Thursday, 29 October 2015

February half-term bargain flights

If my recent blog inspired you to visit Brussels, it's worth noting that flights (from Manchester) next February half-term are currently £20 return with Ryanair. Also at that price are flights to Copenhagen and Cologne. What's stopping you?

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Family-friendly Amsterdam and Brussels

Next year, (yes, I know you think it's too soon to be considering 2016 but the early bird will catch the worm), there are flights for as little as £19 return to Brussels Charleroi from the UK.  Even factoring in city-centre hotels and train fares, an ease-free double-city break to Brussels and Amsterdam is easily do-able for under £500 for a family of four. So, not your conventional 'sun, sea and sand' summer holiday, but a perfect cultural alternative and one which will definitely be remembered, even if only for the outlandish boobs and willies of the Amsterdam souvenir shops!

We flew into Brussels February half-term and were captivated by the city. The monumental architecture, the sheer scale of the square and the Mannekin Pis all served to be free entertainment for our family and a stroll through the cobbled streets was enough to satisfy the kids' interest.  Chocolate, moules-frites and Belgian beer (for mum and dad) were the perfect pick-me-up when tired little legs were flagging.  Even though it was February, the sun shone and the sightseeing kept us warm enough to take coats off and savour the weak winter sun of Belgium.

A little-known attraction of Brussels is the street art and this was a wonderful way to keep the children looking up and apprecaiting their surroundings.  The art is so much more than graffiti, featuring famous cartoon characters,
including home-grown Tintin.  With the quiffed boy-wonder in mind, it's worth mentioning that the new museum devoted to Herge and his creation is also a must-see for families.  At only 5 euros entry fee for children, it's a brilliant afternoon's worth of entertainment with amazing artwork and funky architecture. 

However, the most interesting activity is to take a tour around the European Parliament's Visitor Centre, known as The Parliamentarium.  Tours are free and very kid-friendly; there are specially devised one hour tours aimed at children aged 8-14 and it's a fascinating tour through the workings of the government.  Booked in advance, families can also have guided tours of the chamber and watch as European decisions are debated in the 24 offical languages of the EU.  We were all fascinated by the workings of a parliament in sitting and are now keen to visit our very own Houses of Parliament to compare how things are done!

A night in a city centre hotel was comfortable and, having only travelled with a small cabin-sized suitcase between us, we were easily transportable, having left the suitcase with the concierge as we explored.  A great feed-up in the morning at the breakfast buffet meant that we didn't need much lunch and a pizzeria in the evening was more than enough for the children to fill their tummies.  We left Brussels the next morning raring to go and compare The Netherlands with Belguim.

Only two hours away from Brussels, by train, is the mind-blowing city of Amsterdam.  Having been here several years ago as a single carefree woman, I was hesitant about bringing the kids but I needn't have worried.  As soon as we'd all had a good giggle at the 'interesting' souvenirs and had seen enough phallic symbols to last an eight year-old a lifetime, we were good to go! 

Amsterdam is stunning and it delivered much more than I expected.  We stepped off the train to be greeted by a sea of bikes and trams.  Such a unique city with a vibrant edge unlike no other - the kids were instantly captivated.

We spent hours following canals, waving to people on houseboats and jumping out of the way as tourists on hired bikes careered towards us from every direction.

A gem of a visit is The Van Gogh Museum.  Free to
0-17 year olds, it's exciting for children to see all the 'famous' pieces, such as "Starry Night" and "Sunflowers".  For my art-crazy daughter to see the actual brushtrokes and vibrancy of the colours was a joy.  Her little face lit up when she saw the painting of Van Gogh's bedroom in Arles and, subsequently, we had to spend what seemed like hours in the museum shop, spending holiday money on postcards and pencils.

The most poignant visit of our Amsterdam trip was, of course, Anne Frank's house.  Our eldest had read Anne's diary and was fully prepared for what he'd find and feel.  He found the whole experience incredibly moving and I was proud of his maturity and respect as he walked sombrely around the cramped living conditions endured by the Frank family.  To access Anne Frank's house and the secret annex, it is advisable to pre-book tickets.  Children under ten are free although I'd think carefully about taking very young children into the house.  Our eight year old understood the significance of the building and seemed honoured to visit but she chose not to linger in the exhibitions.  She was slightly bemused by the violence and destruction depicted in the exhibits and I think she was more than happy when I suggested we sit by the canal and wait for her big brother to take his time in reading the personal accounts of war-torn Amsterdam.

