Many of us are embarking on a long-awaited self-catering holiday and the prospect of exploring somewhere new is so exciting! Monica Stott, mum of three and the blogger behind The Travel Hack, shares her top travel hacks to make your family holiday as perfect as possible.
Boxes slot into the car easily and make packing and unpacking much simpler.
Self-catering is a great option for young families as you have the space and flexibility to make yourself at home and do everything to your own schedule. It’s particularly great when you have young children who like to stick to a routine and also means you can put them to bed and enjoy a relaxing evening - something that can be difficult when staying a hotel!
After years of trial and error I’ve got some great tips to make self-catering holidays simpler, easier, more relaxing and more fun for everyone!
Pack using boxes
Rather than using traditional suitcases or backpacks, we often pack our belongings into boxes. These are the kind of boxes and baskets most young families have around the house (think an IKEA Kallax storage box!) We find boxes slot into the car easily and make packing and unpacking much simpler.
Most boxes don’t need to be unpacked when you arrive and make it much easier to keep things organised. A box full of wellies by the front door, a box full of toys in the living room, a box full of dry food in the kitchen pantry actually keeps things really tidy! Everyone has a box for their clothes and my husband and older boys usually just put their box in the bottom of the wardrobe without unpacking.
Encourage your kids to pack for themselves using a simple packing list
If your kids are at an age where they can almost pack for themselves but can’t quite be trusted, make a simple packing list by drawing the items they need to pack and putting a number next to it. This saves you a job, encourages independence and ensures they’ll have all their favourite toys and clothes.
This is another reason why I like to use boxes for packing because my kids know they can’t take more than they can fit in their box so they can’t bring every cuddly toy they own! It also means I can quickly check they’ve got everything without me having to unpack and repack their whole suitcase.
Get your food shopping delivered to your accommodation
Get an online food shop to be delivered in time for your arrival. You’ll save space in the car and it’s one less thing to worry about when you’re packing up to leave. It also means you won’t be spending valuable holiday time traipsing around the supermarket!
Use a recipe box
I love to use recipe boxes such as Hello Fresh, Gusto or Feast Box during a self-catering holiday. You can have delicious meals without too much effort and you don’t need to worry about packing 100 different ingredients. It’s also a nice option if you’re going away with another family as it takes the pressure off one person to be responsible for meal times.
If your kids are at an age where they can almost pack for themselves but can’t quite be trusted, make a simple packing list.
Take a slow cooker
This might seem an unusual one and I don’t know anyone else who takes a slow cooker on holiday, but I love it! It’s great to pop a chilli or a curry or a whole chicken in the slow cooker before we go out for the day. When you come back with a hungry family you can have a meal ready to eat in minutes without any hangry tantrums!
What time can you check in?
There’s nothing worse than arriving at your accommodation at lunch time only to find you can’t check in for another four hours! You’ve got a car packed to the rafters with lukewarm food and a hungry family who are all irritable after being cramped in the car. And now you need to find a way to entertain them for an entire afternoon!
Check-in times are often fairly late to accommodate for back-to-back bookings so double check before you arrive. If you know you’d like to check-in early, then contact your host ahead of time to see if it’s possible. In my experience, they can almost always accommodate your needs (often free of charge!) but it’s worth the extra early check-in fee to get an extra day on holiday.
Planning one activity in the morning and leave the afternoon free provides a perfect balance.
Plan one activity per day
It can be hard to find the right balance with activities while you’re on holiday. Too many activities and everyone becomes overtired, and it stops being the relaxing day out you imagined! But not enough activities and you risk the inevitable, ‘I’m bored!’ and feeling like you’re not making the most out of your destination.
I find the perfect balance is to plan one morning activity per day and then leave the afternoon free for something spontaneous or simply to relax at your accommodation. Having a morning activity booked means we don’t waste our mornings lazing around in our PJs and it’s generally when all the kids are in a good mood.
It’s also worth noting that lots of activities and restaurants need to be booked in advance so make sure you get your tickets or secure a booking early.
Use local Facebook groups and Airbnb Experiences to find hidden gems
When you’re looking for activities during your staycation, I highly recommend using local Facebook groups. Locals usually love to share their knowledge so don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for some suggestions to suit your family. Just be sure to search the group first to ensure you’re not repeating a frequently asked question!
Airbnb Experiences is another great place to look for unusual activities. You’ll find everything from beekeeping to foraging expeditions, bike rides touring local food suppliers, kayaking trips to find hidden beaches and so much more. Most experiences are run by local people rather than big tour companies so they can tailor a tour to suit your family.
Take as much baby equipment as you can squeeze in the car
I’m usually a big advocate for packing light and sticking to the basics but when it comes to baby equipment, I take it all! Self-catering holidays with babies can feel like hard work when you don’t have your normal array of toys, bouncers, walkers and playmats.
Travel Hack Tip: If you don’t have the space to take much with you, look for baby equipment for hire. In popular tourist areas you can usually hire everything from potties and baby baths to age-appropriate toys and books and baby beach equipment. Sometimes it’s even worth doing just to give your kids some new toys to play with for a week!
Pre-book the extras
Just because you’re self-catering it doesn’t mean you can’t have all the extra services a 5* hotel would provide. Many self-catering holiday providers offer lots of little extras that make your holiday extra special. You can book everything from a welcome hamper with delicious local produce to a beauty therapist to come in for treatments, professional babysitters so you can have a night off, a chef to prepare a special dinner, yoga teachers to come in for private sessions or unusual experiences such as a sunset beach BBQ with Champagne and blankets.
If you’re going away for a birthday, anniversary or other special occasion then these extras can make it really special. If your holiday let doesn’t offer any extras, then look for local companies that do.
Self-catering is a great option for young families.