How to plan a family holiday

09 March 2020

Family on holiday

Planning the perfect family holiday doesn't come easy. There are about a million things you need to take into consideration: flights, baggage, food, hotel facilities, and the dreaded question: "Are we nearly there yet?" Thankfully, Mumsnet users have the best advice on how to seamlessly plan a family holiday.

14 questions to ask yourself before you go on holiday

We teamed up with TUI to ask Mumsnet users for their top tips for planning a family holiday. We then gathered these gems into the handy checklist below – ideal to prevent (almost) any holiday-related disaster.

Before you book

Before you hit the shiny 'book now' button, ask yourself the following:

1. What times are the flights?

mother and baby on a flight

Choosing a cheap 7am flight might seem like a grand idea when you book, but do you really want to wake up at 3am and trundle to the airport with exhausted toddlers in tow? Sometimes a later flight is worth the extra money.

“An 8am flight time sounds good on paper, but remember you'll need to be at the airport for 6am, so up at 4am. Is it worth the tears and stress?”

“Sensible flight times are key. Getting the kids up at 2am for a 6am flight and having to keep them up hours past their bedtime can result in very tired, whingy children. Travelling with them will be a right pain.”

“Nowadays I want a flight that leaves between 11 and 1pm and then returns around 7pm, so that I still get a decent 'last day' of my holiday.”

2. Are we sitting together?

mother and daughter on airplane

Although you might have to pay a little extra to choose your seat allocations, it is worth it. It's also wise to check that you're not the furthest possible point away from the toilet (on short-haul flights, usually the middle of the plane), especially with younger bladders.

“It's important to make absolutely sure you're all sitting together. I've made that mistake before.”

3. Should I bring a buggy?

child with buggy in paris

Hotter climes mean tired toddlers, so consider taking your pram along with you. If you take yours, you'll need to call the airline ahead and check their policy. Some airlines will let you put yours in the hold (in addition to your baggage) free of charge.

Double-check with them on this – you don't want a surprise charge in the midst of all the other airport stress.

Bring a buggy bag with you for it to travel in, and consider insuring your pushchair. Airlines are generally liable for damage to a certain degree, but – especially if it's an expensive pram – some extra coverage won't go amiss.

“Take a buggy if there'll be a lot of walking – the heat knocks them out.”

“Take a pram for a three-year-old – it's worth the extra hassle at the airport.”

“Bear in mind where you're going in terms of taking a stroller or not. In some countries, the pavements are too uneven to push one with ease.”

TUI allows pushchairs and car seats in the hold for free. You'll usually be able to use your pushchair in the airport and then give it to the gate staff before you board, but do confirm this at check-in

Watch our video on how to plan a holiday

4. How long will it take to get from the airport to my accommodation?

child annoying parent in the car

That remote hotel might look less glorious after a few hours in the car with some tired, bored children.

“The one thing I wish I’d known before we booked our first family holiday was: don’t make the travel from the airport to the hotel/villa too long. We had an hour or two the first time and it was so much for them. Next time I’ll be looking for something a little closer, hopefully only a short cab ride away!”

“I look for a hotel which is a short drive from the airport – travelling is stressful enough up to that point. The hotel might look blissful – but if it's four hours away from your airport, it'll make for a tough journey either end.”

TUI's hotel listings say how long the transfers will be so you don't have to look it up yourself

5. Should I book all-inclusive accommodation?

hotel buffet

For many parents, having all-inclusive accommodation makes a real difference. You'll know exactly how much you'll be spending before you go, and won't have the hassle of planning or sourcing meals.

“We've got two young children so go for the all-inclusive TUI Blue resorts. They're not the type of holiday we did pre-children but having a family they make everything so much easier. You can just relax and enjoy the time together.”

“For me, choosing an all-inclusive is a no-brainer! I love not having to say no to an extra drink or ice cream, or a new meal after something new is tried and disliked. It makes the whole holiday so much more relaxing for all of us. I think it represents brilliant value for money, too.”

“We have two children under five and prefer to go all-inclusive for food purposes. So if they don't like something you can just go up for something else. Our eldest loves being able to get his own ice cream as and when he likes without being told there's no money.”

“I discovered the joys of all-inclusive later on. It's great for fussy eaters as they get to choose for themselves, so are more likely to eat.”