So, three days and two countries.  Exhausting?  Yes, definitely.  But this was an amazing opportunity to experience new cultures and to introduce the children to the splendour of our European neighbours.  Only an hour's flight away and the teaching comes alive.  No art poster, no history project and no PSHE book could have taught the children so much in such a few days.  To see real Van Goghs, to stand in Anne Frank's bedroom and to handle salt and pepper pots in the shape of genitalia really does make for a busy couple of days which will never be forgotten.

Build an adventure at Legoland

Legoland.  A children's playground.  A cornucopia of little plastic bricks.  A perfect half-term break.

With flights to Denmark from the UK being at cheap as £14 return, why go to Legoland Windsor when you could visit the very birthplace of the phenomenon?  Legoland Billund is literally just a hop, skip and a jump away from the airport; as the flight lands, you taxi alongside the fence dividing the runway from the primary-coloured fantasia.  Flying into Billund was so easy. An hour in the air from the UK and you are transported to a fresh and simple country with so much to offer a family holiday.  
At the end of this summer, we enjoyed a few days in Denmark and savoured the Danish culture.  And what a culture it is!  Such a laidback country with its eyes set firmly on enjoying the great outdoors and taking life at a slower pace. 
Legoland was everything and more.  A carbon copy of its English cousin, Legoland Billund offers all the thrills of Windsor but it seems more authentic and wholesome.  To be surrounded by other Lego enthusiasts and to know that the factory is just over the road adds another dimension to the trip.  When Ole Kirk Christiansen began making wooden toys in 1932, I very much doubt he expected the global success which followed.  The brand name of lego is derived from the Danish phrase 'leg godt' which translates as 'play well' and indeed we did!
A sure fire hit with the kids, the lure of Legoland Billund is even better when you work out when the Danish families go back to school.  When the Danes are back at school, Legoland becomes deserted.  The day we visited saw us and a smattering of German families with the same idea!  There were no queues for any rides and the shop was empty.  It turns out that the Danish schools return mid-August, leaving the latter days for British families keen to get their fix of plastic.
And as for minimising costs, I have the perfect plan.  Just as we have the 2-for-1 vouchers on cereal boxes in the UK, the Danish and Germans have similar offers and a quick ebay search produces such deals for only a euro.  For our trip, I sourced a fistful of vouchers which meant that our kids went free into Legoland, with lots of vouchers left over to dish out to other families at the payement booths.  It is worth noting, however, that the opening hours of Legoland do alter towards the end of August so a quick check on their website site is recommended.  In addition to an empty theme park, another incentive of this trip is that there are often good deals for the Legoland hotel online for the latter days of the summer.  If your dream is to sleep in a bunkbed made of lego, then this is a holiday foryou!

Just an hour's drive north of Billund is the wonderful city of Aarhus.  Jutland's main city houses Moesgard Museum which is an amazing collection of Danish history.  We made the journey to pay our respects to the 2000 year old Grauballe Man, who was found in the peat bogs of the country in 1952 and whose body had been perfectly preserved by the nutrients of the land.  He is perfectly intact, complete with fingernails and a shock of hair.  The exhibit features a graphic video of his (presumed) death and visitors can even see a reconstruction of his murder/sacrifice, leaving the kids to imagine the brutality of the Iron Age.
Another history lesson unlike no other came just outside the city of Odense, the birthplace of Hans Chritian Andersen and only 100 kilmoetres from Legoland.  A few miles off the main thoroughfare in Odense is Ladbyskibet and the compelling Vikingemuseet.  Here, Viking history truly comes to life and the children can get up close to an original warship, the grave for a cheftain.  Buried with all his worldly possessions, including his sacrificed horses, the skeleton of the boat is still underground.  Beneath the green grass of a Viking burial mound, the visit to the grave is an eerie subterreanean experience and surprisingly moving.  To be so connected to over 1000 years of history is spell-binding.  To the foreground of the mound is an informative museum which fills in the gaps of your Danish history.
So, a jaunt across the North Sea offers a family all sorts of Danish delights.  With change from £500 for a family break, Billund is a holiday plan waiting to be built - brick by brick!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Stunning Slovenia

Slovenia.  A country to be visited, explored and savoured.  With flights next Easter starting at just £60 return, this is a destination worth some consideration.  It is a hidden gem.


