It seems that parents are on to a loser when it comes to family holidays. Pay extortionate peak summer rates, or engage in a spot of getaway truancy.
As the recession bites, 24,000 kids miss school every day as parents opt for cheaper term-time trips.
Schools minister Nick Gibb has pleaded with parents to take a more responsible attitude to holiday truancy and put their children’s education first.
‘Whilst it is understandable that hard-working parents might be enticed by cheaper term-time holidays,’ he says, ‘missing a day or two of school can leave children, particularly younger children, struggling to catch up with their work.’
But with a little thought and pre-planning, you don’t have to choose between brood and break.
Streetwise offers five top tips to family holidays that won’t break the bank or pound the plastic.
1. Choose the right destination
Choose your destination carefully for that cheaper break. UK holidays can be a top choice if you’re willing to put up with unpredictable weather, otherwise there can be plenty of places and holiday options across the channel that remain good value.
Spain and Portugal still offer lots of sun and cheap accommodation, and if you’re prepared to go a little farther afield, the Balkan states offer exceptional value where you can find everything you need for a perfect family holiday, but generally at a much lower cost.
Bargain hops to northern and western France present endless opportunities for cheap adventure holidays at camp or caravan sites.
2. Time it right
Just because you’re stuck with travelling during the school holidays doesn’t mean you can’t choose when you depart and return.
Travelling midweek is usually much cheaper. It pays to go online and use the various search engines to find the cheapest days to travel by train ferry or plane.
Timing can also be turned to your advantage if you plan to visit the big attractions. If you’re really cash canny, make for top attractions like Disney World, Florida, at the end of August when US children have all gone back to school and admission prices nosedive.
3. Don’t hang about
To take advantage of early booking discounts, plan your family trip early and slap down your deposit. The alternative is to go for a last-minute deal, but the drawback is that you’ll have a restricted choice and you’ll have to take what’s on offer.
4. Choose the right accommodation
Staying at hotel may be tops in the convenience stakes, but it’s also the most expensive. Cottages and apartments are usually a cheaper option and they help keep the family together. They’ve also got the advantage of more space and cooking facilities which certainly helps to keep the cost down.
For a really cheap option go for an informal, fun, camping holiday. These days you don’t have to rough it in leaky tents under the stars.
France and Spain are top destinations. As well as having the weather they’ve hundreds of deluxe self-contained campsites where the choice of accommodation ranges from treehouses to comfortable, fully-equipped caravans or chalets. Many come with their own attractions and fun activities like water slides, paddling pools, zip wiring, orienteering and paintballing.
5. Shun the tourist traps
Make eating out part of the experience, but avoid expensive tourist restaurants. By shopping in local stores and colourful markets, or heading for family-run restaurants, you can sample all the local cuisine at a fraction of the price.
Still not sure where to go? Here’s our Streetwise guide to summer holiday deals.
1. Treetop Paris – bribe the kids to enjoy all the fantastic sights of Paris by staying in a treehouse. Include a Disney World day trip and you have the perfect combination. Just a 20-minute ride from the centre of the city, Keycamp (keycamp.co.uk) is offering four nights in a treehouse sleeping five in late August for just £551.
2. For those who prefer to stay nearer home, try the summer deals from Canopy and Stars (canopyandstars.co.uk) who have fully-equipped UK chalets sleeping 4 at less than £100 a night.
3. Can’t keep away from Spain? Check what Cosmos Holidays (cosmos.co.uk) has to offer by way of self-catering apartments. Book early and you can snap up a bargain family break during July and August for around £1,700 including flights.
4. Brittany Ferries has hundreds of value self-catering cottages for rent as well as family chalets in a range of French and Spanish resorts. To see what’s on offer go to brittanyferries.com/offers. Book by February 6 and save 15 per cent on the cost in France, and 10 per cent in Spain – including the ferry travel, and even during the school holidays.