So near, yet so far

I'm a fan of long haul over short haul family travel, believing the getting to and from is by far the worst bit of any break.

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How far do you have to go to have a holiday? One hundred kilometres? Two hundred? Five hundred? One thousand? I'm a fan of long haul over short haul family travel, believing the getting to and from is by far the worst bit of any break. The best kind of haul, however, is not a haul at all, but a short cab ride. We call these one-night breaks, only a few miles away from where we live, micro-holidays.

Holidaying close to home has big advantages. Preparation, often the most stressful part of a family holiday, is minimal. Just throw the five toothbrushes in a sponge bag, remember to put an away message on my e-mail, and pile everyone into a taxi with a single suitcase. Twenty minutes later, we all pile out again. To make a micro-holiday work, you have to stay somewhere completely different, even if it's only a couple of kilometres away.

It's no good renting an apartment that sleeps five just around the corner from your own apartment that sleeps five. We either considerably increase or decrease our standard of living. In London we stayed at the gorgeous Athenaeum hotel on Piccadilly, so decadently unlike home, stuffed with sofas and duvets to sink into. And for breakfast, instead of the usual bowl of Weetabix slapped down in front of them, the eight-year-old twins spread apricot and lavender leaf jam on their warm croissants.

When we lived in San Francisco, we would do a 24-hour hop to Bolinas, a small hippy beach community reached on unmarked roads. We'd book in to the Grand Hotel - two rooms above a junk store, in which some of the excess junk was often stored. My teenager was thrilled to stay somewhere where no one would notice if she scattered the contents of her bag all over the floor. I've found it's best not to let anyone know you're only a few miles from your front door. Once, a gaggle of aunties and uncles insisted on joining us for Sunday lunch as they'd never have been able to do if we'd flown away to Barcelona. It's not that we didn't want to dine with them; we wanted to pretend we were in an entirely different place.

In a sense, we were. At the Athenaeum, it was like waking up in London for the first time, watching Piccadilly come to life with smart art dealers on their way to open their galleries. Now when we decide where to go away, we're as likely to pull out the street map to our own town as the world atlas. Foreign can be found on your own doorstep. Do you have a family travel tips that you'd like to share? E-mail Dea at