How do you afford a family holiday without taking your children out of school during term-time?
- Credit: Archant
Summer holidays have never been cheap and with the rules about taking children out of class now tighter than ever it is near impossible to bag a bargain getaway.
Many working families are questioning whether they can afford to take their children abroad when a week of lazing in the sun, building sandcastles and supping cocktails at the three-star all-inclusive Hotel Belvedere, for instance, would cost in the region of £4,000 for a family of four during August.
Shorter breaks are no cheaper, with a four-night trip to Disneyland Paris costing £2,500 for a couple and two primary school-aged children staying at a three-star hotel on the park on a half-board basis at the end of July.
And even staying closer to home it is hard to find an affordable break.
A seven-night holiday at Butlins in Skegness, with breakfast and dinner included, will cost around £1,550 for a family of four in the middle of the summer break.
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Even when you think you have found a cheap self-catering break online, you may find it costs a small fortune by the time you add transfers, baggage allowance and the cost of eating out each evening, buying in provisions and taxis back and forth from the resort centre.
But some clever shopping and some helpful hints from EADT readers could help you bust the price of a family holiday down by arpund 50%.
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For instance, if you switched dates and flew to Majorca on a Wednesday instead of a Saturday, you could save upto £1,500 on the cost of your holiday at the Hotel Belvedere. And book now and some high street travel agents will give you an extra early bird discount.
Others offer free kids places if you book ahead of the rush, or alternatively you could look at self-drive breaks, or be clever with your timings.
Mum-of-three Hannah Bannister, from Chelmsford, knows only too well that there is no such thing as a cheap holiday but her forward planning has helped her net a bargain.
She said: “We are going away in July and we booked it last October.
“We were restricted in our search as we needed a large family room - most hotels offer rooms for either three adults or two adults and two children but our eldest son will be 14 when we go, and is classed as an adult, plus we have the two younger children.
“We found a hotel in Lanzarote which had a large family room through Thomas Cook. It is a four-star, all-inclusive hotel and it cost us £1,900, including flights, for the five of us.”
Hannah added: “I don’t know how we did it for that price.”
The brochure price for the first week of the school holidays was £845 per adult and £359 for Henry, who will be three, plus a £50 flight supplement for10-month-old Robyn.
“It came to just under £3,000 in total, which would have been beyond our budget, but then we got an occupancy discount of £100, an early booking reduction of £831 and then the travel agent took another £100 off - saving us over £1,000.
“And because we booked early we were able to get flights from Stansted, which usually sell out fast, or come with a higher premium.
“That saves us a fortune in the long run because we are so close it only takes half an hour to get there, had we got Gatwick flights we would have had to book a hotel for the night because there is no way we could have got three kids up in the middle of the night to make an early morning flight.”
Hannah added: “Although we booked before Christmas, it wasn’t too bad as we only had to pay a small deposit to secure the holiday, then we could forget about it until nearer the time when we pay the balance.”
Going all-inclusive means the family don’t need to worry too much about spending money while they are away, making it easier for them to budget.
Stay closer to home
You don’t need to go far to ‘get away from it all’, says Jo Adams, mum to Zach, seven, Leo, four, and three-year-old Jake.
She said: “I would take the boys abroad but it would cost far too much in the school holidays and if you can get the weather right here it can be like being abroad.”
For the past couple of years she has hired at a caravan at a holiday park in Walton-on-the-Naze with a friend and their children.
“Caravan holidays are cool because they are all about the boys having fun. Caravans are built for small people with lots of hidden cupboards!
“They love the entertainment and the children’s shows. My friend doesn’t drive, so I take my three boys and her son in the car, and she gets the train with her daughter,” said Jo. “It means we can’t go far when we are there, but that doesn’t matter.
“When we’ve been to Walton the beach has been pretty deserted so you can just sit back (if you want) and let the kids play. The beach is clean and safe with no steep shelving so it is perfect.
“Now abroad (from what I can remember) you are all squashed in like sardines on sun loungers and you wouldn’t be able to let them have free rein to run about. You’d have to have eyes everywhere.”
She added: “We buy the children wristbands for the pier one day and they absolutely love that. They can spend the whole day so it is a pretty cost effective day out.”
