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Family travel: Ask the experts

Our panel of experts answer your questions, from plush family spa breaks, to taking Fido away

Family travel: Ask the experts

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Q Where can the whole family go to get involved in wildlife conservation while on their travels?

You don’t have to travel far or spend thousands of pounds to become involved; some of the National Trust’s working holidays are designed for families with children aged 6–17. Family Rangers in Northumberland (£140 per person/three nights inc. meals) involves helping preserve wildlife around Allen Banks & Staward Gorge, including red squirrels, roe deer, badgers and otters.

Looking further afield, Responsible Travel’s volunteering trips include working with sea turtles in Sri Lanka (all ages; from £499 per person/seven days exc. flights), and with rescued monkeys in South Africa (best with ages 8+; from £547 per person/seven days exc. flights).

With Biosphere Expeditions, you can survey endangered tigers in Sumatra (from £1,980 per person/13 days exc. flights) or spy snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan (from £1,940 per person /13 days exc. flights). While there’s no lower age limit, they’re best for teens.

If an organised trip isn’t your bag, combine a beach holiday in Cape Verde with time at a wildlife conservation centre. Both Sal and Boa Vista islands have turtle centres where you can join ranger-led night walks to tag turtles. Rhonda Carrier

Q How do I drive to Spain with the family and the dog?

1. Paperwork: Your dog needs a microchip and passport. Vets can issue these after a rabies vaccination or booster. Puppies need to be over 12 weeks and can’t leave the UK until 21 days from the vaccination. Check the microchip works before you travel.

2. Travel: By ferry. At the port, your pet’s passport and microchip will be checked. Your dog can stay in the car if it’s a short journey to France; travelling to Spain (such as Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Santander or Bilbao), you can book a dog-friendly cabin or kennel. It’s compulsory to carry a muzzle, lead and collar with ID tag. Your dog will have to visit a vet no less than 24 hours upon arrival, and no more than 120 hours before you sail — so they can administer a tapeworm tablet.

3. Pet-friendly hotels: Expect to pay between €10-20 (£9-18) supplement per night. For small dogs, you’ll find many establishments with dog beds, bowls and biscuits. Most hotels won’t accommodate dogs weighing over 20kg. Sawdays lists dog-friendly establishments. 

4. Insurance: NFU Mutual covers dogs outside the UK for up to 60 days each year.  Sam Lewis

Q What are the best-value winter sun destinations?

Japan is far from the pricey destination it once was. Package costs have come down over the past two years while eating out in Tokyo is 25% cheaper, making it the cheapest of 30 destinations surveyed in the Post Office’s latest Long Haul Holiday Report. Japan’s weaker economy has led to fierce competition and the opening of great value restaurant chains. A beer can cost as little as 60p and ameal for two with drinks is around £35.

Our barometer survey found prices have fallen in 40% of winter sun destinations, including Vietnam and Costa Rica, which until recently had no direct flights from the UK. We’ve seen big increases in demand for their currencies, so their popularity is clearly rising. Competitively priced direct flights, weak currencies, and cheap meals and drinks make these exotic half-term break destinations.

Don’t dismiss the Caribbean, either. There’s likely to be a period of instability in the wake of hurricanes in the region and while islands such as Antigua, Jamaica and St Lucia had become expensive for meals, drinks and other tourist staples, this year our barometer of prices reveals falls of over 25% compared with a year ago. Andrew Brown

Q Are there any luxurious UK spas that don’t mind kids?

Pre-children, if you were feeling particularly exhausted the answer might have been a weekend spa break. Post-kids, you start to consider a 7am start and a cup of tea the very height of luxury. However, having children doesn’t necessarily mean some spa time is out of the question. There are some fantastic properties in the UK which actively welcome little ones, so you can enjoy family time and ‘me’ time. In London, The Athenaeum Hotel is an excellent choice — it has a tranquil REN spa offering a range of bespoke treatments, two cedar wood hot tubs, sauna and steam room. Youngsters get their own children’s concierge who brings milk and biscuits at bedtime and can arrange kite-flying in Hyde Park, opposite.

The Grove, in Hertfordshire, is an absolute dream for a family — beautiful grounds, a games room, three swimming pools (including an indoor heated one just for kids), even a ‘beach’ and five-a-side football pitch. It’s a truly child-friendly destination. It also has a world-class spa with a fabulous selection of treatments available — the exclusive Orangery Experience is sheer bliss. And there’s an onsite creche as well. Jo Fletcher-Cross

Published in the Family Travel guide, free with with the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)