What to do with children at home during schools closures and our top tips to educate them
Schools have shut and parents all over the country are wondering how best to look after their children at home.
It’s daunting to realise you are now their sole educator for the foreseeable future.
It’s also a challenging time for children – they can’t see their friends and have lost the security of their usual routine and activities.
But now they are away from playground chat about Coronavirus, we can shield them better from anxiety and make this as positive a time as we can for them.
After all, they are living through a period which will be remembered in history – one day they could be telling their grandchildren about the time schools closed.
So, let them remember it for all the good stuff, when they got to spend quality time with the people who love them most.
Where they played games, had fun and learned about things that really mattered to them and interested them.
Read, explored hobbies and passions but above all felt loved and secure at a time when the world around them was confusing and different.
We’ve put together some ideas to help you.
But whatever you do or don’t manage, please don’t feel inadequate or guilty.
EVERYONE is in the same boat. Children are not at school, remember, you are a parent not a teacher.
Timetables and routine
Children respond well to a routine. And their normal schedule has been taken away from them.
You can make a timetable to add structure to their days and a lot of children benefit from having a visual plan in place.
I’m going to attempt to get my children up and dressed first thing – wish me luck, they do love a pyjama day!
I’m also hoping to set aside periods for learning, reading, exercise and creative time but will be flexible and lead by them.
Make sure to set aside good chunks of time for child-led play.
Remember, this is NOT the time to be nagging or upsetting children if they really don’t want to do something.
And if they don’t learn much some days? Don’t worry!
Children need plenty of exercise.
Besides keeping their fitness levels up, they’ll feel happier, more positive and more energised if they keep active.
*You could start the day with a PE session – body coach Joe Wickes is doing a free PE lesson at 9am every weekday on YouTube #PEwithJoe.
*When allowed out, plan a daily walk or jog and try different routes, keeping well away from other people. If you are feeling particularly enthusiastic, make a treasure hunt of things to find or collect bits for a picture!
Keep a safe distance from others and avoid playgrounds and anywhere where children may touch surfaces.
*Plan your own PE sessions in the garden or obstacle courses.
Adapt learning to match their interests
Example: Harry Potter
I have two Harry Potter fans so, I am really thrilled to have found some amazing resources which will combine one of their favourite subjects with ways to learn and be creative.
The Ultimate Harry Potter Project – this blog gives some fantastic wizarding ideas as trialled by a Harry Potter-loving family like potion making, wand making, a Quidditch creation and how to make Mandrakes.
And this site provides loads of carefully made Harry Potter printables like crosswords, words searches, colouring pages and maths worksheets.
And of course, encourage them to dress up and play and let their imaginations run wild.
Take a topic and research the subject together then do different activities relating to it.
This is the best time you will ever have to learn life skills together such as:
*Gardening: A lot of children love helping in the garden. I’m not exactly green-fingered but I’ve bought packets of seeds and ordered biodegradable seed pots to get us started.
*Decorate (with care): This is potentially a good time to spruce up the house. I’ve splashed out on a huge tub of emulsion and a new roller and have optimistic visions of us all having a go at this together, which could all go horribly wrong. We are also going to have a go at painting the shed.
*Cooking and baking: My two always love to make cakes and biscuits but I’m hoping they’ll enjoy trying some other easy recipes.
*Even cleaning and housework can sometimes be fun!
Make sure they don’t lose touch with their friends by arranging regular video calls for them.
We are loving Facebook Messenger where you can do group video chats. There are some hilarious filters you can use too.
It’s also proved a saviour for me and my friends later on in the evenings, with wine in hand!
It’s easy to use, just open Facebook Messenger, select a friend/friends or a group as if you were writing a message then press the video camera icon. To get the filters, press the smiley face.
I saw one mum had asked all the children in a group call who could find various items, which proved entertaining.
Set a timer and dedicate all your attention to one child.
Let them choose exactly what they want to do and be enthusiastic and supportive.
Do the same with all your children and give the others something to occupy them if possible while they wait their turn, without (good luck with this) interrupting!
Read to your children, get them to read to you and give them time to read alone. I’ve got two little book worms and it’s one of our biggest joys.
Also Amazon Audible has made hundreds of titles free during the Coronavirus.
And World Book Online has made its collection of over 3,000 ebooks and audiobooks available for free for children to access at home.
Plus, there are lots of children’s authors doing online read-alouds and activities, find out more here.
If your children like coding or want to learn, a company called Code Camp which teaches children aged 7 to 12 to code, has scrapped its subscription fees during this period.
Loads of children love LEGO and it helps develop lots of skills including fine motor skills.
If they are really keen, you can print out a free 30-day LEGO challenge here.
Make a diary
This is a time they will remember. Use this free printable stay-at-home diary.
Blue Peter Badges
If you have children aged six to 15, apply for a Blue Peter badge. And then they’ll have over 200 places to visit for free until they’re 16, once they are allowed out again.
On BBC iPlayer they have episodes of Planet Earth. One mum played them for her children and quizzed them at the end of each episode.
Pictures in the window
Children have been painting a picture of a rainbow or something else of their choice to put in the window for their friends to see when they walk past to keep everyone smiling. It’s the #frommywindow initiative.
If you are working from home
Everything is far more challenging when you are trying to work too.
Make sure your colleagues and employers know that you have children at home with you so they have realistic expectations of what you can achieve.
If you have partner who is also working from home, try to take shifts.
Give children activities which don’t need as much supervision where possible.
Accept that the children will have more screen time.
Most importantly – have lots of fun
Try everything you all enjoy – have pillow fights, have a movie night, play music and dance, sing, play tig, make dens, camp in the garden, laugh and be silly.
Concentrate on your children as much as possible, let them mess up the house, give them the freedom to play.
There has been a great deal of advice and links and websites to help us muddle through this crazy time.
But this has been one of the best things I have read. The author is said to be an experienced home educator who wishes to remain anonymous.
Tips for PARENTS OF SCHOOL CHILDREN who might be spending a lot of time at home together in the near future, because 😷🦠.
Hopefully these are some useful tips/thoughts/experience from a HOME EDUCATOR’S PERSPECTIVE on what can work at home. NB: this is what works for us and all families are different, so take however much is useful to you and leave the rest. Bare in mind, if your child is receiving work to do at home from school, that external factor may give quite a different dynamic to home ed, so your experiences may differ too. But I still hope some bits of this might be useful.
1. Replicating school at home doesn’t work. This is a truth almost universally acknowledged in home ed groups by parents who tried it, including qualified teachers. Naturally sometimes parents begin home ed in a school-like manner, perhaps after removing a child from school, thinking that’s the way to go. But it seems 9/10 times families quickly discover this is a route to frustration for children and parents. So if this happens to you, don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal, read on for alternatives 🙂
2. It’s fine for children to be bored. Actually it’s good for children to be bored. Perhaps not all the time, but definitely sometimes. Boredom breeds creativity. Our minds cannot stay idle, so inevitably they find something to do, and often they find surprising and interesting things. Isaac Newton began his discovery of gravity at home when Cambridge University closed because of the plague. Shakespeare also wrote some of his best regarded plays while hiding in the countryside from the plague. Possibly if feeling bored is unusual for a child, they might find it uncomfortable at first, but rest assured it is good and valuable. Parents, we do not always have to ‘solve’ boredom.
3. Schools spend less time on learning than you might think. There are several calculations by teachers-turned-home-educators that attempt to quantify actual learning time in schools. When the breaks and moving around and getting things out and putting things away and controlling behaviour and setting expectations and golden time and school photos, and last day of term, and a million other things are taken into account, how much focussed learning time is left on average per day? The calculations range from 45 minutes to 2 hours. Consider scaling back your own expectations accordingly.
4. Learning doesn’t have to be at a table with a worksheet. Oodles can be learnt through cooking, gardening, household tasks*, reading stories to each other, board games, card games, toys and roleplay, sewing and knitting, art and crafts, DIY, servicing a car or bike, music, radio, discussing the news, magazines, documentaries… Some families find that things learnt in an active practical way can stick better than learning on paper.
* Yes cleaning really can be educational – think of all the science involved in descaling a sink, enzymes in washing up liquid, microbes on surfaces, dissolving stains in solvents…
5. You don’t have to already know everything your child needs/wants to learn. Welcome questions and try to find answers together if you don’t know. Actually you might want to search for answers together even if you do know, because how to find things out for yourself is a valuable skill for kids to develop. In periods when children’s questions aren’t forthcoming, try voicing your own questions out loud while you go about your tasks, or ask kids their opinion on something to start a discussion. For older kids (we aren’t there yet) it seems to be about helping them find resources (people, clubs, books, courses) that they can learn from. ‘Facilitator not teacher’ is a phrase sometimes used.
6. Learning doesn’t have to happen in school hours. You probably have the children with you longer than they would be in school, so you have the option to pick times when they are more receptive, or that fit with family needs. Some families come to consider all-day every-day as learning time, by noticing and using learning possibilities in all of everyday life.
(7. Because I can’t not mention it after 4 and 6: home learning doesn’t have to happen at home. Unfortunately right now there may be No, or Very Limited, options to go out – follow the advice for your country. But rest assured that there are some (many) home educating families who usually go out a lot, and they may well be having similar challenges staying at home as school families do).
8. Set expectations/ have a rhythm. This might be very individual, but what works for us, while not being too rigid, is to have a pattern of when we do activities together and when we don’t. Eg you might come together to do a joint activity in the morning after breakfast. And during meal prep and clear up might be independent play/activities that they choose themselves. I find I still need to remind frequently that I won’t be taking part in complicated parent-dependant activities when I’m in the middle of clearing up the lunch carnage! And reminding of the slots when we do those things together really helps.
9. Consider including quiet time/a break for everyone. Ours coincides with the toddler’s afternoon nap. But even before a younger sibling, we found it helpful to have a quiet break after lunch. This is when I get some quiet thinking/headtasks time (those things not being at all compatible with awake toddlers). The older one might have some screen time, and/or she usually has creative projects that she wants to work on. It took us some practice to get this going well.
10. Having a bad day? However crazy and distracting your household (younger siblings, pets, deliveries, illness, broken washing machines…) is it truly more crazy and distracting than 30 other kids? Or, if you feel like you didn’t give enough attention to your child today, was it really less than 1/30th of the attention of the teacher at school? Probably not. These can be helpful thoughts, especially on a bad day.
11. Minimise prep, or include the kids in preparing for future activities. Because, quite differently to a teacher, you have these kids with you *all the time*. If you can’t find a way to get it done together, it probably isn’t going to happen. I try not to use the quiet time/break for prepping because that isn’t a really a break and I wouldn’t emerge sufficiently refreshed for getting through the rest of the day.
12. Look for activities that you get something out of as well as the kids. This is how to stay sane. Do as many of these as possible.
13. Atmosphere. You can always subtly change how a situation feels by putting on music, changing lighting, opening a window…
14. Lead by example. Do you wish your child would show an interest in something (more) wholesome (than what they’re doing right now)? What might happen if you gather some interesting objects on the table, and some paper and pencils, and begin drawing? Or put on some exercise clothes and get out your yoga mat and video? Make sure to just casually happen to have some spare pencils & paper/floorspace nearby ready for any requests to join in. Play it cool and don’t be obvious about hoping they’ll take an interest, and keep an open mind about what follows. This can work with so many activities. They might choose to join in, or they might not this time. But chances are they’ll have noticed, and you hopefully got to do something you enjoyed for a short time, and you’ve set a great example, and… sometimes interesting responses emerge much later. 😉
15. Don’t compare. Inevitably we tend to share the highlights where a child made something we’re proud of. We don’t share the moment when the floor can’t be seen, every opportunity provided for doing something wholesome has failed all morning, both the kids are screaming because you dared to use the loo, lunch is hours late, and the toddler has smeared poo on the coffee table. 🤦 But even with the highlights, just because a friend seems to do lots of X or Y, doesn’t mean we all should. Families are different, so focus on what works for yours. Including, ignoring all of the above advice if you think that’s best!
Good luck and enjoy!
More ideas and free resources for home learning
This website has loads of great teaching resources and is offering a free access code UKTWINKLHELPS.
How to protect your family from germs on a plane – all the precautions you need to take
I’ve always been a bit OTT when it comes to germs and my children – I’m the mum brandishing a hand gel at parties and soft play.
But the spreading coronavirus has seen us all improve our hygiene standards.
Getting ill can ruin a holiday – so how can we keep our children – and ourselves – as protected as possible when we travel?
Here we explain the extra precautions families can take to look after themselves while flying.
Aeroplanes and germs
Aeroplanes are pretty amazing – they transport us quickly to fantastic destinations all over the world.
But they can also be breeding grounds for germs and bacteria – the result of packing lots of people into an enclosed space for hours at a time.
Studies say that one in five people will get sick after flying, so how can we help prevent our children – and ourselves – from getting ill?
Before the flight
When you travel on a plane, your immune system is challenged by dehydration, lower oxygen levels and other factors, weakening your body’s defence against infections.
But you can boost your children’s immune system to prepare their bodies for flying.
If a child has plenty of sleep and eats healthily before the flight, their immunity will perform better.
Where to sit
Believe it or not, some seats carry a higher risk than others.
