Some obvious, some maybe less so. But as a combination they work!
You’ve found the holiday home (yey!), and you’re getting ready to go (so it’s almost time to pack… Aaaargh! My most hated thing!). Here’s a few tips that can help get your holiday home experience off to the best start…
1. Be a friend to the host
As I tend to use Airbnb I am more often than not in direct contact with the host of the place we are staying in. That way they can get to know us and we can build trust in them too. And even when I find a place through a lettings website, I will try to then find out if the home has its own website where I can book direct (which can be cheaper!) and speak to the owner rather than an agent. Friendly communications from the get-go (even when you are only enquiring about availability) will go a long way towards making your stay even more comfortable and memorable.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the host if the information you need hasn’t been listed. Just because it doesn’t explicitly say it has a travel cot, doesn’t mean they can’t get hold of one if you ask nicely. An owner of a Bastide we stayed at in France with some friends, even got hold of 4 travel cots and 4 high chairs for the 2 sets of toddler twins we brought between us! And Eduardo, the kind owner of a stunning home near Lisbon (which we stayed at with the same friends!) even built a makeshift fence around the pool so we didn’t need to worry about the kids 🙂
And by striking up a good relationship, the owners will be happy to assist you with things that really help get your trip off to the best start. We have frequently been offered by hosts to stock the fridge for our arrival or even make us some dinner, especially if they know we are arriving late or on a day where the local supermarkets close early. After a long day travelling with kids to an unknown area, knowing you will have milk in the fridge is an absolute godsend. One host in Wellington even gave us her car keys so we could pop to the local supermarket and buy some beers – she had literally just met us!
These little experiences are part of why I love holiday homes and Airbnb so much.
2. Use local knowledge as much as possible
Your host will no doubt be able to point you in the direction of the local must sees, must dos and must eats! And they are more likely to be able to suggest places that appeal to the specific needs of your group.
We went to a tacky little theme park in Provence when the kids were young, and we wouldn’t have bothered as Tripadvisor slated the place (at the time), but the owner of our Airbnb insisted the kids would love it, and she was right! And it had the greatest soft-play we’ve ever taken the kids to (with a cafe that served beer… France knows how to do soft-play right!). I don’t always rely on Tripadvisor for this reason (and many more – it’s full of whingers!), I prefer to just check the most recent reviews on Google Maps. Which brings me on to the next point nicely…
Montopoto! The greatest place on earth (or at least in France) for kids.
3. …Save places to Google maps
Do this before you go, and then add the hosts’ recommendations too. In particular, save the nearest decent-looking supermarkets or local food markets, and any restaurants/coffee shops/attractions you want to go to. You can share the mapped ‘pins’ with others in your group too so you are all on the same page. This has worked well for us, particularly when plans go awry and everyone is getting a bit ‘hangry’ and you just want to stop for some food – check your map, see what you’ve already starred nearby, and go there.
Researching the San Francisco area in advance made it very easy to find our fantastic family-friendly local taproom, Barebottle Brewing Co
4. Don’t try to do EVERYTHING together, but do work as a team
This particularly applies if you’ve gone with a group of friends, or with wider family. It’s great that you’ve all come on holiday together (well done for getting this far!) but you don’t have to spend every waking minute together! You can visit the local market on different days as it’s no fun waiting for people when you want to get on and have a good rummage (I’m talking about myself here!). And if your kids like eating different things, then it’s ok for everyone to go to different restaurants.
As nice as it would obviously be to arrange long leisurely lunches together, it’s very unlikely to happen with young children in tow. So just keep it simple, and only plan to have a small number of meals together at a time of day that suits most of your group. Breakfasts/brunch are always easiest I find as the kids are always happy to eat pastries, and then in the evening the adults can eat together at home after the little ones go to bed. That leaves everyone free to do their own thing over lunchtime. Happy days.
Above all, you should work as a team. Don’t let one person call the shots. Take it in turns to pick up food, prepare meals, babysit each others kids etc. We tend to volunteer to do the first big supermarket shop when arriving at a holiday home, and with that we take a lead on planning meals for the first night or two, then we can relax for a few days after that!
Sometimes these kids will eat a freshly grilled seabass while we enjoy a quick glass of wine. And other times we just grab some chips on the go before they have a meltdown! No meal is the same, we just go with whatever feels right for us and the kids at the time (both pics are from a trip to Portugal).
A big family trip to Belgentier, France (6 adults, 3 kids, and a bun in the oven!). We only managed to eat out together once for lunch, and it was lovely. The rest of the time we kept it easy and did picky-lunches at home.
5. Useful bits to pack
I hate packing, but there’s no getting away from it! I haven’t mastered the art of packing a capsule wardrobe yet, but I do keep trying…. There’s a few items I will always take with us regardless of where in the world we are staying e.g. a couple of travel towels come in handy in a day bag if you find somewhere for a quick paddle, or to avoid extra charges at homes where beach towels cost extra. And a blanket/mat/sarong will always be in our luggage too so we can have family picnics. They are also useful if you find yourself in need of some extra padding in the travel cot.
For self catering trips, I always have a sandwich bag of the kids’ cereal for the next morning, just in case you don’t have time to shop when you first arrive (or if the provisions provided by the host don’t suit your kids’ picky tastes!). And we ALWAYS bring tea bags (Yorkshire, obvs) from home because Lipton tea bags SUCK. More recently we have also started packing our Aeropress and some decent ground coffee, because as much as we love going out for coffee in the local area, we have stayed in too many places with rubbish coffee machines!
In my hand luggage I take a bag-for-life or two as you can use these at the airport to stash any food or snacks you want to take on the plane, or to help thin out your cabin luggage in case you are made to put your larger bag in the hold.
And…packing cubes. I have just been introduced the wonderful world of packing cubes!! I am very hopeful that these will make packing far easier for 5 people. And who knows, maybe I’ll even grow to love packing (unlikely). But I know plenty of people who swear by them, so get yourself some of ‘dem cubes!