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rhondacarrier's blog

Rhonda and son Ripley.Rhonda and son Ripley.

The first time I travelled alone with one of my sons, I was astonished to be admonished by a passport controller for not carrying his birth certificate. It seems that when your child doesn’t have the same surname as you – as is the case for so many of us these days – the onus is on you to prove you’re the parent.

Since then, I’ve made sure to travel with my children’s birth certificates when not accompanied by my husband, while inwardly fuming that I have to remember to do so on top of everything else – it’s just another faff to add to the big travel faff list. I’ve never actually been asked to present certificates since that first incident, but I have had to get used to border control staff asking my kids potentially disquieting questions such as ‘Who’s this lady with you?’ (cue very odd look from from my eight-year-old).

Now I’m all for stringent security measures being taken against child trafficking and abduction – beyond high-profile cases such as Madeleine McCann, it's a huge problem, as any glance at the missing children screens or posters at many airports testify. But it’s plain to see that my children are alert (not drugged) and not at all distressed or under any coercion. Moreover, with people frequently telling me how much they resemble me, it’s hard to imagine anyone doubting that they’re mine. So the questions and the suspicions rankle – as does having to explain to my kids why the man or lady is asking them odd things, or forewarn them that it’s going to happen. I can see how it unsettles them.

According to a YouGov survery, 600,000+ families have been held up by passport control over the last five years because one parent has a different surname to their child. The survey was carried out for the Parental Passport Campaign, whose proposed solution is that kids’ passports include their parents’ or guardians’ names. To my mind this is a much more sensible option than carrying birth certificates – just another expensive-to-replace thing to lose on holiday – or bewildering little kids with questions. It also seems just an overall commonsense thing to do.


By TakeTheFamily
Boys on a laptopBoys on a laptop

There's been lots of talk in the media lately about the use of technology on holiday and particularly on family holidays. One family holiday firm has lamented the fact that two-thirds of parents apparently work at some point during their summer holidays and said that parents should switch off entirely for the sake of spending quality time with their kids. Another survey found that the average parents are taking at least three gadgets (iPads, smartphones, games consoles and/or laptops) away with them to 'babysit' their children. And yet another poll has claimed that the average worker only fully switches off for four days during a fortnight's holiday.

I'm not so sure that it's all so cut and dried. Admittedly, my life as a freelance family travel journalist is not a typical one, and even 'holidays' aren't ever really that – I've always got my writer's hat on, even on a remote beach. But the same goes for any parent who runs their own business or who has any kind of job that they can't leave behind in the office at the end of each day. For many of us, there are compelling arguments for staying switched on even while away.

The main one for me is the very real fear of the backlog that will await me when I get back – like most people, I'm sure, I could easily spend two or three days just attending to my inbox when I'm home again. By alloting some time every day or two to checking my emails and replying to any urgent ones, I can obviate the stress of the impending backlog, as well as have peace of mind that I'm not missing any possible commissions or work opportunities.

Last year I saw many parents working on their balconies while I was staying at the new Mark Warner resort Levante Beach on Rhodes, either while their children were in the kids' club or while the other parent was entertaining them by the pool or on the beach. I can't deny that it made me slightly sad to see that they (and I) have to do this, but I rationalise it as a sign of the times – times when no one can take having a job for granted. 

And people have always made sacrifices. I remember my own businessman father having to leave a family holiday in Tenerife a week before the rest of us because he had work to do. Perhaps today, with the technology we have, he'd have been able to stay with us and deal with things from our hotel room for a couple of hours a day. I know which option would have preferable for all of us.

Nor should tech be seen as the bad guy when it comes to kids. There are responsible ways to use gadgets with kids – seek out games and apps related to their destination, for instance, or that help them get to grips with a new language. And whatever you let them play, use it sparingly and responsibly, just as you would at home. I don't mind my kids playing for the odd hour or two to kill time at airports or on planes or trains, but I insist, as at home, that they switch off at regular intervals and do something else – read, draw, grab a travel-pack of plasticine or even talk to me! At the destination itself, they generally don't even think about their gadgets.