Passengers are more vulnerable to illness if they sit in an aisle seat – they receive the most contact and potential contamination from potentially poorly people walking up and down and holding on to head rests.
So put children by the window if possible, where there are less germs.
Also try to not sit your child next to someone who is ill, instead take the seat yourself or discretely ask a flight attendant if you can move seats.
You are less at risk sitting behind someone who is ill or coughing than in front.
Also avoid sitting too near to the toilets if possible as these areas are busier. Plus, people spending more time there may be the sick ones.
Avoid aisle seats
Washing hands regularly, especially before you eat, is the BEST way to prevent illness, wherever you are. Help children to wash hands and teach them how to do it properly. Show them how to use warm soap and water, scrub all over for 20 seconds, then rinse and dry.
Discourage children from touching their faces as bugs can be transmitted to their mouth, nose or eyes. And tell them not to put anything in their mouths.
Hand sanitiser removes most bacteria and viruses from hands so use it regularly and before eating and drinking.
Even if children have just been to the toilet and washed their hands, they are likely to have touched seats or other areas on the way back to their seats.
Tell children to rub the gel all over their hands until it is dry. Apply it thoroughly including between fingers.
Supervise young children as it is dangerous if ingested and store hand gel in a bag away from them and to avoid spillages.
Germs can last for up to seven days inside a plane.
Most germ viruses are transferred by touching not just breathing the air. There are several hotspots on a plane and one of the worst offenders is the tray table.
Children love a tray table. To be safe you can wipe it down with an alcohol-based wipe or gel. Experts also recommend you wipe armrests, seatbealt buckles, screens and remote controls.
There is often a quick turnaround time between flights so these areas do not always get thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
In-flight magazines and seat pockets
Passengers often use the seat pockets as bins and air crew find dirty nappies and used tissues in them among rubbish left behind, so try not to use them if possible.
They contain a lot of bacteria but wipes can’t properly disinfect the fabric of the pocket.
In-flight magazines are touched by hundreds of people and are never cleaned so they are full of germs. Avoid!
One of the best ways to stay healthy during a flight is to drink lots and lots of water.
Ensure children drink more than they would at home as they will get dehydrated and then the mucous membranes in the nose and throat will dry up which protect us from most diseases encountered.
Everyone should avoid coffee, alcohol and sugary drinks when flying, which will dehydrate you even more.
Aeroplane toilets are a big source of germs.
Avoid touching surfaces in there and turn off the taps and open the door while holding a paper towel.
The air coming out of the vents is meant to be cleaner than the air around your seat as it is filtered, so leaving them on a low setting can move the germs away.
However, you may want to use hand gel after touching the vent as it is another bacteria hotspot!
Blankets and pillows
Bring your own blankets and pillows for children to use. If you ask for them and they aren’t wrapped, they may not be clean.
Plus having a familiar blanket and pillow to curl up with may also make children happier.
Bring your own entertainment for children so that they don’t touch onboard touchscreens which have a lot of germs from dirty fingers, coughs and sneezes. Or otherwise wipe them first!
Other Germ-Fighting Travel Tips
Health experts suggest wiping down remote controls, light switches, telephones, doorknobs, toilet seat handles and taps to protect children.
Chlorination does not kill all bacteria. Teach young children to avoid swallowing water in pools and water parks. And make sure they shower after getting out of the pool.
If you are going on holiday, do NOT let worry and anxiety spoil a trip.
Arm yourself with hand sanitiser and a bit of knowledge.
And don’t scare your children! Just make them aware of basic hygiene.
Holiday from a narrowboat this year to explore the countryside with children
Britain’s network of inland waterways wind through thousands of miles of countryside.
And they can be explored on a family trip with a difference – staying on a narrowboat – your own floating holiday home.
Emma Lovell from Anglo Welsh, one of the largest canal boat holiday companies in the UK, thinks Spring is one of the best times to take a narrowboat trip.
“In Spring you can enjoy seeing waterside hedges and trees coated in blossom, birds building nests and rearing their young and spring lambs playing in the fields as well as ducklings, swans, coots and moorhens bobbing along on the water and bluebells in waterside woodlands.”
The company has compiled its top 10 Spring canal boat holiday destinations for 2020.
1. Navigate through Shakespeare country and Warwickshire farmland
Start from Anglo Welsh’s narrowboat hire base at Wootton Wawen, on the Stratford Canal near Henley-in-Arden. It takes around six hours, travelling through 17 locks, to reach Stratford upon Avon.
Travel over the Edstone Aqueduct and on through the Warwickshire countryside and stop off at Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm in the canalside village of Wilmcote, where Shakespeare’s mother grew up.
Once in Stratford, there are overnight moorings in Bancroft Basin, perfect for enjoying all that Shakespeare’s birthplace has to offer, including riverside parks, theatres, shops, restaurants and museums.
2. Staffordshire to the Peak District
Cruise into the Peak District on a week’s break from Anglo Welsh’s barge hire base on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Great Haywood in Staffordshire.
From here, you can reach the beautiful Caldon Canal and travel into the Peak District.
The journey takes boaters up to Stoke on Trent, passing Wedgewood World along the way, and, once on the Caldon, through hills and wooded areas alongside the River Churnet.
Here there’s the chance to spot kingfishers, herons, jays and woodpeckers, as well as otters which have recently returned to the area.
The return journey along the Caldon to Froghall, takes around 43 hours, travelling a total of 72 miles and passing through 70 locks.
Travel round the Stourport Ring through stretches of Worcestershire countryside – on a week’s break from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat rental base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove.
This popular circuit takes boaters on an 84-mile, 114-lock journey, in around 56 cruising hours.
Much of the route is rural, cruising sections of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, Worcester & Birmingham Canal Navigation, River Severn, Birmingham Canal Main Line and Stourbridge canals.
Rural highlights include Kinver Edge with its extensive woodlands and National Trust Holy Austin Rock Houses, idyllic stretches of Worcestershire countryside along the River Severn and a dramatic flight of 30 locks at Tardebigge, climbing two-and-a-quarter miles with views of the open countryside all around.
This circuit also takes boaters through central Birmingham, Kidderminster and the ancient City of Worcester with its magnificent cathedral.
Cruise to the gateway of the Yorkshire Dales and explore the ancient woods at Skipton Castle, from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat hire base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire.
It takes just over three hours to reach Skipton with its medieval fortress and acres of woodland trails to explore. For nearly a thousand years, Skipton Castle Woods provided fuel, food and building materials for castle inhabitants. Today there are at least 18 species of trees flourishing there and hundreds of flowering plants, including wild orchids and bluebells in the Spring.
The journey along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Silsden passes through the typical Yorkshire stone-built villages of Kildwick and Farnhill and on into a dense wooded area famous for its bluebells and deer.
5. Bath to Pewsey
Drift through the prehistoric Vale of Pewsey – it takes around 19 hours to reach Pewsey Wharf from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat rental base at Brassknocker Basin on the Kennet & Avon Canal just outside Bath, perfect for a week afloat.
Along the way, boaters pass through miles of Wiltshire countryside, with a series of waterside villages and country pubs to visit along the way.
Highlights on this route include the mighty Caen Hill Flight of 29 locks at Devizes, cruising along the edge of the ancient Savernake Forest and the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and home to prehistoric Avebury.
The journey to Pewsey and back takes around 38 hours, passing through 74 locks (37 each way).
Travel to Llangollen on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains. It takes around 12 hours to reach this pretty town from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat rental base at Whixall Marina, on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire.
Along the way, travel through the Shropshire Lake District and across the incredible Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ and now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Once in Llangollen, boaters can moor up to enjoy exploring the town including its regular markets packed with local produce, shops, restaurants, steam railway and famous Horseshoe Falls.
The journey to Llangollen and back passes through just four locks (two each way).
7. Four Counties Ring
Start a week’s break at Anglo Welsh’s canal boat rental base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire and travel round the popular Four Counties Ring, one of the most rural canal cruising circuits.
Travelling for around 58 hours and passing through 96 locks, this route takes canal boat holidaymakers through the counties of Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Cheshire and Shropshire and travels sections of the Trent & Mersey, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Shropshire Union canals.
Rural highlights include panoramic views from the flight of 31 locks (also known as ‘Heartbreak Hill’) between Middlewich and Kidsgrove on the Trent & Mersey Canal, stunning views of the rolling Cheshire Plains on the Shropshire Union Canal, acres of farmland on the Middlewich Branch, wildlife spotting at Tixall Wide on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and the National Trust’s Shugborough Hall with its extensive waterside gardens.
8. Shropshire Lake District
Cruise to the Shropshire Lake District from Anglo Welsh’s narrowboat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor in North Wales on a short three or four-night break (three or four nights). You may catch a glimpse of heron chicks and other water birds and wildlife.
Llangollen Canal in Shropshire
The journey to the medieval market town of Ellesmere takes around seven hours, passing through just two locks and over two magnificent aqueducts, including the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
This Wonder of the Waterways, carries the Llangollen Canal 38 metres high above the Dee valley, with magnificent views of the valley and Welsh Mountains beyond.
Formed thousands of years ago by the melting of the glaciers during the retreating ice age, the meres of the Shropshire Lake District, including The Mere at Ellesmere, are particularly beautiful in Spring.
And every Spring, Moscow Island on The Mere is home to the Heron Watch Scheme, with live images allowing visitors to watch the birds build nests and raise chicks.
9. Abingdon and Oxford
Take a Thames boating holiday to Abingdon from Anglo Welsh’s narrowboat hire base on the River Thames near Oxford.
It takes around five hours, passing through six locks and travelling 15 miles to reach the historic riverside market town of Abingdon – perfect for a short break.
Along the way, as well as cruising through the outskirts of the ancient city of Oxford, you will pass through stretches of Oxfordshire countryside, with meadows, stretches of woodlands and the chance to hear cuckoos calling.
Once moored up at Abingdon, boaters can enjoy exploring riverside walks, parks and eateries, including the popular waterside Nag’s Head.
10. Stockton to Stoke Bruerne
Travel through the Northamptonshire countryside to Stoke Bruerne on a four-night break from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat hire base at Stockton, on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire.
Narrowboat families can cruise to the village of Stoke Bruerne and back.
The journey takes around 12 hours, travelling 28 mostly rural miles and passes through 16 locks, as well as the 2813-metre long Blisworth Tunnel.
Once in Stoke Bruerne, you can visit canalside pubs, browse the waterway history collections at the Canal Museum and follow the village’s woodland walk and sculpture trail.
Anglo Welsh offers over 160 canal boats for hire from 11 bases across England and Wales, with accommodation for between two and 12 people.
Boats have kitchens, fresh water flushing toilets, hot water and showers, beds, TVs, DVD players and WiFi.
Hirers are provided with life jackets on request and boat steering tuition as part of all its packages.
2020 boat hire prices start at £530 for a short break on a boat for four people, £755 for a week.
We’ve put together a selection of the best destinations for Easter breaks
April is a great time to travel – whether you are tied to the Easter holidays or not. You can jet off for some sunshine, enjoy a staycation in the UK or depart for a city break. We have rounded up our favourite April options.
Time from UK: 90 minutes
We visited the original LEGOLAND in Billund, Denmark in April, it was chilly but there was plenty to do and crowds were low. Read about it here.
The entrance to Legoland in Billund, Denmark
If you stay at Lalandia next door there is a giant indoor water park and ice rink. Read about it here.
Billund is now known as the Capital of Children and is regarded as one of the most child-friendly places to live and work.
Time from UK: 10 hours
Rio Grande River, Texas
If you only associate Texas with 1980’s American soap opera Dallas, then think again.
The second largest state in the US, has loads of appeal for a family holiday.
But get to Texas before it gets too hot – April or October are the best times.
You can hit Houston – the home of NASA with children’s museums and parks. Then head to the coast at Galveston or Corpus Christi for sea and sand.
Time from UK: 3.5 hours
Popeye Village in Malta
This island nation in the Mediterranean between Sicily and North Africa may be small, but Malta has lots to offer for a family holiday.
You can split your time between Malta and its quieter sister island Gozo.
Families can explore Malta’s capital – the old town of Valletta and see dolphins and sea lions at the Mediterraneo Marine Park.
There is also a Playmobil Fun Park for little ones.
Plus Popeye Village Malta, a former Popeye film set, is now a tourist attraction with a number of activities for children.
Time from UK: 2.5 hours
The Algarve is the traditional favourite for a family holiday to Portugal, but what about Lisbon and its coast?
You can enjoy the old trams around the city, visit Europe’s largest aquarium and then head for the beaches at Cascais and Guincho.
Pricewise, it is one of the cheapest options in Europe for families.
UK – Bath
Why not try a mix and match Easter break centred on the historic city of Bath.
Explore the Roman baths and the Royal Crescent landmark in this south of England city, in the county of Somerset.
And then if you get some spring sunshine it’s not too far to the beach at Weston Super Mare for some old fashioned seaside fun.
If it rains, you could visit some of nearby Bristol’s indoor attractions like SS Great Britain, the Planetarium, Aerospace Bristol and We The Curious, the city’s science museum.
Where are the best holiday destinations to take your children in February half-term?
Half-term in February is often the toughest month to find a break – it’s cold, money is tight after Christmas but there are some good options to enjoy a fabulous holiday with your children.
