As a family of six, with three of our four children classed as “adult” age by the travel companies, the cost of our holidays can get extremely high, which is a problem as holidays are our favourite thing to do!
Over the years, we’ve come across various different ways to try to keep the costs of our family travels down – and we’ve managed to experience travelling to some amazing places as a result (albeit all in Europe so far – the cost of long-haul plane travel for all six of us has still proved beyond our means!)
Here, in no particular order, are some of the ways we’ve managed to lower the costs of our family holidays; I hope they help you!
And if you have any similar tips of your own, please add them in the comments below so I can update this page with the best ones.
1. Consider Driving Instead of Flying
On several occasions now we’ve decided to drive to places that we might otherwise have only considered flying to in the past.
For example we’ve driven to Italy, Switzerland, the French Alps and the South of France – all of which are pretty long journeys, but which we managed to save thousands of pounds in some cases over flying.
Long journeys with a car full of kids might not be for the faint-hearted but, on several occasions we’ve calculated that, door to door, the journey time has been similar to that of driving to an airport, waiting for the plane (including possible delays) and transfers the other end.
Make the long journeys more bearable by splitting them over two days, which can also give you an opportunity to explore more places too.
Another massive benefit is having your own car on the holiday, avoiding the additional cost of a hire car or public transport for all of you.
Work out the cost of flights for your next holiday and then calculate the alternative cost of driving – including Eurotunnel / ferry, fuel, toll costs (particularly in France where many of the main motorway routes are toll roads) and chances are you’ll be surprised at how much you can save.
I’ve personally always found driving in Europe far more enjoyable and easy than on UK roads, so those long 8, 10 or even 18-hour journeys we’ve done in the car are far more bearable than you might expect.
2. Travel outside of weekends whenever possible
This relates closely to the above tip too and has many benefits.
If you’re flying, the cost of flights on weekdays tends to be cheaper than weekends. When we flew to Croatia, we found the cost of flying out on a Thursday, plus the cost of staying two nights in a cheap Airbnb rental until our main apartment was vacant on the Saturday, was actually cheaper than the cost of the Saturday flight itself.
It also gave us an extra couple of days away, which is always a benefit as most two-week holidays are reduced by two days of travelling at either end normally.
Plus travelling in general, whether by air or road, is usually less busy than at weekends. We particularly found this when driving to the South of France. The roads on the Friday were almost completely clear but the second half of our journey on the Saturday the roads were mayhem and we were stuck in jams for hours! With hindsight, we’d have done all that travelling on the Thursday and Friday, avoiding being on the roads during the peak tourist traffic day of Saturday.
3. Download offline Google Maps regions
Whether driving or using a hire car on holiday, we often use Google Maps on our phones as a satnav (it seems often more accurate and up-to-date than the traditional satnav).
However, it uses up your mobile data and also relies on having a signal. So now, whilst still at home and connected to wifi, we’ll download the entire region we’re staying in as an ‘offline area’ in Google Maps.
You can then use your phone as a satnav without any need for mobile reception or using up data / incurring roaming charges.
On your Google Maps app, navigate to the map of the area you’re staying in and then click the menu button and select ‘offline areas’. From there you can download it all to your phone quickly and easily.
4. Go self-catering
Almost all of our holidays now are self-catering. Even though we don’t like the idea of having to cook whilst on holiday, we’ve often found it can be cheaper to eat out in local restaurants every (or many) nights of the holiday and perhaps just eat in for a few nights.
This way you also get to enjoy the variety of eating in different places rather than in the same hotel restaurant every night.
5. Take food with you
Particularly when we’ve been driving to self-catering holidays, we’ll take a big box of food essentials with us – especially items that you can’t always get hold of when you’re abroad (Marmite being a family favourite we always struggle to find!).
6. Split your holidays up in to different regions
We now do this on every holiday we have because, what started as a money-saving plan actually worked out to vastly improve the holiday experience.
We’d found one villa in Spain that was just too expensive for us over a fortnight, so booked it for one week and then a cheaper one in a different area for another (the cheaper of the two villas was only available for one of the weeks).
Not only did we save money, it also made the holiday more interesting and varied, as we got to see a much wider part of the country and see and do more different stuff. It made the holiday feel longer too.
7. Look for accommodation outside the main tourist resorts
We quite often now stay just outside the main tourist destinations that we’re travelling too, which also has a number of benefits.
