So we have a limited budget and limited time but want still to travel as a family of five.
These top 10 holiday budgeting tips come from our own experiences (and all links represented in this post are for organisations I’d recommend to my nearest and dearest and none have been paid for.)
We are travellers of the more independent variety, cost conscious, but we appreciate quality experiences. Dadonthebrink and I love travelling, discovering the nuances of places near and far, taking in the culture, beauty of the place and the food and drinks. We hope to instill the love and admiration for places near and far into our children too.
Here’s how we manage as a one income family to go to continental Europe at least three times a year, with a long summer roadtrip included:
Most often it’s a picture of an exciting location or the story from friends and family that captivates me. I have bucket lists of places I want to go and if I didn’t I can always consult a book a friend gave me for my 30th birthday- 100 places to see before you die.
Nowadays, when we are researching history or geography projects with the children, places pop up. We coo and often these destinations get added to the bucket list.
You can even do Disney on a budget, with careful planning and saving. See post on Extraordinary Chaos.
2. Determine budget for the year
As expats living abroad visiting family means a minimum 6 hour trip for us. Our travel budget has to spread between visiting family and pleasure trips. Our vacations are now tied to the more expensive school holiday season too.
Our rough annual travel budget is between 5-10% of our annual income. Our budget has to cover 13 weeks of school holidays. If we don’t have the money we don’t go! There is no point to racking up debt for a couple of weeks of fun.
By having an annual travel budget I can pinch a bit from one to add to another.
In the past we have also worked around business trips- if one of us had a trip somewhere desirable then the other tagged along. I spent a fabulous week in Barcelona wandering in the old town, playing on playgrounds and chilling on the beach with my littlins, while Dadonthebrink was at a conference and in meetings all day.
3. Get yourself covered
a. Buy annual travel insurance
We learnt early on, after moving away from our families that with at least 3 trips abroad each year- as we tend to do- it is more cost efficient to have annual travel insurance. Initially we went with the cheapest we found from Boots, but now as we age, with medical conditions to take into account, we make sure we read the small print and buy the best cover for the best price. Currently, we get our annual travel insurance from our bank.
b. Get your EU health card
In the UK we are very lucky to have the NHS provide free healthcare at point of access. It’s not the same throughout the EU, unless there is a inter-country agreement. With your EU healthcard you will save yourself a lot of headache.
c. Car recovery service, including Euro assistance
As a family of 5 air travel has slid down our list of preferred means of travel. It’s not just the cost factor, but the convenience of having your own car and not facing daunting car hire costs and charges.
There are two vital things I’ve learnt for taking our car onto the continent:
- Make sure you check your insurance details– lots of insurance companies will only cover you for 3rd party damage while you are abroad; they limit the time they are willing to cover you while abroad too.
- European roadside assistance gives a real peace of mind! There’s nothing quite as daunting as breaking down on a motorway with no brakes on your car and then having to figure out how you are going to get to your destination and how much extra it will all cost. (It happened to us!)
4. Research your destination
So, I’ve got an idea of where and when (the later dictated by our school system), a rough budget and our insurances- health, travel and car- sorted. Now comes the fun part of putting the meat on the bone.
The key things to have at hand for research is a map of the area and a calendar.
I like using the tourist board sites for kickstarting my research, I also delve into blogs and Pinterest has been fantastic resource.
Social media, like twitter, is great to interact with people and organisations about your plans, get personal recommendations.
For our Northumberland trip I got a lot of advice from both the Northumberland tourist board and the destinations themselves.
Our trip to France was enriched by some recommendations from the Normandy tourist board of things to do en route to Le Mans.
@mumonthebrink 2 of the “most beautiful villages of France” aren’t far from the motorway: Le Bec-Hellouin and Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei.
— Normandy Tourism (@Normandy) May 22, 2014
Recently I’ve used the Microsoft OneNote to pin all my notes, pictures and research into one location. I share this with Dadonthebrink, who can add or take away from it. Once dates and times are sorted it’s time to …
5. Book ferry or air tickets well in advance or buy in bulk
Most of us know of the savings to be made by booking flights in advance. If you are flexible on departure dates and times, possible stop overs you can save even more. I use skyscanner, budget airline sites directly- I try to avoid Ryanair, but love to hate Wizzair– and Expedia to check prices. (With young kids I opt for direct flights, the pain of changing flights with kids is not worth the savings within Europe, in my opinion.) … Do you have any others?
The same is true for ferry bookings- book in advance!
In fact, with DFDS you can go a step further and buy all your tickets for the year in one go to get their flexible DFDS annual multi trip booking. Club together with friends and family and you can buy more at a bigger discount. This is what we’ve done for the past 4 years. Last year we travelled for £20 each way on tickets that gave us a lot of flexibly. I really do love the freedom to travel that these tickets have given us, our family and friends.
6. Book your accommodation in advance
We love camping and a lot of our adventures will feature Campy in year to come.
Camping is a personal preference, as it gives us the opportunity to be close to nature. We’ve camped in extremely remote places, but also in Amsterdam, just a short cycle ride from the ferry that took us right into the centre of the town.
However, there is such a wide variety of accommodation available even for those on a tight budget. For cities look at the budget range of hotels. For example Travelodge, as recommended by @Fiveadventures
Have you considered a home exchange? My friend has the most amazing holidays through home exchange. This year we were offer to stay 3 weeks near the beach in Barcelona in the apartment of a friend of a friend. Unfortunately, the timings were wrong for us.
Villas give great flexibility and you can go with the wider family to create some very special family memories.
Last year I tested an aparthotel in Majorca– it was the perfect combination of being fully catered for or choosing to cook for yourself.
For budgeting purposes we are members of the Camping and caravanning club– booking sites through them, we are reassured of consistency of quality of the sites. They also offer a European travel assistance service, through which we can book sites that they have checked.
7. Saving on attractions
Research helps a lot- you will have a feeling for the attractions and what they offer. You may find ways of saving on entry fees. If visiting a city, more and more have special cards which give you discounts off multiple attractions.
@mumonthebrink we are off the London for the week, we have merlin passes so doing theme parks and then Central London
— Fiveadventurers (@Fiveadventurers) June 26, 2014
8. Schedule in lots of outdoor activities
Activities outdoors are often free- check out the walking, cycling and swimming opportunities. We love going for long walks where there is some water- a river, a waterfall or a beach- involved. Rockpooling is a huge favourite with my kids.
If you are stuck for ideas, check out the National Trust’s 50 things to do before you are 11 3/4.
9. Plan your spending money and know your exchange rates
I have to admit this is my weakness. I will go online to Oanda and print off a cheatsheet for the currency we will be using.
Within the Eurozone we pay cash. We always have some Euros as presents from family and friends. Otherwise, I tend to check out best places to exchange money in advance.
Recently I came across Caxton FX cards, which is a pre paid card, loaded with currency for your destination. Feedback from other bloggers suggests it’s a very cost efficient means of payment. I’m considering trying this out for our upcoming European roadtrip.
10. Last minute bookings sometimes are amazing value!
Now, throwing all the pre-planning to wind- don’t forget to be spontaneous once in a while and check out those last minute deals too. You might just bag yourself and your family a bargain.
One of my friends always scours eBay for holiday offers from people who booked and cannot go. She’s taken her family of 5 on some great holidays- skiing and beach- at the fraction of the original cost.