18 top tips for villa holidays
Last month we set off for an amazing adventure with James Villa Holidays to the beautiful region of Murcia in southern Spain. I loved it so much I ended up writing LOTS about it (including our fab days out in Cartegena, Santiago de la Ribera and Murcia) and sharing loads of photographs – although they were only a small fraction of the literally hundreds I ended up taking while we were away!
Villa holidays are such a great way to go abroad with your family because you’re essentially staying in someone’s house with a lot of the amenities – and in fact tons more – that you’d have at home. In our gorgeous villa both of our little ones had a big bedroom to themselves, we had a fab room with an ensuite bathroom and balcony, a lovely open plan living area and an outside patio with not one but two barbecues plus a heated private pool!
Obviously self-catering isn’t for everyone but we’ve taken villa holidays for years and we love the freedom and space it gives us. If all this has whet your appetite for trying a vacation villa-style I’ve popped together some tips to help you make the most of your planning, packing and holidaying in your home-from-home.
Top tips for villa holidays
#1 If you’re used to package holidays where you turn up at the resort and there is someone there to meet you and show you around your accommodation you might find a villa holiday a bit strange at first. On most of the villas holidays we’ve taken we’ve been sent directions to our villa and when we’ve arrived there’s been a key safe to pick up our key. There won’t always be a representative nearby but their should be a welcome pack in the villa with lots of lovely details about the area and some insider hints and tips like the recommended restaurants.
#2 Take tuppaware boxes with you that fit inside each other for packing easily or ziplock bags if you’re pushed for space – great for packed lunches, keeping left overs and if you’re on the road for snacks like cereal. We left our hotel in Toulouse too early for the little people to eat much breakfast so I boxed up their croissants and cereal and took it with us for snacks and as part of lunch.
#3 If you’re holidaying with James Villa Holidays like we did then download their new app before you go – it has maps of the area around your villa, local attractions and facilities plus details of your local contacts, very useful!
#4 If you’re taking a sat nav save your villa’s location in it as soon as you arrive. That way if you get a bit lost *ahem* you can always find your way back.
#5 Some villas will supply towels for use in the villa but not by the pool or on the beach so take beach towels with you – camping towels that dry quickly and pack up small for your suitcase are a great investment.
#6 Be sure to follow the departure instructions in your welcome pack as all villas are different and some owners will charge you for not clearing the fridge or emptying your dustbins. I always take a pack of kitchen wipes with me to clean up quickly before we leave.
#7 If you can, take some creature comforts with you so the villa feels like home away from home – we took Curly Girl’s pillow and a
small truck load selection of the kids’ favourite toys.
#8 Worried about your home while you’re away? We used our gifted Piper to watch over our house and it alerted us to two loud noises – thankfully one was a very loud car going past and the other was the postman. How do I know? Piper sent me an alert in Spain, took a video and recorded the sound to show me. Very cool. You can read my review of the Piper here.
#9 Check what comes with your villa and if necessary pack a few kitchen essentials in your suitcase. With our villa holidays we’ve always had a fully equipped kitchen but seriously who wants to break into a wine bottle with a tin opener? I made a must-have list by writing down everything I used in the kitchen at home one day and compared it to the list from the villa – it’s amazing what you can forget to bring and while there’s always a supermarket nearby it’s annoying to have to buy something when you probably have at least one of them at home.
#10 Check your villa when you arrive for any problems and report them immediately to the contact in your welcome pack. You don’t want to be responsible for the last holiday-maker’s breakages!
#11 Take plug block with adapters so you have plenty of english sockets for charging phones, plugging in games, baby monitors etc.
#12 Have euros in small denominations for tolls along the way and a credit card for french tolls – they’re mostly automatic now.
#13 If your villa has wifi as ours did (be sure to check if its free) take a laptop or tablet for researching your destination in a bit more detail
#14 Take batteries for any must-have toys – a long journey without their favourite thingamajig will drive you insane.
#15 If you’re driving take an all-in-one car booster battery and compressor so you can pump up the tyres and jump start your car if the worst happens – breakdown services in other countries can vary a lot.
#16 following on from #14 it’s worth taking a couple of basic tools like a leatherman or swiss army knife and a small screwdriver – being able to fix said children’s favourite toy and actually replace those batteries can make all the difference. (Anyone else tried to open a battery compartment with a butter knife?)
#17 There are also some products we just don’t leave home without:
Travel potty for the littles – this one is brilliant as it shuts up tight and doesn’t leak at all.
She wee / travel john -Travel John portable loos are brilliant to keep in the car or your handbag just in case you’re caught short. Anyone can use them – men, women and children – and they’ve saved us from an ‘accident’ on many occasions. They’re also great for those awkward moments on the road when the little people have FINALLY gone to sleep and you inevitably need a wee five minutes later!
Systema botttles – twist and go with no leaking whatsoever and different sizes for keeping hydrated on the move.
Travel high chair – we swear by this one because it can stand alone as well as on a chair in a restaurant or in your villa. I did a mini review a while back here.
Dvd player – this one from Nextbase UK works best for us because you can use it standalone as well as in the car with a fit-it-yourself bracket. A bit sad that this is a must-have item but hey, I value my sanity.
#18 Enjoy yourself! With all the extra space over a traditional hotel room you can properly relax and make the most of your holiday!
Bonus: top tips for road-trips with kids
I originally posted this list on a post about our two-day road trip with the little ones but I thought it was worth repeating here for anyone planning to take to the open road like we did!
#1 Pack enough nappies for each day on the road – then add a few extra.
#2 Take a spare set of clothes for each child in a plastic bag in case of accidents (the plastic bag can be used to store any dirty clothes).
#3 Bring a big plastic bowl in the car, just in case.
#4 Have a small mirror with you so you can check on the child sitting behind you without craning your neck.
#5 Pack copious snacks and favourite toys or DVDs if you have an in-car player
#6 Dry Like Me liners are useful for older children in case there isn’t an Aire for a few km’s as is a travel potty.
#7 Rubbish bags for car – reusing supermarket bags is a good cheap solution.
#8 Take wet wipes and hand cleaner for cleaning hands and loo roll for toilet stops as there often isn’t any at the aires.
#9 Remember that it’s illegal to have speed cameras listed in your sat nav in France so make sure you delete them before you leave. The French Police are really hot on speeding and we saw them using mobile radar guns along all the autoroutes we used.
#10 Take a look at the AA website for comprehensive list of must-have in car items that you’ll be breaking the law if you don’t take with you.
Now all that’s left is to getting booking that holiday!
Are you a villa holiday fan? What top tips would you share with villa newbies? Let me know in the comments!