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Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes the ideal holiday. With various options to choose from including beach, city, skiing and staycations it can be hard to know where to start. As a family we usually opt for beach holidays and reserve the city breaks to an adults only break. This will start to change now the girls are a little older and they have a greater stamina. We have never been skiing but Hubby and I both know we would love it if we ever went. Staycations for us are reserved for visiting my Mum over in Wales. As we become confined to going away in the school holidays from September we may start exploring a little more of the UK.
Planning is key for a family holiday. Even last minute breaks are more planned that we think they are.
- Set a Date – If your dates are flexible then don’t worry about specifying them first off. If they are not flexible for whatever reason, then you can already narrow your search for available flights and hotels or villas.
- Set a budget – It doesn’t matter what your budget is just decide what you are willing to or can afford to spend on the holiday. Be realistic with this. If you want to stay in a 5* all inclusive resort in Greece during August then you are going to be looking at A LOT of money! Don’t think you will find that any cheaper by booking early or last minute. Supply and demand has a huge affect on the travel industry wether you like it or not!
- Choose the Type of Holiday – Whilst it is nice to have the world as your lobster when it comes to holidays, making a choice about the type instantly narrows down your search. That isn’t to say it isn’t ok to change your mind. For example we were looking at spending a week in Paris as a family. I had it all priced up ready to go. We are now going to Turkey for a beach holiday. This isn’t a problem really I have simply had to use my search technique more than I intended for this year.
- Length of Time – Deciding on the length of your holiday may help you narrow it down. Do you want to go to the Caribbean for only a week? With the inevitable jet lag perhaps that would be better reserved for a two week trip? If you can only afford a week maybe you want to do it anyway. Some destinations will have a minimum stay criteria which could potentially rule them out from your search from the start.
Why we don’t use high street travel agents…
For years we have used high street travel agents. Or at least we have tried to. It has been the same story every time we go in. We have an idea of what we want and what we want to spend. The travel agent recommends somewhere else. We go with it and get a little sucked in. They never have the accommodation we want. We leave feeling dejected and as if we are never going to find the right holiday.
You see, the thing is ,the high street agents only have the most basic rooms in all the hotels they have on their books. The exception to this is places like the Holiday Villages run by First Choice which is part of the same group as Thomson. They own these hotels and run them so they have access to sell all of the different types of rooms.
Now call us ‘Crazy!’ Call us ‘Unreasonable!’ But myself and my Husband do not want to go away for any length of time and have to share a room with our daughters. Unless by an unexpected occurrence we wouldn’t even do it for a night. They disturb us and we disturb them. They are not used to sharing a room with anyone and whilst they adapt to sharing with each other quite well, sharing with Mummy and Daddy seems a distraction too far. My body goes onto an even higher state of alert when I can hear every breath they take at night. For the sanity of all involved we need separate rooms. The high street can’t provide this.
After years of trial and error we have found that booking online or through a smaller travel agent is far more successful and often a lot cheaper. The websites find the best deals and the smaller agents are often in a good position to negotiate with.
Book in Advance
I’m not talking a couple of months in advance. I’m talking a year in advance. We had holiday to Greece a couple of years ago now. It was the best holiday we have ever had. We booked through a small online agent (they don’t exist anymore sadly) and they were unbelievably helpful. They even helped us get a bigger room, a two bed suite, for the same money we were paying for adjoining rooms. All we had to do was change our travel dates by 2 weeks and book it all 13 months in advance. Now those conditions are a little less realistic for us now but at the time we were able to do it and it saved us a fortune. Plus it meant we had 13 months to pay for the holiday.
Places like Virgin Holidays often run deals in the spring that mean you get extra discount on your holiday if you book then. We have booked a holiday in the past for the following June (14 months in advance) during this discount period and the discount was applied to the total cost. This meant we could either spend less of our budget or have a holiday upgrade.
The Best Travel Websites…
If you are happy to do the search yourself there are plenty of amazing websites out there to help. Some are comparison sites that find you the best deal* and some are online travel agents.
*These often have a commission structure set up with the sites they search through so they may not be as cheap as going direct to the website they recommend. The same goes when comparing on insurance websites.
Online Travel Agents
On the Beach – On the Beach have destinations available on all continents. They have some really good filter options too so you can make sure you only see places that will cater for your needs, including board basis, kids clubs and other facilities. This website also lets you be easily flexible with your dates and destination. If you don’t know where you want to go but are looking for inspiration you can search ‘All Destinations’. Or you can easily narrow it down to a continent or specific groups of places. Perhaps you fancy going to a Balearic Island but not Majorca, it is easy to construct that search on this website. If you want to go in July but your dates are flexible you can search for the whole month and it will find you the best deals. You can even sort your results by Trip Advisor review if you wanted.
Expedia – This is possibly one of the better known online travel agents. This site also has some brilliant filter options. It is also a great site if you are having a multi part holiday. Perhaps you need to change hotels in your trip or fly home from a different airport to the one you flew into. This is a great site for holidays that need to be adapted and personalised.
Sunshine – You have to be a little more decisive with this website and it likes to take you through everything step by step. You start by choosing your flights and then the hotel. You cannot go onto the next part without making a selection. There is a lot of choice though and you can still be flexible with dates to find the cheapest flights. That may not be the cheapest dates for the hotel though so be careful.
Online Travel Comparison Sites
These sites are brilliant for doing the leg work for you when it comes to finding the best deal. I would still recommend checking out the company you choose to book it through to make sure they have the relevant insurance including ABTA.