Travel time from the UK: 4 hours
Maspalomas in Gran Canaria
This island has the most activities of any in the Canaries.
There is a wildlife sanctuary in the hills, Palmitos Park, plus watermarks, camel rides on the dunes of Maspalomas and much more.
We went in February and the weather was great.
*The other Canary Islands are also great options including Tenerife, Lanzarote (read our review here or ) and Fuerteventura (read our review of a holiday in Fuerteventura here).
Travel time from the UK: 7.5 hours
Quieter and less developed than Dubai or Abu Dhabi, Oman offers an authentic glimpse into the Middle East.
There are plenty of family resorts along the coastline and the capital Muscat is worth a visit too.
*It is a good time of year for other Middle East destinations as well such as Dubai or Abu Dhabi, where the temperature will be a similar 22-26C.
Travel time from the UK: 14 hours
There is loads to see in Malaysia. You can spend a couple of days in the buzzing capital Kuala Lumpur with the Petronas Towers which were once the world’s tallest building, then travel to Penang for its beaches, resorts and colonial Georgetown.
Travel time from the UK: 22 hours
The furthest family trip but it will be worth it. February is ideal for the North and South Island. Don’t miss the beaches of the Bay of Islands, the bubbling geysers in Rotorua, whale watching in Kaikoura and adrenaline fuelled fun in Queenstown. You need two weeks minimum but this is the time of year to take it.
Winter is a good time to try a big city like Liverpool with plenty of indoor attractions. You can meet some dinosaurs at the World Museum Liverpool, find out about the history of the city at the Liverpool Museum, pop into the Beatles Experience, take a tour of Anfield the home of Liverpool FC and cross the Mersey on the famous ferry.
The city centre is compact and the waterfront spectacular even in bracing weather.
*Where do you like to go in February? Let us know below!
We investigate some of the popular annual passes for 2020 including Merlin, National Trust, English Heritage and Chester Zoo
There are so many amazing places to take children across the UK but the cost can really add up, especially over the holidays.
So is it worth splurging on an annual pass so you can visit your favourite places as often as you want? We investigate the most popular options for 2020.
What is it?
The UK’s biggest annual pass offering entry to 32 Merlin attractions including Alton Towers, Legoland and more.
What do you get?
Entry to 32 attractions – London Eye, Chessington World of Adventures, Thorpe Park, Alton Towers, Warwick Castle, Sea Life Centres, LEGOLAND Windsor, LEGOLAND Discovery Centres, Madam Tussauds sites, Blackpool Tower, five Dungeon sites around the UK, Shrek’s Adventure.
You also get free car parking at theme parks and Warwick Castle (with a Premium Pass), 20 per cent off food and drink inside and discounted entry for family and friends.
How much is it?
The Standard Pass is £179 per person, £139 per person for a family pass for 3 or more people (maximum three over-12s).
The Premium Pass is £229 per person. £189 each for a family pass.
If you renew the pass after 12 months, the family price drops to £109 (standard) and £149 (premium).
Can I pay monthly?
Yes you can, with a new monthly membership option.
For the Standard Pass it costs £29.99 per person joining fee and then £8.99 per month per person.
The total cost over a year would be – £137.87 per person, similar to a family pass cost.
For the Premium Pass the cost is £34.99 joining fee and then £11.99 per month. The total cost is £178.87 per person, similar to an annual family pass.
Note: you have to sign up for a minimum of 12 months.
What about the small print?
The Premium Pass gives you entry to all attractions at all times plus priority entry to venues, a fast track pass voucher and free parking.
With the Standard Pass, you ARE restricted on which days you can use it at certain attractions.
In August and all UK Bank Holidays: No entry to any central London attractions including London Eye, Sea Life, Shrek’s Adventure, the London Dungeon and Madame Tussauds London.
Valentine’s Day: No London Eye entry.
October half-term weekends around Halloween: No entry to London Dungeon.
Friday, Saturday or Sunday in August and September 1: No entry to Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Chessington, LEGOLAND Windsor, Warwick Castle.
No free parking at any attraction with a Standard pass.
How much could you save?
The standard pass costs £46 per month for a family of four (2 adults, 2 children).
If you visited one attraction a month, Merlin’s website claims you will save £684 over a year compared with on-the-day entry.
You can use the Merlin Pass official calculator here.
However there are lots of 2 for 1 offers available online and via cereal packets and newspapers for most of these attractions, so nobody should be paying full price.
That makes the pass roughly the same price as a monthly visit to a Merlin attraction.
In order to save money with this pass you need to visit more than 12 attractions in the year. If you are going to manage that then it could be good value.
Look out for Merlin pass discounts – this usually happens in January and June. You can save between £20 and £50.
(For our reviews, tips and advice on LEGOLAND Windsor, click here).
National Trust membership
What is it?
An annual pass giving free entry to more than 500 National Trust parks, gardens and houses.
What do you get?
Free entry to National Trust sites, free parking at most car parks, a handbook and a National Trust magazine three times per year.
How much is it?
A family pass for 2 adults and up to 10 children (living at the same address) costs £126 per year.
For 1 adult and up to 10 children it is £78 per year.
Children under 5 go free anyway, so take that into account. You can pay by monthly direct debit if you prefer.
What about the small print?
It is relatively simple but there are some car parks not included for free. Sites like Stonehenge and Tatton Park, which aren’t exclusively run by the National Trust, can incur some charges.
You have to sign up for a year at a time and can only cancel when your renewal is due. Be sure to mark your renewal date in your diary so you don’t miss it.
How much could you save?
Average entry price to a large National Trust place is around £30 for a family of four so you can save a lot.
Car parking can be costly too, from £3 to £7 at a lot of places.
Membership costs £10.50 per month for a family with two adults and £6.50 for a family with one adult, so if you go to a NT site once a month or more, you canstart to save money.
Good value for the sheer number of sites and car parks you can use, especially if you have a good selection near to you, as we do.
Annual membership to the most popular tourist attraction outside London.
What do you get?
Unlimited access to Chester Zoo, Fast track entry, 10 per cent discount in the zoo’s shops and cafes, a quarterly magazine, access to junior members’ events, one free entry annually at several other UK zoos (Bristol Zoo, Colchester Zoo, Edinburgh Zoo, Newquay Zoo, Living Coasts, Marwell Zoo, Paignton Zoo and Twycross Zoo).
How much is it?
Individual adult membership is £95 and it is £53 per child, if paying by direct debit and £105 and £59 if not.
So family membership for 2 adults and 2 children is £245 per year by direct debit.
What about the small print?
Fairly straightforward, the zoo is open every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day. You can go anytime. If you are using your free visit to another zoo you must take your membership card and membership letter.
How much could you save?
A day visit to Chester Zoo is up to £85 for a family of four booked in advance. There are rarely offers and discounts available.
You must all visit the zoo at least four times per year to start saving money.
If you live close enough to visit regularly and have children who enjoy it, a Chester Zoo pass is a great family treat. Plus if you are members, you don’t feel you have to see every single animal and area each time and spend a whole day there for every visit, which is far more relaxed.
As families think about booking flights for 2020 trips, we share some top tips for bagging a cheap fare.
Secret Flying, which specialises in uncovering discounted plane tickets, has compiled its guide to saving money on a family holiday.
You will get a cheaper flight if you do the following:
1. Travel midweek
The cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
2. Book a round-trip/return trip on a long haul airline
Round trips will usually be cheaper than two one-way tickets if you are flying further than Europe.
3. Check one-way on budget carriers
Occasionally, two one-way tickets with separate budget carriers around Europe will cost less than a round-trip ticket. For example, you could fly out to Malaga with Ryanair but return with EasyJet.
4. Booking last minute can work with charter flights
Companies which specialise in flying package holidaymakers, like Tui, can be heavily discounted at the last minute.
This is because if the package holidays haven’t sold then there will be extra space on their planes which they want to fill with flight-only passengers. We have seen prices as low as £249 to Florida and £299 to the Caribbean.
5. Last minute is rarely cheaper with scheduled or budget airlines
Most long haul airlines like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic raise prices the closer you get to departure. It is the same with budget carriers. In these cases, it probably pays to book in advance.
6. Use Skyscanner ‘Everywhere’ to find a bargain
The SkyScanner website lets you search every departure from a specific airport. For example, you can search every flight from Manchester between May 23 and May 30 (half-term week) to see which destination is the cheapest option.
7. Stop over on a long haul flight
You can save on airfare taxes, which often make up the bulk of any long haul fare, by taking a short flight to a European destination and going long-haul from there.
For example, flying from Birmingham to Amsterdam and then going with KLM to the Far East or the USA can be cheaper than going directly from the UK. You must stay over for at least 24 hours in Amsterdam in this case to benefit from the tax saving.
8. Be flexible
The more flexibility with dates you have, the more your chances of saving money will be. This is tricky with school holiday dates but try searching midweek departures in the summer holidays or leave it until closer to September for cheaper flights.
9. How to get an upgrade
According to Secret Flying, the best ways to boost your chances of a free upgrade to business class is to be a member of the airline’s frequent flyer programme, dress smartly and only check in at the airport.
If you check in online, your seats will already be allocated and the airline is less likely to move you up a class.
Secret Flying is a free service for users who get daily flight deals to their inbox every evening. Alternatively there is a new app. For more information please visit www.secretflying.com
We answer ALL your questions about Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter
The Warner Bros. studios in Leavesden near London were home to the hugely popular Harry Potter films for over 10 years.
And now fans can go ‘backstage’ at the Harry Potter studios where the magic was made.
Here we answer all your questions about Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter.
Also, don’t miss our full review and all our top tips here and watch our exclusive video of our day out at the studio tour below:
Is there a Harry Potter World or theme park in England?
No, there is the Harry Potter Studio Tour – a multi-award winning UK attraction near London.
What is the Harry Potter Studio Tour?
It’s a huge self-led back stage tour at the studio where a lot of the filming for the Harry Potter movies took place. You can see real sets from the films, costumes, props and creatures, plus take part in some interactive green screen fun.
Is this one of the best Harry Potter experiences?
Yes, the Harry Potter Studio Tour is great for adults and children because it is authentic. Many of the sets, costumes, props and creatures you see here were used in the Harry Potter films. They show the work and craftsmanship that went into the films.
Where is it?
It’s at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden, where much of the film series was shot, home to the movies for over 10 years. Leavesden is 20 miles from London, near Watford, England. The full address is: Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, WD25 7LR.
How to get there
You can drive by car and park in the car park directly outside or take a return bus tour from London or other parts of the country. You can also get a train to Watford Junction and then a shuttle bus, run by the attraction.
When did Harry Potter Studios open?
The studio tour opened on March 31, 2012. Unusually, the crew had saved a lot of the sets, props, animatronic creatures and costumes in case they were needed again for future films. They are now on show for the attraction, next to the working film studios where all eight films were made in Leavesden.
What can you see on the tour?
There’s far too much to mention but it includes The Great Hall, The Forbidden Forest, Gringotts banking hall, the Griffindor common room and boys’ dormitory, Snape’s Potions Classroom, Dumbledore’s Tower, the Weasleys’ Burrow, Hagrid’s Hut, the portrait of the Fat Lady, the Mirror of Erised, and the giant clock pendulum.
There is also Malfoy’s Manor, Dolores Umbridge’s pink office, the Hogwarts Express, The Knight Bus, Privet Drive, the Hogwarts Bridge, Godric’s Hollow House, the Ford Anglia, Diagon Alley, Buckbeak, Aragog, the scaled model of Hogwarts Castle used in the films. Plus thousands more animatronics, props and costumes.
Trying out the Knight Bus
Are there any rides at Harry Potter studios?
No but there are interactive features including wand lessons, green screen picture and video areas where you get to ride a broom over London and a Dobby motion capture experience where the house elf reflects your actions and more.
How long is the tour/ how long do you need to spend at Harry Potter Studios?
*There is no time limit – you can stay as long as you want – unless you have a ticket for later in the day and it is closing time! You’ll need at least three hours. If you take your time and look carefully at everything, you could easily spend four or five hours here.
Can I just turn up on the day?
No, you will not get in. You must pre-book a ticket. You will be given a time slot to arrive. We chose the earliest slot and were pleased with the lack of queues at that time as crowds had not built up.
When should you arrive?
They recommend arriving at least 20 minutes before your time slot to go through security checks.
Can you arrive earlier than your time slot?
Yes you can, you can look around the lobby or eat or drink at one of the cafes, before your tour starts. You may also be able to get on to an earlier tour.
What happens when you arrive?
You collect your tickets (if they were not posted to you), show your tickets, go through security (bags are checked and people are scanned with a hand held metal detector wand), then you go into the first area where you can collect a digital audio guide if wanted. Here you can pick up free ‘passports’ for children too, which are easy to miss. Youngsters can then stamp them as they go round the attraction and search for the golden snitch.
Is the tour guided?
Only the start is guided (unless you pay for a deluxe tour). The guide takes the group into a room with talking pictures on the wall – fans, actors and Harry Potter author JK Rowling, then through to the cinema room where you see a short film with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson telling of their life making the films. The guide then takes you into the Great Hall and explains more to you before leaving you to take the rest of the experience at your own pace.