6. Should I book self-catered accommodation?

supermarket

On the other hand, self-catering might be worth the extra hassle if you're a savvy shopper and can do it for cheaper. You'll know exactly what your children will and won't eat, too – always a plus.

“I love being self-catered so that I can get everything in and don't need to spend a fortune on food that they'll only pick at.”

“We like the freedom of self-catering.”

“Order a food shop to be delivered if you can.”

7. What facilities do I need?

woman in hotel swimming pool

A pool? Wifi? Are there highchairs? A changing table? A travel cot? Make a list of must-have facilities, and double-check their availability before you book.

“I think getting the facilities right is everything. My family loves a pool so I try and make sure we get that.”

“Having access to a washing machine makes family holidays so much easier to pack for.”

“My top tip is to always research child facilities at a venue. Are there high-chairs, travel cots and bottle warmers for little ones?”

“Find accommodation where you don’t need to leave to do everything. Some stuff should really be on your doorstep, eg a pool/playground/beach.”

“Are there kids' clubs, and, if so, what ages are they for? My two were separated last year as they were in different age groups, so I picked one this year where it was better-organised.”

“I have teens. We need wifi! They're really up for going out and sightseeing and we often spend long days on our feet, but we need downtime too. For the teens this means going online, watching videos, posting photos, and reconnecting with friends back home.”

8. Do I want separate rooms?

two kids in a bunk bed

All bunking together may sound fun (or not), but it's not all that practical. Even if you're a tiny family, consider booking more than one room.

“My number one need is two-bedroom accommodation. My daughter needed somewhere peaceful and dark to sleep when she was little, and we didn't want to sit in silent darkness to facilitate this. And now that she's older (11), we all need our own space.”

“It’s not a holiday if I have to share a bedroom with my children. I’m happy to cook and wash up on holiday, but I draw the line at sharing a room with children over the age of one. We tend to go for holiday cottages and apartments for this reason.”

“Having two bedrooms and a living area means that my son has his own room and we can watch a DVD while chilling out on the sofa. There's no sitting in a dark hotel room because you don't want to wake him up, and no keeping him up too late at night.”

“Having a separate bedroom for the kids allows them to go to bed at their normal time, meaning less tiredness and grumpiness, and more time for us to enjoy a peaceful glass of wine!”

9. Have I read the reviews?

woman reading hotel reviews on laptop

Hotel reviews: very important. It's easy to see some glossy photos when planning the perfect holiday and hit 'book', but you don't want to arrive only to find that your accommodation is next to a fireworks factory. Yes, that is unlikely. But it's probably happened to somebody.

“Read the reviews on the hotels, especially on the food – that one's a must.”

“I usually go on the TUI website and see what's available to fit in with local airports, price and school holiday times. I choose usually according to favourites on there and have had some great holidays!”

TUI's hotel listings pull in Trip Advisor reviews so you don't have to trawl the web for them

10. Have I researched the destination?

family reading map

For the Monicas among us, this one's a no-brainer. Consider putting an itinerary together with your must sees-and-dos. Getting the kids involved is a way to avoid future complaining of boredom – you insisted on the Argentinian rock museum, Adam. This one's on you.

“Wherever we choose to go on holiday, I completely scope out the local area online for attractions, activities and events before we go. I make a schedule for each day so there's always something fun to do and to make sure we don't miss anything. We don't stick to it rigorously, but travelling with kids means getting out in the morning always takes way longer than you intend it to. And with a late start, the last thing I want is to then have to decide what we're doing for the day.”

“We research our destination beforehand and take note of places we want to visit with the time it'll take to travel, how much it'll cost, and opening times. Saves us the logistical headache when we're there.”

“Do your research! Always make a note of the nearest A&E dept to your resort/location in case of emergency.”

“My most important task, with having two young children, is to be well-researched in as many alternative activities as possible in the local area. Also, look up eating places and research the availability of snacks and drinks.”

11. Have I factored in tiredness?

crying child with ice cream

Sightseeing and travelling is tiring enough for adults, so just think how pooped your children will be. Don't pack your days too full if you want to avoid whinges, whines, and – heaven forbid – full-on tantrums.

