We’ve just booked a family week in the sunshine and, after finally doing so, I now need a break. The whole process of choosing a summer holiday has been exhausting and has felt more like a tedious, time-consuming chore than an exciting opportunity to discover our next family adventure. So, I thought I’d pass on a few thoughts to save you a similar-sized headache.
Many years ago, before children made it infinitely more complicated, booking a week in the sun was easy. I remember, for example, arranging a break away with some friends after my A Levels, using nothing but Teletext – the pre-internet information super B-road – to search for the perfect package holiday.
Back then, after reading a single line of descriptive copy, we called the advertised number, gave our credit card details and found ourselves on a beach in Spain within a matter of days, getting sunburnt and drinking too much.
Holiday research, research, research
This year, however, securing our week away has required degree-level research and the kind of time I would usually only commit to purchasing a home or gaining a qualification.
The first issue we faced was deciding what kind of holiday we actually wanted. With children aged 12 and 11, most of our holidays to date have centred entirely around them, so did we want more of the same, or a change?
Over the years we’ve camped countless times, we’ve done Center Parcs (at eye watering expense), we’ve staycationed in Devon, Cornwall and North Wales, we’ve stayed with relatives and we’ve stayed at home. Without exception, every one of these holidays has been hard work.
Whether it’s putting up a tent, endlessly climbing up and following children down water slides, walking, sightseeing, traipsing around museums, driving for hours or arguing over what to do and where to go – holidays with young children are never relaxing for parents.
However, at 12 and 11 I think we have reached a point where we don’t have to fill every second of holiday time with high intensity, child-driven entertainment. So, after debating the pros and cons of Center Parcs, Eurocamps and all the other things we’ve done in the past, we settled on trying something new, a package holiday by the beach.
Avoid the holiday review rabbit hole
There followed hours of mobile phone scrolling and internet research, with occasional shouts of; “this is it, I’ve found the one!” Only for hopes to be dashed seconds later with a one star TripAdvisor review pointing out the dodgy electrics and cockroach infested restaurant.
This process repeated time and again, as we tried different countries, resorts and hotels. First, the booking site would show us a fabulous looking hotel, with an accompanying description that made it sound like an unspoilt paradise. Then the traveller images on Tripadvisor would show us a bloke being sick in a bin and a room with a view over some sewage works.
Ok, perhaps not to quite such an extreme, but the sheer number of ‘real life’ reviews for every hotel and holiday, makes it so difficult to believe anything the holiday companies ever tell you.
The result is that you waste hour upon hour chasing your dream holiday down a never ending rabbit hole of reviews.
But remember, the vast majority of people who leave reviews are those who were unhappy with their experience. The rest, who had a perfectly decent time, without incident, just get home and get on with their lives. They don’t think about rushing to write a TripAdvisor review the second they land.
Accept a holiday compromise
The other key thing to remember is that, unless you have a Hollywood budget, you’re going to have to compromise on something. The perfect hotel, in the perfect location, with the perfect extras at the perfect price, doesn’t exist. So don’t expect to find it by endlessly scrolling in the hope that the next one will be the one.
This year we’ve compromised on a lengthy transfer and a hotel that’s on the lower end of the luxury scale. But we’ve got the resort we wanted, at a price we were happy with.
The only other advice I’d give is to just get on with it. This year, we spent too long half-heartedly looking, coming close to booking something, but then realising there was something on the telly and putting it off. Before you know it, days and weeks then drift by and the bargain holidays you saw a month ago have long gone, with prices rising faster than the cost of tomatoes.
So, decide on the type of holiday you want, dedicate a fixed amount of time to searching, accept a compromise and just get it booked.
Then, when you’re sat on the beach, arguing with your children over sunscreen, sick to death of the hotel food and uncomfortably covered in sand, it’ll all be worth it.