Mark Frary is a travel writer and editor as well as a music festival organiser and father of three. Here, he tackles the best places for post-GCSE holidays. You’ll find answers to questions as a parent as well as great inspiration on where to go. Over to Mark…
While lately teens 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. (Be sure to check latest travel and health information regarding Covid-19 for any destination.)
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 such as post-GCSE students 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. Some accommodations won’t allow a group of under-21s to stay without a guardian present. 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.
Getaways for your 16-year-old on their own
There are many places that actively encourage the post-GCSE market, some with educational benefits too.
- PGL is a name known to many parents for its residential courses during term-time. (‘Parents get lost’ is what the kids call it.) But it also runs summer camps for 7- to 17-year-olds.
- Another option is the Teen Adventurer camps run by Kingswood. The company has run a two-week course exclusively for 15- to 17-year-olds at a 19th-century beachside manor house in Norfolk. Check for the latest info.
- Big festivals: Attending Reading Festival has become a typical rite of passage for teens after their GCSE year — if you feel there is safety in numbers, then you’ll find them here.
- Latitude in Suffolk in July also admits unaccompanied 16-year-olds.
- 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 in if they are accompanied by an adult who sleeps in the same camping area.
- For parents who think their kids should be doing something constructive, then consider a working holiday. Trailblazer Camps, for example, allows 16- and 17-year-olds to do conservation in Scotland.
One of the most popular destinations for teens in Cornwall is Newquay — it merits its own entry!
- Newquay 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. The Boardmasters festival combines camping, music and surfing. (It also features a Safer Spaces tent for help and support and to report incidents.) 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.
Holidays in the UK that teens will love with the family
If unaccompanied is not an option, for either trust or practical reasons, consider taking 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.
- 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.
- For something a little more chilled out, try Silver Spray in Port Isaac, Cornwall with Classic Cottages. It has a stunning cliff-top location and a sunken seating area, perfect for late nights watching the stars.
- 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
Europe has a wide variety of experiences for families. In addition to the standards, these European family holidays provide just a little bit extra.
- 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.)
- Lanzarote combines beaches (windsurfing, kitesurfing, diving) with the art and architecture of Cesar Manrique. In addition, you can visit the active Timanfaya volcano, sail, hike and much more.
Volunteer and learning holidays for teens
Not all learning happens at school. These learning holidays give teens a new perspective and expand their horizons.
- 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 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. In eco-luxury holidays from Fiji to Cambodia teens help with planting trees, installing fuel-efficient stoves, working with refugees, teaching English or safeguarding wildlife. (Contact them for the latest updates.)
- Beaches is best known for all-inclusive holidays in the Caribbean, but it also runs what the company calls ‘volunteenism’. These programmes are available to teens staying at Beaches resorts. The packages include up to 10 hours community service in Jamaica and the Turks & Caicos. The work ranges from beach clean-ups to helping local students with their IT skills.
- 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. Afterward visitors can chill out at Gora Kadan in natural hot springs with Scott Dunn.
Exciting holidays teens will love
The teenage brain is wired for novelty, which makes these getaways new and exciting. They also providing the stimulation their brains crave.
- Learn to reggae in Jamaica and become the next Bob Marley with i-Escape. A stay at Round Hill offers great water sports activities too. (i-Escape is providing more flexibility for booking and cancellation.)
- Why not burn off some physical energy to balance all that mental exertion? Costa Rica 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.
- If your teen loves animals, what could be better than a trip to Borneo, to visit orangutan sanctuaries.
- Another option on the wild side is a seven-day private trip to Zambia and Malawi through Mahlatini. You can view game, sail, visit the beach and more.
- 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!)
Suggestions on where to go in the UK after GCSEs and A-levels
Read our post: Where teens can holiday in the UK after GCSE’s and A-Levels