“If you're travelling with young children, be realistic about how much you are going to manage in a day. Pre-kids, I used to pack my holidays with as much as possible, but they often need some downtime or a nap planned into the day. Be realistic about your schedule, and try to keep to their usual routine as much as possible.”

“My biggest tip would be to let the children set the pace of the holiday as they'll tire quickly in the heat.”

Before you depart

Before you board your flight and say sayonara to rainy old England, ask yourself three more questions.

12. What should I take for the flight?

child with headphones on flight

If Mumsnet users know one thing, it's this: flying with children ain't easy. Take all the entertainment to make life easier – be that a tablet, colouring books, and/or card games.

“To keep the kids occupied on long journeys, I tend to pack little bags with some mini packets of snacks/sweets in, and little games/toys. Those little enclosed mazes with the tiny ball in them are great at keeping them occupied.”

“We pack an old pencil case with toys and crayons – those, alongside a few colouring books/bits of paper, can keep children occupied for a while. We also download activity games on a tablet, and take books for when they’re getting sleepy or if the flight is running into difficulty.”

“I have a rule that there's no limit on-screen time on flights! Tablets are a godsend for bored, fidgety kids when you're stuck on a plane for a few hours. If you're usually quite strict on limiting screen time at home, letting them have free reign on flights can make the whole experience more fun.”

“I'm a fan of the audiobook – we have old portable CD players and lots of batteries and it keeps them quiet for a long time. Dobble and sticker books are always good, too.”

Check out our video for tips on flying with kids

13. Have I packed all the essentials?

woman packing a suitcase

Nothing's worse than arriving in paradise without your sunglasses. To make sure you've got everything you need, there's a lot to be said about making a list and checking it twice. That includes the really boring stuff – like toothpaste and tweezers – as well as potential lifesavers like a first-aid kit.

“We got caught out once not packing enough sun lotion. It cost over £30 per bottle in the resort!”

“Make and print a list of everything you pack, and, when you get back, cross off everything you didn't use/add things you should have taken. Reprint that and leave it in your suitcase so you have a list to work from next time.”

“If it's self-catered accomodation, usually it's a bottle opener/corkscrew that gets forgotten.”

“Remember plasters for little feet rubbing on sandals without socks – I always seem to forget these.”

“I take a lunch box full of emergency snacks.”

14. Have I packed too much?

woman struggling to close suitcase

Equally, don't take everything bar the kitchen sink. We're all guilty of packing 100 pairs of pants only to arrive and realise that – should there ever be a pant emergency – this country, too, sells underwear. However, if you do buy clothes or gifts, make sure you check you haven't inadvertently gone over your allowance on the way back.

“Whatever we take has to be compact and easy to carry. Small family travel games are a winner.”

“I wish someone had told me that kids don't need to have a change of clothes every day if the previous ones are still clean. Would have reduced packing!”

See TUI's luggage allowance

One final note: have fun!

With all the logistics and airport pandemonium, it's easy to forget that you're doing this for fun. Both you and your children will probably look back on this with fondness (or at least laughter), so try not to become a slave to stress. If anyone deserves a holiday, it's a parent, so do yourself a favour and have a grand old time.

Don't get worried about the little details. That's my top tip.

I wish someone had told me to chill out about bedtime on holiday a bit sooner. We let our children nap in the buggy and had really fun evenings as a result.

Basically, when you have young kids a holiday is just the same stuff but in a sunnier location! We try and keep things fairly simple. At the end of the day, the kids really love being somewhere away from home and sleeping somewhere different (preferably in a bunk bed). That's what I wish someone had told me – you can spend a whole holiday trying to make it memorable but all they remember is the ruddy bunk bed…

“Last year we lost a holiday and popped into our local TUI. The agent was amazing, spent hours working with our budget to help us get a great trip quite last minute. So we've used him again and will continue to do so.”

TUI BLUE For Families

Here’s what TUI have to say about booking a family holiday: “At TUI, we know that your family holiday is a time to reconnect and have fun. That’s why we’ve designed hotels especially for families to make it the best week, or two, of the year. From allowing you to take your car seat or pushchair with you free of charge to offering baby changing facilities, kids’ clubs and children’s buffets in-resort, we’ve thought of every little detail to give you a hassle-free and family-friendly holiday"

Book your next family holiday

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