The Great Hall
What is a deluxe tour?
Deluxe tours are more expensive. They include a guided tour, photo package, meal, butterbeer, guidebook and special parking.
Are there staff around during the tour?
*Yes there are guides dotted around. They are really lovely, don’t hesitate to talk to them, they know a lot and it will enhance your experience.
Who would enjoy the tour?
Mainly Harry Potter fans old and young but also people interested in the process of film making, sets, costumes and props. Children aged eight and over would get the most out of it. Teenagers seemed to be really enjoying it when we went.
Can you take pictures and videos?
Yes, everywhere except the cinema and green screen areas, which is great as there are lots of great photo opportunities. Pretend to push your trolley through the wall at platform 9 3/4, ride in the flying Ford Anglia, hold the Sword of Griffindor, pose in Diagon Alley, the Great Hall and much more.
Do people dress up in Harry Potter outfits?
If your children want to dress up, definitely let them. We saw some people dressed up, most were in normal clothes, or Harry Potter tops etc. Staff provide cloaks for the green screen pictures but we took our children’s own outfits to save time and they ended up wearing them for the rest of the tour which was great for our pictures.
Are there restaurants or cafes?
*There are a couple of cafes at the entrance/exit – Chocolate Frog Cafe and Hub Cafe – along with a big food hall.
Half way around the tour is the Backlot Café with seating inside and out. Staff will supply hot water for heating up bottles here.
Where can you buy Butterbeer?
This sweet non-alcoholic drink can only be bought at the Backlot Cafe, midway through the tour. It is not suitable for vegans or people with a dairy allergy as it contains some dairy but is suitable for those with gluten, wheat and nut allergies. It can be bought in a souvenir tankard which you can rinse and take home.
You can also buy Butterbeer ice cream here, available in a souvenir sundae dish to take home or a cone.
Can you take a picnic/packed lunch to Harry Potter studios?
Yes, you can take your own food but it must be eaten at the Backlot Cafe halfway round the tour.
Do you pay for parking?
No, parking is free. We were on the first tour of the day and were able to park right outside the doors. Have your tickets or booking confirmation ready to show them before you park.
Can you be dropped off?
Yes, you can be dropped off right outside.
Are there any frightening parts?
The two main scary bits are The Forbidden Forest and a fire-breathing dragon at the end of the Gringotts section. The forest is dark and eerie, inform staff if your children want to miss this part, and they will take you another way. When you enter the forest take the right turning to miss the bit with Aragog and big spiders.
Some of Aragog’s family
Staff can also help get through the room with the Ukrainian Ironbelly Gringotts dragon – there are 10 seconds between the sequence, which is on repeat, to run through.
Can I see Hogwarts Castle?
The tour ends with a stunning model of the castle. There are interactive screens there showing how it was built and used in the films.
What if it is raining or snowing?
This is a great attraction if the weather is rubbish as most of the tour is inside. Apart from one area – the backlot – where the exterior sets are – the Knight Bus, Privet Drive and Hogwarts Bridge.
4 Privet Drive
What is included in the ticket price?
The tour and experiences such as a wand skills mini-workshop, making a wand jump up to your hand by saying ‘up’ and picture opportunities with the sets and props including the Hogwarts Express and pushing a trolley through the wall at Platfrom 9 ¾.
What is not included in the ticket price?
Pictures and videos made from the green screen attractions.
Obviously also allow for food, drinks and purchases from the shop, it can get very expensive.
What age is this for?
Older fans will get the most out of it – with the patience to stop and look properly at everything. Children from aged eight are likely to enjoy it the most.
Where is the shop?
You will be lucky to escape without having to buy something here and the items in the shops are great quality, but pricey. There are a couple of smaller shops on your way around and one huge store at the end (you can also look in here at the start).
The studio has an online shop too, if you want to have a look before you go or order something afterwards that you wished you had bought.
Is there any provision for visitors with autism?
There is a sensory room within the studio tour to give a calming environment for people with autism and other additional needs.
Are there any disabled toilets?
There are accessible toilets throughout the tour. There’s also a Changing Place facility in the lobby, accessed using a RADAR key, with a hoist (take your own slings), height adjustable changing bench, toilet and washbasin. It is big enough for a wheelchair user and two carers.
Is there a cloakroom?
Yes, there is a cloakroom where you can leave coats and bags free of charge as well as buggies, pushchairs and prams.
Where are the baby changing facilities?
There are baby changing facilities in every toilet block.
Is there a parent and baby room?
Yes, there is an area for parents to feed with a nursing chair and changing tables next to the Backlot Café.
Any interesting facts to end on?
Yes – over the ten years, an incredible 588 sets were created at Leavesden Studios.
Also, Daniel Radcliffe went through 160 pairs of glasses and 70 wands during filming for the Harry Potter film series!
What to do with children in Amsterdam – our reviews and top tips
Amsterdam isn’t just for hen and stag dos, it is a family-friendly city with lots for children to do. We had a great time with our two, here’s our video and lots of information below about what we recommend.
NEMO Science Museum
This is a fantastic hands-on museum. NEMO looks like a giant ship rising from the harbour where it is situated. Inside there are four floors of interactive activities.
Floor one demonstrates how science works with pulleys, the chance to create electricity and an hourly show which is great fun, showing how a chain reaction works. One young volunteer gets to set off a reaction which spreads around the stage.
Floor two explains everyday technology such as how water is purified – children can collect water in a bucket and tip it in and out of various systems. There is also a great perspective room with altered height ceilings and angles where you can make children look like giants and turn the adults tiny.
The third floor has a display about planets and a brilliant science lab. The whole family put lab coats and goggles on to create their own experiments showing how rockets can fire and how sun cream works. It is hands-on learning at its best.
The fourth floor was closed when we visited but will be all about the human body.
There is a fifth floor with a nice cafe – the food is good quality with a wide variety. And don’t miss the roof terrace, especially on a sunny day – take your food out there to eat. There are panoramic views of Amsterdam and children can play in various water features.
NEMO Science Museum roof terrace
*Entrance to the museum is free with an I amsterdam card or book tickets via their website.
Hunter Street house
The popular Nickelodeon children’s series Hunter Street is set in Amsterdam. The actual show is filmed elsewhere in the Netherlands but the exterior of the Hunter house is a real home.
The Hunter Street house
It is at Singel 140-142, a small canalside road just outside the heart of the city.
It is best reached via a tram to Nieuwezijds Kolk stop and is then about a five-minute walk, through some side streets and over a canal. Our children enjoyed having their picture taken outside but did complain the black door in the series had been painted dark green!
For our full story on the Hunter Street house click here.
This is a great way to mix a river cruise, meal and a soft play.
The Pancake Boat
De Pannenkoekenboot (Pancake Boat) is moored across the IJ river from Amsterdam Centraal Station (catch the free NDSM ferry 906 from the far left pontoon at the station).
It is a 75-minute cruise along the river past Amsterdam Central Station. Once on board you can eat as many proper Dutch pancakes as you want (the record is a huge 15, which considering how filling they are is barely believable). There are three types of pancake – plain, with apple and one with bacon – plus lots of toppings you can put on.
About 30 minutes into the cruise, they open a big ball pit with slide in the bowels of the boat, which kept our daughter entertained for most of the rest of the journey.
Tip: There are two levels – the top deck is cooler and has better views but the pancakes and ball pit are downstairs. But once you have eaten you can sit wherever you want.
Cruise times vary but there are at least four a day in high season, book via their site
This glorious zoo in the centre of Amsterdam is a tropical delight to walk through. It has some of the usual animals you see at English zoos such as elephants and giraffes but other species you don’t see very often.
I liked seeing the armadillos – having only ‘seen’ one before when Ross dressed up as the holiday armadillo on Friends!
Little Fennec foxes with huge ears and a black jaguar were other highlights.
We also felt we could get much closer to the animals than usual. There are a few areas under cover, great for hot or rainy days, including a big space to watch the sea lions underwater.
Entry to the zoo is free with an I amsterdam card or book via the zoo’s website.
Van Gogh Museum
This popular museum houses the largest collection of works by Van Gogh in the world – over 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 700 of his letters.
It is a wonderful collection including famous paintings like Almond Blossom, Sunflowers (which was on temporary exhibition) and my daughter’s favourite there, The Bedroom.
The Bedroom (credit: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)
But it is not ideal territory for a lot of children, you may have to work hard to sustain their interest.
The museum is fairly spacious and if they are old enough, we would recommend the audio guide (5 euros for adults, free for children aged 6 to 12) to keep them interested for longer.
Once they have seen enough of the artwork, the Van Gogh Museum does have a couple of good areas for little ones. They can pose in front of a giant sunflower picture in the entrance hall and also the shop has an easel where they can sketch their own portrait.
Children can enter for free so if they get fed up it isn’t the end of the world. It isn’t a huge museum, so you can get around it in an hour.
Book a time slot in advance – if you have an I amsterdam card, book through their link not on the museum website.
Pirate Canal cruise – Blue Boat Company Kids Cruise
You have to do a canal cruise in Amsterdam and this was the only company we found which specifically catered for children.
Despite being a 75-minute journey, our two were entertained throughout.
The Blue Boat Company
Every passenger gets a new set of headphones to plug in and listen to a commentary in a language of their choice. But there is also a great children’s Pirate commentary to select (in English).
And children are given an activity pack including binoculars and an activity book with answers to be heard within the commentary.
Plus, our captain was very accommodating and happy to chat and answer questions and also pointed out places of interest along the route.
Most tables are under cover, there is also space to sit at the back in the open, plus there’s a toilet on board.
The cruise is a great way to see life in Amsterdam.
This cruise is free with an I amsterdam card which offers one free standard canal cruise per ticket. Or book via the website.
There are lots of parks to enjoy in Amsterdam to stretch young legs, including the largest, Vondelpark.
Vondelpark (credit: Klapfilm.nl)
It is the most popular park in the Netherlands and has a great children’s play area. The main areas for children are in the centre of the park.
Many of Amsterdam’s parks have small petting zoos, one of the largest Amstelpark, to the south of the city centre also has a small train to ride.
I amsterdam cards
The simplest and most cost-effective way of getting to around Amsterdam’s attractions is with an I amsterdam cty card. You can buy then in 24 hour periods for as long as you need.
The card includes one free canal cruise, public transport around the city centre and access to more than 40 museums.
We used a 72-hour card for two adults but not for our children as a lot of museums are free to children and a public transport ticket is only four euros per day.
We found that three was the magic number to save money. If you are going to visit more than three attractions on the I amsterdam list (all major attractions are included except the Anne Frank House), then you will definitely save money.
Top tips for navigating Amsterdam with kids – car, tram, foot, bike, taxi, or ferry?
Amsterdam in Holland is a good size in many ways but for navigating with children it can be awkward.
The city isn’t huge like London or Paris where you have to get public transport to most areas. And it isn’t compact enough to just cover on foot with little ones.
We found the quickest and simplest way around was to catch the trams. You can buy an hourly or daily ticket. A child’s daily ticket costs 4 euros. If you have an I amsterdam card, travel is included but only on GVB transport (that is every bus or tram which is blue and white).
The trams are a fun option for children as you don’t see them that often in the UK. They were almost always on time and clean when we visited, however there isn’t much ventilation so they get a bit stuffy in hot weather.
If you do end up walking and you will do for some journeys, watch out for the cyclists.
I know it is an Amsterdam cliche but bikes are literally everywhere and the cycle lanes are between the road and the pavement.
It is easy to forget about the bikes when you cross the street, when already looking out for trams, cars and other vehicles. Plus they don’t seem to often stop for red lights.
Even the most confident of drivers avoids driving in Amsterdam. The roads are confusing and hectic and parking is scarce and really expensive (around 5 euros an hour). So it’s lucky that Amsterdam has such good public transport.
Dutch cyclists are very, very confident and quick and really know what they are doing and where they are going.
The pace is full-on, it is definitely NOT the place for youngsters to be practising their skills, so make sure children are really, really competent if this is how you plan to get around.
Or get them to sit on your bike. We saw children riding in seats in front of the adult cyclists, not behind like is common in the UK. There are also cute bike trailers or cargo bikes (where a large container is attached at the front of the bike for the children to sit/play in).
More cycling in Amsterdam tips:
*There are lots of places to hire bicycles in Amsterdam.
*Cross tram lines diagonally else you could get your wheel stuck.
*Remember to stay to the right and most cycle paths are one-way
*Helmets are not required by law (I didn’t see a single one), but that doesn’t mean you can’t wear one.
Taxis and Uber
You can’t just hail a taxi in Amsterdam, there are specific taxi ranks or you have to call to order them. We tried an Uber (the popular taxi app) for one journey and the vehicle arrived immediately. Just remember that they probably won’t have children’s car seats or booster seat and fares can be unpredictable. The main city centre has priority given to cyclists and pedestrians over cars so what on the map can look like short taxi journeys may take quite a long time (and therefore cost more).
You can get free ferries across the River IJ. They are blue and white and can mostly be caught behind Amsterdam Central Station. See here for routes and schedules.
We caught the free NDSM ferry from the far left hand side of the station which took us to a Pancake Boat cruise but the short 20-minute return journey would be fine for some free sightseeing from the river.
