer somewhere with a separate sleeping area for the children so the adults can stay up and chat or read after the little ones have gone to sleep. You might like to consider staying somewhere less expensive so you can afford this extra space.
- You might also like to consider going for somewhere a little less luxurious but offering more in the way of help, even if it is just end of holiday cleaning for your apartment. It will help you go home feeling more relaxed.
(updated 16 April, 2006)