Sunday, 18 June 2017

Fly the whole family to Europe for under £100

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If you've not booked a summer holiday yet, now is the time to secure (very) cheap flights.  This August, a family of four can fly to top tourist destinations for under £100 return.  And, I'm not talking obscure destinations deep in the hinterland of Europe.  We're talking Ibiza, Palma and Venice to name a few top tourist hot spots!

Search on www.skyscanner.com to find your perfect location.  Search UK to Everywhere for the whole month of August and see where you can spend your Euro this summer.

The Italian Lakes are £30 return with Ryanair whilst Palma Mallorca flights start at £36 from a few airports dotted up and down the UK, with a variety of airlines.  Grenoble (on the French/Swiss border) is a mere £26 each, and Luxembourg, a great base for exploring central Europe, is only £16 return!

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At this late stage, a lot of the best accommodation will have been snapped up but a quick search on www.booking.com shows that there are still decent rooms vacant for your family break.  In Mallorca, for example, booking.com offers a hotel (which previous guests have scored 9.6 out of 10) advertising a week's stay in a two-bedroomed house (with pool) for only £683.  So, flights and self-catering accommodation for the whole family comes in at less than £900.

See, a week's adventure for your family needn't break the bank.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Pack your bags and head for the sun, without being fined by the school...

Following this week's Supreme Court ruling that it's unlawful to take your children out of school for holidays, it begs the question of how we can show our children the world and keep on the right side of the law.

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Arcachon

I'm a teacher and I know, first-hand, how frustrating it is to pay inflated prices for a week of family fun in the sun.  I have never been able to benefit from cheap flights mid-September or enjoy a long weekend away in June.  I have to adhere to the dates set my local authorities and, as a result, I've acquired some tips along the way of how to holiday on a budget when school's out for summer, or spring, or Christmas.
Montenegro

If you're canny, there are ways around the prohibitive dates set in stone by educationalists and government bureaucrats. 

Fly solo
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 unique.  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.

Mississippi River, Louisiana
Destination Unknown
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 www.skyscanner.com 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...


Self-catering in Gozo
Fancy a date?
A personal favourite tip of mine is to not only look at your children’s school holiday dates but also those of neighbouring education authorities.  February half-term this year was abound with bargains due to the fact that schools can now set their own dates for the term’s break.  My school’s half-term fell on the third week of the month yet I know of friends who were off Valentine's week; the story is similar in 2018.  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…

Slovenia

Schools publish their holiday and PD (Personal Development) days over a year in advance and, with careful planning, you can bag some bargain flights.  Booking a year in advance allows you the pick of the crop in terms of cheap flights and accommodation.

Amsterdam
Your place or mine?
Instead of fleecing the pockets of hoteliers across the world, why not find a self-catering property which suits your family's needs?  A washing machine to avoid unnecessary baggage fees?  A pool to yourselves?  A barbecue and private garden where the children can run amok after dinner?  Not only are apartments and villas cheaper, they also offer versatility and a much more authentic experience of the region.


Bosnian monastery

In terms of location, be flexible; be willing to hire a place away from the hustle and bustle of the hubbub.  Sometimes, travelling a little down the road from the nearest town can reap rewards, offering a place with more garden space and perhaps a pool for less cost.  Also, don't rule out apartments instead of villas or cottages.  A funky penthouse apartment might offer stunning panoramas from the rooftop garden or a townhouse might put you directly in the action of the city.  Obviously, the exact location of your home-from-home will depend on whether you wish to hire a car or not. 

Parc Asterix, France

Excess Baggage
It is now common practice for airlines to charge for baggage.  Even British Airways add an additional fee for the luxury of having your bags in the hold.  Why pay these unnecessary fees when, for the same price, you could buy a suitcase which can hold a whole week's summer wardrobe?  We all know the score - you pack a bag to its capacity and then wear the same pair of shorts the entire week!  Forward planning and a realistic approach to packing can save a family well over one hundred pounds in baggage fees.