Once past the dreaded morning sickness stage, a cruise sounds like a blissful holiday when pregnant.
Lots of rest, swimming, food prepared for you, afternoon naps in the cabin.
But as a Mumsnet poster found out this week: “I’ve just discovered that many cruise liners don’t let you sail if you are over 24 weeks (pregnant).
“I’m going on a cruise in 11 days’ time (cost a fortune), will be 24 weeks the day before disembarkation, have checked their T&Cs and sure enough it’s a no no.”
So is a cruise a fabulous, relaxing holiday while pregnant or a danger to mother and baby and what are the rules? The Family Holiday Guide investigates.
The pregnancy policy of cruise lines
Cruise ships have strict pregnancy policies.
Women having a healthy pregnancy, in the first or second trimester are usually allowed to sail.
They must inform the cruise line before, or risk being turned away.
The cruise line usually wants to see (sometimes two months before), a doctor or midwife’s letter confirming the mother and baby are in good health, fit to travel and the pregnancy is not high risk, plus the estimated due date.
Most cruise lines will not let passengers sail who will be in or past the 24th week of pregnancy at any stage during the journey. These include P&O, TUI, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean.
It may sound strict but when you think about it, this makes sense. Ships do not have the specialist facilities to deal with pregnancy complications or a new premature baby out at sea.
There are some ships which sail close to land or river cruises, which may allow women in later pregnancy, with a doctor’s approval.
But make sure you check and follow the rules – you may be asked to sign a health form when booking or boarding to agree that you are aware of the pregnancy policy.
You find out you are pregnant after you have booked a cruise and no longer want to go?
If you no longer want to go and have only paid a deposit, you can normally cancel the cruise and get a refund.
If you have paid in full, you will need to check the company’s cancellation policies and you may not get a full refund.
If you have travel insurance in place then you should be able to cancel or reschedule sailing.
You will be in the first or second trimester but aren’t sure whether to go?
Check with your doctor. If you have had any complications, are expecting more than one baby or have had preterm deliveries before, it may be safer to stay on land where medical facilities are close by.
Also, fully research and consider the health risks at all the destinations you will be visiting as well as the health care available at them.
There will normally be doctor-led medical facilities on the ship which can handle minor emergencies. If there is an emergency, patients are transferred to hospital (often for a fee – have insurance), but this could take a long time.
If you do sail while pregnant
*You must have travel insurance – make sure you disclose your pregnancy and check it covers you in the event of an emergency. Also make sure it covers your unborn baby.
*Always travel with your maternity notes and doctor’s letter and carry copies of prescriptions and the emergency contact number for your doctor with you too.
*Be wary of drinking the ship’s water.
*Always use hand sanitizer regularly as viruses can spread quickly on cruise ships. Take care to avoid food and water-borne conditions like stomach upsets and remember some medicines for treating things like diarrhoea aren’t suitable when pregnant.
*Don’t feel you have to do all shore excursions, stay safe and listen to your body. Sometimes pregnant passengers are not allowed on some excursions for their own safety.
*Remember, seasickness may be worse when pregnant.
*Many cruise ships have launderettes so you don’t have to splash out on lots of maternity holiday clothes.
*Be careful in the sun, keep cool and check your sun cream is suitable for pregnant women.
*You can enjoy the swimming pools but avoid hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms.
*Take a list of what you can and can’t eat as you may not be able to ‘Google it’. And be wary of buffet food which has been out a while.
*If you are flying to the cruise port, check the airline’s policy too.
Thoroughly consider all the issues before deciding whether to sail and choose a cruise which isn’t at sea for days on end.
If you go, pack a maternity swimsuit, enjoy the restful side of cruising including afternoon naps in your cabin, don’t overdo it and have a great time!
What about ferries?
Ferry companies have their own restrictions and usually won’t take pregnant women past 32 weeks. Check the company’s policy before booking as restrictions vary.
Brittany Ferries, for example, accept pregnant passengers under 32 weeks except on their high-speed sailings when they must be less than 28 weeks.
It also depends on the route and in some cases, the weather – if the sea is very rough, a pregnant traveller may not be allowed on board.
If you are planning a family holiday with your children to Europe, make sure you read our Brexit passport guide first
Holidaymakers are being urged to check their passports to ensure they will not be stopped from entering any European countries in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Children’s passports are even more likely to need renewing.
So don’t delay, check your passports and read our guide to explain the situation.
What happens if there is no deal when the UK leaves the European Union on March 29?
If there is no deal before the UK leaves the EU then you will need to have at least SIX months left on your passport to travel in most EU countries.
Currently as long as your passport is in date you can travel freely.
As children’s passports only last five years, there is more chance of them being potentially out of date than adult ones, which last 10 years.
Simple enough then?
Not quite, the six-month rule applies to the 26 countries in the Schengen area for definite. That is most of them in Western Europe – Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
But non-Schengen countries Romania, Cyprus, Croatia and Bulgaria will have their own rules and may or may not decide to apply the six-month rule.
What about Ireland?
Travel to Ireland after a no-deal Brexit would be unaffected by these rules. Ireland comes under a Common Travel Area with the UK so the rules won’t change.
What about countries outside the EU like America?
Brexit doesn’t make any difference to these arrangements. To travel outside the EU you often already need six or nine months left on a passport depending on the individual country. You may need a visa or ESTA too.
So will I need a travel visa to visit the EU after March 29?
Not at the moment but that may change if there is no deal.
What if there IS a Brexit deal?
If there is a deal it is likely the situation will be the same as it is now during the transition period which currently is scheduled to last until 2020.
Learn from our mistakes! Read our advice for families before you head to York plus check out the best ways to get there
*Plan your City Walls walk
The medieval walls encircle the city of York. As they are elevated they are the best way to see the city and you can walk along them for free. There are two miles in total but there are only certain places you can get on and off. There are also steep drops in some places so hold hands with any little ones. They are open from 8am until dusk.
York city walls
The city centre is fairly compact and we found that walking is definitely the best way to get around. Driving is slow and parking is expensive, buses are infrequent without many city centre stops.
*The York Minster
York Minster may be one of the world’s most magnificent cathedrals but children may quickly get bored somewhere like this. So make sure you get given a treasure hunt there to keep them occupied. Ours loved it. However some of the clues are really hard, ask the Minster guides for help otherwise it will take ages!
*Book, book, book for Dig and York’s Chocolate Story
If you want to do these popular attractions then book in advance. Dig allows children to be archaeologists and shows them artefacts found beneath the streets of York from Roman, Viking, Victorian and medieval times. For the full Dig archeological experience, book ahead at busy times or you will only be allowed to look around a small part of the building.
York’s Chocolate Story exterior
York’s Chocolate Story takes you on a tour of the city’s chocolate-making history. It’s great but only takes 25 people every 15 minutes so gets very busy. Again, book ahead.
*Jorvik Viking Centre
This is built on the site of amazing archaeology finds and incudes a ride and then a display. When we went there was a huge queue so we recommend you go early or late in the day. Once you are inside there is a small excavation room where you will queue again for the ride back into Viking York. This queue won’t be more than around 10 minutes.
*National Railway Museum
There is free entry to the National Railway Museum but you pay extra for rides you might want to do once inside such as a steam ride and a miniature train ride. To save time, buy tickets for those in the entrance hall, that is quicker and they take cards as well as cash. Also the best route starts with the Great Hall first.
National Railway Museum
This famous shopping street was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films. The bottom, southern end of the narrow, medieval street is the place for fans to head with four or five shops dedicated to the popular wizard including The Shop That Must Not Be Named.
Save your legs and cut down on walking by starting your boat ride with York City Cruises at Lendal Bridge near York Minster but getting off at the King’s Staith stop which is closer to the very centre of the city.
City Cruises York on the River Ouse
If you are visiting more than three attractions, you will save time and money with a York Pass – the city’s official sightseeing card. You can buy one, two, three or six-day passes with entry included to 40 attractions (20 of them inside York’s city walls). One-day passes for adults cost £40 and £28 for children. If you are visiting one or two attractions it probably won’t be worth buying a pass.
*Park and Ride
If you are a day visitor then using one of York’s seven park and ride sites is the easiest way into the city centre and your children get a free bus ride too. There are six sites around the edge of the city.
How to get to York?
By car – It is 20 minutes from the M1 and M62 motorways. There are six park and ride sites around the city to leave your vehicle.
By train – York is on the East Coast mainline, two hours from London.
By coach – There is a direct service with National Express from many cities.
By air – The nearest airports are Leeds, Bradford and Doncaster. There is also a direct rail link from Manchester Airport.
Everything you need to make flying with a baby or child under two as easy as possible including our best airport and aeroplane tips.
Taking a baby on a plane can be a daunting prospect for many parents.
Fears they may cry throughout the flight are enough to put many off the idea.
But if you are well-prepared, it can actually be a very good time to fly. Babies sleep a lot (hopefully) and won’t want to run around the plane at this stage!
Airlines and airports can help make it easier for you as long as you plan properly and make any requests as early as possible. We’ve put together a complete guide to flying with a baby or infant to help you.
When can a baby travel?
Airlines have different age restrictions for babies, ranging from two to 15 days old. Doctors recommend you wait until your baby is at least six weeks old when their immune systems are more developed. For a premature baby, they usually base this on their due date age.
Some airlines require a doctor’s note to confirm babies are fit to fly, so double check first.
And if you want to travel long-haul with a baby under three months, you do need to seek medical advice.
Also, if you’ve had a Caesarean, you may not be able to fly until after the six-week postnatal check-up, so check with your doctor first.
If you have two or more babies under six months, you may not be able to travel alone with them as most airlines require that there is one adult with each baby.
The best age to travel
Many agree that the best age to travel with a baby is between three and nine months.
Babies are sleeping better, their immune systems are more developed and they aren’t yet crawling.
Babies need their own passport, which can take a few weeks to get, so make sure it is organised before booking a flight. Babies also need a visa if the destination requires one.
If you have a different surname to your baby, you need to prove you are related. The documents needed, such as a birth certificate, depend on the situation, so check ahead.
What do airlines charge for a baby under two to fly?
A baby or child under two can sit on an adult’s lap on a plane. Sometimes this is free but usually you are charged an infant fare, a percentage of an adult fare. In the UK and Europe, you will be given a belt for them that attaches to your seatbelt, but not in the USA.
Alternatively, you can book them a seat, which can help when they are above six months or so and you can take a car seat to sit in on the plane (see more about this in the car seat section below). You will then have standard luggage allowance for them too, giving you room for all the extra baby stuff you will need to take.
Either way, your baby will require a ticket.
Booking before your baby is born
If you want to book a flight before your baby is born, you are not usually able to do this online so will need to call the airline. Then you confirm all their details nearer to the time.
When to fly
Lots of parents swear by night flights. Put your baby or young child in their sleepsuit or pyjamas, read them a story and try to get them to sleep close to their normal bedtime.
Some airlines will allow you to reserve seats in advance, others when you check in. Make sure you do this as soon as possible to get the best seats if you are not paying to reserve them. And ask if an adjoining seat can be left free if the flight isn’t full, to give you more space.
Ask when checking in and boarding whether the flight is full. If there is space, ask crew if you could have a row of seats to spread out.
Another trick is to book window and aisle seats and leave one in between empty as these are the last to go so may be left empty. If not, the passenger will usually gladly swap for an aisle or window seat.
Where to sit
Decide what is important to you and will suit your baby best. As most airlines don’t give children under two their own seat, unless you pay the full ticket price, you will need to be as comfortable as possible.
There are pros and cons to different positions. Many parents choose an aisle seat near to the front of the plane so that they can walk up and down with their baby. Or, if you are a nursing mother expecting to breastfeed, you may prefer the privacy of a window seat.
Remember, when travelling with children, you can’t book seats next to the emergency exit.
A very popular option are the bulkhead seats.
Bulkhead seats and bassinets/carrycots/skycots
Bulkhead seats are popular as they have more leg room and are easier to get in and out of, very useful when trying to stand up holding a baby.
A bulkhead is a divider between sections of the plane such as a wall, curtain or screen. So sitting in these seats means there is nobody to lie back in front of you.
Be aware that arm rests don’t move as tray tables are often stored in them and there isn’t room under the seats for bags. So you may have to store all your hand luggage in the overhead lockers, at least for take-off and landing.
Bulkhead seat tips
*Request at the time of booking or call the airline as there is usually a waiting list.
*Even if you have reserved one of these bullkhead seats, you may be asked to move for a passenger with greater need such as a wheelchair user.
Bassinets/carrycots/sky cots/reclining chairs
Bassinets are available for passengers in bulkhead seats with some airlines on long haul flights. They can make the journey far more comfortable for you than having the baby on your lap. They are often wall-mounted but some go on the floor.
A wall-mounted bassinet/carrycot for a baby in the bulkhead seats area of the plane.
*There are a limited number so request at the time of booking to avoid disappointment.
*Check your baby fits the size and weight requirements – normally up to 10kg – before you book (and remember that they will be bigger when it is time to fly).
*Face your baby’s legs towards the aisle.
*Bring an arch toy if possible to clip on to the bassinet to make an activity centre/play gym to keep your baby entertained.
