On the road again…a family holiday
The difference between an ordinary holiday and a great one can come down to good planning. Kate Atherton looks at the logistics of making a family holiday unforgettable for all the right reasons.
There’s nothing better than a memorable family holiday, but if you don’t plan ahead, travelling with children can be a recipe for disaster. Whether it’s a good old fashioned road trip or a fly/drive holiday to a more exotic destination, with kids in the picture, it pays to be prepared.
The road trip
One thing you will notice if you are on a road trip with children is that there is a good reason places like McDonalds are successful at attracting families on the road! With sheltered playgrounds, clean toilets and half-decent coffee, it’s tempting to pull in after a few hours of driving.
But if the weather is good, a few sandwiches in a picnic basket will save you some money as well as give your children a great chance to burn off some energy at a new playground.
What about using technology to make your journey easier? CD players, MP3 players and even DVDs in some cars - can prove an entertainment winner, but if you have the energy, the old favourites of ‘I spy’ or colouring books are still winners.
A quick hunt online for ‘car travel games’ came up with many good suggestions I’d never heard of – from verbal games, to printable car games such as bingo and scavenger hunts to mark off.
With kids, booking ahead is probably the best advice – even for a caravan park. On a recent campervan holiday, we didn’t think it necessary to book in advance just to connect to a bit of power at our preferred park.
With the trip taking longer than expected, we arrived at the site in the dark to find it totally booked out – not even a tent site available. It made it a very long night as we hunted for the next available park. Just because it’s not school holidays doesn’t mean it won’t be busy – particularly on weekends.
Choosing the right accommodation for your family is essential - apartment hotels, resorts and caravan park cabins can be great options for families, depending on your needs.
Some upmarket hotels don’t offer the ‘family basics’ such as DVD players or stereos, so it can be costly buying in-room movies for entertainment (around $15), and the movies may not be suitable for children.
Staying at a five-star hotel recently, the only kid’s movie available was Charlotte’s Web (which we thought was just a little advanced for our youngsters) and it was $30 (ouch) to hire a DVD player to play our own movies.
Just about all apartments, hotels and resort have great websites that list in detail the features of every room. These are well worth studying to ensure they meet your needs.
If you have no intention of cooking on holidays, then a bar fridge will be all you need. But if you plan to eat a bit of breakfast in the morning before doing some sightseeing, then an apartment with a kitchen can take a lot of hassle out of preparing for your day.
Medina apartment hotels also offer other family friendly options such as toy boxes, colouring books and crayons, as well as a pantry service – meaning you can have a fully stocked pantry on arrival (one way to avoid having to duck to the shops when you arrive late with hungry kids).
Medina also reports demand from families for its in-room laundries – saving families money and time at the local Laundromat and meaning you can pack less.
The cheapest flights are often those with super early departures (a 6.30am flight means you need to arrive at the airport before 6am), late arrivals (grumpy and tired children is not a great way to start a holiday), or stopovers may add considerably to the flight time.
Depending on your family’s routine, it may be worth playing with departure dates or paying a little extra for flights that will play less havoc with your children.
Factor in how long the flight will take and what meals you will need during that time. The serving of meals during a flight can be a great time killer and distraction for kids.
Domestically the so-called low cost carriers - Virgin, Jetstar (and Tiger Airways launching in the market in November) - require you to either bring your own food or pay for it on-board. Buying food for the entire family can be quite costly – so again factor this into the ticket price.
Also be careful to check that what is advertised on the menu (usually on display at check-in) will actually be available on your flight. We discovered on a three-hour journey that the entire menu was not available and there were few options remaining that were both plain and nutritional.
If you’re doing the fly/drive holiday, make sure the vehicle is big enough to fit your family comfortably.
‘Nothing is more frustrating for a travelling family than to rent a car on price, only to find that it is not big enough for them and their luggage,’ Hertz told Australian Family magazine.
‘It is even more frustrating on peak holiday periods, when demand is high and it can be difficult to find a larger vehicle at short notice. When travelling with families, especially over a long distance, a larger is car is often a better option.’
Hertz says the latest model Tarago with seating for eight is very popular with families and groups, with growing demand for more seats also seeing the introduction of the seven-seater Ford Territory for hire.
Taking a break
Having a break from your children may be a key part of your holiday plans.
Some resorts offer childcare services (you may need to book in advance). Hamilton Island for instance has a great age-appropriate kid’s club, pram hire (but it is cheaper to take your own) as well as toy and book hire (great idea).
Babysitting is also often available at many hotels and apartments, again often needed to be booked at least 24 hours in advance.
If your children are comfortable with childcare, consider local occasional care services at your destination. Even some country towns may have occasional care, a great opportunity for you to have a break and for your children to play with new toys and new friends. These will need to be investigated before you even leave home to see what’s available, what forms need to be filled out, and whether you need to take immunisation records.
Knowing in advance what’s around to entertain kids can make for a smoother, easier holiday – but it can be just as fun to just ask the locals about the best places for kids… feeding the ducks, walking trails, adventure playgrounds.
Don’t forget the local libraries. Many local libraries allow you to become a member to borrow books and magazines for free, while some also run children’s activities, book reading sessions, or free school holiday programs.
- Children under two years fly free (domestically). So grab the chance to travel while they’re still free!
- All airlines vary with what extras you can take for children, but most allow you to travel with a pram for free. Virgin Blue, however, considers all extra infant items (pram, portable cot, car seat) to equal 5kg in total of an adults’ 20kg baggage allowance – a great bonus for families if you need to drag extra stuff along.
- Car seat hire is $8.80 a day with Hertz, capped at $61.60.
- Port-a-cot hire varies (rarely free). Apartment hotel group Medina charges at $5 a night (bargain), but it can be up to $20 per night.
- Look for apartments with DVD or video players. Most local video stores will allow you to become members to hire movies (while some Medina apartments actually have a DVD library).
Consider the following Accommodation options:
Big 4 Holiday Parks. Some are more resorts than caravan parks, many with kids clubs and super child friendly activities.
Medina apartment hotels (21 locations nationally). Loads of space, and fully self-contained.
Paradise Resort, Gold Coast – hard to go past this kids’ haven with family rooms and extensive kids’ clubs.
by Kate Atherton
This article was first published in Australian Family Magazine, October 2007.