My own personal bugbear when it comes to gadgets is parents who let kids play on handhelds in restaurants to keep them quiet – or perhaps because they feel so guilty that they're on their iPad or phone. Surely mealtimes, especially on holiday, are the one time of the day when we should all focus on being together, and when there should be a total ban on gadgets? What do you think?


By TakeTheFamily
On the move at the airportOn the move at the airport

Is packing light possible when it comes to family holidays and breaks? Reading Condé Nast Traveller editor Melinda Stevens' recent attack on Ryanair, I started to dread our upcoming trip to Barcelona with the kids. I'd stingily only paid for one checked-in bag, and with the draconian size restrictions on hand luggage I was worried we were going to fall foul of Ryanair's infamous extra charges, otherwise known as fines.

The booking process, too, had enraged me. You start with tiny fares and they go up and up as you proceed towards booking - and that's even if you don't get any of the many possible add-ons that are offered to you and make the booking process seem to take FOREVER. Still, when fairly last-minute return flights to Barcelona cost £250 for a family of five, and when the flight times aren't hideous o'clock and the airport is a handy one for you, you really can't complain. 

Bar a last-minute panic when I found my son's treasured Trunki was technically too large to go on as hand luggage (see below), our experience went remarkably smoothly. Check-in at Liverpool took, unbelievably, less than one minute and the flight arrived in Spain slightly ahead of schedule. However, when travelling back to the UK, I did see a lot of people having to stump up large sums at the boarding gate because their hand luggage was too large or they were trying to sneak in a shopping bag or two in addition to their one piece of hand luggage. Just remember: flying with Ryanair, you have to play by their rules. 

Trips for Travelling with Ryanair with Kids

1) Read all emails from Ryanair prior to your flight and make sure you follow instructions to the letter, paying particular attention to hand-luggage height and size restrictions. Measure your bags, and if you think you do need to check something in after all, book it ahead online or it will cost you much more to do so at the airport. 

2) Be aware that the policy regarding Trunkis may vary from airport to airport. Although I read several Mumsnet forum posts about parents travelling on Ryanair with Trunkis as hand luggage without paying extra, I worried that we may be allowed to take one on the outbound journey but get fined/charged on the inbound journey, so I left it at home. And indeed, while a member of the Ryanair staff at Liverpool told me they'd let them on as hand luggage, she said that she couldn't vouch for what would happen at other airports.

3) Print out your boarding passes, outbound and return, in duplicate, and carry each set in separate pieces of hand luggage. If you don't bring your boarding passes, there's a very steep charge per person to have them printed for you at the airport - with a family of 5, forgetting them could cost you more than £300 EACH WAY! Making duplicates means you're covered if you lose one set while you're on holiday. On our Barcelona trip, one of the return boarding passes was mistakenly (I hope) taken by staff when we flew out from the UK, so having made duplicates meant we were covered. 

4) Practise travelling light with kids. I don't pretend to have any answers to this as a fine art, and although we managed to travel with one smallish case and four pieces of hand luggage, this was only 4-day break in the sun, so it was relatively simple to go easy on the amount of packing. But overall I am getting better at packing the more holidays I take with the kids – partly by seeing how much comes back unworn. Which probably tells you all kinds of things you don't want to know about my family…  


By TakeTheFamily
Tales on travelling with kidsTales on travelling with kids

It’s not a new story, but it’s remained in my mind for obvious reasons. In August 2008, a family boarded a plane from Israel to Paris with four children. Until the captain informed them after takeoff, they were oblivious to the fact that they’d left behind their fifth child, their 4-year-old daughter, at the airport. 

How could such a thing happen? Well, the reasons cited were that the parents had a lot of luggage (they were emigrating) and, running late for their flight, ended up sitting in different parts of the aircraft. Each assumed that the other one had the fifth child, who was brought to Paris on the next flight to be reunited with them.

As far as I’m concerned, unless I’m sitting in a dark corner with a large glass of wine to hand, three is the limit when it comes to the number of children I can cope with – in daily life but especially when travelling. I recognise that there are people who can go beyond this, but I do wonder how they manage on the road – and how they can even afford to travel. Even a weekend break requires a mammoth car if not a mini-bus, while hotel-room logistics become complicated and expensive, eating out must cost a bomb, and packing – God, packing must take forever. It’s enough to make you give up and stay at home.