We visited Slovenia during Easter and the climate was perfect.  In the capital city of Ljubljana, the sun was shining and an al fresco ice-cream alongside the river was devoured by the kids.  This capital city is home to just over a quarter of a million inhabitants and its medieval history can be explored around every corner.  Ljubljana Castle, reached by a funky funicular railway, presides over the 18th century houses and piazzas and, when you've seen the Slovenian panorama, you can enjoy a helter-skelter walk back down the hill.

An hour's drive from Ljubljana, through the glacial scenery, introduces you to the alpine beauty of snow-capped mountains and mist-covered lakes.  Here, we found 'proper' snow.  Snow which made the most perfect snowballs and helped us to create a very dodgy-looking snowman! 

Just outside the touristy town of Bled, Vintgar Gorge was a personal favourite of mine.  The gorge is a 2 kilometre long ravine with the Radovna river flowing at a furious pace below the rickety wooden pathways.  In spring, the water torrents through the gorge and the chill in the air electrifies the body, reminding your lungs that fresh air is good for them!  When we visited, we found a sign that telling us that the walkway was closed but, ignnoring my husband's protests, we limboed under the chain railing and were rewarded with a stunning hour's walk through the thawing snow trickling down to the rapids.

Another real find was Postojna Caves (Postojnska jama).  This cave system, boasting a mind-boggling 20km of chambers and tunnels, is one of the most popular natural European tourist destinations.  Sinuous paths are lit by torchlight and a cute little train runs through the heart of the mountain.  To stand in the evocative Concert Hall (an open space deep inside the mystery of the mountain where subterraean orchestras perform) is a chilling experience, both physically and emotionally!   I must admit, being 2 kilometres inside a mountain is a scary concept but the beauty of the rocks and natural pools take your mind away from the potential clautrophobia!  It is a veritable grotto of stalactites and stalagmites. 

When in Slovenia, we stayed just outside Lake Bled in an apartment owned by a retired couple from the UK.  Clean and spacious, our apartment was perfect for our needs.  Situated in a little village with a bakery and a bar, this home-from-home was a great find.  Our hosts' apartment was below ours and, if we needed any advice, they were there to offer wisdom about the area.  Many an early morning was spent on our balcony, looking across to the hills, over which was Austria and the city of Klagenfurt, gorging on fresh pastries from the bakery.

The most striking thing about Slovenia is just how quiet it is.  With only 2 million citizens, there is an air of calm and a sense of space in this country.

This sparsely-populated country borders Hungary, Austria, Croatia and Italy, making it a great starting point for a European roadtrip. 

Where are you heading next summer?

Viking hunting in Denmark
With the onslaught of cheap airline tickets, Europe really is the family's oyster for 2016.  Open up to the jewel that is our continent and you will find a diverse range of exciting holidays to enchant all ages.  Shying away from the traditional holidays to Spain and France can offer so many opportunities.

Places a little off the beaten track are often cheaper and offer more of an travelling experience for the children.  Holidaying in unlikely destinations allows more of an immersion into a culture; you'll have to get used to the language, food and currency of a new corner of Europe.

By not fixing on a destination and being flexible, you can book a holiday to the most amazing cities, coastlines and borders.  A bit of research and an open mind can lead you to memory-making at its finest.

So, how do you find these bargains to far-flung places?  There are a number of ways but the best one, in my opinion, is to use  This website allows you to search for flights from all the main airlines.  You don't even have to stipulate which airport you wish to fly from; search departure from 'UK' and you'll see the sea of possibilities open up in front of you.  You don't even have to fix on dates.  Skyscanner allows you to search all flights in a given month

Use Skyscanner to search for the whole month of August.  It will throw up some interesting destinations, some of which you may never have considered!  This morning, when I checked, there are eleven European flights available for under £50 from UK airports.  Germany for £31 return? Norway for £33?  You couldn't book a train ticket down to London for that!

In addition, Easyjet published their summer 2016 schedules and prices this week.  There are some real 'get 'em while they're hot' bargains at the moment.

Being open to new ideas can quickly transform a summer holiday into an adventurous exploration of a new culture or a new language.  One of our finest holidays was to Slovenia.  With its crystal-clear air, its tiny population (only 2 million) and borders with Austria, Italy, Hungary and Croatia,  this country has a lot to offer the intrepid family.

Another favourite of the Squire family was Riga.  A two-night city break opened up post-communist Latvia and the Stalinesque architecture was unlike anything we'd ever seen.  The icy temperature of February half-term only added to the chilling history of this beautiful country.

