Family time is sacred. Especially family time away. You want everything to be just right. This is no time for stressing and patching things up. This is time to relax and enjoy each others company without the rush and routine of everyday life.
We’ve recently had a bad experience with two holiday cottages, and so I’ve decided to take something positive from what happened to us and create a little guide to help you book the best and most family friendly cottages.
This is what happened to us
(feel free to skip this bit and go straight to the guide below)
Daddy had a few days off between projects, so we have booked an impromptu trip to a holiday cottage. The cottage was described on Air B&B, as a beautiful English home with a hot tub (not something Little F or pregnant me can use, but Daddy was keen). The pictures looked inviting, though there seemed to be another profile with the same pictures listing this property as B&B. It was a little confusing, but after reading a couple of reviews talking about this property as a cottage rental we’ve decided to book. We assumed that owners must use it both ways, depending on what bookings come their way.
When we arrived after nearly a two hour drive Daddy went in to speak with the owner, while I stayed in the car with sleeping Little F. A few minutes later Daddy emerged with a strange expression on his face. It turned out that it is a B&B and the owners denied that they rent the house as a whole. What we have booked was a room, with no kitchen to cook or living room for us to relax in the evening. Despite the very confusing description placed by the owners online and the reviews talking of a whole house, the owner was not very helpful or apologetic. And we were left in the middle of nowhere without a place to stay.
Air B&B blocked the unscrupulous owners profile for the duration of our supposed visit and requested they change and clarify their listing. It was good to see they took this seriously, but we still had to find an alternative quickly.
We’ve set up camp in a local pub with Wi-Fi. After three hours of research online (Daddy) and trying to keep Little F entertained (me), we had a rather disappointing meal before heading off to another place we’ve booked via Air B&B. It was only 15 minutes drive, a big factor for us as it was getting late and we didn’t want Little F to fall sleep in the car. Other than the short distance it sounded lovely, with animals to play with, trampoline, kids play equipment and views over open country.
When we arrived, the owners gave us a warm welcome – they knew we had an issue with the previous place. Little F was thrilled to play with the dogs while we unpacked. Sadly the place turned out to be another case of poor description. Instead of two bedrooms there was a double bed in the living room and a large bedroom upstairs, with two double beds at opposite ends. There was no kitchen, only fridge, microwave and kettle – right next to the double bed, so any cooking smells would linger in the sheets. The views from French window were on the gravelled drive/carpark and high fence (beyond which was a busy main road). The window on opposite wall revealed an old white van and some messy sheds. Not the comfy cottage we expected.
The next morning we all felt trapped. It was like being in a bedsit with too much furniture. We had put a screen by the French windows to get the light in, but keep some privacy. To Little F’s disappointment the dogs were no longer around and there was nowhere to go for a nice walk or just sit and enjoy outdoors. While I packed Daddy searched for yet another cottage…
Luckily the third and final cottage was even better than we’ve expected. I’ll post a review soon, as it’s definitely a place worth visiting.
How to book the best family friendly cottage
After all the bad experiences we have worked out a foolproof (I believe) way to book the best cottages. It all comes down to being organised and paying close attention. And clear communication.
Make a list of non-negotiables
Making a clear list of your priorities and listing exactly what you need from your holiday rental is key – every family is different. This will make your search much quicker and easier, and help you avoid excitedly going for a place offering something extra but missing one of your basic needs.
Our list goes something like this:
minimum 2 bedrooms – neither Daddy and me nor Little F will sleep well if we are in the same room
fully equipped kitchen – family holidays is time to skip kitchen duty and eat out, but it’s also nice to make a special breakfast or That dish, which takes far too long to cook on a school night
privacy – London is full of people so it’s nice to get some space just for yourself, without being directly overlooked
secure outdoor space – on a sunny day it’s great to see Little F exploring, without worrying he’ll run into the street
lots of walks – ideally from the doorstep, but a short drive is ok (Daddy doesn’t like to drive, so hopes not to do it during holidays)
Wi-Fi – sad but true. I do some blogging during most of our holidays and Daddy needs to be available to take calls from clients and book future projects – ’tis the life of a freelancer. We do make sure to take at least a couple of proper holidays a year, without Wi-Fi or phones.
That’s your secondary list with things, which would make your stay extra special, but are not necessary.
bathtub – we only have a shower, so miss a nice warm soak. And Little F enjoys having more space, than his baby bath can offer.
farm shop – farmer’s market, village high-street with shops offering local produce etc we like eating good organic food and exploring regional favourites
animals nearby – Little F loves farm animals, horses in particular, so it’s nice to walk past fields with sheep, cows or horses munching away
water nearby the house – in summer a clean lake, river or stream is great to keep the family refreshed and entertained.
Last but not least, decide how far are your prepared to drive. This will depend on:
how long are you going away for – 5 hour’s drive for a weekend is too much, but ok for a 10 day break
how your child(ren) reacts to long drives – if your kids sleep well in the car or simply stay calm for a long period of time, you can go far without a nightmarish journey for all. If they don’t sleep or are fidgety, you might want to make a shorter journey or consider taking a train, which offers more space to play. And of course motion sickness can be a factor too.
what’s the condition of your car – some cars just won’t stand up to a long drive weighed down with lots of luggage. It’s no fun being stranded on the side of the road waiting for tow-truck to arrive.
do you both drive – if there are two drivers it’s easier to consider long drives
how far are amenities – it’s nice to be in the middle of nowhere, but sometimes you may want to be in a village/town whit a great baker within walking distance. It depends on what sort of holidays you want.
Before you book
There are lots of websites offering holiday rentals, so I won’t bore you with listing those. It’s worth checking a few, as some properties are listed on more than one website and booking fees may vary.
use filters – based on your non-negotiables. This will cut your search list drastically.
narrow down the radius – choose areas, or distance from your location, based on how long you wish to travel
read the descriptions carefully (and the reviews) – when it comes to description sometimes what is not said is more telling than what is said. Reviews are a useful source of extra information.
take a close look at the pictures – pictures provide information, which may not be included in the description. They will also show you the feel/mood of the place. I also find pictures useful for trying to determine the layout of the place. It makes a big difference if my toddler’s bedroom is right next door to the noisy kitchen. Or indeed if there is no kitchen…
It’s worth bearing in mind that pictures are taken by the owners rather than professional photographers. We have stayed in places, which exceeded our expectations, simply because the pictures did not do them justice.
don’t assume, ask – clear communication is key
Is there anything you’d add to my guide? Something which makes your family holidays a success? Do get in touch or leave me a comment 🙂