Choosing the perfect destination (family style)
Of all the places in the world...
This was to be our first big holiday together as a family of four. We’d been on short mini-brakes to France and Belgium (easy when we lived in Kent) but nothing so far and for so long. I’d been itching for a proper traveling adventure for a while and our finances didn’t look as glum as they had been for what had seemed like an entire age. I was working full time (that really helps!) when I broached the idea to Mr. B in early 2016. He concurred that yes, it would be grand, so we put it out over dinner one day to the kids: “Where would you like to go, of you could go anywhere in the world?”
“China!” cried out El, who was nine at the time. He’s had a long fascination with dragons and still holds out on the idea that the last ones on Earth can be found in this huge country. “New York!” called out Em, eight years old, who once saw a short video on the city featuring the largest candy store in the world. Both Mr. B and I have a deep love for Thailand, but we’d both visited there in the past, in separate lives and wanted to find somewhere new together.
— The Wish List —
We each put forward a set of must haves. The kids took it in turns calling out all their dreams and ideas: 1. Swimming pool (preferably with loads of slides or a waterpark). 2. Crystal clear sea. 3. Snorkelling with fish. 4. Food they’ll like (no small feat as they hardly like anything).. 5. Animals. 6. Palm trees.
Mr B’s wishlist: 1. Relaxing. 2. Don’t want to do anything. 3. Easy. 4. Somewhere new for all of us.
My wish list: 1. Hot and sunny. 2. Good food. 3. Culturally different. 4. A bit of adventure, a bit of relaxing. 5. Not expensive. I’m frugal and we aren’t flush.
There was also the option of a winter snow holiday. I’d been skiing for one week, once when I was 18 and loved it. The others were really keen for a snow holiday too but realistically we knew it would be shorter break and not especially relaxing (the opposite in fact!). We put it out there and decided we’d have a sunny holiday this time, and maybe a snow holiday next time.
— So, where do we go? —
We hauled out our old atlas and flicked through for inspiration. As the kids wanted turquoise sea and I wanted warm weather, we looked to the Med but wanted to go somewhere a little more exotic. Focussing on the sub-tropical and tropical zones we knocked up some ideas: Egypt? – Mr. B thought it wasn’t the best place to travel to at the time. There had been political unrest. This also ruled out other politically charged countries around the Mediterranean Sea such as Turkey and Greece. Hmmm….
Always with the budget in mind, we rejected the Caribbean and the American continent. Australia and New Zealand were just too far from the UK.. Which pretty much leaves south Asia. Friends of mine had just booked an ‘absolute bargain!’ trip to Bali and we bounced the idea around of going there. However, I had visited Bali in 2005 and it didn’t fit in with the somewhere-new-for-us-all idea that was one of the wishes.
All my family have been to Kerala, South India. All of them, separately at different times. My mum, sister, my dad, my aunt, my cousin. And they’d all raved about it – how beautiful it was, how nice the people were, the fabulous food, the weather. Everything! What about Kerala? Hmmm…Mr. B wasn’t sure at all. Not sure why, it just didn’t appeal. It may well have been because all my family had been!
Just next to India was the little teardrop island of Sri Lanka. “Hey, what about here? Tropical sea, tons of animals, relaxing beaches, fabulous food, palm trees…’ The kids just shrugged – they had no interest or idea of where Sri Lanka is or how it relates to their position in the world. Mr B said “Yeah!” and I said “I’ll look into it.”
— The hatching of a plan —
The first thing I needed to look at was costs. As mentioned, we’re not flush and I’m very spending aware. This was to be our first major family holiday and it would need saving for and a tight budget to stick to. It’s a whole new costing looking at hauling four bodies around the planet as opposed to just one (as I’d done most of my travelling alone before).
Google Flights is such an easy tool to use for researching prices and availability. In the past, flight researching was a touch and go experience as it appeared that once a website had been visited, your IP address would register, and often a new (higher) price would show after the initial visit. However, Google flights seem to be consistent in the prices it presents, it’s easy to use and clear too. The only sticking point, is it crashes quite regularly so a bit of a beast to use on the mobile.
As we had no particular time of year we had to go or work around, I just checked out the general flight prices to Sri Lanka from the UK. There seemed to be a flat £1685 for two adults, two children from Sri Lankan Airways, regardless of the time of year. Like most places, in the UK, peak travel is over the holidays – Christmas, Easter and the end of July to the first week of September. However, the flights to Sri Lanka seemed unaffected by the holidays. I figured that around £400 per person for a return flight to the tropics sounded like pretty good value and was definitely do-able.
— Would it be good value when we got there? —
The next agenda would be to work out if Sri Lanka was economically viable for four people once we were there. It could be a honey trap – reasonable flights but a killer to stay out there. As my years of travelling have grown, so have my standards and levels of acceptability. In 2005, I returned to the Koh San Road in Bangkok to relive my extraordinary adventure I’d had there as a 20 year old. Unsurprisingly, it just wasn’t the same…the scummy cot beds and boxed in rooms no longer held any appeal, Strange that. They were really disgusting in fact and why it was fine the first time around was a mystery! Where it had been perfectly acceptable to me to spend $2 on a room in 1998, I was now very happy to splash out $10 for somewhere that was clean, aired and quiet.
As my standards have increased, my disposable income hasn’t so I need to be able to find a happy medium. I’ve also got three other people to consider – will the compromises on price mean more travel time/distance to and from the attractions and a sacrifice of general comfort? As with anything in life, you spend to your means; Sri Lanka seems to offer cheap cheap places to stay and eat, with some comfortable medium and also luxury top end. I was happy after a bit of research that the trip appeared to be affordable for us. Reports from various forums and websites confirmed that the average meal was around £2 – £8 without drinks. Booking.com and TripAdvisor seemed to show accommodation from as low as £7 per room per night up to hundreds for the top end. I was confident that we would be able to find something affordable and comfortable.
This is how we settled on Sri Lanka as our holiday destination for 2018!