KAYAK – This site searches the prices on all the major online travel agents to find the best deal. If you sign in you can also get an extra 35% saving with private deals.
Travel Supermarket – This is a very trusted comparison site as a sister to Money Supermarket. They compare prices with all the big travel agents including Thomson and First Choice.
Trivago – This website is one of the easiest to use (in my opinion). The search itself is very basic but the website offers very good filter options to ensure you are only shown hotels that really match your criteria.
Independent Travel Agents
Scott Dunn – Scott Dunn Travel Agents offer global destinations. Their website is clean and easy to navigate. They even offer searches for specific school holidays if you are confined to traveling then. This agent is award winning, a BA preferred partner and a Gold feefo Trusted Merchant. This company knows how to do travel well.
Destinology – This luxury travel agent also offers global holidays for all travellers. The website also has a live chat so you can speak to someone whilst you are online if you need any help or guidance.
Mark Warner – I suspect most British parents have heard of Mark Warner even if they haven’t booked one of their holidays. They specialise in family holidays. It is what they do and what they know. My one criticism is that there is very little you can do online other than browse. If you want an actual price you need to phone them to speak to one of their agents. This isn’t a huge problem but as I am very comfortable booking things online and it is something I find more convenient. It also makes it hard to do a comparison if you don’t have the ability to adjust the holiday yourself and save your findings to refer back to.
Self Catering Properties
Air BnB – Is there anyone who doesn’t know about AirBnB? This site has taken the world by storm and for good reason. There is a property for everyone in every city. It has some great filter options for families. I am a particular fan of selecting ‘Entire Property’ as I don’t want to be in a property with my kids and a stranger (for obvious reasons). For even more ease you can select by area on a map and by price.
Owners Direct – Now I have a love hate relationship with this site. We have used it in the past and we may use it again. The positives of it are that they have a lot of really great properties on their books so you are never short of choice no matter where in the world you are going. The downside comes from the fact that they control an awful lot of the renting process. They dictate how much a property is worth, not the owner. The owner can put in a price range but then Owners Direct adjust it to their standards. Owners Direct are starting to charge owners a lot of money for this privilege so naturally the cost of properties is going up. You can only communicate with an owner through Owners Direct and any correspondence with a personal email or phone number is removed so that you can’t bypass their system. These don’t currently hugely affect the buyer and more the owner but it won’t be long before us holiday makers feel the ripples. Once you have paid (Owners Direct) then all personal details are passed on so that you and the property owner can ensure any questions are answered whilst you enjoy your stay (this was the case a year ago but I believe it may have changed). I personally know of two property owners that have removed their holiday let from this site in the last 6 months and I have heard that there have been many more jumping ship. Just be warned is all I’m saying. I contemplated not including it in this post but I have booked a holiday on the site before and it is very well known so was a difficult one to exclude.
Tots to Travel – This is one of the best websites if you are traveling with toddlers and you are concerned about their safety. They personally visit all the properties to ensure that it is safe and meets their requirements before they are happy to advertise it. Any of the main safety concerns for parents on holiday are covered here from access to the pool to sleeping arrangements.
My Personal Trick….
Once we have decided what type of holiday we want I get to narrowing down my selection. I will explain how we came to book our beach holiday for this year to give you a good idea.
I initially price up all the First Choice Holiday Villages as they are really good for kids. Also because they are all inclusive as standard I don’t have to worry about hidden charges. The accommodation at all their sites is also what we look for in a holiday room so I know I don’t have to worry too much about the room layout.
Once I have a good guide price for our length of holiday I go about trying to beat it. I use the holiday villages as a bench mark because I know if they are the best for our money we would be happy to book it.
This time I used On The Beach to search for alternatives. I enter all the traveler details and the airports I prefer to fly from. I didn’t select a specific destination but I narrowed it down to the European/Turkish resorts as we are only going for a week and we didn’t want to go long haul. From here I then filtered the results further. 4/5* resorts, suitable for families, all inclusive and by the beach. I didn’t select ‘kids club’ because the chances are we wont be using one for this holiday. We have used them in the past and we love them, of course we may change our mind when we get there but it isn’t currently our intention. I selected dates that I thought we wanted to go but these were very easily changed.
For us it is the available accommodation that will make or break our decision. I have spent so much time in the past looking at all the facilities of a hotel, deciding it looks and sounds amazing only to find out that we will be all bundled into one ‘family room’. Now I will open up all the possible options into new browser tabs (see the keyboard trick below) and go through all of them reviewing the accommodation first. If the accommodation suits I leave the tab open. If it doesn’t I close it. Then I go through the hotels I still have open in more detail to see if it offers the whole package for us. I usually only spend 30 minutes narrowing our selection right down and getting to a position of being able to book the holiday.
This whole process used to take hours and sometimes days when we used high street agents and reviewed the hotel details before the accommodation. This may not be the thing about the holiday you are most worried about. Perhaps your concern is the food. This trick still works but in that instance you would check the information on the food first and then decide if you shortlist or delete a holiday from your choices.
Mac Keyboard Trick…
This is really quick and easy to do: if you have a Mac you can quickly open multiple tabs by clicking ‘command’ then the mouse pad on each link. To quickly close the tab click ‘command’ the ‘W’. I’m sure there is a similar trick for Windows machines but I don’t use one so I have no idea.
I hope this has been insightful! Let me all know what your favourite holiday destinations are.