Booking a holiday for a family of more than four can throw up very specific challenges. The classic ‘nuclear’ family, after all, fits into a standard size hotel room or hire car with relative ease. Scramble that number, just a little, by adding another child, and suddenly parents are faced with Mensa-style challenges, such as how to organise a jigsaw of beds and cots in a hotel room, strap three children into different-size car seats, and fit them all, harmoniously, plus luggage, into the back of a small hire car. And that’s all before you’ve even arrived on holiday. Then come the challenges of keeping to your budget while catering for the different tastes and demands of babies, toddlers and possibly even teenagers.
“I was really frustrated with the assumption that ‘family’ had to mean a group of four,” says Jonathan Hill, from Falmouth. He and his wife, Kate, have three daughters: Minna (11), Isla (nine) and Grace (three). “We’d had a gap after having Isla, and planning holidays had always been easy until we increased our brood to three. Four was a magic number for hotels and tour operators, but the problems we had booking linked rooms, for example, was extraordinary.
“When Grace was a baby, we couldn’t have her sleeping in a crib in our room with the other two kids, even if it was a family room, as we’d have got a fine for over-occupancy.”
When the girls were small, Jonathan and Kate found an answer for this problem in self-catering holidays, and home swaps. “The beauty of a home swap with another family is that everything you need in terms of kit is already there,” says Jonathan, who says the problems became more pressing once the girls got a little older, and the family wanted to resume foreign holidays. “Since we’ve started travelling as a group of five, we’ve found the website Vacationkids.com invaluable in providing advice on the resorts and hotels that don’t introduce fines, or create problems in booking interconnecting rooms.” Following advice from the site, the family have booked a cruise with Celebrity Cruises, whose family rooms are around 25% bigger than standard rooms, and with a double bed, two single sofa beds and a bunk bed can, with a bit of a squeeze, fit the entire family.
Ewan Kearney and his wife, Jennifer, were faced with a similar challenge when organising holidays for their three children: Eleanor (eight), Finley (six) and Evie (four). Their answer was to embrace self-catering breaks, and after some challenging trips in Europe, they’ve used their non-hotel-friendly family group as an excuse to rediscover the great English outdoors.
“Getting three kids through an airport is, to be honest, a pretty tiring way to start a holiday,” laughs Ewan, who concedes the challenges don’t stop there. “We’d have to sit separately on the flight, then fitting the three kids and all their gear into a hire car was always a challenge. And you can forget about taking much luggage away: there simply wasn’t room.”
By abandoning the challenges of overseas holidays altogether, Ewan and Jennifer freed themselves from many of these problems, choosing instead self-catering breaks closer to home, often no more than two or three hours away by car. So successful were these breaks, in fact, they set up Natural Retreats (www.naturalretreats.com), offering a range of self-catering accommodation, from beach apartments in Newquay to eco-lodges in rural Wales and remote Scotland. Ewan says they are catering to an increasing number of multi-generational holidays, too, with grandparents and cousins included in the groups, making stereotypical four-person ‘nuclear’ families seem small. “After all, it’s not just a family of five that’s a challenge to cater for on holiday,” says Ewan. “Part of the real joy of family life is that it’s often a bit chaotic. And we love the idea our accommodation gives larger families, including grandparents, step brothers and sisters or aunts and uncles, the chance to come along and enjoy the fun.”
Five tips for booking a break for a family of five or more
2. Advice: www.vacationkids.com has advice on booking trips for larger family groups, as well as lists of hotels, cruise lines and travel agents who specifically deal with family groups of five or more.
3. Self-catering: This takes some of the hassle out of booking rooms, but check that kit such as travel cots and highchairs are available on site. Some companies charge extra for this.
4. Car hire: Check which size of car seats are available to save time and confusion later.
Published in the Summer 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveller Family (UK)