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BEAUTY STYLE: In search of better weather; On November 2 this year the Holden family (mum Nicola, dad Paul and two children aged eight and ten) will board a plane to Capetown and not return to their Edgbaston home until April 1, 2004. In a fortnightly column for Post Style, Nicola Holden offers an explanation why...

When we decided to spend five months travelling overseas with our two children aged eight and ten this winter, we embarked on a massive logistical task that has proved to be exciting, engrossing, and unbelievably timeconsuming. The world was, as they say, our oyster, but initial discussions about where to go and when were quickly swayed by both emotional and practical considerations. Our route had to comply with the restrictions on round-theworld air tickets (of which, more later). The children's needs and priorities had to be factored in from the start (would they be lonely, bored, or even frightened at times?) It is a general rule when travelling, that happy kids equals happy parents. We wimped out of taking the children any where regarded as unpredictable or dangerous by the foreign office (which is, after all, a bit like an anxious parent when it comes to handing out advice to travellers). What's more, we felt that the children would get more out of a long stint away if they visited countries where English was widely spoken. The weather had to be great throughout (no point fleeing the British winter to get someone else's bad weather). The children are keen to see lots of different animals, and to do a lot of sport. In our son's case this includes extreme sports, though we have had to warn him that even in New Zealand the self-styled adrenaline capital of the world, a bungee-jumping centre for eight-year-olds may be hard to find. Paul and I want to walk, dive and snorkel, ride bikes and horses, visit galleries and museums and enjoy our children enjoying themselves.

I suppose in the end the itinerary is a fairly 'soft' one, concentrating on the Englishspeaking Southern Hemisphere. It must be admitted, too, that our travel arrangements are long on comfortable bed-andbreakfasts and cottages, and short on Ray Mears-style battling with the elements. Yes, I want an adventure, but not too much of one, thank you. It became clear early on that to avoid having to stay in boring chain hotels, we should book accommodation before we go, as we are travelling at a time when the entire Southern Hemisphere is on the move (main school holidays are around Christmas in Australia and New Zealand). As young backpackers we would no doubt have set off with visas and vague intentions, but alas travelling hopefully is not for us more mature types with family in tow.

Our first step was a visit to the always excellent Trailfinders for some help. Trailfinders is an independent travel specialist, founded in 1970 as an advice service for the more adventurous traveller. Paul and I set off to the nearest branch.

Trailfinders can handle bookings over the phone, but we felt we needed a face-to-face consultation. Our consultant Nicola put all our flights in place first, working within the number of stops permitted (seven) and the mileage allowance (29,000) on our British Airway/Quantas round-theworld tickets.

Moving on, we started to look at the nitty gritty of our trip. Trailfinders can book hotels for most budgets, train tickets, car hire, camper vans and all manner of walking tours, balloon trips and safaris to satisfy even the most jaded traveller. But it is their attention to detail that really won me over. For example, Nicola took us patiently through our New Zealand camper van booking, pointing out the opening times of the office for collection and return, and suggesting (quite rightly) that we may not want to dash straight from the airport to an out-of-town camper van depot. She suggested that we spend three days in old and lovely Christchurch (with no need for a car) and collect the van after this. Common sense may be, but just the sort of practical advice that is a) hugely helpful and b) depressingly hard to come by. Indeed, so helpful was Nicola that there was only the smallest of strangled yelps from husband Paul as he handed over the credit card. We staggered out dazed but elated.

The flights were booked, the camper van was booked, the Fiji luxury resort was booked (not a very cutting-edge travel option I agree, but after all that time in a camper van) and the electronic visas for Australia were on their way. At any point from now, I can add other elements such as car hire and ski accommodation to our booking and it all becomes part of the same itinerary. I can view our booking details any time on the website. Furthermore, I can get a yes or no answer to questions such as 'do we need a separate visa for Swaziland?' by picking up the phone. Sometimes there is no substitute for expert advice on tap.

Holdens on Tour -the story so farWe fly from Heathrow to Capetown on November 2, staying five nights and then work our way up the Garden Route to Port Elizabeth, and fly from there to Johannesburg where Paul has family. We will then drive through the Drakensburg mountains to the St Lucia Wetlands in Kwa-Zulu Natal, up through Swaziland to the Kruger Park, and then back to Johannesburg, where we fly on to Perth in Western Australia, spend two weeks there, then on to Sydney, to catch an overnight train to Brisbane, down to the Gold Coast for Christmas, then back to Sydney through the coastal hinterland of New South Wales. Five days in Sydney, then onto Christchurch in New Zealand's South Island, where we spend three days before picking up our camper van which we have for 31 days. Assuming our marriage survives this, we fly on from Auckland to Fiji for a week, then over to Los Angeles, down to San Diego, then Palm Springs, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, up to Lake Tahoe to ski, across to San Francisco via the Napa Valley, down the Pacific Highway back to LA, onto New York for a week and then home.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 22, 2003
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