One of the downsides of travelling with kids – especially babies and toddlers – is the sheer amount of clobber you have to take with you. With babies, you need to think about everything from bulky packs of nappies and wipes to sterilising equipment and portable highchairs, so that even the most ordinary trip to a restaurant might come to resemble a military exhibition in the amount of planning involved. And while the amount of baby equipment might diminish as the child gets older, there’s still plenty to think about – clothes enough to last out your trip (especially if you won’t have easy washing-machine access), and books and toys, from the old, familiar and comforting to exciting new treats that will keep them out of mischief.
There are ways round at least some of these difficulties. For instance, you might look for a hotel or apartment that will provide some or all of the equipment you need. One such firm is Citadines, whose ‘apart-hotels’ around the world – five in London – combine the benefits of self-catering with some of the facilities of a hotel, including a launderette. In much of Europe, Pierre & Vacances also provide many of the gizmos and gadgets a young family needs. You might also use a firm that ships baby items, including preferred brands of nappies and formula, to your destination – see our tips on Travelling with Young Children for recommendations.
Aside DVD players and Playstations, however – offered in many upper-range hotels, perhaps with a couple of books and a cuddly toy – you’re more or less obliged to bring your own play items with you, unless you’re prepared to buy them in your destination and leave them behind (ideally by donating them to charity). This might be fine if you’re driving, but not if you’re travelling by train or flying.
That’s where the novelty of onefinestay comes in – the apartments on its books are all lived in by real live Londoners and can only be rented when the owners happen to be out of town for a few days or weeks. Some of those Londoners are families, and if you stay in their homes you’re free to use any kids’ toys and games that are there.
We stayed in a stunning flat in the eaves of a converted church in Highbury, with incredible panoramic views over London and a great location just a 10-minute stroll from Islington’s family-friendly Upper Street with its hip shops and restaurants. At first it was a little odd, being in a stranger’s home surrounded by many of their possessions (special tabs affixed onto some of the kitchen cupboards and other storage spaces denote items/area that are off-limits to guests; otherwise, it’s ‘help yourself’). For a while I did find myself wondering about the people who lived here – looking at their photos, artworks and books and hearing the Lloyd Grossman catchphrase ‘Who lives in a house like this?’ going through my brain on an infuriating loop. Most of all, I’ll confess, I was plain jealous that anyone with kids could have such a beautiful and uncluttered apartment.
But after a while you do get used to the notion and just settle in, helped by the five-star linens, fluffy towels, posh toiletries and thoughtful touches such as toothbrush-and-paste packs. Indeed, there’s definitely a five-star suite vibe in these hand-picked apartments, without the five-star prices but with the added bonus of a kitchen and a washing machine.
As well as there being kids’ books, toys and games/gadgets to hand, you can also benefit from the fact that the parents who live in the apartment know their ‘hood’ like the back of their hand. Let’s face it – how many times have you come out of your hotel and headed straight into the nearest vaguely acceptable restaurant you’ve seen, because the kids are hungry and tired and you can't face schlepping around in the hope of finding something better? When you stay at one of onefinestay’s properties, you have access to its owners’ tips on the best child-friendly cafés, toy shops and other family amenities close to hand – and that, in my opinion, is priceless.
Read more about onefinestay's family-friendly rentals in London and around the world.