*Sheets are usually provided but take a blanket/baby sleeping bag if required, the smell will be familiar for them.
*Lift your television out before you set the bassinet up and get your baby to sleep else it may not unlatch properly.
*Many airlines will ask you to take your baby out if there is turbulence, which can be very annoying if your baby has just gone to sleep.
*They are usually put away for take-off and landing.
*Some airlines including British Airways have reclining child seats for infants up to two years old (depending on their weight), which they attach in the carrycot position, which can be booked online.
When the seat belt sign is on, babies and children under two need to be secured. If they are on an adult’s lap they will use an infant extension seat belt, attached by a loop to the seat belt of the adult whose lap they are sitting on.
Alternatively, they can be put in a car seat or an alternative supplied by the airline.
Car seats in the hold
If you want to take a car seat away with you, airlines usually let you have them in the hold for free.
If you don’t take your own car seat abroad, you can find yourself in a taxi without one (legal but not safe), or one that is very old or the wrong size. Even if we hire a car, we tend to take our own as the standard of some can be poor. (Read our guide for more details about taking car seats abroad).
You don’t have to put children’s car seats in a bag but they can be damaged in transit so we use Venture Car Seat Bags. We also have separate car seats for travel so we don’t risk our usual ones being damaged in a way that might not be obvious.
Many airlines let you check car sears in at the gate, like you can a pushchair, so it doesn’t have to travel with all the luggage, but they are quite bulky to carry around an airport.
Car seats on the plane with you
If you buy your infant their own seat on the aeroplane, airline-approved car seats can be taken on to the aircraft for them to sit in. Some airlines provide them.
A child’s car seat can sometimes be used on the plane.
*Car seats are safer in the event of an accident than an aeroplane lap belt.
*But UK doctors recommend that babies do not sleep in car seats and are not kept in one for more than two hours at a time.
*The size of aircraft seats vary so always check the measurements first and any other requirement such as which direction they can face (often forward facing).
*Car seats are usually put on a window seat so they do not impede an evacuation and can’t be used where airbags are fitted.
With some airlines you can have extra luggage allowance with infant fare – where they sit on your lap.
But if your baby has their own ticket and seat, they will have standard passenger luggage allowance which you can use for all the extra baby stuff you will be carrying!
Buggies go in the hold so have to be checked in as luggage, but this is usually free and on top of your baggage allowance.
Most airlines (not all, so please check first) allow pushchairs to be taken through the airport to the plane door, although there is a maximum weight. Make sure it has a luggage tag put on at check-in and include your contact details.
Then it will be put in the hold for the flight.
Ensure it is collapsible as it has to go through the X-ray scanners. And expect it to get a bit battered so invest in a separate, lightweight travel pushchair if possible.
We bought a buggy bag, which partially protects the pushchair. Our bag has also proved useful in the past for putting extra bits inside, before it went into the hold, such as our coats and milk and nappies collected from Boots, to save carrying them on to the plane.
As an alternative to taking pushchairs all the way to the plane, some prefer to use baby carriers or slings.
If you don’t need your pushchair in the airport, it can be put in the hold with the rest of the luggage when you check in, usually at no extra cost.
Either way, you won’t have the pushchair back with you until you collect your luggage at the baggage reclaim area so if you are on your own with a baby, make sure your hand luggage is easy to carry along with your child, consider a rucksack/backpack.
Airport Security Tips
*Don’t get your baby to sleep in their pushchair just before you go through security! All hand luggage will go through the X-ray machine including buggies/pushchairs/strollers, which will have to be collapsed.
*There are no restrictions for taking baby food and baby milk on board but you will be asked to taste it as you go through security.
*If you want to get through security more quickly, you can usually pre-book online to use an express lane (between around £3 to £13 per person). Sometimes staff call families with babies through these lanes anyway, if they can.
*Don’t wear items you will have to take off, to make it easier for you, such as belts or boots.
*Don’t take more than 100ml of liquids like baby cream or lotion and place any in a clear bag to take through security.
Pre-ordering baby milk and other holiday essentials from Boots.
Many of the main UK airports have a Boots in the departure lounge. So once you have been through security you can buy things like baby wipes, nappies, Calpol, formula and baby food.
What is really useful at some Boots, is the chance to pre-order milk and nappies and other holiday essentials, to be collected one you have been through security.
*Baby milk – you can pre-order up to two tubs or 56 ready-to-drink cartons.
*You are allowed one airport shopping bag on to your flight as well as your hand luggage.
*You can pre-order anything that Boots sell except for anything sharp as they will be confiscated and you will not get a refund.
*When checking out, select deliver to store. Make sure it is an airside store (after security) not landside. Delivery is free on orders over £20.
*The order is delivered to the store within five to six working days so make sure you order in plenty of time.
*Leave at least15 minutes to collect your order in store as they are held elsewhere.
To order simply go to the Boots website, add items to your basket and choose the Collect in Store delivery option. Type the name of the airport in the ‘Find your nearest store’ box. Make sure you choose the ‘after security’ option and the correct terminal if there are more than one. Choose the day of the flight as the collection day.
Airline facilities for babies
Baby changing facilities
Not all short-haul flights have baby changing facilities so check first. Most provide a changing table although there is limited space in the toilets, so just take in what you need. A disposable changing mat is very useful, particularly if there is no changing table. Try to put a clean nappy on just before you board.
Many airlines keep extra nappies and baby food on board so ask if you need anything.
Baby food, toddler meals and milk
Most airlines will provide baby food and toddler meals if you request them in advance. So ask at the time of booking.
Many airlines will heat bottles and baby food for you for free, check in advance if you are concerned and perhaps mention it to the crew at the start of the flight.
But some budget airlines do not have baby meals or food-warming facilities so check first.
Refrigerate baby milk and meals.
Most airlines will refrigerate baby milk and toddler meals for you on long haul flights to stop them getting warm. You can keep them in a cool bag before this. Again, check first.
What to pack in hand luggage when travelling with a baby or infant
Most airlines do not have a hand luggage allowance for infants without their own seats, so it may be tricky to get everything you need within your own allowance. Pack wisely, know where everything is in your bag and keep everything you may need at hand where possible. And don’t forget:
Nappies (more than you think in case of delays)
Large disposable nappy mats
Anti-bacterial hand wipes (use frequently to try to keep other passengers’ germs and bugs at bay)
Spare changes of comfortable clothes/sleepsuits/pyjamas as well as layers in case it is cold
Dummies if used
Favourite toys (depending on age this could include rattles, teethers, sensory toys, stacking cups, shape sorters, books)
A new toy
Blanket/baby sleeping bag
Bag for dirty clothes
Bags for used spoons and bottles etc
Basic first aid kit
We found it much easier when on holiday and certainly when flying, to use the ready-to-drink cartons. Although they are more expensive, it means no worries about boiling bottled water or the tap water abroad. If your baby needs it warmer than room temperature, you can ask airport staff or airline crew if they can warm it or alternatively ask for a big mug or teapot of hot water to put your bottle in briefly. (Always shake and check the temperature before giving to your baby).
How to keep your baby calm while flying
*Give them milk (breastfeed or bottle feed) on take-off and landing. The swallowing will stop the painful pressure build-up in their ears.
*The aeroplane engine noise often helps babies and young children to fall asleep anyway.
*If you haven’t got a bassinet but have managed to get an empty seat next to you, make them a little bed on the seats.
*When awake, walk your baby up and down the plane so he or she can look around.
*If you usually calm your baby down by walking or swaying etc, just do the same in the air!
*Relax and play with and talk to your baby as you usually would and try not to feel silly. Even sing quietly if your baby likes it.
*Babies need lots of milk during a flight as the air conditioning makes them more thirsty.
*DO NOT FORGET THEIR DUMMY if they have one.
*If you are really lucky they will sleep the whole way!
Don’t forget yourself, try to relax and take a book, Kindle or tablet, for when (fingers crossed) they sleep!
Enjoy your holiday!
Have we missed any of your favourite tips, do let us know below.
How do you keep your children safe while travelling abroad – we give you all the options
It can be a major dilemma, you’re heading abroad but what do you about car seats for your children?
You could rent them, take your own or rely on taxis and public transport. We assess all the options.
Renting car seats along with your hire car
*The benefit of this is ease and simplicity, you pick the car up at the airport, pop the seats in (once you figure out how they work) and off you go.
*It can work really well as it did when we used Auto Reisen in the Canary Islands recently, the seat was brand new and it was included in the price. If you can get that abroad, it is probably the simplest option.
*The standard of child car seats varies hugely, we have seen some truly horrible seats on offer and you don’t know what you’re going to get until you arrive.
And even then, you don’t know if the seat has hidden damage rendering it unsafe, how it has been stored, if that model has been recalled, if it has parts missing. And you don’t know how to properly fit it unless you have the manual.
*The cost is also a complete lottery. We’ve been quoted an expensive £90 per seat for a week, because the car rental companies think you don’t have a choice.
We would carefully consider the total cost of renting a car including the car hire price and seats instead of just going with the cheapest headline rate. And make sure you read company reviews to see if the seats they rent are generally of a good standard.
If you are not happy with the seat you are given when you get there, ask if you can change it for another one.
Bring your own
We have tried this and it works pretty well.
*In the long-term, it will probably be the cheapest option. We have even bought new seats to use for just for this purpose – we didn’t want to risk our day-to-day seats getting knocked about and potentially damaged and made unsafe.
*Most airlines will now let you take a car seat in the hold for free – it doesn’t come out of your luggage allowance or cost extra. Both British Airways and Ryanair allowed us to do this recently.
*Some airlines let you take the car seat with you to the gate, it can be bulky to carry around but reduces the risk of damage.
*You may also be able to take the car seat on the plane for your baby or child to sit in, if it is FAA-approved. Check ahead with your airline and know the measurements.
*You have peace of mind that the seats are safe and clean.
*The seats may take a battering travelling through the airport and on to the plane. Some people send them on the plane as they are, but they risk getting damaged.
We used to take our children’s car seats in their original boxes or a padded box to try to give them some protection but it is a hassle to pack and unpack the seats and collapse the boxes for car journeys either side.
Now, we use special bags which have made life much easier – the Venture Car Seat Travel Bag has long carry straps and now our two are much easier to carry around. The bags also prevent our seats from getting scuffed or ripped.
Using the Venture car seat travel bags
*For more information about taking car seats on a plane, see this article.
Hire at your location
Increasingly, popular tourist destinations have outlets where you can hire seats from the airport. We tried one at Malaga Airport with Tots Store.
*With a specialist supplier the seats are more certain to be good quality and cheaper.
This is the entire business for a company like Tots Stores and they wouldn’t last long offering substandard seats at inflated prices like car hire companies can get away with.
*We found the service excellent, the seats were really good quality and they explained the fitting well. The staff were efficient meeting us and it was quick and easy to take the seats back at the end of the holiday.
*You don’t have to risk damaging your own seats.
*On arrival you have to head for a different part of the airport to collect the seats, which does add a little bit of time to your airport experience.
On drop-off, you can head for the departures area but it is impossible to carry all your luggage and two car seats in one trip so this could be tricky if there is only one adult.
*The cost is likely to be less than hiring from the car hire company but more expensive than bringing your own.
Taxis and public transport
*Using public transport or taxis means less to worry about. Instead of panicking about scratches on the hire car, navigation, parking in tight spots, driving on the wrong side of the road and all the rest that goes into driving abroad – you can relax a bit more.
*The key to this approach is where you are going. Driving around some busy cities is best avoided in favour of trains, buses or taxis. In other areas, you need your own car to get around.
*Public transport will be cheapest and can be the best option in big cities. On our visit to London it was great to get around via the tube, train or bus. It made for an adventure.
Taxis with car seats can be hard to find
*We have never found a taxi abroad which has a proper child’s car seat. The best you can hope for is probably a booster seat but it is very hit and miss. You can try to pre-book a taxi with seats but we have never been successful and the whole point of taking cabs is that it is quick and easy and relatively spontaneous.
*The standard of driving is so variable too, we had one particularly hair-raising trip around Florence in a taxi.
*The cost of taking regular taxis will likely be more than a hire car – unless you are paying a huge parking fee each day.
In the UK, if the driver doesn’t provide the correct child car seat, children can travel without one on and will not be fined. They must be on a rear seat. If they are three or over they need to wear a seatbelt but no seatbelt for under-threes (see gov.uk for more information). The law in other countries and areas varies.
However experts advise that it is always safer to use a child car seat. Using a travel booster seat or seatbelt adjustor may be safer than nothing.
There are a lot of options to weigh up, consider the location and what will work best for you and let us know your thoughts, tips and ideas in the comments.
*For a full guide to flying with a baby or infant under two click here. For our 10 top tips to flying with toddlers and young children click here.
We show you how to use an American Express credit card to get virtually free flights to Europe with Avios air miles
Here we will show you how a family can take a flight for virtually nothing. We have done this for the last two summers, flying to Florence which you can read about here, and to Majorca which you can read about here.
You can use points built up from using an American Express credit card for long haul flights and hotel stays. But in this article, we talk about getting Avios flights to France, Italy, Spain and other parts of Europe.
We love to spread the word about what is possible so that everyone we know can benefit too – here is what you need to do. This article has been updated to reflect recent AMEX changes.
