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…
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 their friends after finishing their 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 and nagging from teenagers is likely to have grown to a crescendo in the last couple of weeks.
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 they cannot drive themselves, they can fly. Many airlines, easyjet, Ryanair and British Airways included, allow 16-year-olds to fly on their own. (In fact, British Airways has offered its Skyflyer Solo service for many years, allowing children aged 12 and above to fly unaccompanied. However, the service is ending in January 2017 and is no longer accepting new bookings.)
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 as 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. The Cornish town of Newquay has become a magnet for 16-year-olds looking for an unaccompanied break and 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. 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, which both admit unaccompanied 16-year-olds, among the most commonly pestered for.
6. Camp Bestival at Lulworth Castle 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.
Holidays 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. If you like the idea of a working holiday or volunteering 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.
9. Beaches is best known for all-inclusive holidays in the Caribbean but it also runs what the company calls ‘volunteenism’ programmes. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. Another option: Spend a week splashing in waterfalls and kayaking down canyons with Families Worldwide in Croatia.
14. If your teen loves animals, what could be better than a trip to Borneo, to visit orangutan sanctuaries.
15. 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.
16. Like the idea of Cornwall but not the Newquay teen experience? Try surfing in Cornwall but all together. This house is available through Helpful Holidays and is close to both Rock and Polzeath.
17. For something a little more chilled out, try Silver Spray in Port Isaac, Cornwall with Classic Holidays, which has a stunning cliff-top location and a sunken seating area which is perfect for late nights watching the stars.
18. Or what about Ty Nant, a cottage for six in Mid Wales with hot tub, cinema room, pool table and table tennis, as the perfect post-exam staycation?
19. Does all that sound too energetic? Mauritius is the perfect tropical retreat after months of revision. Turquoise Holidays can take you to The Residence for a week of Indian Ocean beach time.
20. And one last idea? 2016 is, of course, an Olympic year and it’s not too late to take the road to Rio. Dehouche can organise flights, transfers and Olympic event tickets.
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.)
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