How to improve holidays with your children

Have a 'what not to do' list
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The Independent Travel

If you're going on a weekend city break with children, let me give you some advice. Tear up your "to do" list and replace it with a "not to do" one - it's far more useful, I promise.

There are many things to remember not to do, so you'll need to carry the list with you at all times. For a start, don't think you can just dig out that little overnight bag, stuff it with lingerie and skip out of the door. What you require is a trunk full of clobber - nappies, buggies, toys, and clothes for every possible weather permutation. One thing you won't need to pack, though, is that big fat guidebook full of trendy restaurants and hotels: you can guarantee it was written by someone who hasn't even heard of children, let alone had them.

The secret to a successful weekend away with kids is to do the exact opposite of what you'd normally (ie like to) do. When it comes to booking your hotel, for example, avert your eyes from anything that describes itself as "boutique" or "a spa haven" and look instead for the words "baby listening" and "children's menu". You may have to hunt a bit for child-friendly city hotels (they don't like to shout about it for fear of putting everyone else off). If you're stuck, try novotel.com or thomascook.com for some surprisingly inspiring offerings.

Once you've arrived, you'll need to adjust your mini-break expectations to accommodate your mini-sized companions. Lie-ins are out, for starters; it's no fun lounging in bed when you're sharing with tiny tots who just want to jump up and down on top of you. So give in, and get up - that way, you can head for that museum/ancient ruin/monument before your fellow tourists have even had time to order their morning espressos. I find the beginning (or the end) of the day is by far the best time to enjoy the tourist thing with children; you beat the worst of the heat, queues and coach parties all in one go.

What else should be top of your "not to do" list? Endless traipsing has got to be up there, because one thing's guaranteed, your little treasures will not take kindly to marching up and down the Ramblas or the Rue de Rivoli 83 times in one day - and you'll enjoy it even less than usual when it's accompanied by incessant whining. Instead, look ahead a bit and check out the best ways of getting from A to B en famille before you start. A helpful website for planning your adventures is travelforkids.com - great for tips and info on everything from family travel passes to the best children's playgrounds in many European cities.

Finally, schedule in a maximum of two (not 22) things you want to do each day. If you find yourself saying "Let's just pop into the Sistine Chapel and the Pantheon on the way to the Colosseum", you're asking for trouble. Far better to do one thing properly, then retreat for ice creams all round.

It can be fun doing the opposite of everything you used to do - honest. Children really can give you a whole new perspective, and they'll love the excitement a foreign city evokes. I'll never forget my younger son's cry of wonder on one recent trip. His words still ring in my ears: "Look, mum! They have Starbucks in Spain!" See, that's the joy of a city break - it offers something for everyone.

KATY'S TOP TIP

Have a flick through Fodor's 'Around Paris With Kids' or 'Around Rome With Kids' (£6.99) - they're full of great ideas to keep the whole family thoroughly entertained.

Katy Holland is deputy editor of 'Mother and Baby' and www.motherandbabymagazine.com. She has written several books on childcare.

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