British Prep: Accommodations

July 3, 2010

We are in the final stages of preparing for our trip to England and good grief, there are just too many choices. Seriously. This has been one of the most challenging trips to plan for two reasons: cost and too many options. It started to hit me when I began hunting for accommodations several months ago. I was shocked by the cost, especially in London, and then quickly overwhelmed by all of the possibilities.

I started with our usual mode of accommodation: apartment/holiday rentals. I briefly took a peek at hotel rooms in London but when I saw the crazy costs and the super small rooms, I headed back to the apartment listings. In addition to the cost, many of the apartments we were considering required a week long stay. This is different from most places we have visited which usually just have a three day minimum. Searching for apartments, especially in big city settings is always a challenge because I am trying to juggle location, cost, kid friendly lay-out, easy access to public transportation and grocery shopping, etc. I carefully studied the info section on the websites. Our favorite sites are VRBO, Homeway, and Holiday Lettings. I searched for any and all reviews of the apartment and only rent apartments that have been reviewed. I also pulled up Google maps and studied the area, looking to see if there is a park within walking distance, a tube stop within a few blocks, and other things that might make an apartment stand out from the others we were considering. I finally found one that I think will be a good fit for us. It's a pretty time consuming search process, but so far we have always had good success with apartment stays...keeping my fingers crossed that we'll have a positive stay in our London flat.

After booking our place in London, I focused my attention on figuring out our first week in England. We knew we wanted to explore the countryside. I initially envisioned staying in a quaint cottage in the Lake District or the Cotswolds or both. But when I started to research those options, I was a bit disappointed to discover that many of the cottages did not allow kids or they required a week long stay or they were too remote to consider without a rental car. Same for many of the Bed and Breakfast options.

Things started to improve when I discovered this site. I am not sure if the site is still active because I didn't have success contacting accommodations via the site, but it does have a great selection of very interesting, family-friendly stays throughout England. And that's where I came across the concept of Glamping. I loved the idea of staying in a fancy yurt, but I encountered some issues when it came to booking any of sites. Since we are traveling in the summer, many of the spots are either already booked or have strict check-in dates which didn't correspond with our arrival and departure dates. And we still had the issue of getting to the locations...beautiful, rural settings but remote and requiring the additional cost of a rental car or expensive taxi trip.

Which led to me to the final solution: a VW camper van...accommodation and transportation all in one! I initially stumbled upon several companies that rent these cool retro vans and I have to admit I felt a strange tingling in my spine. A nostalgic tugging. Our first family vehicle was a VW van which my parents had retrofitted with a bed that filled the entire back of the van. They used that van soon after they were married for an extended camping trip/honeymoon around the United States. I was actually conceived on that trip. Guess you could say VW vans have been a part of my life since the very start!

I have very vivid memories of lounging around on that big mattress (it was essentially a box with a mattress on top and storage underneath) while my parents drove us around town. One of my favorite pics from childhood is of a past birthday when my parents loaded up several of my friends and we all squeezed onto the mattress as we headed over to my grandparents house in the country to pick mulberries and eat cake. I also lost a tooth once when I went flying off the mattress during an accident. Not the safest form of family travel, but it was fun. Fun, until the van broke down. Which happened a lot. Those childhood memories are not so cherished. Sitting on the side of road waiting for tow trucks. Having other drivers yell and honk when the van caught fire (was that our first or second VW van that caught fire? I'll have to ask my mom). And those very memories of VW breakdowns, pushed me to explore options beyond the sentimental VW vans of my 70s childhood and seek out a more modern version: the VW California Camper Van. Isn't that a cool vehicle? That's how we'll be living and traveling through the British countryside for a week. It will be a brand new experience for all of us. And even if it all goes horribly wrong and we spend most of the time cooped up inside the van watching the rain come down, it will still be memorable, right?

Here are some of the other unique British accommodations we considered:

Jolly Days
Feather Down Farm Stays
WildWise (would love to do one of their family camping programs!)
White Horse Gypsy Caravan
Military Clubs in London (only for military families)
The Treehouse
University Rooms (check for family rooms, especially in Oxford)
Cirencester Cottage in the Cotswolds

Do you have any favorite British accommodation spots to share? or tips on how to make a family trip to England more affordable? Stay tuned for a few other posts related to our upcoming trip. We are starting to get very excited.
Cami said...

Oh MAN, I hear you on the prices! My friend scoured London to find a place that had 3 twin beds for an affordable price, and really, I can't believe she found one. It was called The Darlington, but I'm sure it was only affordable because three of us were sharing the cost. :) But I stayed at her home in Cheltenham the rest of the time I was there, so no good ideas for you from me!

The VW Camper Van sounds SO awesome! I hope you guys have a super fun time.

House Mother said...

You found so many fun and wonderful choices for your trip to England -- can't wait to hear about the VW camping experience!

Loving all those fun links to follow...thanks.

We found London a little overwhelming but, then again, I wouldn't want to be bored on vacation. Just pace yourself. The parks are beautiful.

Karla said...

Have a great time! To get our bearings in London we took one of the bus tours--you can hop on and off throughout the day--you really don't want to get caught up in traffic there. Between the round-a-bouts and extra fees during certain times of days it can get a little harried. I agree with House Mother--the parks are beautiful and great places for the kids to run--and get some ice cream. :) We were spoiled living in Cornwall with some great pubs and delicious food. We found London a little disappointing in that respect, but you never know what you'll stumble upon. The Indian food is very good there. If you like classical music, St. Martin-in-the-Fields is a great stop at the corner of Trafalgar Square. There's also a cafe in the basement. The website: has more info. The Cotswolds are beautiful and a nice change of scenery from the big city. Cambridge is also nice. Have fun in the VW. We had a great time in our most recent RV adventure!

LindyLouMac said...

Have fun, hope you do not find it too expensive, but self catering is definitely the way to go. I wish I had known before about you looking for central London accommodation as I could have recommended some very reasonably priced apartments.

boatbaby said...

I grew up in a VW van too. Of course no seatbelts of car seats, just beds my dad built in the back and a hammock to make things extra crazy on winding roads. Paisley curtains, camping gear at the ready. Ahhhh, the memories! That California looks very cool, I can't wait to see and hear how it all goes. Have fun!

katy said...

gosh, i feel overwhelmed just hearing about your booking experience. we haven't gone to England yet, but it is high on our list. I'll definitely be bothering you when it's time to plan our trip. Not that you need more information, but here are a few accommodation sites that we've used with success.

Have a wonderful time!

p.s. just as Karla, I've heard the Cotswolds are wonderful.

Martha said...

I suggest Birdland.  It is in the Cotswolds.It has been a number of years since I was there, very cool, penguins that you can get really close to, parrots, humingbirds. Also try some good British hard cider.  So refreshing if it is hot. Look forward to seeing the pics and reading about it.

Rebekah said...

We did several of the "walks"--kids may like the Harry Potter Walk.

We used points for a hotel near Hyde Park.

Tisra said...

Favorite England spot? Grandma's house! Ha!

We go about every two years and just had a conversation the other day about trying to figure out how to go again without completely inconveniencing my family with our now undeniably huge crew. Last time, we stayed with my aunt and THREE KIDS was a bit much. Now that we have 4.... yikes!

I will be VERY interested to see what you've found and where exactly it is. I have relatives in Surrey and South London, so we'd want to be on that side of the city. Def. bookmarking this post to check it out when we're ready to fly across the pond again!

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