Verona
Beep Beep, yeah!
Car hire can be another prohibitive cost on a family holiday and you can easily slash costs here too.  Always secure car hire as soon as you know where you're going, making sure that the car hire price is fully refundable, allowing you to keep checking back on prices throughout the year.  Also, take your own SATNAV and child car seats to save add-on fees.
Tennesse roadtrip

In addition, to avoid having to take out extortionate excess insurance, purchase an annual policy with www.icarhireinsurance.co.uk which pays out should you have an accident abroad.  This costs £30 a year yet avoids a family having to pay up to £10 a day for top-up insurance at the car rental desk.


Lake Ontario
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 (and when) to start the search.  Happy exploring.


Austria



Thursday, 23 March 2017

Have you booked your summer holiday yet?

I daresay lots of you haven't planned your summer jaunt yet.  Perhaps you think you can't afford a break this year?  However, there are lots of cheap holidays out there waiting to be bagged and, with a combination of savvy booking and an adventurous spirit, a family of four could holiday abroad for less than £1000, including flights, accommodation and spending money!


Why pay through the nose to a travel agent when you can tailor-make a holiday, staying in family-friendly accommodation in a residential area teeming with locals?  Not only will you save a fortune but you'll also have a much more authentic experience of the country.
 

The flights I've found are seriously cheap and would act as the perfect springboard for a holiday in some of the world's most beautiful and fascinating countries.
  • Southend to Cologne on 16th August is only £30 return, landing you within striking distance of some of Europe's finest cities.  Maastricht is a mere hour's drive away and the splendour of Brussels' La Grand-Place is only two hours from the majestic cathedral of Cologne.
  • Luton to Copenhagen is £34 for a return trip leaving on 22nd August.  Legoland Billund is an easy daytrip from here, as is a commute across the Oresund Bridge to Sweden.
  • London to Milan is a bargain at £40 for two weeks from the 15th August.  A wonderful city in its own right, Milan is also the gateway to the Italian Lakes and the operatic capital of Verona.
There are many many bargains to be found.  Why gamble with the British weather when you can be guaranteed sun, sea and smiles across the English Channel?


Friday, 3 February 2017

Danish delight



Following on from yesterday's blog, flights to Copenhagen have decreased in price even more. A return fare from London Luton to the Danish capital is now only £20! Flights leave early Tuesday morning and return late Thursday evening. Self-catering accommodation averages at £100 a night for a two-bedroomed apartment, meaning that three full days in Copenhagen can be enjoyed for under £300 for a family of four.




Thursday, 2 February 2017

February family fun!

For those of you lucky enough to have children breaking up for half-term on 17th February this year, there are a heap of bargains waiting to be grabbed.  Local authorities have staggered the spring break and holiday companies don't seem to have caught on!


So, why sit bored, looking out at the rain lashing the pavement, when you could be enjoying al fresco dining under the bright skies of southern Spain or exploring the snowy splendours of Scandinavia?


Copenhagen is a fabulous place to visit with the family.  Even though accommodation in Denmark isn't easy on the purse, there is a real sense of the importance of quality family time in this part of the world and children are considered the perfect tourists.  For kids, the National Museum in Copenhagen is a real gem; Viking history comes to life and the adventures through the layers of Norse culture unravel in front of the children's eyes.  Entry is free for under 18s. And, an evening treat for the family in Copenhagen is Tivoli Gardens, where fun comes alive in the middle of the city.  This amusement park offers thrills and spills for the young (and young-at-heart!)  Flights from Luton to Copenhagen are a mere £30 return.  With self-catering accommodation, a couple of days here shouldn't set you back more than £400. 



