Britain: A Practically Perfect Family Vacation

Britain: A Practically Perfect Family Vacation

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Family Travel Radio | Great Britain | Aaron Schlein & family

Aaron Schlein is taking Family Travel Radio on the road to Great Britain

From the first time my son watched Mary Poppins, he has wanted to see London.

Prior to last August, my wife and I had planned to wait at least a couple of more years before venturing overseas with our kids. That all went out the window when we saw Norwegian Air offering direct flights from Oakland, CA* to London for $365 roundtrip. * Norwegian Air has since moved its London service across the bay to San Francisco International Airport.

There’s nothing like an irresistible flight deal to speed up your family’s timeline.

Before we knew what hit us, we’d booked four tickets. The Schleins were going to London.

Step (back) in time

My passport got its first stamp at London’s Gatwick airport in March of 1989. In Britain, I spent 10 days glorious days outside of my well-protected suburban bubble – and it changed my world forever.

One of my most powerful memories is how I felt when I’d mastered the art of riding the tube—the subway system in London. Apart from riding the school bus, I’d had zero experience with public transportation. After a few days of zipping around London on the tube, I felt like the king of the universe.

Aaron Schlein Warwick Castle

Family Travel Radio’s Aaron Schlein, at Warwick Castle, England, circa 1989, on his first family travel international adventure.

Any age, any stage

Many families follow a similar vacation pattern as they begin to travel with their children. They graduate from day trips and short weekends to that week-long Florida vacation when the kids are young. Maybe a cruise follows, or an all-inclusive, as the children grow into their double-digit years. If you have the time and money to get a passport, the next logical destinations are Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean.

But when a family finally gets up the nerve to take that long flight over an ocean, to a whole new part of the world, what’s a great bet for both the investment in time and the family’s finances?

While Britain is a great destination for families with every level of travel experience, it is especially good for that first long-haul trip because it meets three of the main needs of families who have never traveled internationally:

  • Accessible and easy to manage with families of all sizes
  • Something to do for everyone
  • Fits easily into the family budget

A great resource for families (and agents looking to help them) planning a trip to the U.K. is one of our newest members, Visit Britain.

Accessibility

From the moment a family decides they’re ready to fly six hours or more internationally, Britain is a natural choice. There are more than a dozen gateway airports in North America offering direct service to England. As a result, a family of any size and experience – like mine – will find themselves at the most a few hour’s drive from a gateway airport to Britain.

This means having a solid range of departure times, healthy airfare competition, and a lower likelihood you will have to connect along the way.

When you arrive, Britain becomes even more accessible, with clean and convenient transport services, like the London Underground subway system that empowered me at a young age, and reliable airport-to-downtown and intra city rail.

Further, this summer, the United Kingdom will be introducing its “ePassport” program, allowing inbound U.S. travelers to use special border control gates at U.K. airports, expediting airport arrivals – especially handy for moms and dads weary from that overnight flight.

Something for “Literally” Everyone

With so many of the most popular children’s books – and movies – inspired by British authors, England is an exceptional choice for families of all literary interests. Leadenhall Market will be recognized as the entrance to Diagon Alley and Kings Cross Station is home to platform 9 3/4 the boarding point of the Hogwarts Express. And what child won’t recognize St. Paul’s Cathedral, where the beggar woman sang “Feed the Birds” in Mary Poppins?

In fact, very few cities offer a wider range of activities than London to keep every member of a family engaged on vacation. Whether it’s Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard, the world history and culture found in its wide range of museums. And there dozens of Instagram-ready moments – like the Abbey Road crosswalk or The London Eye observation wheel – for social savvy families like mine.

And getting outside of London opens up a family to even more experiences. Families can go ziplining in Wales, or visit European “football” shrines like Anfield in Liverpool, or Old Trafford in Manchester.

In Dumfries, southwest Scotland, there’s Moat Brae, a Georgian townhouse where JM Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, played in the gardens, and was eventually inspired to come up with the story that became the Disney movie. This summer, the west coast of Scotland will open a “trail” linking 25 whale-watching sites under the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

Fits a Family’s Budget

And a trip to the U.K. doesn’t have to break a family’s piggy bank. There’s the Oyster Card, a credit card-sized electronic ticket used for public transport in Greater London (and commissionable for agents through an affiliate program).

Services available under the program include the London Underground, London Buses, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), London Overground, Tramlink, some river boat services, and most National Rail services within the London fare zones

Families can also avail themselves of savings from their retail purchases while in the U.K., applying for refunds of value added taxes they incur during their stay.

For families, first-time international travelers or not, Britain really does have it all.

Another jolly holiday

I credit much of my personal and professional success to travel—and Britain was the first chapter in my travel story.

Now I’m committed to passing on the gift of adventure to my children. The way I see it, Britain is the perfect place for them to put quill to parchment and begin writing their own travel stories.

In every element of fun, there is a job that must be done (or something like that).

As part of my family’s first overseas adventure, I’m thrilled to partner with VisitBritain in highlighting the possibilities that await families in the UK.

My family and I are also taking over the FTA’s Instagram and Facebook feeds during our trip. Follow along April 18-26 and enjoy our spontaneous, informative, and sometimes gritty brand of family travel content.

Be sure to subscribe to Family Travel Radio (it’s free) so you don’t miss a moment!

Update: Aaron published a five-part podcast series recapping his family’s trip to Britain. Links to each episode are below.

Part 1: Exploring London with Kids

Part 2: A Family Day Trip to Stonehenge

Part 3: Britain From Behind the Wheel

Part 4: Family Accommodations in Britain

Part 5: Britain With Kids: Moments That Mattered

 

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