In it for the long haul
Feel like booking a holiday to some sun? Er, YEAH, me too. Are you thinking about long haul? Possibly not. There’s a bit of a mental block on it isn’t there? With four years living in Sydney and Australia in my twenties, I know all about the perils of long haul. Mr Muddy (an all-out jandal-wearing kiwi) and I lived in NZ for several years in the halycon days of youth and no kids, but it’s taken eight years to get us back Down Under – prior to this year, the thought of traveling all that way with toddlers and young children has filled us with doom. Stupid really, because these days there’s so much you can do to make flights, transfers and accommodation work for you. And with many people crossing off middle-Eastern and even Turkey and Greece off their potential holiday destinations, long haul offers a chance for sunshine and access to different cultures across the year.
Recently I came across Turquoise Holidays. Well, more re-introduced actually; years ago, writing features for Red magazine, I stayed in one of their hotels in Fiji (Yasawa Lodge – twas awesome) and a wonderful rural lodge in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Back then Turquoise was better known for its long haul honeymoon holidays, but over recent years they’ve massively increased their family focus and have some amazing holidays in carefully curated, more boutique-style lodgings. They’re frequently written up in the travel press, but have retained their independence against the big boys, and are a family-run business with their head office in… Beaconsfield! Amazing, no?!
Very excited about that because I really rate Turquoise – its destinations, accommodation, knowledge and branding (lots of turquoise – surprise surprise) . Plus you’ve got to love it when you walk into the Turquoise office and can talk directly to the owners about your holiday. So, er, I did exactly that – and here’s the result! Fab tips from owner James Bell on how to make long haul a viable family option – it’s a real eye opener with some genuine insights. Hope they help.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR LONG HAUL TRAVEL, BY JAMES BELL
The Maldives is boring for kids
Er, nope. The Maldives used to be seen as a honeymooners paradise, and those kind of resorts still exist, but if you choose right there are hotels that embrace a more modern, quirky style of luxury that interests families. NIYAMA in the Maldives is the perfect example – they offer free ice cream and pop corn in every room, Bubblemaker courses for kids 8+ to try their hand at scubadiving, games zone for older kids with table football, pool, X-box and wii, and the world’s first underwater music club with views under the ocean for teens up (pictured below – wowsa).
There’s an amazing kids club for babies upwards (1-3 years chargeable, 3-12 years comp) , a Cinema Paradiso under the stars, and bikes you can take as a family around the island. As far removed from honeymoon-territory as you can get. There are no direct flights to the Maldives so you will have to change to a sea plane or boat at some stage but most connecting flights take a maximum of 60 minutes, so it’s not an arduous process.
The flights are too long to contemplate long haul
If your heart is set on a 2 hour European flight, long haul will never compete. But long-haul can mean a 8 hour flight to Kenya, or a 14 hour flight to South Africa – it doesn’t have to be a round-the-world trip. Night-time flights can be an ideal way to reduce the pain – you wake up in the morning and you’re at your destination. BA and Virgin are particularly good options for overnight flight times.
The price of a long haul holiday is too high
Flights are a large part of the cost for obvious reasons but, truly, there are ways to make it less painful. At Turquoise, we hold seats for our clients 11 months in advance at a guaranteed price, and you can then book whenever you’re ready. Plus we’ll check the aeroplane you’re set to fly on – it might be an Airbus 380 (very quiet for kids) or a plane with improved air filtration, which is a massive advantage on long flights.
Other tricks of the trade worth knowing – fly out in economy and home in business class (you’ll be taxed on the outbound flight price); look at Premium Economy for improved seating at a minimal price increase; and book Qatar and Emirates airlines for the best connections through the Middle East.
Best flights for down under
For flights right around the world, don’t forget going via LA takes 40 less minutes than the other direction (every little helps!). Air New Zealand’s Business class is as good as many other airline’s First Class but if that’s not where your budget lies, Air NZ have also introduced the Skycouch ‘Cuddle Class’ – the closest thing to a lie-flat bed available to economy-class passengers that converts three economy class seats into a “couch” by retracting the armrests and raising the footrests. Two adults can purchase a third seat at half-price, creating a space they can lie down. Bliss right there!
Travel agents make my holiday more expensive
The opposite is true. As an independent travel company, competing directly with online and DIY travel bookers, the reality is we couldn’t survive without brilliant prices and service. The flight searches and accommodation deals we can offer would take customers forever to research. And because we personally know the General Managers of our properties, we can book with more knowledge, explain any personal circumstances well in advance and give you the best possible deals. It’s perfectly possible for us to find a family week in Mauritius (pictured) for under £5k – seriously!
Safari is for older kids so I’ll wait
It used to be that only children 6+ could go on safari, but now children of any age are able to come along. Depending on what you’re seeing, under 6s might not be allowed in the vehicle (tantrums next to the lions not being a great idea!) but they can be part of the safari process – there are now rangers trained specifically with children in mind. We call them ‘Poo Safaris’ – the kids look at footprints, do spoor tracking, take fishing trips and get ‘ranger’ certificates at the end of their stay.
For smaller children or families who want a very comfortable, luxurious safari experience, we usually suggest South Africa – it’s malaria free, there’s no jetlag, and you don’t compromise on comfort with large suites, private decks, swimming pools, good food and wine. One thing we do as a company in South Africa is make sure you’re met straight off the plane’s steps and taken through customs quickly and privately (after a 14 hour flight that makes quite a difference).
Also game reserves like the 54,000 acre Kwandwe Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape (above) offer up the Big Five (elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and black and white rhino) but importantly for children you’re not forced to see the game very early in the morning. When you want to go out on a game drive, you call your driver. So it’s a very relaxed way to safari as a family.
Safari is out of my budget
Safari prices can scare on first look but think of them as all-inclusive because that’s what they are – your food and drink, accommodation, day trips and cultural experiences are in one price. Also, you can save money by playing it smart. Sometimes the lure of the big name areas like Kruger or Sabi Sands or mean you’ll be sharing the plain with dozens of other vehicles – it might not feel very authentic. It can be 20-30% cheaper to opt for a private concession area such as the Naboisho Conservancy (bordering the Masai Mara reserve, pictured above) – without a well known destination name tag such as Kruger – but still teaming with animals. Also worth saying here that we always advise a maximum three or four days on safari, and always factor in a beach break into your trip at the beginning so you can unwind before heading off to see the wildlife.
Long haul means 24 hours of pain
We start our long-haul destinations at a very manageable 6 hrs 55! That takes you to Dubai, then it’s 7 hours to New York, 8 hours to Barbados, 10.5 hours to Sri Lanka, 13 hours to Thailand. If you fly overnight you’ll barely know you traveled at all!
Long haul destinations you might not have considered…
Cambodia and Laos are both beautiful, culturally rich destinations that are increasingly popular. We offer an amazing trip to Africa’s Mozambique, where you can sail the lost islands in a dan, catch fish, sleep on the deck of the boat and have an authentically ‘local’ experience before enjoying some luxury in a lodge. Or even more remote, the British Virgin Islands – another sail and stay option. Borneo, Sri Lanka and Thailand are also incredible destinations that are well worth discovery as a family whether you feel like being adventurous, prefer to fly and flop on the beach, or do a bit of both!