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Even cheaper than Copenhagen is Luxembourg which, for just £28 return, can be reached from Stansted with Easyjet.  One of the three official capitals of the European Union (alongside Strasbourg and Brussels), this tiny country has only half a million citizens and its picture-perfect capital city is like stepping into a fairy tale. Bordering Belgium, France and Germany, Luxembourg is an enigmatic country with an identity influenced heavily by its neighbours.

http://www.visitluxembourg.com/en/free-things-to-do-in-luxembourg-city


What about Germany's second-largest city?  Hamburg is a mere £35 return from Manchester and has plenty of fascinating experiences on offer for a family, ranging from Miniatur Wunderland (the world's largest model railway system) for the younger explorers, to the chilling atmosphere of Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial for those studying GCSE History.  Travel around Hamburg is reasonably priced  and, with every adult travel pass, three children aged under fourteen go free on public transport.

http://www.hamburg-travel.com/attractions/best-of-hamburg/


Somewhere on my list is Malaga.  A two-hour drive from the Moorish royal palace of Seville and a mere hour and a half from the Barbary macaque wild monkeys in Gibraltar, Malaga offers so much variety in a holiday. With its Roman amphitheatre and free art galleries, there's no chance of being bored in this blue-skied city.  £32 will get you to Malaga, there and back, from Glasgow.



Closer to home, even Center Parcs don't seem to have cottoned on to the anomaly of February half-term dates.  A four-night mid-week break in a two-bedroomed executive lodge at Elveden Forest in Suffolk is £400 cheaper than the previous week, when some schools are enjoying their (more expensive) week off. 


So, rather than wondering how to entertain the family in the wet and wild weather of a UK winter, get hunting for flights and show the little ones the world...

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Half-term Budapest



Budapest is the most perfect city for a short break with a difference.  Bordering seven other countries, Hungary is at the very heart of Europe and the influences of its neighbours can be seen in the language, architecture and cuisine of this wonderful nation.  And, for just £38 return at February half-term, it's a destination that will easily come in at under £500 for a family week of Hungarian adventures.


A mere three hour flight from the UK and you and your family are transported to a country that feels unlike any other.  As soon as your flight touches down at Ferenc Listz International Airport, you realise that this is a city that is flattered you chose to visit - Hungary became a member of the EU in 20014 and, since then, has very much been geared towards tourism.  The transfers into the city are plentiful and, once secured in the central part of Budapest, you won't need any other transport.  Budapest is a very walkable city and, indeed, one that is best seen on foot.  From Buda Castle to the Fisherman's Bastion, there is so much to see.


Accommodation is very cheap and a quick search on Airbnb will present you with a plethora of choice at about £50 a night for a family of four.  We stayed in an apartment in a beautiful old building, seconds from the river and a stone's throw from the basilica and parliament.  We lived like locals and our funky flat had a real-feel of a bygone Budapest, with its wrought-iron balcony and courtyards.


The grande dame of Budapest is the parliament building with its gothic architecture and its dazzling white exterior.  Located on  Lajos Kossuth Square, one of the world's largest parliament buildings looks down upon the Danube, compelling you to tour its miles of corridor.  There are guided tours of this political centre regularly throughout the day but visits must be booked in advance. EU citizens get half-price entry so get in while you can... 


If you have little ones in tow, the tour buses run regular routes around the city, complete with an informative audio guide.  Shop around for the bus that suits your family best.  We found the best tour to be the Big Bus Tour company; it was markedly cheaper than the other companies.  For two adults and two children, our ticket cost £45 for 48 hours of travel and the kids loved sitting on an open-top bus listening to the facts and figures of this beguiling city.  We hopped on and hopped off to our hearts' content and touring the city at night was a great couple of hour's entertainment for us all; we even had a riverboat trip down the Danube included in the price.


Money-wise, the forint is king.  Hungarian shops and restaurants do accept Euros as currency but we found that the price in forints was much more economical.  A quick shop around the local supermarket will show you just how much you can get for your forint; a drinkable bottle of local wine cost us the equivalent of £1.50!  The Old Market Hall next to the Liberty Bridge offers up a whole floor of Hungarian 'street food', complete with the most wonderful patisseries. Its fascinating to eat whilst watching the locals going about their daily business, and then to buy tacky souvenirs from the stalls offering up fridge magnets and tea towels.


Budapest is a magical city that feels different to Europe's other major pulls; it's a gentle city which seems to work at a slower pace.  Al fresco cafes under the watchful eye of the basilica are filled with proud Hungarians soaking up their culture and impressive heritage.  Why not join them this February?