And, don't get me started on the wonders of Copenhagen.  For just £14 return each, we travelled to Denmark in the summer and had an amazing time.  We even took in the home of Lego and whizzed around on bright plastic-bricked rollercoasters at Legoland Billund.

Have a look.  You might find an adventure waiting to be chanced upon...

Saturday, 24 October 2015

US roadtrip with kids in tow

We all have that wonderfully cinematic image in our heads of the ‘Great American Road Trip’.  You know the cliché: the wind whistling through your hair as you manoeuvre the open-topped sports car through the majestic scenery of the open plain; the stereo pumping whilst the sun beats down upon your journey to the next adventure.

Then you remember your children in the backseat and, suddenly, the dream shatters.  You can only envisage the car sickness, the sticky sweet wrappers and the nursery rhymes on loop as you tackle the rush hour traffic of another unidentifiable North American town.

But, with a little preparation and a sense of adventure, that once-in-a-lifetime road trip through the dramatic scenery of the USA with the children is something you’ll never ever regret.
So, when we decided to visit the southern states of the USA, we knew a road trip was the only way to see the real America.  It would be an opportunity to see the iconic landmarks of this wonderful country whilst taking the trip at our own pace, choosing which aspects of Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama we wanted to see.

I must admit that Coca-Cola World was an unusual location to kickstart the holiday but, in the searing and sultry heat of Atlanta, the prospect of an air-conditioned building with free ice-cold drinks, was far too tempting.  The internationally-recognisable neon signage of Coca-Cola took us on an unexpectedly interesting and entertaining beverage adventure.  When pharmacist John Pemberton first concocted his drink in 1886, I doubt very much if he ever dreamt of the worldwide monopoly that would flow from its success.  In the Product Tasting Center, visitors can try any of the franchised products from around the world.  To see the children clutching their plastic cups and tearing around the siphons, loading up on sugar for the next leg of our trip was slightly unsettling but they were having too much fun tasting bizarre combinations of Estonian Blueberry and Bahaman Banana to make them stop!  And, as if one global conglomerate wasn't enough, we then stopped at the nearest Walmart to spend holiday money on lego creations, which are dirt cheap in the US.  Now, that was a fun part of the holiday - attempting to get The Black Pearl back in our hand luggage!

After our sugar-fuelled fizzy foray, our next mission was to fully explore the wonderfully cosmopolitan city of Atlanta and her influence on the remarkable life of Martin Luther King Junior.  Nowhere else in the world possesses such an electrifying history of civil rights and, to be catapulted back in time to the inequality of 1950’s USA, was both thought-provoking and profound. 

Born in Atlanta in 1929, King grew up in a suburb of the metropolis near to the famous Ebenezer Baptist Church where his father would preach.  This bastion of Christianity in Georgia is situated directly opposite the Martin Luther King National Heritage Sight, a museum which houses chilling footage of the Klu Klux Klan and key exhibits detailing the Civil Rights Movement’s unfaltering mission.  It is indeed humbling to consider that such an iconic individual was born in such an unassuming neighbourhood yet went on to represent a nation of citizens committed to positive change.  For the children to be experience the life of this great man was a real highlight of the trip.  To listen to my son’s innocent questions and to try answering them diplomatically and sensitively was a challenge.  To begin our road trip in Atlanta put the rest of the holiday into historical and cultural significance for us all.

In direct contrast to the sombre history lesson in Atlanta, we drove on through the open country to our next destination of Tupelo, Mississippi.  Knowing that part of our planned trip was to explore Elvis’ influence on popular culture, we were determined to see where The King was born.  The tiny two-roomed clapper-boarded home where Elvis Aaron was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley in

1935 is now a Mississippi Historic Site and devoted fans swarm here to pay their respects to the unassuming beginning of rock ‘n’ roll.  It’s beautiful, calm and there is a respectful serenity to the house.  Having listened to our Elvis CD on repeat all the way through Georgia, the kids were quite in awe of this simple house with its deck swing and tiny rooms.

