x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Portable, inflatable fun

It's not often you go along to see a play and come away with a great tip for family travel. But that's what happened when we went to the Edinburgh Fringe festival this summer.

It's not often you go along to see a play and come away with a great tip for family travel. But that's what happened when we went to see Lighter Than Air at the Edinburgh Fringe festival this summer. For this one-man show (most Fringe performances have a similarly small cast), Danny Schlesinger, aka Circo Ridiculoso (www.circoridiculoso.com) - a sophisticated, plump, bald, linen suit-wearing clown - has a handful of balloons for props. Danny dances with the balloons, balances them on his head or each other, makes one into the shape of a sword and swallows it, moulds a poodle from another and takes it for a gravity-defying walk, investing each with such liveliness that we believe they're characters peopling the stage. And after they fizzle down into nothing more than a floppy piece of crinkled rubber, he slips them neatly back into his pocket.

It was then it occurred to me - balloons were the perfect distraction to take away on holiday! They'd take up no space in the luggage, weighing almost nothing. They come in a rainbow of colours and all shapes and sizes. They're near worthless, so there's no fretting about losing them, yet their entertainment value is immense. They are, in fact, the best ever mobile toy for the eight-year-old twins.

Lighter Than Air was on at the Pleasance, one of over 200 spaces sequestered from the University of Edinburgh, hotels, shops, churches and mosques to act as stage sets. I'm glad the twins are past the buggy stage, as pushing them up the city's steep, cobbled streets would have been a real workout. Although the Fringe also boasts to be the biggest children's festival in the world, tickets sell out fast, so it's best to book online beforehand and pick them up at the venue. Or, even better, avoid all big names and take a chance on an unknown family show where they'll be no queues and, if you have a five-strong family like mine, you'll make up the majority of the audience. Tickets are so cheap you can afford to take the risk.

We'd found accommodation at Smart City Hostel (www.smartcityhostels.com), right in the centre of town just off the cobbled Royal Mile, where a family room costs from US$146 (Dh537) per night, including breakfast. The hostel was packed with families just like ours, back-to-backing hour-long shows from first thing in the morning to last thing in the late afternoon, before clambering back into their bunk beds. It was the most convivial place we've stayed.

So we learnt two things. Book up our bunk beds in the hostel now for next year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And pack several balloons for wherever we go next. Do you have family travel tips that you'd like to share? E-mail Dea at dbirkett@thenational.ae