Family holiday with young children
Family holiday with young children

Travel With Primary School Age Kids (Ages 5–11)

This, believe it or not, can be one of the most fun, interesting and rewarding times to travel with kids – having started full-time education, they are increasingly curious about the world as the classroom opens their minds to new worlds beyond their everyday experience. Crucially, they haven’t yet been infected by that ‘so what?’ attitude that can make travel with teens so trying…

It also becomes physically easier and less gruelling than travel with young children – gone are the days of lugging bulky packs of nappies, wipes and other baby encumbrances, and of angsting about whether you’ve packed certain baby or toddler essentials. Suddenly, you find yourselves able to more or less up and go at short notice – just check they’ve been to the loo (something all kids seem unable to get their heads round), and you’re off!

Unfortunately, the days of cheap term-time holidays are now gone, and as travel becomes physically easier and more enjoyable, you’ll find yourself struggling to find affordable breaks that work with your kids’ school-holiday periods. Sadly, most Local Education Authorities are increasingly rigid about taking kids out of school for term-time holidays – the statutory allowance is 10 days a year for each child, but this is at the discretion of the individual head teacher, and many heads are now being very strict on the matter. Parents who don’t abide by the official decisions run the risk of fines.

At Take the Family we support term-time holidays during the primary school years if they have an educational justification – which we have dubbed ‘Eduvacations’. The way we see it, the world is one big classroom, and your pre-teens can learn as much if not more outside the classroom as in it.

Top Tips: Before You Go

Your kids have reached the age where it’s crucial to involve them in choosing and planning their holiday. Though they won’t be much help when it comes to budgetary and other practical considerations, they will have firm ideas about what kind of holiday they want and what they would like to see, and can give valuable input. More importantly, they’ll look forward to the holiday more and feel more deeply involved if they have some say in it. Some good ways of doing this are investigating your destination on the Internet, sourcing books – both non-fiction and fiction – that feature it, and perhaps finding films set there.

This is the age for compromises and deals. Touring the Loire Valley may not immediately tempt your kids, but combine it with the promise of a few zoos, a cycling trip in the region or a themepark visit, and you’ll all be happy. And when they get to the Loire chateaus, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how much is laid on for younger visitors. 

Find out what is coming up on the National Curriculum for your kids. If it’s the Aztecs, how about a holiday in Mexico, where you can combine awesome cultural relics with time at the beach, with excellent deals available at the time of writing. Egypt is another surefire winner, offering history by the spade plus brilliant snorkeling and diving. Looking at it cynically, if you’re hoping to take some time out of term, your head teacher will be much more likely to give you the all-clear if your holiday has an educational element.

If you’re thinking about venturing outside your comfort zone, consider an escorted adventure holiday by a firm such as Intrepid Travel, who run tours combining education and fun in Egypt, Morocco and other exciting destinations.

Try to show your children that the journey can be as enjoyable as the holiday itself – that it’s not all about instant gratification. Destinations such as Italy and even further afield are within easy reach of the UK by rail, and although you may pay more than you would flying, your kids will probably love the romance of sleeping on a train or boat. This is also a good time to raise their environmental awareness by telling them about the negative impact our everyday choices can have.

Accept that holidays are likely to be more expensive now than with younger children – your kids are of an age and a size where you probably won’t want to share a family room for more than a night or two. Self-catering options, especially apart-hotels where you can combine self-catering with some of the services and amenities of a hotel, remain the best option for most families, with the added benefit that your kids will have other children to make friends with. If you’re counting on a kids’ club for distraction or them and a break for you, see our childcare page.

Make life easier on yourself by investing in a gadget or two. If you’re flying long-haul or taking several and/or long rail journeys, iPads, portable games consoles and the like can all come in handy for giving you a break – your kids are of the age where they won’t be satisfied with books and colouring materials for long journeys.

Top Tips: Activities and Destinations

There are few places you couldn’t take kids of this age, but when travelling long-haul, do consider if the duration of your holiday will make up for the jet-lag you’ll suffer. Less than 2 weeks and you might want to shrink your horizons. Also, if you don’t fancy giving your kids antimalarials, you’ll want to avoid India and certain other countries until they’re a bit older. See also our Health & Safety section.

Motorhoming is an exciting option for kids this age, with New Zealand and Australia prime locations, with masses of space and countless beaches to park up by. Other destinations we particularly recommend for that all-important mixture of beach and easy-to-assimilate culture are super-child-friendly ItalyTurkey and South Africa (great for wildlife lovers), but the world really is your oyster with the above caveats.

Top Tips: When You’re There

Encourage (but don’t force) your child to keep a diary of his or her trip. Buy a map they can trace their route on, an inexpensive digital camera for them to record their experiences to print out and paste in later, and a funky notebook. Alternatively, the award winning Journey app to encourage your children to really think about and engage with the place they’re visiting.

Don’t underestimate your kids – what they’re interested in and capable of. At this age, children can quite happily be ‘dragged’ to cultural venues such as museums and art galleries if you make them appealing for them first – check out websites in advance for downloadable family tours or special events to attend. Sweeten the pill by trading an activity for them with an activity for you – a morning at an art gallery followed by an afternoon at an aquarium or the beach.

On the other hand, don’t underestimate the appeal of life’s simple pleasures – a romp on the beach, an ice cream, a ride on a carousel… Sometime these are all that kids want, so don’t bust a gut devising a chock-a-block itinerary that will leave you all exhausted. This is a holiday, remember, and your children will probably be as tired from the school-term, especially if they haven’t long started primary school, as you are from work or domestic duties!

Further Inspiration:

Fun or Learning, or Both? 
On Holiday with the National Curriculum 
A Mother’s and a Teacher’s View 
Florence With Young Kids 
Le Clos Lucé, Loire Valley

Offer of the week

1000s MORE QUARANTINE-FREE HOLIDAYS with First Choice plus save up to £100 per booking on all amber and green destinations...BOOK NOW

Find out more