Booking a family holiday has many mums and dads breaking out in a cold sweat. It’s not like it was in the good old days Before Children, where you just found a cheap hotel-and-flight deal and disappeared off for a romantic weekend. As parents, we start fretting about… well, pretty much everything. Do I need a separate room for the kids, will a travel-cot fit next to the hotel bed, are they really old enough for a walking holiday, do they need immunisations, is a kids club worth the extra cost…?
Being a very international family ourselves, we’ve done everything from UK stay-cations in rickety old cottages to no-holds-barred luxury holidays abroad. We’ve learned what works and what doesn’t, and most importantly, I’ve learned how to trick my other half into tasting the Stage 2 baby food at airport security.
Without further ado, here are our top picks for planning and booking your family holiday…
Best for Activity and Adventure Holidays with Kids
iExplore is a fantastic website which brings together activity holidays from 20 trusted travel brands like Thomson and FirstChoice. You’ll find walking and cycling holidays in some of the most magical places in the world, boating and sailing trips, adrenaline filled holidays for those of you with fearless kids, and more laid back cultural vacations too.
Their search engine is incredibly easy to use, so you can quickly narrow your search to holidays that fit your budget, lifestyle, and the sort of activities you enjoy. They also have a very clever Share tool so you can share your search results and not just the individual holidays with other members of your family.
All of the holidays listed have a recommended minimum age, and there is a little tick-box to restrict the search to vacations available during the school holidays.
We love using the Holiday Matchmaker, or “The Inspirator” – it uses your answers from the short questionnaire to find the best holidays for your ‘type’. According to iExplore, I’m a ‘Holiday Hedonist’ with eclectic tastes, and it’s suggested some really intriguing and surprisingly family friendly holidays including an Icelandic Northern Lights Adventure, a visit to the UNESCO site of Ait Benhaddou in Morocco, and a wildlife safari in Namibia. Nice!
Best for Luxury Holidays with Babies, Toddlers (and children of any age!)
Tots Too is simply the best there is. Unlike many of their competitors, Tots Too are not a third party booking site – their team actually handpicks, visits and reviews each and every luxury holiday destination listed on their website. They know the places inside and out, and having kids themselves they can offer excellent advice on what will (and won’t) work for your family.
They’ll take care of everything for you in advance, including a very handy “before you go” checklist.
When choosing the right holiday, you can either just phone them up and ask for advice, or browse their site first to see what takes your fancy. Their search engine has a filter for all those things that make your family holiday feel stress-free like kids club, crèche, children’s meals, and short-haul flights.
Aside from the big luxury resorts like the Abama in Tenerife, Tots Too now offers beautiful, luxurious hideaways off the beaten path, like Le Mas Pandit in France.
Best for Wildlife & Safari Holidays
We love BushBaby Travel, a family run holiday company specialising in wildlife holidays in South Africa. Their holidays offer something out of the ordinary, with everything from big game safaris to bug walks with the local rangers, and of course some time in the sun. Even if your children are too young to join the safari, most if not all of the lodges listed on their site offer childcare. And if you’re worried about scary malaria tablets, all of the holidays they feature on their website are in malaria-free areas.
You can read our interview with Abi here.
Best for Low Cost Holidays
Hmm, yes. Guess what, Lowcostholidays are a clear winner here. It’s worth noting that they have threatened us with legal action for daring to link to their website, so you will have to go and Google it yourself.
While they don’t offer the same level of personalised advice-from-a-fellow-parent service as some of the others, they do have a enormous range of cheap holidays and low cost travel extras, and a nifty filter so you can refine your search by family friendly, number of children, and max cost per person.
We’re also loving the new Groupon category, Groupon Getaways. As with the other Groupon vouchers, you have to just lurk around the website waiting for a suitable deal to appear. To be honest, waiting for a discount holiday to pop up for somewhere you’ve always wanted to go can be a little frustrating, and tricky if you’re trying to plan in advance or are restricted to school holidays….
But when the deal does come up, wow. We’ve seen offers of 70% off on family friendly holidays, so if you’re flexible, it’s worth signing up for the alerts.
Best for Self Catering Holidays
Self catering holidays don’t need to feel like a downgraded vacation! With babies and toddlers, having a self-catering cottage can mean genuine relaxation for mum and dad. They will have plenty of room to play, you can bring along your little BabyCook Blender to make mealtime easy and stress-free, and chance are you’ll be have more space and an actual bath so your little one can stick to his normal bedtime routine.
Best for Holiday Parks and Resorts
Before we had children the idea of going to a Holiday Park filled us with dread, but now that we’ve seen how much energy these little fellas have, we’ve changed our tune!
Butlins seaside holiday parks have everything you’d expect in terms of children’s entertainment, activities, rides and child friendly beaches, but surprisingly they also have ‘proper’ restaurants and – gasp! – a spa. They’ve also thought about pretty much everything for babies and toddlers to make it easier for mum.
For fun family holidays we also love Disneyland – whether you nip over to Disneyland Paris for the weekend, or splurge on Walt Disney World in Florida, Disney really have got it sussed. You don’t need to spend a fortune – there are often excellent special offers to.
Just looking for accommodation?
We’ve recently discovered LateRooms.com, a discount hotels specialist, and are so pleased we did! We love how you can search by attraction (e.g. hotels near the Alhambra in Granada), and the little “how many adults and children” drop-down box that makes it easy to choose rooms that will actually fit your family.
We’re obviously intrigued by the Secret Rooms page, a clever little tool where you can book 4* and 5* UK Hotels with deep discounts… without knowing which hotel you’ve landed until you’ve booked. We’re getting up the nerve to give it a whirl…
Care to share your favourites too?
If you’ve had a great experience booking a family holiday, please leave a comment below with your recommendation! Please feel free to tell us about specific family friendly hotels, toddler friendly beaches, cycling holidays for kids, and travel essentials.