As a journalist, Tom Barber worked at GQ before going freelance and writing for the Evening Standard and Tatler. In 2002, he changed direction when he helped found luxury tour operator Original Travel. Tom is also Travel Editor for Esquire Magazine.
Q: What is your first childhood memory of travel?
Flying to Ireland as a 4-year old. I was asleep on the plane with my face pressed up against the window and woke up to see us just above a sea of clouds. I freaked out thinking we were flying down into a really snowy landscape. Luckily, it didn’t put me off flying for life!
Q: Where have you had your best holiday to date?
There’s no denying it – pre and post-family holidays are different beasts entirely, but none the worse for that. My all-time favourite holidays have been backpacking in southern Africa on my gap year, a couple of hilarious cricket tours with Uni friends and exploring Central America and Japan, both with my wife.
Q: Where was the first place you went with a little one in tow? How did it go?
We kept it simple with 9 month old twins and took them to Scotland. On the flight up they were beautifully behaved, on the way back down, not so much. That’s when I decided that we needed Original Travel’s definitive guide to dealing with crying kids on planes. In answer to the second part – the trip itself went well!
Q: How do you find the experience of travelling with children generally?
It’s all about the planning. If you get your ducks in a row, barring unforeseens, the holiday should absolutely be an opportunity to bond with the bubs, but it can be super-traumatic if they are unhappy or being pesky because there’s so much pressure to have a good time when there are limited days off a year.
Q: Where was your best holiday with your child?
Zighy Bay in Oman, last February half-term. Pretty much idyllic in every way – the weather was perfect, the hotel is excellent at catering for families, there is a perfect beach with shallow warm sea to muck around in and the kid’s club was spot on for when my wife and I wanted some peace and quiet. The twins, now five, completely adored it.
Q: And your worst?
We just got back from the South of France. The holiday itself was wonderful, but the drive back from St. Tropez to Nice Airport remains a horror and the girls nearly died of boredom. Then, one of them tripped over in the airport and bumped her nose which proceeded to bleed for about half an hour. These things happen!
Q. Does local food and gastronomy affect the places you choose to visit on holiday?
France was wonderful because it was an opportunity for the girls to try something a bit more adventurous and there were basically empty plates at the end of every meal. Not necessarily the normal state of affairs!
Q: What is your must-have travel accessory when away with children?
Unashamed plug ahoy, but genuinely I think the service we provide since our partnership with the wonderful children’s entertainers Sharky & George is a complete winner. We ask all our parents to fill in questionnaires about their children’s likes and dislikes and the dynamic between them, then Sharky & George, provide a completely tailored pack of goodies including fun and games designed to stave off boredom and whinges at those potential holiday flash points – flights, transfers etc. We were the guinea pigs for the new service on the Oman holiday and the twins just adored all the games and arts and crafts stuff that was perfectly pitched for their interests. We’re also determined to include an educational angle every time, with quizzes and facts about the destination in there too.
Q: And top tips for travel with kids?
If you really want to push the boat out, we and Sharky & George also offer a Fun Guru service where you actually take one of their children’s entertainers on holiday with you. They’re not meant to replace the nanny, but are there to keep the children thoroughly entertained, engaged and informed throughout the trip so you can really enjoy the holiday as well. Even better, the little ones tend to sleep way better after an active day. In terms of the dreaded crying on planes, as I mentioned before we provide parents of smaller children a checklist of what you can do to prevent blocked ears and other potential causes. In a nutshell, get them sucking on something or drinking at the key moments just after take off and before landing.