11 tips for cheap family holidays
  • Karen Buffier

11 tips for cheap family holidays

When you consider all the social, psychological and physical benefits of travelling it is undeniable that we should be factoring it into the annual household budget. But for many it is still a 'nice to have' when it can be afforded. For many of us the work involved in finding cheap family vacation or holiday destinations can seem a little overwhelming.

Well here is your ultimate guide to keeping costs down when travelling so that as many of you can take a holiday as possible!

1. Be your own travel agent

Don't be bamboozled into thinking you need a travel agent. Simply put, you pay more for someone else to do the hard yards for you and with the sophistication of online travel booking sites these days there is not much you cant do yourself.

Planning and booking your own travel is half the fun and helps to build excitement for the big trip. The whole family can be involved and the anticipation builds for everyone.

Travel insurance is a 'big ticket' sales item for travel agents with big commissions so if you insist on using a travel agent, save yourself some bucks and at least shop online for your insurance. I always buy my travel insurance from travelinsurancedirect.com so shop here if you want great prices and high quality policies.

2. Split the costs over several months

If you are clever about the different bookings you make you can tailor a payment plan for your trip. This might sound weird but generally the only upfront costs you might incur could be flights to reach a destination and the travel insurance (make sure you cover yourself as soon as the first payment for the holiday is made).

Then if you want to defer accommodation costs you should look to book hotels or private accommodation that allows payment at the time of check in or a couple of weeks prior. This means you can keep your hard earned in your account for longer earning interest.

3. Apartments over hotels

Apartments trump hotels hands down when it comes to family travel. And that is a Trump that actually makes sense!

Apartments allow you to self cater which can drastically reduce costs when travelling and generally makes a long trip more manageable as you dont have to wander the streets with tired, cranky kids every time you need a bite to eat. It makes travelling with infants simple as you can sterilise bottles or prepare pureed food with minimal hassle and it means the whole family can spread out and take some time for themselves when needed. Most importantly apartments are the budget friendly option for travelling families.

I love sites such as booking.com, stayz and airbnb that now offer a myriad of private apartments. Best of all staying in private rentals means you often get to experience the true culture of the place you are visiting by receiving fantastic local advice, choosing an apartment with a little local character and staying in the heart of communities.

4. Book early

This advice still rings true year in and year out. The earlier you plan your trip and start booking the better the deals and the greater the availability so you can be flexible in your arrangements. Generally speaking airlines will release seats for sale a little under 12 months ahead of time. Accommodation and tour providers will vary depending on the country you are travelling to.

Being prepared means you can be ready for seasonal sales and act quickly to secure great deals as soon as they go on sale. If you know you are wanting fares to Europe you can bank on amazing sales between September to November for summer dates the following year. And North America sales are frequent with airlines competing for the share of the market to popular destinations.

The early bird definitely catches the worm and when you are booking for a family of four or more these savings can be significant.

5. Equipped to save

When travelling with babies you don't get to travel too lightly. You become a little more high maintenance than the free roaming nomad you might have been prior to kids. This doesn't mean you can't pack smart to cut down on costs.

These days there is a huge range of compact travel equipment for babies and hands down the best money we spent that allowed us to travel anywhere was a phil and teds traveller portacot. Why was this such a valuable puchase you might ask. Because it fit inside our suitcase and weighed next to nothing. Particularly when we were travelling with our first child this meant no upgrades for family rooms or additional costs for a cot or rollaway bed and it was one less thing falling from the baggage trolley at airports because it was nicely packed in. This travel cot meant we were completely self sufficient.

Hotels and car rental places love to charge extra for baby gear and sometimes a hire of a car seats may cost upwards of 10 usd per day which can cost you as much as buying a new seat. So the more prepared you are to take your own gear the more budget friendly your trip will be.

6. Go incognito

A handy tip when searching travel websites is to ensure you always opt for an incognito search (using google chrome) which will mean websites cannot detect when you spend a significant time looking up one destination or one set of dates. Not doing this can mean prices will fluctuate in response to your queries so you may not be getting the best price. The more interest you appear to have the more likely that prices will rise before you get to the point of booking and paying.

