Families come in all shapes and sizes these days, writes Jane E. Fraser.
Hands up if your family doesn't fit the traditional mould of mum, dad and two kids. The travel industry is cottoning on to changing trends in household sizes and shapes, including the emergence of more single-parent and blended families.
Travel agents and wholesalers are starting to recognise that different types of families have different needs and the traditional family model is a shrinking segment of the total market.
Agencies specialising in family travel are springing up around the country and tour operators and hotels are becoming more flexible in catering for the many and varied combinations of guests.
Lise Angus, the general manager of the Travel With Kidz (travelwithkidz.com.au) network, which has 42 member agencies around Australia, says the fastest-growing sector of the market is blended families or step families up 50 per cent over the past decade.
One in five families is now included in this sector and Angus says such blending can create a melting pot of different ages, interests and situations, such as teenagers who did not grow up as siblings.
Angus is no stranger to the challenge of travelling with stepchildren, having undertaken a trip to Vietnam with her own blended family: partner Jim Fanning and five children ranging in age from 14 to 21.
The two families were not living together at the time of the trip and Angus says the only thing the children had in common with each other was "a slight resistance to the concept of sharing time together".
"It could have been a nightmare but it actually went pretty well," she says. "We did get along very well, it brought a lot of us closer."
Angus opted for a World Expeditions tour that included seven days of cycling through the countryside in a group of 16 people.
The trip confirmed Angus's No.1 rule for blended family travel: "structure but with freedom within the structure". She believes blended families need organised trips with a common purpose, yet the ability for each person to have their own space.
Cycling trips are perfect because everyone can cycle at their own pace and have their "head space" and time to listen to iPods.
Another significant demographic in family travel is single-parent families. Families headed by one adult can find it hard to find packages and hotel deals that cater to their needs, without financial penalty, as a lot of travel pricing and kids-stay-free deals are based on two adults sharing.
Another specialist family agency, BYO Kids (byokids.com.au), is catering for the market by introducing single-parent group tours to destinations such as Fiji and Vanuatu. The agency has four on offer this year.
BYO Kids owner Leah Squire says many single parents want to holiday with their children but also have adult company.
Angus says using an agency that specialises in family travel can make a big difference, as the agents have plenty of ideas about what works for different types of families.
Specialist agencies also know which hotels and tour operators cater for traditional and non-traditional families.
Angus says Club Med (clubmed.com.au) is often one of the best options, as it is flexible and provides structure while allowing each person to do their own thing.
Angus also recommends World Expeditions (worldexpeditions.com.au), which has many small group tours suitable for families with various combinations.
If you have a non-traditional family and prefer to make your own arrangements, it may be a case of simply ringing hotels and other suppliers and asking how they can cater for your specific needs.
If you're past the point of sharing a room with your children (or your partner's), you can get a second room for half price in Novotel hotels.
The second room is priced at 50 per cent of the rate paid for the first, so you can grab the best available rate and compound the benefits.
The offer is only available online; to book, go to novotel.com, choose your hotel and dates, and opt to add an additional room.
The offer is available for the rest of 2009 (subject to availability) and is in addition to Novotel's continuing family offer of free breakfasts, gifts and cartoons for youngsters, plus a 5pm checkout on Sundays.