How to choose the right family accommodation
Choosing the right accommodation is one of the most important decisions you can make for any family holiday. If you’re in the baby and toddler phase you’ll find you spend more time in your hotel room or apartment than for any other family holiday so it pays to stay somewhere pleasant. One of the questions I’m often asked is whether to use a hotel or an apartment. Each has their own advantage; it does depend a little on your taste, your budget and where you want to be located. Apartments can often be more affordable, especially for larger groups, and more convenient if you need to prepare food and bottles for a baby or toddler..
Last year on a three week trip to Spain and Italy, travelling via Singapore, we stayed in three apartments and two hotels. And while the hotels were great, we vastly preferred our apartment stays as there was more room to spread out, we could get basic breakfast provisions for each day, and we felt more like we were really living in the cities we visited. My favourite apartment was in Venice, where we shopped in the food markets and the local greengrocer was actually a barge moored on a canal near our house.
There are pros and cons for each. Bear these in mind when planning your next trip.
Staying in a hotel is a great adventure. Sharing a room with Mum and Dad can be really exciting for children (if less so for adults). Never underestimate the fascination factor of revolving doors, luggage trolleys, lifts, swipe cards, swimming pools, buffet breakfasts and movies on demand.
And then there’s room service. What can be more exciting than to have meals delivered to the room?
The drawback with hotel rooms is often size and the dearth of family rooms accommodating parents plus two or more children. The degree of difficulty, and of course the expense, increases with every extra child. If you need to book two rooms, the accommodation costs literally double.
Family-oriented resorts and international hotel chains can usually offer convenient interconnecting rooms; some even have kitchenettes. Smaller, boutique hotels – which often have the most character – don’t generally have this option. Before booking on a website, particularly through a third party, it’s best to contact the hotel directly to ask what they can do.
On a recent trip to India we struggled with this. We were a family of four, but often given two rooms some distance apart. Our kids (then nine and seven) were not old enough to be left alone – for a start, if they were to share a room, there was the conundrum of whether I would lock them into their rooms or let them lock us out of it. I wasn’t comfortable with it at all, so we ended up having one child with each parent. Occasionally I had both of them in bed with me; I think my husband enjoyed those nights immensely!
Apartments and serviced apartments
When they are available, apartments are often a better alternative for families than hotels, with multiple bedrooms, separate living spaces and well-equipped kitchens where you can prepare food.
Some hotels and resorts, particularly in resort-heavy destinations like Bali and Phuket, also offer family villas which are as stylish as the main hotel rooms with all the services on tap.
Serviced apartments are common in European cities, and are a hybrid between hotels and a completely private apartment; there might be a daily service, a concierge and/or security. Serviced apartments usually work out a little more expensive than private apartments.
The private apartment rental market is huge, with AirBNB the leading global player which just gets bigger by the week it seems. Other networks networks include VRBO, HomeAway and Stayz in Australia. There are some great deals to be had.
AirBNB started as an accommodation share site, connecting people looking for rooms with hosts wiling to provide them. It is now the biggest global player for short term accommodation, with more than 500,000 properties that range from single rooms to independent apartments to boats and private islands in 192 countries. There’s a host profile for each property and extensive user feedback which provides peace of mind to potential renters. You do have to do your research well, particularly in regard to location; a Roman’s idea of a central apartment might be three stops along the metro line in a suburban area, which is not what you – as a tourist who wants to explore everything on foot – has in mind. Use Google maps to work out exactly where the apartment is located. And ask questions about local facilities – food markets, shops, supermarkets and transport before you commit.
There are also specialised smaller apartment rental agencies in major cities from Paris to Bangkok, and Chicago to Rio. Tapping into regional tourism websites can often lead you to local apartment rental sites, particularly in rural or regional areas.
TRAVEL WITHOUT TEARS TOP TIPS FOR CHOOSING ACCOMMODATION
Position can be everything. And a bad position can be the difference between a great and a not-so-great holiday. In European cities, accommodation is often plentiful – and cheaper – around the main train stations, but invariably these zones are not the city’s most salubrious, and not a great place to be traipsing through with children in tow, especially at night. It is worth paying a little more to stay in a hotel in a nicer area with easy access to a park or open space.
2. Peace and quiet
Ask about noise levels when you’re booking. If you’ve got a baby whose sleep gets disturbed by loud noises, plan carefully and try very hard not to be overlooking a busy road. Some places are noisy by day but quiet by night and vice versa. Check travel advisory sites like TripAdvisor to get some feedback from people who’ve stayed there.
3. Where (and where not) to cut costs
Check what the rate you’ve been offered includes. All-in deals might look appealing but don’t always work out that way.
If your kids need daytime sleeps, think carefully about the layout of your accommodation, and make sure there’s enough space – a terrace, verandah or separate room – for you to sit comfortably and read a book. You don’t want to feel like you’re locked away while the kids are sleeping. It’s your holiday, too.