If you aren't on google chrome ensure you regularly clear your past searches and caches.

8. Choose destinations with affordable ground costs and good currency exchange

If low budget is an important factor in your travel plans it is best to consider destinations where the currency exchange is favourable and the cost of living once you hit the ground is good. This is a big reason that south east Asian destinations are a big favourite for Aussie travellers.

Although flight costs can be quite comparable there is no doubt that a week in Thailand will cost a fraction of the money for a week in America or Canada.

Be careful when you are booking anything online that you check the currency conversion you are paying in. Sometimes it pays to shop around to pay using a more preferable currency based on current exchange rates.

9. Be selective with your dates

Peak seasons for destinations can dramatically increase costs but this doesn't mean you have to pack your ski boots for a long awaited European beach vacation. Find the balance between great weather and great prices by booking in the shoulder seasons. A ticket to Europe in May or even early June will still ensure you have the summer vacation you dreamed of but saves you big bucks on your flight tickets.

You will find many websites suggesting to avoid school holidays to keep your costs down. But many parents need to take their annual leave in conjunction with school holidays and we ultimately don't want the kids to miss too much school. These considerations along with the desire to avoid paying for holiday care programs means sometimes the school holidays just make sense.

The solution to this problem is to book a departure date just prior to school breaking for the term. Generally these tickets are not marked up and you can still extend your holiday over the school break if going away on a longer trip.

Frequent flyer seats are also more attainable by looking at dates a week or two before the end of school terms!

10. Shop around and try direct

This one is common sense. Once you find a place you like the look of get in touch directly to see if they give a better deal. Like any shopping experience, often the same product (place) can be found on several different sites but the price can vary dramatically. Take your time to compare the same place on different sites and often direct can be cheapest cause the commission doesn't factor into the final offer.

A couple of my favourite hotel sites that provide exceptional options for families and have regular sales are Accor (Ibis, Mercure, Sofitel, Novotel, Pullman) and the Holiday Inn range of hotels.

11. Luggage

Over the years we have travelled with our kids on numerous airlines and have learnt the tricks of the trade when it comes to keeping luggage costs down. Many lower cost or regional airlines will charge you per piece of checked luggage. So take this into consideration when booking your tickets and planning your packing.

When travelling with babies and toddlers, research what items are checked for free by your airline (usually prams, car seats). If you invest in a good quality pram bag you can add some beach towels or other bulky soft items to pad around them. This will mean more space in your suitcase and less suitcases overall if you pack smart.

We had to learn the hard way to start packing more in our carry on. Leaving Sydney on a hot January summers day we headed to Queenstown New Zealand with our then 7 month old. Hard to believe we only flew for a few hours but managed to land amid a snow storm and freezing temperatures. Unfortunately this was the trip that Qantas baggage handlers lost our bags, pram and all the baby gear as nothing made it from our domestic connection onto the International flight. Two days later, with very frost bitten toes and an even frostier bill on our credit card to outfit us in winter clothes we were finally reunited with our luggage. If only we had been smart enough to put a few essentials into our carry on. We now always pack decent carry on bags with enough supplies to last the first two days of a trip.

The good part about learning to pack more substantially with our carry on bags is that it often saves us plenty of dollars. Now that our kids are a little older it means they can have their own backpacks for carry on and means we can usually fit all our packing into just two suitcases or backpacks. No need to pay for four bags when airlines charge by the bag.

Don't forget that some airlines charge by the weight of your bags as well. Keep things simple, pull everything out on the bed for your trip and then attempt to halve what you put in the bag. There is nothing more burdensome than lugging excess baggage around that you don't use or need and costs you more!

I hope these handful of hints mean your travel budget now seems affordable and you can start looking for the best holiday deals. Please remember that at the end of the day our time here on earth is short. Work hard, save hard and when the time comes make sure you kick back, relax and have fun on your vacation.

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