Even with ‘only’ three kids, we’ve found that travelling becomes quite a bit trickier. This manifests itself in many ways but especially in accommodation. We technically can’t fit into many ‘family rooms’ and so need to pay for a second room – although I have to admit I do quite often book just one room and sneak in an extra child if I think we can get away with it and if I think we’ll be comfortable enough, or I ask for a travel cot when my youngest child really is too old but can still squeeze into one. Even in many self-catering apartments that can sleep up to five, we often find there’s only enough chairs, cutlery or so on for four of us.

As for the risk of losing a child or even ‘forgetting’ one when moving around, it is a concern, especially when I’m travelling on my own with the kids, which I do fairly frequently. My tip is to perform a simple head-count whenever decamping from one place to another, for instance from the lounge to the departure gate, or from the platform into the train. I also do this with our luggage – it’s senseless remembering what actual baggage you have, but a simple ‘One, two, three, four, five’ every time you leave a building, get into a taxi or whatever, serves as speedy reassurance that you have everything you left home with, human or otherwise.

Do you have a large family, and if so, what are your tips for coping on family holidays and breaks, from practicalities to keeping to a budget? 


By TakeTheFamily
Taking the kids on a day outTaking the kids on a day out

 

As spring brings us all back out of hibernation, it's important to remember that we don't have to travel far or spend a lot of money to have fun with the kids. Just about wherever you are in the UK, a little research will reveal a whole heap of attractions virtually on your doorstep, many of them completely free. In the February and October half terms in particular, when the weather can be lousy, they can be lifesavers.

If you're going to make lots of day-trips or short breaks in the UK, we heartily recommend investing in a Family & Friends Railcard, which pays for itself almost rightaway in terms of discounted fares as well as giving holders access to 2-for-1 offers on attractions around the UK. As well as being more environmentally friendly, travelling by train will save you the stress of driving with kids, of finding your way around unfamiliar places and of locating parking spots.

Dos

-- If you're hoping to enjoy special school-holiday events, plan ahead as even free activities can get booked up in advance. If possible, book ahead by phone; if not, make sure to arrive at the venue as it opens to secure tickets and avoid disappointment.

-- Similarly, don't talk up particular events to the kids in case they get booked up or even cancelled. Focus on the venue itself, and any activities that take place will then be added bonuses.

-- If a venue isn't free, search the Internet or look out for discount vouchers on the venue's own website, cereal boxes, local newspapers and similar, or use supermarket loyalty points.

-- Take a picnic. While many museums and attractions have fantastic cafés that are well worth your patronage (most help fund the attractions that are free), you can spend a huge amount of money on lunch and snacks on a day out. If you're on a tight budget, many attractions have picnic areas (indoor and/or outdoor) where you can eat your own food.

-- Leave on a high. Don't think you have to stay until closing time and see everything a venue has to offer. Far better to enjoy your time and leave the kids wanting to come back sometime than to put them off by dragging them round when they're tired.

Don'ts

-- If you're travelling by train, don't go for the first ticket you see or the most obvious route. Take time to look at the various fares and you might find substantial savings and/or more convenient options.  

-- Don't overload yourself as you'll inevitably end up carrying the kids' coats and paraphernalia (take advantage of free cloakrooms and lockers if you do). Take a backpack so you're hands-free and can get involved. For train journeys, take space-saving entertainments - a flatpack of plasticine and simple paper and pens keep all ages occupied without being cumbersome.

-- Don't forget that the £££s add up quickly – a few coffees and overpriced bottles of water over a day or two can make all the difference between a cheap and an expensive break. Bring what you can.

-- Don't go to the giftshop, even for a 'look around' – you'll inevitably crack and end up buying something just to stop the whinging. On the other hand, if you're not on a strict budget, bear in mind that giftshops are an important revenue-generator for free attractions – and are especially good for stocking up on unusual gifts. (Remember you don't even have to visit them – most have online shops too).


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