Forward planning


Why you should book your family holiday as far in advance as possible once you’re tied to the school holidays

Once you are tied to the school holidays, jetting away to the sun can feel akin to financial ruin. And that’s if you can find the holiday you want when you eventually get round to searching for it. After years of travelling during the “shoulder season”, (that great period when destinations are cheaper and quieter but still offer an amazing experience), I now have a child in full time education (plus a one year old). I am going to take the advice which I offered up to my clients year after year when I worked as a travel agent and book as far in advance as possible for my holidays (except for last minute camping trips in the UK when the sun comes out).

Before I start, I would like to say that there are exceptions to every rule and no doubt it may be possible to book your ultimate dream holiday on the internet for a great price, a few weeks in advance. While there are always “deals” to be had for those brave enough to wait until the last minute, if you have a fixed period of annual leave and a clear destination and particular accommodation requirements within a certain budget, you’re unlikely to find your ideal holiday a few weeks prior to your travel date.

Time of year
In the summer, the whole of continental Europe is, on the whole, warm if not very hot. So if you literally just want a bit of last minute guaranteed heat you shouldn’t find it too difficult to find a deal providing you’re flexible. However, if you’re travelling at Easter, one of the half terms or worst of all at Christmas, just remember that there are only so many hot holiday places in the world at those times of year and they will eventually be fully booked or exorbitantly expensive (£600pp one way to Tenerife anyone?). And with popular Middle Eastern and north African destinations becoming less predictable, the range of traditional winter sun locations is shrinking.

I used to specialise in holidays to Australia and those in the know would call me a year in advance to book their Christmas holiday flights. Return flights in the first week of January (in time to get the kids back to school) would generally be sold out at any respectable price around ten months in advance. Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve are no longer the cheap dates in the calendar as so many people are now taking long haul trips over the festive period and prioritise price over travel date.

Many of us book a last minute foreign holiday in order to escape the misery of a soggy British summer. However, it is worth considering whether that hastily booked trip perhaps staying in less than perfect accommodation or somewhere which is not your first choice of location is really worth it. Sometimes, it makes more sense to avoid these sorts of compromise and instead put the money towards next year’s holiday instead. The desire for guaranteed sunshine and heat is a powerful thing, particularly if you have experienced several years of rainy holidays in the UK but it’s important for the head (and wallet) to rule rather than the heart.

I appreciate that I might be stating the obvious here but when I was a travel agent I had many families calling me at the last minute for their dream holiday and then balking at the price. If you book in advance you can often take advantage of early booking offers, free or reduced child places and sometimes you can even haggle with a villa owner or rental agent if you offer to pay in full in advance (obviously providing you are fully covered for any unforeseen financial mismanagement).

Work commitments
Last minute holidays are great if you can get the time off work and jet off without leaving a trail of cancelled meetings in your wake. As most special offers are based on charter flights, a last minute holiday does require a degree of flexibility, perhaps leaving a day earlier or later than planned in order to clinch that unbelievable price you see advertised in the window of a travel agent or flashing on your computer screen. These holidays do exist, but they do require a modicum of flexibility.

Personally, I do find being a parent a little stressful at times. Tantrums on the floor of a supermarket when the clock is ticking on my parking ticket; being informed of the need for a fancy dress outfit on the day it is required; trying to get my boys into bed early so I can catch a very infrequent train out of my village to revive my social life; and so forth. While I come from an inter-railing, backpacking, last-minute city-break-taking travel background, my holiday arrangements as a parent are, with two small children in tow, a more measured affair right now. Like many parents, I make lists, pack the car the night before, secrete emergency snacks and toys into various bags and generally try to pre-empt any minor, or major, disaster. If at the same time as getting organised I had to actually trawl the net to find the holiday the week before over several evenings, agree on somewhere with my husband and then do all the organising I think I’d need an extra week’s holiday to recover.

I used to sell some great last minute holidays to Greece, indeed I even secured holidays for clients in hotels of character in charming resorts a few days before departure. However, the flight time was generally horrendous. And it goes without saying that if you want to fly from a regional airport such as Bristol or Leeds Bradford and you want more choice than Mallorca or Malaga, you should book as far in advance as possible.

If you’re particular about where you and your children will be sleeping (ie in separate bedrooms to each other) and you want the kind of holiday that allows you to pop the kids into bed so you can enjoy a long dinner al fresco with a bottle of the local wine, booking ahead should allow you to find those all-important “family suites”, two bedroom apartments, villas and so on. A lot of the accommodation still on sale at the last minute may be a little more cosy; if you book a cheap “family room” in a hotel you may find yourselves spending a week whispering over your wine glasses while your children slumber a few feet away from you. You’d be better off spending a lot less money and going camping. It might be less romantic but the meal al fresco is guaranteed.

Lots of people dream of staying in a rustic villa, perhaps in France or Italy, with far reaching romantic views of fields dotted with poppies and cornflowers. However, I often found as a travel agent that these same people also expected shops, restaurants and perhaps some gentle nightlife for their teenagers all within walking distance of their accommodation… Rural properties rarely have these facilities on their doorsteps unfortunately. In fact, there’s probably only a handful which offer more than one or two of these resources. So if you want to stay in a rural idyll, walking distance to a Michelin starred restaurant which you can stumble home from, start looking now!


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