11 January 2016

Finding affordable family summer holidays our way

If you are anything like me you have this years holiday plans well underway and even sorted. By the end of the year we have a few ideas of where we would like to go, the Little ones have voiced their opinions this year too, and by January I have usually browsed the internet and a few brochures, found a few nice spots, checked out any bargains and we have made our booking ready to save up the balance before we go.

I am a stay at home mum and with one income we are on a budget when it comes to things like holidays, short breaks and days out. Little 2 has now almost passed that magical age of 3 years old when she can get into places for free or cheaper and now with Little 3 we do need somewhere to stay with at least 2 bedrooms, ideally 3 as it is always a horrible squeeze with a travel cot in most caravans and holiday bedrooms. Holidays are therefore something we have to budget for and we have to go to places that are affordable to us.

Before the children and up until Little 1 started school we would most years treat ourselves to a couple of UK family breaks in low season, one week at the beginning/middle of September and a short break or occasionally a week around mid May or late June time, this way we got to go away as a family twice a year and during reasonably nice weather. Being able to go during term time meant we could take advantage of the cheaper rates and term time deals to allow us to afford to do this.

This year will be the second year that Little 1 has been at school and she will soon enough be joined there by her sister too. Now that we are restricted to school holidays we are finding it increasingly difficult to find a nice UK family holiday not at a vastly inflated 'school holiday' price. Last year we had a week away to Somerset during May half term as July/August were simply too expensive and grabbed a bargain end of season weekend at Legoland in October half term to treat the girls and simply because we needed to get away and have some fun for a few days.

In the last few days several holiday brochures from well known UK holiday companies and places we have stayed in the past have landed on my doormat and each is the same with the term time holiday prices 2-3 times that of the dates we used to be able to go away. This means we have to look around to find somewhere we can go as most of it simply costs too much.

Why do these school holiday dates have to be so much dearer than other dates? I know people want to go away in the warmer weather and most places have more events, activities and staff in the holidays to deal with all the holiday makers. So yes it is probably more costly to run a holiday park in the summer and people are going to pay more to go away in nice weather so raising the price is somewhat justifiable but is more than doubling or even trebling the cost of a week away from one week to the next just because 'schools out' really necessary? 

Most families with school children can not take up off peak rates and short of taking children out of school have no choice but to fork out the cash for their families to enjoy a break, time together and some family fun. The thing is the holiday companies are laughing as fork out is what we do, we pay it and nothing is going to change is it unless someone big out there steps in to limit or prevent this price inflation happening.

The type of holiday perfect for us is a simple family getaway, we like to holiday by the sea as the Little ones love trips to the beach whiling away the day paddling, building sandcastles and sandwiches on the sea wall or at the very least somewhere with access to a pool we can go for a dip at the end of the day. We like places we can go for walks with lovely scenery, run around on the hills with the wind in our hair, places to visit and have picnics on the grass and somewhere with an animal park or a few rides that we can take a trip to. We would love to go abroad but the cost of flights for 5 and the children all needing passports means it is something out of our reach at the moment. 

I don't want to give away all my methods to find an affordable family holiday as then there wouldn't be any bargains available for us, but there are methods to save and bargains to be had if you are prepared to look for them. 

There are some big UK holiday park companies and without naming names I can instantly think of three big popular ones, these are a great place to start, find an area you want to go and take to the brochures and websites to compare the places available to stay. Look at what the parks have to offer and think what you want. We tend to have busy days out and use the accommodation as a base, with tired young children after a day out we tend not to use much evening entertainment so often select a cheaper 'sister' park near to a big one, that way you can still use the facilities of the bigger park if you like. It is often cheaper too, to choose somewhere to stay just a few miles down the road of the main town or a little way out from the coast but do factor extra petrol into that one as you will have to drive further to get to places.

Once you have found somewhere you like, always check direct too. I have sometimes, but not always, found that you can get the same holiday cheaper on the parks actual own website than through the holiday companies so it pays to check and book direct if necessary.

If you are not bothered about the facilities and convenience of what a holiday park has to offer then check out local holiday cottages and places for rent too. I use a site where places are listed by the owners giving all the pictures and details you need including prices. We have found some huge bargains on there. Last year we stayed on a farm in a converted stable block, 7 berth cottage, oak dining table, huge rooms etc and passes to the hotel up the road so we could take the girls swimming. The owners were lovely and we'll definitely go back one day, the girls loved this place running out the door to say morning to the cows and having the play area and garden all to themselves.

Check your dates, if you don't have to take a specific week in the holidays it can pay to check dates and prices before booking time off, we have found that sometimes the first week of the summer holidays is a tad cheaper than August although this doesn't happen often. It can also be a good idea to look at any associated travel costs before deciding when to go. We are going back to the Isle of Wight this year, at the girls request, and found that the ferry is much cheaper to come home on the Sunday, so we asked the owner of the private caravan we found (on the same holiday park direct was £100 more) if we could stay an extra day and she said 'yes' so although we are paying for an extra night and it actually then costs the same as travelling home on the Saturday we get to be on holiday for 8 days instead of 7.

Do you have any ways to find a great holiday deal or know of any great family getaways, we'd love to know.

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