The next day, in stark contrast, we journeyed over the state line to Tennessee and into Memphis to follow in the trail of Elvis. Just outside Memphis, along an indiscriminate stretch of highway is the 13 acre splendour that is Graceland.  Bought by a twenty two year old Elvis Presley in 1957, this mecca for rock fans is a pilgrimage for over half a million fans a year.  Emotional visitors are ferried around the site by minibuses and the audio guide starts from the second you begin the musical journey up the winding drive to the kitsch interior of Elvis’ heyday home.  Surprisingly, the house seems small and claustrophobic due to the cornucopia of trinkets and souvenirs charting a megastar’s career.  To see his grave at the end of the tour is unexpectedly moving and the respectful silence stays with you.

To complete our exploration into Elvis’ life, we then visited Sun Studios In downtown Memphis where the music greats all recorded; grainy footage of Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee performing are evocative of days gone by and, as you wait to enter the museum, the small café takes you back to a vibe of rebellion and revolution.  The newspaper cuttings, the jukebox and the sodas all make you feel as if you should be wearing ankle socks and fooling around with a brylcreemed-haired boy in a leather jacket who Daddy just wouldn’t approve of! 

With all the fun of a holiday such as this, practicalities do have to be considered and accommodation is obviously a major cost of any holiday but on a road trip through North America, it needn’t be a prohibitive outlay.  If you’re willing to be spontaneous, there are some amazing bargains to be found.  The trick, we found, was to source a motel/hotel voucher booklet at gas stations or at the state visitor centres.  These books are free and are jam-packed full of vouchers for rooms along whichever route you’re taking that day.  By not planning ahead, we were able to choose where to stop when we felt we needed a break and, seeing that nearly all motel rooms come with two double beds as standard, there’s plenty of room for an average family to sleep for under $50 a night.

Obviously, we did plan ahead to some degree and that little bit of research before we left the UK was invaluable when it came to some of our favourite memories.  In Vacherie, Louisiana, we had organised a cottage in the grounds of Oak Alley, one of the most famous sugar plantations of the south.  Iconic 300 year-old oak trees line the sumptuous quarter-mile path up to this ante-bellum beauty and  staff dressed in period costume serve mint juleps on the terrace overlooking the 25 historic acres of land leading down to the banks of The Mississippi.  To have this stately home to ourselves at night was a highlight of the trip; equipped with a torch, we left our former slave-quarters for an evening exploration (in pyjamas) through the silhouettes of the mighty oaks.  To hear the echoes of Oak Alley’s history under a summer’s moon reminded us of the underlying cruelty of slavery in the south.

Another day another dollar and the mighty Mississippi was beckoning us towards our next state of Louisiana with her rich history and raw beauty.  The seemingly-endless Mississippi River following us, we drove through long sections of coastal marsh over sweeping bridges which looked to be floating on the alligator-filled swamps.  Who needs in-car DVDs when you have two eager kids with a bet on as to who will see the man-eating alligator first?

We had been warned about our next stopping point and I must admit that I was slightly apprehensive in exploring New Orleans with two wide-eyed children in tow.  I had been told to drive everywhere and to stay centrally.  Never one to be conventional, however, I plumped for a house on the outskirts of the city, away from the crowds in an original ‘shot-gun’ house.  Built in the early 19th century, these houses were designed to withstand a bullet attack on a house. 

Consisting of a narrow rectangular structure with three to five rooms in a row, these structures would ensure that a bullet fired into the house from the front doorway would fly cleanly to the other end of the house without taking a victim.  As I lay wide awake under the mosquito net on our first night in ‘The Big Easy’, listening to the rumblings of the monolithic cargo trains transporting goods across the continent, I confess nerves and did perhaps check on the children more than was usual at home! 
As the sultry Louisiana morning sun rose in the sky, I realised that I needn’t have worried and there, opened up in front of us, was a treasure trove of delights. Beautifully ornate iron balustrades looked down upon the narrow streets of La Nouvelle-Orléans and each house stood proudly distinct from its neighbour with its bright colours and individualised design.  This was a city unlike any other.  Matthew and Annie loved the laidback approach to life in the city and, as we sat next to obscurely-wonderful people on the old wooden trams, I watched their little faces trying to fathom how this place could be so wild and wacky yet bear, simultaneously, the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