Before they left last year Jo and her husband John re-booked for them all to go back this summer, meaning they beat the price rises imposed at the start of the new holiday season.
“We have booked to go away for a long weekend in August this year,” said Jo. “It should cost £450 but we got it for £230 because we booked early.
Self-drive, self-cater, self-book
Natalie Sadler, web editor for the EADT/Ipswich Star, spent 11 days in France last year, and even managed to squeeze in a trip to Disneyland - for less than £2,000.
“The previous summer we went to the Isle of Wight but the weather was awful and we spent a fortune keeping ourselves occupied during the days and eating out in the evenings.
“So instead we packed up our trusty tent and drove down to the Dordogne region of France at the end of August.
“We got a late-night crossing on the Eurotunnel, which would have cost £150 but we traded in our Tesco Clubcard vouchers and got it for free.
“Driving through the night, we arrived at the campsite, near the Lascaux caves, at about midday. We were a little weary by this stage having cat napped outside Paris, switched drivers along the way and dealt with a tooth falling out midway but it was no worse than getting up early to get to the airport for an early flight.
“The campsite was run by a French company called Yello Village and cost about £250, including the hire of a full-sized fridge, for eight nights whereas booking through a British chain we would have paid around £600 for the pitch.
“We had a wonderful week, canoeing on the Vezere and the Dordogne, visiting the famous caves, swimming and sampling the French cusine.
“On the way back we stopped off outside Paris for two nights and did a day trip to Disneyland Paris - and this is where we blew the budget but it was well worth it to see my step-daughter’s face as she watched the parade pass by from her vantage point at the front of the crowd.
“In terms of cost, we spent £200 on fuel, about £50 on tolls, £320 on camping fees, which including the hire of a full-sized fridge, and about £165 on Disney tickets and parking. Adding continental cover to our car insurance and breakdown policy cost about £80 - around £815 in total. Plus £10 on tent pegs after we accidentally left our newly cleaned pegs in the garage!
“We did spend more during the trip than you would on an all-inclusive or even a beach holiday because we had to pay for all of our food and excursions, but we managed to bring back a few bottles of French plonk, which you wouldn’t be able to do if you were flying, as well as lots of happy memories.”
Pick your dates carefully
Jo Gibson, a childminder from Essex, is returning to Menorca this summer with partner Roger and daughter Izzy, four.
She said: “Last year we went during term time as Izzy was still at nursery and had a wonderful week in Menorca at the start of June, it was great swimming in the hotel pool and building sandcastles on the beach with Izzy.
“But she started school in September so this time around we are more restricted.
“We were given next year’s school holiday dates early and as Izzy’s school goes back later than some schools we got the last week in August at a great price.
“We booked an all-inclusive resort in Menorca for £1,700, most of the other dates during the summer holidays were £2,500 for two adults and a child.”
Being flexible also helps, if you can travel midweek there are some great deals to be had although this does often mean using extra days holiday from work.
Non-pupil days are a great excuse for a family trip
Anne Francies, from Boreham, has twin girls - meaning everything from holidays to ice creams on the beach are twice the price.
They usually opt for short breaks in the UK, explained Anne. “We check for non-pupil days and then book long weekends at places like Butlins.”
She added: “We are having to pay £165 each for them to go away with school in September, so we have had to be extra clever this year.
“We’ve gone for a cottage in Wales - the national museums are free and we can use our Tesco vouchers for some days out.”
Even if you aren't going away, you can use reward vouchers offered by supermarkets and other loyality schemes to turn non-pupils days into an adventure for your children, visiting attractions that are usually packed to capacity in the summer holidays.
Or go one step further and use them to have a complete ‘holiday at home’.
Staying at home saves the cost of travel and accomodation, and gives you more to spend on enjoying your days.
If you are stopping at home, be strict with yourself and book up activities that get you out of the house, don’t get bogged down by chores during your precious week off.
We are perfectly placed for a day out in London, a beach day, a woodland adventure and a trip to a wildlife park, zoo or animal sanctuary.
Taking a packed lunch dramatically redcues the cost of your day out, and means there is still enough money in the kitty for a little treat or a dinner stop on the way home.