How to get family holiday flights for four
Step 1 – Sign up for the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold card. To get extra points, do this via a link from an existing cardholder (we are happy to recommend you, just email email@example.com for a link). Then you will get 12,000 points instead of 10,000 providing you spend £3,000 in the first three months.
Step 2 – Use the card for all your online shopping (remember to add the card to your regular accounts such as PayPal, eBay, Amazon and supermarkets ) and for your fuel, food, travel, bills etc.
You get one point for every pound you spend on the card.
Step 3 – After three months, recommend your partner for an American Express Gold card, that earns you 6,000 points for the recommendation. Your husband/wife/partner then gets 12,000 points providing they hit the £3,000 spending target in three months.
After six months you will have 30,000 points from the introductory bonus plus say 7,000 points from general spending.
Step 4 – Convert the points into air miles. You can choose from various schemes on the site, but Avios via the British Airways Executive Club (BAEC) is the most well-known. You need to join the BAEC and transfer the miles.
The conversion rate is 1:1 so you would get 37,000 Avios points.
Step 5 – Choose where you want to fly
A return to Paris or Amsterdam for four people – 36,000 Avios
A return to Majorca or Florence for four people – 60,000 Avios
With British Airways you pay a fixed charge of £35 per ticket for European Avios redemptions, although this is slightly less for children because of reduced taxes, usually around £23 on some flights.
Step 6 – Another little bonus is the American Express card also comes with two free lounge passes. If both partners have a card you could start the holiday with a nice little airport lounge visit!
The small print – This AMEX card is free for the first year, it costs £140 after the first year but you can always cancel. It is a credit card so you must pay it off in full every month otherwise the interest payments will dwarf any potential miles gain.
Disclaimer – we are not a financial services site. Remember, do not use a credit card unless you are going to pay it off in full every month.
Follow the steps above and for just over £100 you can get a trip to Europe in peak season saving potentially £1,000 on plane tickets.
We also like this brilliant site called Head for Points which has all the Avios and other air miles schemes in great detail.
Please let us know if you found this article helpful.
Our best airport and aeroplane hacks to make flying with children an enjoyable experience
Lots of parents worry about taking toddlers and young children on a flight. You hope they will be comfortable and happy but fear they will be noisy, cry or have a tantrum and annoy people around them.
We’ve put together our top tips to make it as easy as possible for you. To read our comprehensive guide on flying with a baby or infant under two, click here.
1. The airport – make it fun
The airport is a big, noisy place for children, with long queues, long waits and people asking questions.
Try to ease the process by explaining ahead what will happen and make each part a game or a challenge. Maybe split up and take two different security lines to see who wins, sit by a window at the airport and do some plane spotting and let the children pull lighter suitcases if they are big enough.
Some airports have a play area for children, which can help pass the time. Also, keep them walking around, they’ll be sitting for long enough on the plane.
And buy them a magazine or book at the shops to take on board – which kills time in the airport and in the air.
2. Buggy/pushchair/stroller/car seat
Airlines normally let you have a pushchair and child car seat in the hold for free, check ahead to avoid extra costs.
Most airlines will let you keep your pushchair with you until you board if you prefer, then crew will put it in the hold for the flight. Buy a buggy bag, it offers some protection for the buggy, which is likely to get a bit battered. Plus, we have managed to fit extra bits like milk and nappies collected from Boots or even coats inside, to save carrying them on to the plane when you are juggling everything and trying to get the children on safely.
We also have protective bags for our car seats – for a full guide to hiring or taking car seats abroad see our article here.
3. Split your boarding
Children and families are often allowed to board first, this can be useful but also means more time on the plane for little ones so we prefer to wait until the end to get on.
Or consider this trick of ours. If there is more than one adult, one boards first with all the hand luggage, sorts the books, tablets/iPads, snacks and drinks out, then pops the bags in the overhead lockers.
The other parent stays with the children to burn off some energy at the departure gate and boards at the end of the process.
4. Where to sit on the plane
Airlines must aim to seat children close to parents or guardians, according to guidance from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Where they can’t, they should be no more than one row apart but there are no guarantees.
The safest way to be sure you are sitting together is to pay to book your seats online in advance. Otherwise, check in early, as soon as free online check-in opens (usually between four days and 24 hours before departure depending on the airline).
When deciding where to sit, look at the aircraft layout plans online and decide the best solution for your family. Many short haul flights are a 3-3 seating arrangement. As a family of four, we prefer to sit in two pairs rather than three together and one across the aisle, allowing us to concentrate on one child each. And we put each child in a window seat.
We never sit our children in aisle seats in case a passing trolley bumps them or catches their fingers or a hot drink is spilled. But also young children will be tempted to keep getting up and running off if they have easy access to the aisle!
If you are sitting one row behind another, consider putting a younger one who may be tempted to kick the seat in front, behind, so they aren’t annoying a stranger!
5. How to get extra seats for free
Ask when checking in and boarding whether the flight is full. If there is space, ask the crew if you could have a row of seats to spread out.
Another trick when booking seats if there are three across, is to book an aisle and a window seat, leaving a seat in the middle. These middle seats are usually last to be sold so if the plane isn’t full it may remain empty. If someone has booked it, they will usually gladly swap to be by the aisle or window.
6. Bulkhead seats
A bulkhead is a divider between sections of the plane such as a wall, curtain or screen.
Some people love bulkhead seats and some hate them, there are pros and cons.
Pros: Bulkhead seats can give more leg room and there is nobody to lie back in front of you. You are also among the first to be served food and drinks. You may be nearer to the toilet.
Cons: The arm rests don’t move, tray tables are often stored in them. There isn’t room under the seats for bags. So if the airline doesn’t allow hand luggage in front of you – always true during take-off and landing – you have to jump up and down a lot to fetch changing bags, activities, food and drink.
7. Entertainment options
Spend time preparing what to take on board to keep children entertained – else you may pay the price in the air when it is too late.
You can buy packs already made up such as the Keep em Quiet bags. But you know your children best and what holds their attention, such as colouring books, plain paper, activity books, pens, crayons and little games (not any with lots of little pieces you will be scrabbling under the chairs to find). I sometimes print out free word searches and colouring pages from the internet to make a little personal pack up for them.
We split the flight into sections. We don’t give our children anything when we first board, else they get engrossed and miss out on the fun bit! We encourage them to look out of the window and take in the excitement of lifting off the ground and being in the air. We just give them drinks to stop their ears from hurting.
When they start to get bored, we begin to bring out the entertainment. Ours love children’s magazines so we start with a new one and try some reading, colouring and puzzles while they’re still fresh.
Later on in the flight, when they start to get restless, we wheel out the iPads. When taking tablets, remember to check batteries are fully charged and their favourite programmes are downloaded and not just available via Wi-Fi.
And take proper children’s headphones which are designed for small heads so don’t slip off and are also much quieter to protect their ears.
Break up the screen time with a sandwich and snacks and use toilet breaks as an excuse to explore the plane and stretch legs.
8. What else to pack in hand luggage
Don’t forget drinks, snacks, sandwiches, nappies/pull ups for children still in them and comforters.
Remember wipes and proper anti-bacterial hand wipes (we get Lacura travel wipes from Aldi and stock up whenever they are selling them) or hand gel to keep hands germ free on board.
Put children in comfortable, loose-fitting clothes or pyjamas and take spare clothes, extra layers and extra socks in case they are cold.
Consider taking a blanket and an extra blanket or use the onboard one to make a canopy to shield children from the lights if they want to sleep. Just slot it into the headrest (this won’t work in a bulkhead seat).
And don’t forget a Kindle, book or tablet for you, you never know, you might get a few minutes to relax!
You can pre-order holiday essentials including nappies, baby milk, dummies etc to collect at a Boots airport store as you are allowed to take one shopping bag on board. Go to the Boots website, add items to your basket and choose the Collect in Store delivery option. Type the name of the airport in the ‘Find your nearest store’ box. Make sure you choose the ‘after security’ option and the correct terminal if there are more than one. Choose the day of the flight as the collection day. The order needs to be made at least three days before you fly.
9. How to stop those ears popping
There are various tricks to deal with the air pressure during take-off and particularly landing.
Boiled sweets used to be a favourite but they are a choking hazard for younger children.
We give ours drinks. It’s important they drink throughout the flight anyway – but we encourage ours to drink lots of water during take-off and landing, as the swallowing eases the pressure build-up in their ears.
Yawning when your child can see you so they reciprocate, also helps.
Younger children can also have milk or a dummy to help them.
10. And relax
Above all, try to relax and enjoy what you can about this shared experience, a big part of your holiday for them. If you are a nervous flyer, try your best not to show it else they will pick up on it and it will affect how they see it too now and in the future. Treat it as an adventure and a fun part of the holiday.
Answer these questions before booking an all-inclusive hotel for you and your children
All-inclusive holidays have never been as popular as they are now in 2018.
Holidaymakers on all-inclusive breaks can relax knowing after paying one price up front, all their meals and drinks have been paid for in advance. But it certainly doesn’t suit everybody.
So should you and your family go all-inclusive or not? The answer depends on you, your budget and where you’re going. Our comprehensive guide can help you decide.
What is all inclusive?
All-inclusive usually means that the accommodation, meals, drinks (soft and alcoholic) and entertainment are included in the cost. Some or all activities can also be added and occasionally also the airfare.
Where are you going?
It is important to take into consideration your destination when deciding whether to go all-inclusive.
In general the more familiar, cheaper and developed the location, the easier self-catering or a non all-inclusive hotel stay, will be.
In places like France and Spain, there are often nearby supermarkets, restaurants and bars, selling food and drink at reasonable prices.
But in destinations such as Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, Morocco and Cuba, there may be a lack of self-catering accommodation, limited restaurants and food can be expensive to buy. Also if safety is an issue you may be better off staying at and eating at a big resort.
So, unless you are a seasoned traveller, confident being out and about in less-developed areas with your children, staying at a hotel and eating there can be the more sensible option in some areas.
What do you want from your holiday?
If you want to relax away from the stresses of everyday life, with nothing to plan, everything taken care of for you, food prepared, drinks poured and entertainment for you and your children on the doorstep then all-inclusive could be for you.
But if you are adventurous, keen to explore the area, visit attractions and try out local restaurants, you may be better off self-catering, else you’ll be paying for food and drinks more than once and staying somewhere there is less incentive to leave. Self-catering also suits people who enjoy planning and are good at sticking to a budget while away.
We took a self-catering trip to Italy (read about it here) where we did a mix of cooking and eating out at lunchtime which kept costs lower than an all-in hotel.
How many people are going?
The bigger the group the easier all-inclusive may be. We recently took an all-inclusive trip to Fuerteventura (read about it here).
There were 11 of us, aged three to 70, and for us, all-inclusive was more straightforward.
It meant the children didn’t have to sit for ages waiting in restaurants for food as we ate buffet-style quickly and easily, there was something for all tastes and there were no worries about the bill or paying for drinks.
A villa is another good alternative for a big group. You can split the cost of accommodation, food and drink and take it in turns to cook. You will also have more space than a hotel room with communal spaces to socialise.
How long do you want to stay?
One complaint often levelled at all-inclusives is that it gets a bit samey. Same food, same pool, same activities.
A week suits us but I know people who love two weeks, as they feel they can really relax.
Pick a good all-inclusive like this one in Gran Canaria with three or four restaurants and you might find you have enough variety for 10 to 14 days.
The other way to break things up is to get out on excursions or attractions to keep the scenery fresh.
What is included?
Check what is included before you book an all-inclusive as it varies from resort to resort and some travellers end up paying for things they expected to be covered.
Added extras can include bottled water, snacks, activities, resort fees, hotel safe and Wi-Fi charges (and Wi-Fi is sometimes only available in the hotel reception).
There are usually one or two main buffet restaurants serving similar food.
There can be other restaurants such as Japanese, Thai or Asian eateries, which can be buffet-style or à la carte.
Sometimes only meals in the main buffet area are included in the cost and you have to pay to eat in any other restaurants.
Others allow a restricted number of visits to other restaurants while expensive all-inclusives may have no limit.
Sometimes there may be a cost for items like lobster and steak.
Often you have to reserve tables in all but the main buffet restaurants in advance. Check first as this can be before the holiday or on set days while you are there. Also ask whether there is a dress code.
The food package sometimes includes snacks and ice cream between meals.
For some people the free (well, included) drinks is the biggest draw as bar tabs can get very expensive.
Often it is the local brands of drinks (such as spirits and wine) that are given, with charges for imported brands.
But high-end all-inclusives can include premium brand international drinks. At more expensive resorts, you may also have waiter service on the beach, fetching you drinks and cocktails as you relax on a sun lounger or, more likely, build sandcastles.
Minibars in some all-inclusives include free drinks and snacks but check first. At the same time confirm whether room service is free.
So how much do you drink?
If you are a family of four, we calculate that both adults need to be at least moderate drinkers to save money going all-inclusive.
In a country like France where a decent bottle of wine can cost about £3, you won’t save a lot so assess the destination and be honest about your drinking!
The activities included in the cost vary enormously, so check first. They can include non-motorised water sports like kayaking and paddleboarding, beach games, exercise classes, water aerobics, water sports and scuba diving. So it is a good opportunity to try out new things. There may also be a games room, tennis courts, gym, children’s clubs, water park, playground or mini golf.
