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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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.

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 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…


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.

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.

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 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.