You could argue that there has never been a better time to travel abroad, as bargains are abundant this summer. Next year may not be so good. After all, if the economy recovers, holidays will go up in price; if the situation doesn’t improve, there will simply be fewer holidays around. But, for now, it is a buyers’ market. So whether you like to get back to nature, take a package holiday, go to an adventure centre, sail off on a cruise, travel off-season or go long-haul, here is what you’ll need to know to get the best deal for your family holiday this year.
Just a few years ago, we were all spurning the traditional package for a clever mix of cheap flights and accommodation booked online, revelling in the prospect of saving a few pounds. Now, the package holiday is back in business as families look for security and financial protection. After all, when you book accommodation only and sort out your own flights and transfers, you risk losing a significant amount of money if the accommodation provider or airline goes into receivership. But booking a flight-inclusive package with a tour operator accredited with the Air Tour Operators’ License (ATOL) or who is certified with a reputable authority, such as the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO), means you’ll be fully covered; travel agents should be members of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).
So, where to go and how to get there? Shopping around is essential. This year there is a huge late-booking trend, as people, worried about their jobs, are leaving bookings until the very last minute. If you have somewhere specific in mind and are tied to dates, like school holidays, you shouldn’t push your luck too far. However, if you have preschoolers and can travel outside July and August, you’re in the perfect bargaining position. Try negotiating with a tour operator, or book online, which often gives an extra discount. “With hotel prices at the level they were in 2004, this really is a fantastic time to travel,” explains Alison Crouper, the founder of www.hotels.com. “Five-star hotels have never been so affordable. In fact, there are some great deals to be had at the moment with offers of up to 40 per cent off.”
There is also a lot of hype at the moment about travelling outside the Eurozone to save money. However, some destinations close to the Eurozone still price services in euros anyway. According to this year’s Holiday Costs Barometer from Post Office Travel Services – which compares 18 long- and short-haul destinations – Bulgaria, Turkey and Croatia are the three cheapest places to holiday in Europe. Spain is the cheapest place within the Eurozone, with the Algarve and Greece also good value. France was the most expensive destination, costing 16.7 per cent more than Spain. For long-distance destinations, Thailand, South Africa and Kenya were the best value, while the US and Antigua were the most expensive.
Of course, you can keep costs down in any destination by simply avoiding the most expensive places. For example, head to northern Mallorca instead of living it up in expensive Palma. Book self-catering accommodation, shop in the markets, eat seasonal food and drink local wine rather than imported stuff.
No matter where you choose to holiday, there are plenty of free activities that the whole family can enjoy, such as walking, cycling and birdwatching, and if you seek out smaller, family-friendly beaches, you won’t have to fork out €20 for a ringo ride. Europe also has some of the most wonderful summer fiestas and festivals in the world, so book in during a festival week, then simply take siestas during the afternoon so the children can stay up into the evening and enjoy the free local entertainment.
Camping is still a bargain, and children love it. “The past few years has seen a complete transformation in the range of camping sites that people can choose from, from very big, well-equipped sites with excellent facilities, to smaller, more idiosyncratic sites with real character,” explains Clover Stroud, author of Cool Camping: Kids (Punk Publishing, £16.95). “Personally, the wilder the camping, the better from my point of view. As long as there is lots of room for children to run around and a campfire – that’s an absolute must.”
But if you can’t bear the idea of a tent, how about a treehouse (see our Top Ten Crunch-time Holiday Ideas), or visit one of the adventure holiday sites run by PGL ,where children can try everything from archery and swimming to abseiling and orienteering.
Alternatively, visit several countries in the Eurozone by booking with a cruise line that has sterling as the on-board currency. This can offer great value for a family holiday, as all entertainment, food and children’s clubs are included. and you’ll only need euros when going ashore.
But if only a five-star hotel will do, remember that the biggest expense with deluxe hotels is that they’re usually priced on a room-only basis (or, at best, room and breakfast), so you can end up paying over £100 just for family lunch, let alone dinner. However, there are still bargains to be found in some of the world’s chichi destinations, particularly when ‘free child places’ and ‘half board’ are mentioned. Enquire about the possibility of booking two rooms for a discounted rate, then holiday with friends, or upgrade to a suite for the price of a regular room, if this is available during your stay.
Then there are the all-inclusives. What you want here is to have absolutely everything included – from all drinks, minibar, wine with dinner and all food, to internet access, activities and equipment, excursions and children’s clubs. Be sure to ask about these details when booking an all-inclusive holiday.
Another option is to travel off-season. Our summer is South Africa’s winter, but it’s also the best time for game drives as well as whale watching on the Cape. The combination of low-season prices and a good exchange rate means that a family of four can now take a safari for very reasonable prices, including flights and car hire.
So, if you were thinking of putting your holiday on hold this year, think again. If you do your research, ask for those discounts and book your own travel insurance, you may just find that this is the year to take the family on that holiday of a lifetime.
Look at our Tips & advice section for other useful information.