Normally you will pay for motorised water sports, spa treatments, excursions and babysitting.
Check the entertainment schedule straight away so that you don’t miss something you may enjoy.
There can be discos, live shows, children’s discos, children’s magic shows, character breakfasts etc. The quality also varies considerably between hotels so check out reviews.
Double check before what happens if you have to cancel your trip, will you lose the whole all-inclusive cost including meals? Make sure you have a good travel insurance policy.
Do you need to tip?
Lots of people like not having to carry cash around but tipping is welcomed at some hotels, find out the resort or culture’s tipping policy in advance.
Tipping is usually appreciated but not required to recognise good service to staff including bartenders, servers and housekeepers.
Will you save money?
Here comes the crunch – is all-inclusive it cheaper? Unsurprisingly the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. Let’s do a quick comparison.
We price-tested a week to the Costa del Sol at May half-term for a family of four.
All-inclusive prices (flights, transfer, hotel, food and drink) range from £2,500 to £3,200 for a decent four-star resort.
Now the DIY option. Flights come out at £350 per person for four people (total £1,400). A comparable hotel with breakfast included, ranges from £800 to £1,000. That gives us a total of £2,200-2,400, leaving £800 for a week’s food and drink. That is the true cost of the all-inclusive.
Meals out in the Costa Del Sol at a reasonable restaurant would be around £60 for a family of four. So it comes down to lunch and how much booze you want.
Will you save money going all-inclusive?
An all-inclusive resort can be cheaper if you take advantage of all they have to offer but often the cost is comparable, so it is about choice and what will work best for your family.
We have always thoroughly enjoyed all-inclusives with our young children, in between other more active and adventurous breaks.
I love the huge range of food and beautiful pools and our children like the familiarity of being in one resort and getting to know what to do and where everything is. We still try to get out and about a bit too to explore the area to achieve the perfect balance.
How to find a hotel both you and your children will love
Finding the right hotel is crucial for enjoying your precious family holiday. Once you have children you are likely to spend more time at your hotel, even on a more active holiday. Children can get very tired being out all day and often need time to relax in the room and enjoy the facilities. So what are the important things to look for when choosing a hotel?
People often look at the room, the pool, the grounds, the restaurants, the room service, yet they ignore the most important factor – the location.
Is it on the beach, in the right part of town, opposite a brilliant restaurant or a noisy disco? Decide what is important for your family and choose accordingly and read reviews to check there are no hidden surprises.
Make sure you are near to the attractions or the beach you will be spending time at, else children can be worn out before they even start. And check out the transport options nearby or offered by the hotel.
If it’s a hot summer holiday, you’ll need a swimming pool to help everyone cool off. If the weather is going to be cold or potentially wet – then an indoor pool is a great distraction for a few hours.
For us, a pool is almost essential on a family holiday unless we are doing an all-action city break where we will barely be in the hotel. And a slide or splash area is a big bonus.
Always check the small print to see if an outdoor pool is heated, or if an indoor pool has limited times for families.
A small, cramped room is not much fun with children. Besides all the extra stuff you will have, toddlers and older children need space. And you will all feel on top of each other if the room is tiny.
So aim for a bigger room if possible and obviously you want somewhere that feels clean and fresh. Your children are likely to be crawling on the room floor at some point or may be putting something in their mouth (don’t forget hotel room tv remote controls are among the most contaminated items, yuck)!
Families with three or more children are often forced to book more than one room, which is costly, then everyone ends up sleeping in one room anyway.
Bigger families will have to work harder to find a hotel and destination that will accommodate all the family in one room or suite.
If you’re travelling with young children, you will probably need a kettle and a fridge. And a microwave can make life a lot easier too.
Hotels outside the UK often don’t have a kettle and they are vital for anyone wanting to mix up baby milk or heat food pouches.
If there isn’t one, invest in a travel kettle or contact the hotel to see if they can put one in your room.
Fridges are useful for storing milk and possibly some drinks for mum and dad for after the children are asleep!
We’ve also used hotel fridges to keep supplies like butter and cheese so that we can make picnics to take out.
Eating in or out
Does the hotel have a restaurant? If you check in late or fancy an easier night, a nice restaurant on site is useful.
If you plan to be eating out, research the availability and location of suitable nearby restaurants and read reviews and check out menus to see if they are child-friendly.
A good, included breakfast, can start the day on a high for everyone.
Our children love the familiarity of having breakfast in the same place every day and getting to know where everything is and what they like best. And they enjoy the independence of starting to choose for themselves and even fetching their own food and drinks.
Do the staff make your children feel welcome?
It might be the best hotel in the world, but if you feel constantly on edge, praying your children behave, then you won’t relax.
The vibe needs to be a family one. Check reviews to see if staff make a fuss of children and enjoy having them around.
Most places call themselves child-friendly, not all are friendly to children.
You don’t necessarily need loads of outdoor space but you do need a bit. A dash of green space to run around in, a nature trail or a terrace to explore and sit on, can turn a hotel stay into more of an adventure for children.
We love to explore our hotels, roaming the corridors and outside in the grounds. For example, when we stayed at St Ermin’s Hotel in London, it was great to have a terrace with a bee hive on it.
If you are planning to use children’s clubs or a babysitting service, make sure to investigate what is available in advance.
Some kids’ clubs don’t operate all year plus services can be costly.
A soft play area or other indoor play area will really make life easier for you and more fun for your children.
A playground outside is always welcomed too and gets a big tick from us.
Before you start to look at hotels, draw up a list of criteria that will ensure all adults and children are going to be comfortable, relaxed and happy on holiday.
*Is there anything else important to your family? Let us know in the comments below, we would love to hear from you.
Our top tips guarantee you always get the best hotel rate
Step 1 – Website search
There are so many sites out there it’s hard to know where to start. Here’s what we do.
Use a multiple search site. We usually use Trivago to benchmark all the prices as we find it the easiest and quickest website to get an idea of the price.
We also think Booking.com has a good range of available accommodation and like Expedia for the quality of its pictures and information. TripAdvisor is obviously a favourite for its customer reviews.
Step 2 – Breakfast
Find the two or three cheapest options and check which include breakfast then compare accordingly. An included breakfast can save you time and money plus can be easier when travelling with children, unless there are nice cafes or bakeries nearby you are keen to try.
Step 3 – Cashback
Check the situation with cashback websites like our favourites TopCashback and Quidco.
You can save up to 12 per cent off the price of a hotel by signing up to a cashback site, clicking its link to the company you are booking through and then booking.
It also works for package holidays, even a two per cent saving on a £3,000 package is worth £60 – enough for a meal out or airport lounge passes.
Step 4 – Direct booking
Check the hotel’s own website and contact them, most want you to book directly through them as they don’t have to pay commission so may match or beat your best online price.
They may have a special deal for those who book direct such as three nights for the price of two. Or you could ask them to include breakfast for you.
Step 5 – Secret hotel
See if the hotel is on a secret deal with Lastminute.com.
It offers top secret hotels at a serious discount – the catch is you don’t know which hotels they are.
However, you can usually work out which hotel is being offered with a bit of research.
Copy and paste the description they use into Google – it often matches the hotel’s own website. Or it may be very similar to the description used on other websites where the hotel is named.
Step 6 – Credit card
Okay this won’t get you money off, but it may just save you a fortune. The recent Monarch demise, of which we were one of the victims, showed the value of using a credit card to pay for travel.
The card gives you protection so that you will get your money back if the airline or hotel goes bust.
Package holidays are generally covered under the ATOL scheme but if you have sorted everything yourself – the DIY route – always use a credit card.
We had for our cancelled Monarch flights and American Express was brilliant, refunding the £350 almost immediately.
One example – how we got a peak season hotel in Florence for £50 a night
We were looking for a hotel in Florence in peak season.
Trivago’s best price was £65 a night, cashback from TopCashback brought that down to £60.
But this hotel was on a Lastminute Top Secret list for £56.75.
We then got 11 per cent back via TopCashback, which made it £50.50 for a family room. Read the review of the hotel here, it was perfectly fine for the money.
For more advice check out this guide from MoneySavingExpert.com.
Have you got any tips to share? We’d love to hear them.
Should you go for a minibreak, a week, ten days or a fortnight – we review all the options.
Is it nice to be proved right by science? I’ve always thought a week is the right length for a holiday. Two weeks is too long, a few days sometimes not enough.
And research published in the Journal of Happiness recommends eight days as the optimum length of a holiday.
A study says it is the right length of time to fully relax and achieve maximum happiness levels, without getting bored or homesick.
Here we look at all the options.
*If you have shorter breaks, you can have more of them! This method enables you to see more of the world. Four four-day holidays per year mean you can balance UK and European trips.
*It also feels like a real treat to have a holiday every two to three months to look forward to rather than waiting a year for one big break.
*It can be more expensive as it means more fixed costs (petrol, flights etc) to reach multiple destinations.
*Can you really explore each place properly? You can get around a small town or a theme park in that time but could you tackle an entire region? We managed a twin-break on the Costa Del Sol in four days which you can read about here.
A week to 10 days
*Enough time to relax and explore properly. In a week you can see plenty of a region like Tuscany (read about our trip here), Provence or Cornwall. You can even manage a split-destination break.
*The best of both worlds. Seven to 10 days is long enough to please everybody. You can have the odd day doing nothing by the pool and still see the sights.
*It helps you budget properly. A short break leads to the tendency to blow your money as quickly as possible. Too long a holiday and you could be eking out the pennies by the end.
*If you are going further than five or six hours then travelling, jet lag and adapting to the time difference could wipe out at least three days of a seven-day holiday.
*Cost – two seven-day holidays will cost more than one 14-day break. Especially if you are in the same hotel, or at an all-inclusive, where generally the longer the stay the better the value.
*Becoming a full-time traveller. It’s only on a long holiday you forget that there’s another life back at work or school.
*You can immerse yourself in a country and really get a feeling for a place, even living like a local once you’ve spent the first week working out how to do everything.
*Have a proper split-location break. Treat it as two, one-week trips, for example in Florida you could do Disneyland and theme parks for a week and then head to the beaches to relax.
*Boredom. It needs to be a varied experience to maintain the interest for this long, if you’re seeing the same hotel walls for 14 days it will stretch even the most enthusiastic holidaymaker.
*Getting over it. The danger of being away for so long is that it’s hard to adapt to life at home. The children may find it harder to start school work or get back into their proper bedtime routine.
What is your ideal holiday length? Tell us in the comments.
A family trip to London does not need to be as expensive as you think – read our tricks to save money
Find the free attractions
There are plenty of museums in London which don’t charge an entry fee. The dinosaurs and whales of the Natural History Museum and the next door rockets in the Science Museum are great for children.
There are also the historical artefacts in the British Museum and there’s the chance to walk the streets of Victorian London at the Museum of London.
If you want to take a step back into your own younger days, the V&A Museum of Childhood has toys, teddy bears and dolls through the decades as well as hands-on fun.
One area per day
Be sensible and tackle one part of London at a time where you can walk between attractions and save money on transport.
Try to do one section a day otherwise costs rise and children’s feet start to hurt.
This was our recent three day itinerary:
Day 1 – Westminster, London Eye, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace.
Day 2 – Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Hyde Park.
Day 3 – Tower Bridge, Tower of London.
The area around the Tower of London is one to explore
Mix your transport
It is expensive to get around in London.
If you stay centrally you can walk to lots of attractions, so pick a well-located hotel.
The Tube is the quickest option for longer trips but can be expensive, although an Oyster card makes it cheaper and children up to aged 10 are free with paying adults. You can also use contactless credit or debit cards now to pay as you go on London’s public transport, which makes life much easier, see the Transport for London website for more.
However, the London Underground can be difficult with a pram or buggy as most don’t have lifts. The wheelchair symbol on the Tube map shows stair-free stations.
If you have to go further, then the bus is the cheapest option and you can see the sights from the top deck, which can be great fun for children.
A taxi or Uber can work out relatively cheap too if you’re a large family but children’s car seats are not readily available.
Some taxi companies have children’s car seats, but they have to be booked in advance. It is legal for babies and children to travel in a taxi in London without a child safety restraint if one isn’t available. But a proper car seat is by far the safest option for your little ones.
Eat for less
It can be very expensive to eat out in London.
If you are on a budget and staying in a hotel, enjoy a big breakfast allowing you a smaller lunch.
Then think about making a picnic, we often buy a loaf of bread and cheese and make up our sandwiches to take out.
If you want to eat out, check for voucher codes and offers in advance. Read through the small print though because some chain restaurants exclude prime locations from voucher offers.
Don’t forget, London has amazing street food. We love the street food market at Camden for delicious lunches.
The Changing of the Guard
The Changing of the Guard is a great free show but can be a long and busy wait. One tip with toddlers is watch the band warm up at Wellington Barracks instead of battling the crowds outside Buckingham Palace.
Then you can go into St James’s Park when the soldiers are at the palace and watch them marching away afterwards.
Fewer crowds and less waiting around. Check the dates of the event here Changing the Guard.
Buckingham Palace hosts Changing the Guard but we watch elsewhere