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Heavenly half term?

[February 2008]

Exchanging a warm pub and a chilled bottle of wine on a Saturday afternoon for rolling around an indoor play centre means that my partner and I have at last accepted our roles as real live parents. Overcoming this mental hurdle, we are now considering the looming spectre of the 'family holiday'.

After avoiding flights and lengthy stays for the past year and a half we are longing for a proper break. Our small person is getting on for 18 months old now, with an iron will and fat little legs that will take him wherever he wants to go. He's not as containable as he once was. It's looking like last minute winter sun is the way forward, but where do we start?

From some initial searches online I realise that we're in trouble. We have to go away during half term which seems to be some kind of travelling hell from which few fully recover. But surely there is hope? I have a plan. And it might help other poor unfortunates.

Baby Friendly Boltholes, Baby Goes 2 and the travel pages of the Times online are all invaluable web resources when searching for family-friendly accommodation and destinations. They understand the simple pleasures of bath, travel cot and childcare.

Flying with babies and toddlers appears to be a minefield and we have decided that most budget airlines are ideal for boozy weekends in Budapest but not first family holidays.

The Department for Transport website details all the latest information on airport security and baggage requirements (including restrictions on liquids) on its Transport for You pages. The best bet regarding infant formula is to pre-order from Boots in the departure lounge unless you fancy opening all your bottles or cartons at security for a tasting session.

If you're worried about getting through security with a little person - particularly one who has just learnt the word 'bomb' - then take a look at the United States Transportation Security Administration website. It's very useful for tips on air travel anywhere.

The airport and airline will be able to answer any specific questions - such as ''Please, please can I keep my buggy with me, can I?' so phoning in advance is definitely recommended. A buggy is a necessity at the airport as it can be used for feeding, resting, moving and restraining a little monster. It's also worth checking if the airport has any special facilities or areas for young children.

Now is the time to embrace the super-organised domestic goddess within: hand luggage with separate compartments; spare clothing, wipes and nappies; snacks, toys and books; new exciting trinkets for distraction emergencies; an arsenal of terrible dad jokes and eye-spy type games; and sedatives only for the truly desperate.

The web is full of advice from veteran family travellers and I've found the following very helpful. Ask the airline to allocate your seats near other families rather than people you may easily annoy. A window seat can entertain many a little person fascinated by wheels, flashing lights and clouds. Boarding last may be a good idea with toddlers to reduce the 'sitting still' time.

We aim to ease ourselves gently into our momentous journey by pre-booking an airport hotel for the night before we travel and 'meet and greet' airport parking. A lovely man will meet us at the terminal and park our car for us, and do the same on our return. Airport hotels will provide cots and family rooms if requested.

And on the day of departure, the golden rule is to check all the necessary travel updates and allow lots of time for the journey to the airport.

I'm looking forward to our first real holiday as a family. It might not be heavenly but hopefully it won't be hell.

by Maxine Clarke