As is wont with road trips, perhaps the most amazing day came as a complete surprise. Tired of driving on our epic 500 mile journey-in-a-day and needing lunch, we pulled off the I-85 freeway into Montgomery, Alabama and parked in the first available spot we found.  As I was faffing about in the boot, trying to find more factor 50 to slather on my freckled-faced son, I absently-mindedly read the sign next to me.  We had parked at the exact spot that Rosa Parks had queued for the bus on that fateful December morning in 1955.  The very spot where she refused to move from her seat. Having already learned so much about Civil Rights when in Atlanta, it seemed fortuitous that here we were standing at perhaps the most important bus stop in modern world history.  Further exploration led us into the Rosa Parks Library and Museum where there is a reconstruction of her famous bus with video footage of her involvement with Luther King’s mission.  For children, this visual representation of the struggle really helps to contextualise the events and, when the mock-up bus, shakes and rattles, it really does feel as if you’ve been transported back to the injustice and inequality of yesteryear.
Arrival back to Atlanta after our mammoth two-week journey saw us reflect on our family adventure.  Yes, there were tiring days.  The day we had breakfast in Louisiana, elevenses in Mississippi, lunch in Alabama and dinner in Georgia was a gruelling day of overtaking juggernauts on the endless highway for nine hours but we saw so much and experienced the subtle changes as we crossed each state line. 

Even through the epic travelling days, we loved every second of this amazing trip and having Matthew and Annie in tow just enhanced the experiences.  Seeing sights through the wonder of a child is so refreshing and the enthusiasm for adventure in a six-year old is truly contagious.  As we dropped the hire car back at Atlanta, we waved goodbye to our free-spirited adventure and began to plan the next.

Would we do a road trip again with two young children?  You betcha!  To be in a spectacular country with adventures around every corner, planning the trip together and deciding which aspect of ground-breaking history to investigate next makes for a holiday of surprise, enlightenment and genuine fascination.
Just do it! 

Travelling on a budget with kids

My husband puts it down to my blonde hair.  He has a theory that the latent Viking traveller in me has been unleashed, centuries after my ancestors explored the high seas.  I always loved to travel but, since having children, my urge to see every nook and cranny of the world has heightened to obsessive levels and I am forever looking for opportunities to see something new. 

As teachers, my husband and I are blessed with thirteen weeks of holiday a year, coupled with a burning lust for new experiences.  Our children, Matthew and Annie, have been to over twenty-five countries in their little lives.  A wet and windy day at a Bosnian monastery, a pulse-racing climb up vertiginous city walls in Montenegro and a spring walk around Dubrovnik’s majestic city walls have all been enjoyed recently.  Ask the children what they love most about travelling and they’ll tell you, quite seriously, that they love the buzz of being able to ask for ice-cream in several languages.  A skill to set them up for life, methinks!
However, the flipside to our profession’s wonderful holiday entitlement means that we’re chained to the prohibitive prices of the travel industry.  We all know too well how the prices soar once school holidays are mixed into the travelling equation, resulting in some families giving up on the notion of travelling abroad.
However, my determination to follow the sun (and the cheap euro) has resulted in a skill-set that
enables me to have several holidays lined up every year.  Currently in my holding-pattern of trips for the next year, we have Poland, Canada and Greece ready to be explored.
It’s so easy to get bang for your buck if you know how…
The first rule is NEVER to book through a travel agent.  Yes, go and flick through the brochures for ideas but never sit down to discuss deals!  With the internet at your fingertips, the independent traveller has access to all manner of bargains and, in booking aspects of the holiday separately, the holiday suddenly becomes bespoke and individualised.  Over the years, as a family, we’ve had adventures which just wouldn’t have happened had we booked a bog-standard package tour through a travel agent. Booking discrete components of the holiday is definitely the way forward, yet so many families leaf idly through brochures and get stung financially.

