The beginner's guide to buying a holiday

You've finally worked out that you can afford it, you can find the time for it and you know you deserve it, but how do you go about choosing and booking that well earned rest? If you've never been on holiday with a child before be warned, it's still a holiday, but not as you know it. Get it wrong and you'll come back more exhausted than when you set off, so take a moment to think about your needs and what your family can manage before you get going. 

Do you want childcare?

The first decision is whether you want to spend the whole holiday with your children or whether you'd rather someone else looked after them for part/most of the time. This is a big decision and everyone has different views, so take some time to think about it. Both are equally legitimate - don't listen to the friends/relatives who say you're bad parents because you entrust your dear ones to trained staff for a few hours of the day; equally if you feel you never see your children and would relish some bonding time, maybe childcare isn't for you, though one reviewer warned: "Think seriously about having some childcare, even if it's just babysitting. Much as we love our little one, we came back from our first holiday with her totally exhausted - no sleep at night and no rest in the day. The next holiday we had five half days childcare and we came back fit and refreshed and she loved the creche." 

Holidays with childcare

Like food and accommodation, childcare quality varies from place to place. While noone can legislate for individual nannies, it seems that some companies repeatedly get better write ups than others. Look closely at the childcare scores and nutshell comments and remember that childcare is only worth having if it's high quality. You will not find peace if you're wracked with guilt about leaving your kids in some understaffed madhouse where the nannies don't speak their language:

If possible, look at ratios of carers to children, and the times the childcare operates: "Beware of shifting nap patterns when booking creche and nursery times in advance, ask if there's a chance of changing the times if your toddler has changed her sleeping habits."

Do the children have lunch with their carers or with you? Check if there's a special early dinner for kids and if there is, whether you are obliged to have it. Some companies don't allow children to dine with the rest of the adults, which may not be what you want if you haven't seen them all day.

Unfortunately the best childcare doesn't always come with the best beach/accommodation/food etc - so you need to weigh up what's going to have the most positive impact on your holiday. If it doesn't really matter to you if your child doesn't like (and therefore won't go to) the kids' club, or you only want them to spend an hour or so a day there, then you may feel able to compromise. If it's the single most important factor in you having a good holiday, then it's worth putting up with dodgy décor to achieve it.

Even the most child-friendly places don't take your kids 24 hours a day, so you will spend some time with the kids and hopefully you'll be so rested you'll be happy to build sandcastles/play football/read books in the time you have together. If you do find you're missing them too much there's no law against taking a day off from the kids club, though the experience of many mumsnet reviewers was once the kids had settled in, they didn't want to leave. 

Catered or self-catering?

Hotels have that wonderful habit of transporting you away from the daily grind of washing up, shopping, cooking, making the bed, cleaning the bath. On the downside, your children may not like the food, you can't just rustle up a favourite snack and you may be self-conscious about the noise of a crying baby/tempestous non-eating toddler: "Try and anticipate what stage your child might be at by the time you go on holiday - we took a babe in arms to a swanky hotel and it was fine. We rebooked to go back six months later, by which time he was crawling, and it was chaos."

Self-catering with child-care facilities on site do offer flexibility, freedom and your own fridge, but do you really want to be doing a supermarket shop, meal planning and washing up on holiday? NB For self-catering holidays in our reviews, the food rating is for local restaurants. 

Activities or the simple life?

The all-singing all-dancing club-type holiday offered by Club Med, Sunsail, Mark Warner and even the five star Forte Village will doubtless have plenty to keep you occupied, but it may come with a holiday camp/communal atmosphere. This may suit you. If not there's usually somewhere you can escape to (heaven forbid, you could even leave the compound). If communal living isn't for you, there are still plenty of places that offer childcare without the full programme of sporting events and sociable dinners. Remember, if one of you loves to sail/windsurf/perform aqua-aerobics in the midday heat there's no law that says the other one has to join in. On the other hand if the din of the aqua-aerobics music is going to spoil your holiday - it's probably best to go elsewhere. It's really a question of what will suit your family best.
"I hate sailing, but my husband loves it. We went on a Sunsail holiday which I thought would be a huge sacrifice, but the children loved the Kids' Club, my husband loved his sailing and I read seven books (and I wasn't the only one lounging round the pool either!)" 


If you have any anxieties or queries, try and sort them out before you go. Pick the brains of the tour operator/travel agent, ask if they've visited the resort and see if they can recommend beaches/restaurants etc. And don't forget, if you have any questions or concerns from nappy/baby-food supplies to the best transatlantic airlines, you can always ask other mumsnet members on before you go.

For help on how to survive both the journey and the holiday, read our travel advice. Mumsnetters also qualify for various discounts with our travel partners: check our discount page for details of the latest deals.

Last updated: about 3 years ago