We look at the pros and cons of hotels/resorts and self-catering properties when it comes to family holidays – and the ever-widening choice of self-catering options now available to those travelling with kids.
The benefits of staying in a hotel or resort are that they generally offer a wide range of facilities, including a restaurant or restaurants, under one roof. The most family-friendly often offer baby-listening services so that parents can enjoy a quiet drink or meal in the evening should they wish. And perhaps best of all, in a hotel room, the mess you make is cleaned up for you!
The main disadvantages of staying in hotels with kids is that they are usually more expensive, and they tend to offer less space – although many now offer family rooms or suites or interconnecting rooms.
You'll find hand-picked family-friendly hotel options for all budgets around the world within our destination guides.
Self-catering can be far less expensive than hotels and offers greater flexibility and freedom and more space. Although most parents prefer to spend minimal time in the kitchen while away, cooking facilities can be useful for the odd meal, or for heating bottles or preparing baby food. And your children may welcome the odd 'home' cooked meal, especially in countries where local cuisine differs substantially from what they're used to.
Servided apartments have long been popular with savvy families, particularly for city breaks, but the apartment market has opened up dramatically with the arrival of websites such as airbnb and OwnersDirect that put you in touch with property owners in your chosen destinations.
Timeshares can be a cost-effective way to own a second home, albeit for just a week or two a year. In addition to the purchase cost, an annual maintenance fee is generally payable. Increasingly, you can choose weeks at different times of year and/or different resorts by joining the schemes of major time share exchange companies such as RCI or Interval International. However, unless you exchange a long time in advance, it's very difficult to secure accommodation in other resorts in peak periods (i.e. school holidays).
Homeswaps can be the least expensive family holiday option – your only outlay is listing your home in an agency directory. If you exchange with a family with kids of a similar age to yours, you can benefit from access to the likes of cots, toys or even their babysitter or other support. Other benefits include the fact that your house may be at less risk of being burgled, and access to 'insider' tips from your exchange family about where to go and what to do. You can even swap cars and pets! Reputable agencies include Home Base Holiday, Intervac, HomeLink International and the National Childbirth Trust House Swap Register.
Before booking self-catering accommodation, whether cottages, gites, villas or apartments, ask the following questions:
How many bedrooms does it have?
How far is it from local shops and restaurants?
How far is it from the beach / ski slopes/major attractions?
Are there babysitting services / childcare / children's activities?
What children's/baby equipment does it have?
How often will the accommodation be cleaned?