Ideas for Cheaper Family Holidays

The recent recession has had an effect on all but the very few families in the UK. Budgets are stretched and greater compromises inevitably are being made. All too often, holidays are cut altogether as even holidaying in the UK can be expensive when everything is factored in, especially the ever-increasing cost of transport.

Family holidays

Having two small boys myself, I also have an acute appreciation of the need to keep them entertained, no small task when away from home for a few nights, never mind the potential effect on the holiday budget.

So what cost-effective options are there for a family to get away from the ebb and flow of ‘normal’ life to recharge the batteries? Or for at least, for parents, to enjoy a change of scenery!

Firstly, some general hints and tips to keeping costs down:

1) Be flexible

On dates, on location, on accommodation, on amenities – the more flexible you are, the more you can take advantage of the multitude of deals there are for holidays of all types – both online and on the high street. Remember, it’s not just you who are cutting back on big-ticket items such as holidays therefore as a result, even the smaller holiday providers offer deals to entice people into their accommodation, properties or camps.

2) Shop around

Linked to the above, there are huge numbers of options available which allows you to get the very best deal on your must-haves. With the powerful comparison tool available that is the internet, there should be no excuse for not being able to look around and compare providers. If you’re pushed for time, you can always use comparison websites – they aren’t just there for helping you renew your insurances – Travelsupermarket.co.uk is a very popular and user-friendly option.

3) Book early

We’ve become used to looking for a ‘cheap late deal’ but very often the very best deals are only available if you book early. And early can mean 1-2 years in advance. The added advantage of booking early is that you can secure the best holidays in school holidays if you’re bound in that way.

4) Avoid school holidays!

As mentioned previously, if you can, avoid school holidays. Simply put, it’s cheaper.

5) Newspaper vouchers

Non-broad sheet newspapers these days very often run very cost-effective voucher campaigns that offer money off family holidays.

6) Haggle

This tip isn’t for everyone. Haggling can be awkward, uncomfortable and embarrassing. However, it can be effective, even in high street chains and very often, especially in high street chains who have targets to meet and margins to maintain. If you can get over the awkwardness, you may just save yourself enough for a babysitter!

The big questions when looking for a cheaper family holiday are:

“Where do we go and what do we do?”

The UK offers a multitude of fantastic options which mean you don’t have to go abroad for a great holiday. ‘Staycations’ (staying in your country for your holiday) such as:

1) Camping

The great outdoors isn’t for everyone but camping can be a very cheap, exciting and educational holiday for the family. Several high street and online retailers offer cheap, quality tents (Halfords; Argos; GoOutdoors are all examples) and tents have come a lot further than the triangular three-man job you may have erected in your back garden as a child.

Campsites also vary significantly in the degree of facilities that are available. But even the more equipped campsites can be extremely cost effective. If you’re a National Trust member, the National Trust offer their own camp-sites but websites such Pitchup.com and Coolcamping.co.uk offer thousands of different options all over the UK.

2) ‘Glamping’

If camping is a little too raw for your liking then you could try ‘glamping’, or ‘glamorous camping’. To quote the Oxford dictionary, ‘glamping’ is “a form of camping involving accommodation and facilities more luxurious than those associated with traditional camping.

Now luxurious essentially means more expensive however, staying in a yurt, a wigwam, a gypsy caravan or tree house (not with little children!) can still be cost effective (see Cool Camping) and an incredible adventure for the whole family.

3) Lodges

Lodges, or cabins offer yet another type of accommodation that can combine cost-effectiveness and a great holiday. People often think of Centre Parcs as the ubiquitous provider of lodge holidays in the UK but there are alternative, and cheaper, established providers. My family has enjoyed three holidays with Hoseasons, in three locations – all different but all catered excellently for families and small children and all at a reasonable price, even in mid-season.

4) Home exchange

Another great option for a bargain 'staycation' is a home exchange. We've had friends who’ve undertaken a number of home exchanges within the last couple of years and while they were nervous initially having people they didn’t know in their house, nothing negative happened at all – in fact they reported that it was left cleaner than when they left! It's a great way to have a cheaper holiday and as many home exchange families have children, you can easily arrange a swap during the school holidays without the worry of incurring extra costs.

5) Rent a bigger property with another family

Very often, per person, larger properties can be more cost-effective. So why not rent a larger lodge or cottage with another family and split the cost? It also has the benefit of extra entertainment for the kids and you can take it in turns to stay in and babysit!

6) Stay at home – but pack your time with great (and cheap) activities

Who says that to have a great holiday you need to leave your own home? There are a wealth of activities that are available either free or at a discount, especially during the summer geared up for families. If you do your research, you’re guaranteed to find activities that your whole family will enjoy.

The National Trust regularly offer up to two children free with a paying adult at their properties. Companies often sponsor free sports sessions for kids – in 2012, Tesco offered football coaching and British Gas free swimming lessons. There are several free festivals around the country that are ideal for families – Notting Hill Carnival, London, South Tyneside Summer Festival and the Cardiff Festival are just three examples.

You can take the family to watch live television shows for free by registering at Applausestore.com and of course you can take advantage of the numerous sources of 2-for-1 theme park tickets available on cereal boxes or through newspapers.

If you yearn for a holiday away from the UK, European destinations can still be achieved on a budget. While flight costs tend to be going up and up, especially with escalating fuel surcharges and the potentially cost of extras such as parking at airports, there are genuinely viable cheaper alternatives.

You can get your car, all passengers and luggage to Calais and back with P & O Ferries for £100, crossing at civilized times in August for example (albeit book early). Though longer crossings to western France are much dearer, they still work out vastly cheaper for a family than flying and renting a car. Brittany Ferries has plenty of summer availability on crossings outside the peak weekends, and on ferry/cottage packages often offers discounts of up to 25 per cent on properties which have some unbooked school holiday weeks.