For example, when visiting Dubrovnik in Croatia (which is starting to get extremely popular and expensive), we stayed 15-minutes away in a nearby village, where accommodation costs were lower but the main town centre was easily accessible by car.
Similarly in the south of France, instead of staying in Cannes (a favourite haunt of the world’s billionaires), we stayed 45-minutes’ drive away in Saint-Cezaire-Sur-Siagne, a much less glamorous but still beautiful town, which was within easy reach of Cannes and Nice by car each day.
In both cases we also liked being able to escape the hustle and bustle of the central tourist hotspots at the end of the day and return to a quieter (and less expensive) area not too far away.
8. Don’t be afraid to negotiate self-catering costs
Whenever we’re booking self-catering accommodation online, on the big sites like Airbnb, HomeAway, Holiday Lettings, etc, we’ll send an email enquiry first trying to knock the price down.
Typically we’ll say how much we love the look of the property but that it’s outside our budget, but just thought we’d see if there was a way of getting it cheaper, just in case.
About half the time they refuse, but the other half we’ve managed to get up to several £hundred off a week’s villa rental. Well worth trying and there’s nothing to lose!
9. Travel with only hand luggage – or at least limit to one hold suitcase
Between six of us, we can just about get by with one large suitcase that goes in the aeroplane hold, and the rest goes in our free hand luggage allowance.
Hold luggage is charged for by all the major airlines, but hand luggage is generally free if below a certain weight. Some members of the family struggle with this weight limit more than others (i.e. the three girls) but with some careful spreading out of the packing across all our hand luggage cases, it’s just about do-able!
10. Buy ultra light-weight hand luggage cases
This relates to the above point – because airline hand luggage weight allowances aren’t high (and are coming down). On our last flight we took, the hand luggage weight was 10kg. If your empty suitcase itself already weighs 2kg, you’re losing a lot of capacity.
We bought some of these, which claim to be the ‘world’s lightest’ hand luggage cases. They are pretty light and, between six of us, means we can pack much more in to the free hand luggage allowance, saving on expensive hold baggage
11. Car hire collision damage waiver
Car hire is the one area of travelling and holidays in which most money is lost and wasted and which causes the most trouble for holidaymakers.
Car hire operators and brokers will always try to sell you their collision damage waiver or ‘excess’ charge. Their typical tactic is to scare you by talking about the £2,000 or similar fee they’ll hold over your credit card to cover them for any damage you might make to the vehicle.
Many car hire operators can be notoriously high pressure in their attempts to sell you this add-on and it can be difficult to resist.
However, you can buy car hire collision damage waiver insurance independently for much less than the hire company will typically charge you.
Try looking on sites like Money Supermarket – or just Google a phrase like this and you’ll find tons of operators selling this insurance at a fraction of the cost. Your only challenge is then to make sure you resist the high pressure tactics of the sales people at the car rental desk at the airport!
12. Look for full-to-full car hire fuel policies
Also on the subject of car hire, those with so-called ‘full to full’ fuel policies typically work out best value. This means you get the car with a full tank of fuel and are expected to return it at the end of the holiday with a full tank.
This way, you only pay for the fuel you use on your holiday, as opposed to ‘full to empty’ or ‘pre purchase’ policies, where you pay the hire company for the full tank of fuel up-front. This is more expensive because, if you don’t use the whole tank of fuel, you still pay for all of it. Even if you do use it, the car hire company’s cost for the fuel will typically be higher than the cost of a local petrol station.
13. Take with you some travel-sized ‘essentials’
If staying in self-catering accommodation, take with you a handful of dishwasher tablets and some travel-sized bottles of washing powder or liquid. This will save having to buy full sized versions of these things when you reach your destination.
14. Search for flights and hotels in ‘incognito’ or private browsing mode
By using, for instance, ‘incognito mode’ on Google’s Chrome browser, or private browsing mode, you’ll appear to the websites as a first time visitor every time, as this doesn’t allow their cookies to be stored on your machine.
15. Consider taking a couple of days outside school holidays
We’ve never liked the idea of taking the kids out of school during term time, but find there’s still money to be saved with a compromise of taking one or two days off right at the very end of term.
Our theory is that the last few days before the summer holidays aren’t generally full of important learning and that losing a couple of days at the very end of a term won’t cost much in the way of their education, but can save considerably on cheaper flight and accommodation costs. It’s been a compromise well worth making for us in the past, as long as you can get the school to agree!