Just the package

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Organised holidays, too naff? Not always. Operators have a growing range of packages geared to families; from the most adventurous tour to relaxing holiday clubs. Letting someone else do the legwork for you will ensure your holiday is worry-free – as long as you make the right choice.

We are not always willing to battle the logistical constraints involved in planning and mapping out a trip, or to struggle with the language barrier and public transport upon arrival, especially with nagging kids in tow. And some adventure activities, like dog-sledding or a camel safari, are nearly impossible to plan on your own. In these cases it may be tempting to put yourself in the hands of a professional. Typical organised tours are not at all suitable for children (long hours spent on a bus charging from one tourist attraction to another). But you should be able to find just the right thing in the many travel brochures designed especially for family holidays.

Most of the major tour operators propose family packages, which balance cultural visits with fun activities, and unusual means of transport (donkey in Croatia, camel in India, bamboo raft or tuk-tuk in Thailand) with more conventional methods (bus or 4WD). They may focus on the environment, nature and local culture, or on adventure activities like cycling or canoeing, while catering to the needs and interests of children of all ages. Many operators offer customised packages. On a group tour you will enjoy the company of like-minded parents and children. Or you can go in the other direction and have all the fun of travelling independently (no group or guide), but minus the hassle of having to organise everything yourself (the agent arranges the itinerary, reservations and transfers). Whether your children dream of trekking in Nepal or photographing animals in Kenya, or see themselves as explorers in the land of the Mayan Indians or as archaeologists in Pompeii, specialist agencies will help you devise a trip that is safe and comfortable. But beware: peace of mind comes at a price! Discounts are usually limited for children. The smaller the group (for guided tours), the more customised the package, and the more adventurous the activities, the higher the price.

Things to check
When choosing a tour operator, look for one that specialises in family travel, rather than one that’s simply willing to allow kids to tag along. You want activities and days planned with children and their abilities and limitations in mind. You should also check that the operator has a good safety record. Glean as much information as you can on the means of transport and the catering, the comfort level of the accommodation, the size of the group and age of other participants, and the precise itinerary, to see whether the trip will suit your particular family. Sometimes the trip depends on the number of participants and is not guaranteed; in this instance the tour operator is obliged to let you know a certain number of days in advance. Find out about any extra costs (for optional activities and visits, etc) and any potential administrative formalities.

If you are heading to the sun, a stay in a resort may offer a good solution. For certain destinations like the Maldives, it is sometimes better value than if you go it alone. True, you won’t get much cultural immersion and it is hardly a big adventure, with little chance of playing at Robinson Crusoe. But you can make the most of being waited on hand and foot, which has a certain appeal when you really need a good, solid chunk of time out.

Make the right choice
From the worst (uncomfortable beds, cloudy water in the pool, kids’ club with no real surveillance) to the best (a variety of activities, the latest sports equipment, luxury facilities, good service), in the resort world your accommodation can be a lucky dip. There is any number of very average establishments, which is why it is worth spending time choosing the right one. Study current reviews on the internet to expose any hidden catches or charges. And ask yourself a few pertinent questions:

Is there suitable equipment for very small children (bath, changing table, high chair, bottle warmer) provided in the bedrooms? In communal areas? Are there strollers available? Do you need to reserve one in advance?

Does the restaurant cater for little ones (kids’ portions, purées)? Some places have a children’s restaurant.

Is there a kids’ club (often there are several for different age groups)? Is it open all year or just during the school holidays? During which hours is it open (some operate just in the morning or evening)? Is it included in the price?

What are the organised activities (fun, educational)? What qualifications do the staff have?

Is there a babysitting service? How much does it cost?

Find out, as well, about the resort’s clientele. Is it very international? Does it attract many families (important if your children are to make friends and gain a little independence, and if you are to feel you and your offspring are welcome). Find out where the hotel is situated in relation to places of interest and public transport, and if there are is the possibility of booking private excursions or renting a car. A sure-fire way to add a cultural element to your resort experience is to drag your family out of the resort for a wander.

Costs vary dramatically for resort stays. Brochures help to give you some idea of cost and facilities, but it’s worth searching the internet for discounts and last-minute deals.

All-inclusive deals can work well if the variety and quality of food is good. Some resorts include alcohol and snacks, but there’s no industry standard. If you’re not going the all-inclusive route then you’ll probably have more choice about what and where you eat, but resort food is generally expensive.

‘Bring the kids for free’, or ‘kids eat and drink for free’ offers pop up frequently. Conditions usually include paying full price for two adults. When kids eat for free you usually need to purchase a (possibly overpriced) meal yourself.

Look out for combined deals offering accommodation and excursions: this is a good way to mix relaxation and exploration.


Reproduced with permission from Travel With Children: The Essential Guide To Travelling With Children, 6th edn.© 2015 Lonely Planet. To purchase a copy of the book, please visit www.lonelyplanet.com

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