When booking our holiday, I will always let the flight prices dictate our destination.  We never choose where to holiday; we let the cheapest flight prices guide us.  This method has resulted in amazing holidays in countries such as post-communist Latvia, fresh-as-a-daisy Slovenia and ice-cold Finland.  I love the fact that places off the beaten track are not only cheaper, but are also more authentic and culturally-rewarding.  Use to find the bargains.  You can search for flights by month, by country or by region.  It's exciting to see where a search for random flights might lead your family...
The next secret for success is to be organised and start to plan holidays months in advance; the early bird does indeed catch the worm when it comes to travelling for less.  For example, way back in September, we booked this year's summer jaunt to Canada.  We're flying direct from Gatwick to Toronto for three weeks, straddling the bright sunny months of July and August.  Our flights, with Air Canada, have cost us the grand price of £1202 for all four of us!  Factor in car hire (which was booked straight after the flights) and accommodation in motels along the way and we'll have a once-in-a-lifetime roadtrip through The Great Lakes for under £3500.  An absolute bargain when you look at brochure prices for similar adventures.
A personal favourite tip of mine is to not only look at your children’s school holiday dates but also those of other education authorities.  Easter this year was abound with bargains as the early Easter Sunday meant that schools set their own dates for the term’s break.  My school’s Easter fell in March yet I know of friends who weren't free of the early morning starts until April.  The story is similar in 2017.  Also, look at your school's PD days.  Flying home on a Monday often slashes the price of flights.  Sometimes, holiday companies don’t pick up on these anomalies and, therefore, forget to adjust prices accordingly.  It’s worth a search…
With regards to add-ons, we never take anything the airline offers.  Travel insurance is already taken care of as we always buy an annual multi-trip policy and we normally try to travel with just hand luggage and, if absolutely necessary, take one suitcase for the whole family.  To buy a small (but perfectly big enough) suitcase can be as cheap as £15 yet airlines will charge £30 each way for a suitcase to be put in the hold.  Purchasing a cabin suitcase not only saves money on the flight price but also means that the boot space in the hire car at the other end of the flight needn’t be so big.
Once we’ve secured flights to our destination, we tend to self-cater as, with two children, it’s cheaper and more convenient to cook for ourselves and the trips around the supermarkets add to the cultural aspect of the holiday.   Again, I always book way ahead to secure the best deals, generally using the reviews by other travellers to guide my decision.  Last Easter, we stayed in Croatia for £35 a night in an amazing apartment which overlooked Dubrovnik Bay, which came complete with homemade cake every afternoon!  Websites to look at are and When using these websites, I always search by the number of reviews each apartment/villa has had.  I figure that fifty other travellers can't be wrong and, often, you can find ideas for daytrips and excursions in the reviews written by past tenants.

Sometimes we do stay in hotels to treat ourselves and I will always research to find the best price, using a price comparison website such as  Last summer, we spent a night in a 5 star hotel in Malta for a fraction of the price everyone else paid.  The breakfast was an amazing feast and the extra yogurts, cereal bars and juice cartons I squirrelled away into my handbag, when the bow-tied waiter wasn’t looking, kept us going for days!
Another aspect of holidays where there are savings to be made comes in the form of trying to shave off a little from the cost of activities whilst away.  Through experience, I find the travelling community to be so helpful and willing to advise each other.  For me, the forums on Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree have saved me a fortune.  We travelled to Billund in Denmark at the end of August 2015 to visit the original Legoland, the home of the fantastic plastic, and through my research, I found that I could source Danish 2-for-1 attraction vouchers (just like the ones on our cereal boxes in the UK), from German ebay for one euro; a saving of over £100 on our entrance fee.
 Another way to make the most of activities is to look for free things to do.  Looking on the website of the local area works a treat as there will be a whole host of community events which will immerse you in the local culture.  A couple of years ago, our whole family took part in a neighbourhood fun-run in a coastal village in Maine, USA.  The organisers couldn’t believe that a British family had entered and we were treated like royalty all day and paraded around like celebrities for all to see!
Car hire can be another prohibitive cost on a family holiday and I work hard to slash costs here too.  I always secure my car hire as soon as I know where we’re going, making sure that the car hire price is fully refundable, allowing me to keep checking back on prices throughout the year.  For example, I have recently cancelled and (instantly) rebooked car hire for a holiday in Italy because the current exchange rate has altered prices favourably for us.  Also, we always take our own SATNAV (bought specifically for holidays)and child car seat to save unnecessary add-ons.  
In addition, to avoid having to take out extortionate excess insurance, I have an annual policy with which pays out should we have an accident abroad.  This costs £30 a year yet avoids me having to pay around £5 a day for top-up insurance when abroad. 
Finally, a little-known and savvy method of saving money on all aspects of the holiday-planning adventure is to do all your booking through a cashback website ( as the savings made add up quickly; these sites deal with most of the major holiday companies.  My flights to Canada will pay me back in the region of £20 and my night in an Italian hotel this summer paid me back £10.  It might not seem much and I’m aware that I must sound like a real cheapskate but the pennies do add up to pounds and, in the last couple of years, I’ve made over £700 cashback – the price of two booked-in-advance long-haul flights.
So, in essence, the world is there to be explored and with just a little time, determination and knowledge, we can all be travellers on a shoestring.  It’s just about knowing where to start the search.  Happy exploring!