This past Solstice as we took stock of the year gone by it became clear that it was the experiences and travel which had fed our souls the most. When we made our intentions for 2015 travel was a top priority.
As a family our travels have been exclusively in the UK and that may not change this year but I’m going to apply for passports just in case we do turn things around.
In the spirit of getting away from it all a little more this year I’ve been gathering tips for family holidays that won’t bankrupt you. From insider tips on booking family holidays through travel companies to finding the cheapest prices on flights I’ve got it all here.
Booking Through Travel Companies.
Travel companies can give you the whole holiday on a plate leaving you free to plan what you’ll do when you get there. Here are some hot insider tips for finding the best deals.
- Look for places outside the Euro-zone – when you’re booking your holiday think beyond the costas, islands and rivieras we’re used to and see what’s on offer outside the Euro-zone countries. For example, Croatia’s cities, coast and islands have culture, sun and aren’t yet on the mainstream holiday trail.
- Find for new hotels and destinations in the portfolio – they will come at a sweeter price to help them establish within the brand.
- Search for free children’s places. Knock a chunk of your cost off right at the start by finding holidays where your kids go free.
- The beginning and end of the season will be cheaper. You can often get a good deal in the shoulder season (transition between peak and off peak) in some places this may be April and November when you can take advantage of an early Easter or Autumn half term.
- Keep an eye on the last minute sections of the site. If you can be flexible about when you travel then you could snap up a bargain days before you leave.
Big thanks to my friend Christian for teaching me how to find the best deals.
Find Alternative Accommodation.
For us as a family of five hotels are a near impossibility – they can cope with two children but less frequently three in a room with two adults. We’re happy to forgo the luxury of someone else picking up after us to gain the benefits of a larger space.
I’ve been a big fan of Airbnb since my friend introduced me to them a few years ago. Essentially they connect homeowners with a network of travellers who may want a room or their whole property. We’ve stayed with them a few times most recently when we were on our anniversary weekend trip last year. We had a lovely apartment just up the street from the Colosseum for less than £75 a night – perfect! I’m staying with them again next week when I head to Salt Lake City and renting a room in an apartment was less than half the price of a hotel room.
You can search by location and zoom in on specific areas you would like to stay in to find properties. The hosts have pictures and reviews which gives you an idea of what to expect from your stay. I’ve found my hosts to be friendly and willing to help out in any way they can.
I’ve created a few wishlists based around areas we want to visit so I can go back and find potential rentals when we’re ready to book.
If you’re looking to offset your travelling you could even become a host and make money from your spare room or empty property. I recently met with some Airbnb hosts over dinner and was intrigued by their stories of friendship and support form guests not to mention the difference it made to their income. I love this social aspect of travelling and it certainly allows an introvert like me to get to know people without the pressure.
If you want a friends’ referral code here’s mine which will give you £16 off your first booking (and give me travels credit if you book to travel or become a host).
Searching self-catering sites is well worth the time if you turn up the perfect cottage for a cosy weekend.
My tips for searching here are to look for local tourism sites which often have a last minute section for holiday cottages in the area you are hoping to visit. Once you have found somewhere call rather than booking online as there might be a deal to be done. We have booked accommodation at 50% of the list price in the past as letting agents and owners would rather it was occupied than not.
While we haven’t tried house swapping yet the lure of essentially free accommodation is making me curious.
You can do either simultaneous or non-simultaneous swaps. The benefit of a mutual exchange is that you have time to get to know each other and that you will both treat each other’s homes with respect. I’m thinking this could be great for us to explore another city without breaking the bank.
Stay With Family or Friends.
It is probably lower down on my list but it’s another great way to escape without spending lots on a hotel. We’ve been known to pitch our tent in family gardens to take the pressure off the host. With three children interested in conservation and jungles I am thinking a trip to my Indonesian family is a good idea.
Not only does this tick the budget option but it gives you a chance to spend time with loved ones who know the area. Even if you don’t stay with relatives or friends, having local guides is invaluable in finding a great place to stay.
Don’t travel in school holidays.
Urgh, I know, it’s infuriating that those of us with children in state schools are taxed by holiday companies during school holiday periods and potentially fined by schools for taking children out during term time. I could rant for some time on the subject!
There is no easy win here; if you’re going on a holiday during the holidays use every trick below to bring the cost down. Here are a few tips for minimising the cost:
- Avoid the first and last weeks of the summer holiday as these are the most popular.
- Book in advance – you can secure the best rates on rooms, self catering and packages the further out you plan when it comes to the summer holidays. Snap them up before someone else does.
- Say goodbye to weekend travel. Flights at the weekend are often more expensive during the holidays, fly mid-week to get a better deal on your trip.
While longer breaks and school term-time aren’t compatible there is no reason why you can’t take shorter weekend trips on the weekends especially if an inset day boots your time off.
Finding Cheap Flights.
Often everything hinges around where you can find the best priced flights for and a little legwork could save you hundreds on flights for a family. Here are a few of the apps & sites I use when I’m searching.
I love both their site and their app. Kayak has some nifty searching tools which help you figure out which is the cheapest date for you to fly using a graph of the dates you want to travel on. You can also use their explore feature to set loose parameters and find out where you could go in the world for your budget. And if you’re thinking of travelling to more than one destination on your trip their multi-city search is superb.
Their app makes searching for flights (plus hotels & cars) a breeze. I can see it becoming quite addictive. It also holds your itinerary, packing list, checks baggage charges and alerts you to price drops on routes you’re watching.
Skyscanner is still my favourite flight searching tool. It may not have the multi-city search yet but in terms of searching for specific dates I find it always turns up cheap flights which I haven’t seen elsewhere. If you’re watching flights to a particular destination their alerts are great to grab any price drops (we used this for our Rome trip and saved around £80 in total).
Money Saving Expert Flight Checker
Martin Lewis is a genius when it comes to saving money and his flight checker is a nifty tool for finding cheap flights in Europe. Put in a range of dates, rough holiday length and dial up a specific destination or search anywhere in Europe. I love this for quickly figuring out where the cheap fares are.
This is our current plan for affordable family holidays. It takes a bit of investment up front but once you’re kitted up (tent, roof box, camping stove and blow up beds are my essentials) you can expect to cut your holiday bills considerably.
There are a few ways to find kit on the cheap eBay being the most obvious. We managed to snag an ex-hire bell tent at 80% of the new price on Gumtree, keep an eye out for stock being off loaded in Autumn and Spring. Car boot sales are another excellent source of bargain camping gear, we’ve picked up lots of useful bits and bobs for pennies.
Once you have all the gear finding camp sites is pretty easy. Compare prices on the whole tariff (often the price quoted is for two adults in one tent) when you search. Look for campsites away from the most popular places, often neighbouring towns can be half the price. Sometimes the most popular sites can be as packed as a festival ground so check out online reviews before you book.
One of my friends manages to get three or four weeks camping in Cornwall every summer for under £300 so if you’re looking to max out your holiday time without maxing your cards this could be the option for you.
So those are my tips and tricks for finding great family holidays without bankrupting yourselves. Now, what are your secrets to getting the best deals?