Mark Frary is a travel writer and editor as well as a music festival organiser and father of three. Here, he tackles the issue of post-GCSE holidays – pertinent issues as well as great inspiration. Over to Mark…
While teens this year haven’t had the usual GCSE experience and it’s an unusual time to be trying to book a holiday, that doesn’t mean you can’t get started, make plans, and create a trip that your teen will love.
The first thing to think about when considering a post-GCSE holiday is whether this is a trip you want to take as a family or an opportunity to let your child run free, so to speak.
Is an unaccompanied holiday a good idea?
Should you let your children go on an unaccompanied holiday with friends after finishing GCSEs?
Many parents would recoil in horror at this thought, but the growing popularity of unaccompanied post-A-level holidays — to Mediterranean hotspots in particular — has begun to trickle down to younger ages in recent years. Nagging from teenagers is likely adding to the crescendo.
The decision on whether to allow your 16-year-old (or in some cases late 15-year-old) to go off on holiday is a personal one and will depend strongly on how mature you consider them, how much trust they have earned, and whether they are accustomed to independence.
There are practical issues too. If they are thinking of a UK break, they will not be driving themselves. Being driven by a friend or sibling who is already 17 and has passed their driving test brings its own nightmares for parents.
16-year-olds flying on their own
Although 16-year-olds cannot drive themselves, they can fly. Many airlines — easyjet, Ryanair and British Airways included — allow 16-year-olds to fly on their own.
Where 16-year-olds can’t go when travelling alone
Then there is the question of where to stay. Center Parcs does not allow stays for young groups unless accompanied by a responsible adult aged 21 or over. Travelodge does not allow under 18s to stay but Premier Inn considers 16-year-olds sufficiently adult to do so.
Campsites often allow groups of younger people to stay, although will usually require some evidence of parental permission.
The restrictions on accommodation means that many post-GCSE groups end up staying with family or friends, potentially with less strict supervision than if they had remained at home over the summer.
But there are many places that actively encourage the post-GCSE market, some with educational benefits too.
Getaways for your 16-year-old on her own
1. Newquay in Cornwall has become a magnet for 16-year-olds looking for an unaccompanied break. The resort now welcomes thousands every year, attracted by surf, sun and possibly something else beginning with “S”. Newquay Surf Lodge is perhaps the best known of the places in town.
In 2009 teenager Paddy Higgins died on a post-GCSE holiday after falling from a cliff while drunk. That same year, the town introduced a Newquay Safe Partnership to promote sensible behaviour in the town and crack down on underage drinking. As part of this, the town runs a programme called Exodus in the first two weeks of July. This offers alcohol-free, under-18 entertainment supervised by experienced youth workers, transport to and from alcohol-free night clubs and discounted entry to daytime activities.
2. PGL is a name known to many parents for its residential courses during term-time but it also runs summer camps for 7- to 17-year-olds.
3. Another option is the Teen Adventurer camps run by Kingswood. This summer, the company is running a two-week course exclusively for 15- to 17-year-olds at a 19th-century beachside manor house in Norfolk.
4 & 5. While big festivals are currently on hold, it’s never too early start planning for a big camping-and-music getaway. It is impossible to ignore the rise in requests from kids to go to a music festival after their exams, with the Reading Festival and Latitude (both returning in 2021) admitting unaccompanied 16-year-olds.
6. Camp Bestival at Lulworth Castle (2021 dates have been announced) runs an area exclusively for 13- to 17-year-olds called The Den, which bans adults during the day. However, under-18s are only allowed into the festival if they are accompanied by an adult who sleeps in the same camping area.
7. For parents who think their kids should be doing something more constructive than jumping up and down in a mudpool, then consider a working holiday. National Trust has working holidays that are suitable for 16- and 17-year-olds, including a week rebuilding paths in the Lake District. (These are currently postponed until September 2020.)
Holidays in the UK that teens will love with the family
If unaccompanied is not an option, for either trust or practical reasons, why not take a family holiday together? After all, it may be one of your last chances to do so before they head off to university or working life.
8. Like the idea of Cornwall but not the Newquay teen experience? Try surfing in Cornwall or Devon but all together. Helpful Holidays has properties close to Rock, Polzeath, Bantham and more.
9. For something a little more chilled out, try Silver Spray in Port Isaac, Cornwall with Classic Cottages, which has a stunning cliff-top location and a sunken seating area which is perfect for late nights watching the stars.
10. Get active at Afan Lodge, a mountain biking lodge just on the Afan Forest Park, Wales. It has direct access to the park’s network of trails for mountain biking, cycling and walking. They can provide a guide and training for mountain biking beginners — perfect for an active family getaway. (Check the site for reopening times.)
Holidays in Europe for families with teens
11. Another option: Spend a week splashing in waterfalls and kayaking down canyons with Families Worldwide in Croatia. (The company has announced a new fully refundable booking promise on selected holidays.)
12. The Canary Islands are welcoming back visitors soon and Lanzarote combines beaches (windsurfing, kitesurfing, diving) with the art and architecture of Cesar Manrique, the Timanfaya volcano, sailing, hiking and more.
Volunteer and learning holidays for teens
13. If you like the idea of a working holiday/volunteering/volontourism but want to go more exotic, how about spending 11 days in Morocco with Hands Up Holidays? You will explore Marrakech, hike in the Atlas Mountains and spend some time by the beach, as well as helping build a village school for Berber people. You can go on eco-luxury holidays in locations ranging from Fiji to Cambodia, helping with projects including planting trees, installing fuel-efficient stoves, working with refugees, teaching English or safeguarding wildlife. (Contact them for the latest updates.)
14. Beaches is best known for all-inclusive holidays in the Caribbean but it also runs what the company calls ‘volunteenism’ programmes available to teens staying at Beaches resorts. The packages include up to 10 hours community service in Jamaica and the Turks & Caicos, ranging from beach clean-ups to helping local students with their IT skills.
15. How about learning some new skills? Japan is a must-see destination for teenagers, offering total immersion in a different culture. Take samurai sword lessons, learn to play Taiko drums and make sushi in Kyoto then chill out at Gora Kadan in natural hot springs with Scott Dunn.
Exciting holidays teens will love
16. Alternatively, learn to reggae in Jamaica and become the next Bob Marley with i-Escape, staying at Round Hill which offers great water sports activities too. (i-Escape is providing more flexibility for booking and cancellation.)
17. Why not burn off some physical energy to balance all that mental exertion? Costa Rica is one of the top places to visit in 2016 and works well for both thrill and wildlife seekers. A 12-night itinerary with Exsus includes bungee jumping in cloud forests and white-water rafting as well as beach time.
18. If your teen loves animals, what could be better than a trip to Borneo, to visit orangutan sanctuaries.
19. Another option on the wild side is a seven-day private trip to Zambia and Malawi through Mahlatini which includes game viewing, sailing and beach time.
20. If you’re looking for more inspiration, visit 101 Holidays, where you can choose your style of getaway, from boating to culture to self-catering and self-driving.
If you do decide to let them go somewhere on their own, don’t forget you were in their position once too. (Or maybe that’s why you need to go with them!)