In writing about family holidays for Mouths of Mums, it saddened me to see comments from people who would love to travel more with their families, but are restricted by the cost.
There is no doubt that bills are going up and many families are struggling. So, can the average Australian family still afford a holiday? I would like to think so. And in saying this, I want people to think outside the square about what they consider to be a holiday.
A holiday can be anything from free camping through to a 5-star resort experience. It can be one night away, through to weeks or months exploring Australia or experiencing life in another country.
No matter what type of holiday your budget buys, it is about spending quality time together outside the home environment. Getting away from the humdrum of daily life can help us focus on each other and bond again.
So, these are my 10 tips on how to plan a cheap holiday and save money on that next trip away…
1. Sign up to newsletters
By signing up to airline & other travel e-newsletters, you can get alerts about up-coming sales and last-minute deals.
One of my most recent holidays happened after I purchased cheap airfares on the spur of the moment after I got an email alert.
Many airline deals are for flights months in advance, which also means you can purchase the tickets – then spend more time to save up for accommodation.
Just last month, we had a weekend away after I saw last minute rates for accommodation in a popular Victorian seaside resort. For $174 a night, we got a 2-bedroom cabin for four of us, including a buffet breakfast.
This beach-side location is booked up in summer, but not as popular in the depths of a cold Victorian winter, when less people want to stay, so deals are offered. Which leads me to my next tip.
2. Travel off-season
Once your children are at school, you are tied into taking your holidays when everyone else does – and you will pay top price for the privilege!
You will find some really good prices outside the peak holiday seasons. Sure if might not be as warm, but it will be less crowded and you might be able to have a longer stay than if you were paying peak-rate prices.
This is especially so in popular holiday destinations, which have with an abundance of accommodation for peak periods, but will offer some amazing rates as they struggle to fill rooms during the off-season.
3. Stay close to the popular tourist town
So, you want to see all the attractions of the popular tourist town, but find all the accommodation overpriced? Can you stay in a less-popular town close-by? You might find it will save you money.
You may well find some towns cheaper than others in a region, while larger towns and cities can have varying prices depending on where they are located (eg, staying in suburbs rather than the city centre).
Take Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula. On this cold late July winter’s day, a quick look on a booking website finds me a standard family room at a holiday park in Carrum Downs for $90 a night (no minimum stay), compared to the more popular township of Dromana, which was $140 a night with a 2 night minimum.
4. Take a city break
If you live close to a major city or regional town, why not become a tourist for the weekend?
I live less than an hour from Melbourne’s CBD, where I have also worked for many years. But travelling in for a weekend and staying the night is a whole other experience.
Leave the car at home & catch public transport to save money and discover the local parks and gardens or just wander through the streets. Some cities also provide free public transport for visitors, such as the City Loop tram in Melbourne.
If possible, try to find a package including breakfast. Finding accommodation with a kitchenette can make it even cheaper.
Self-catering is one of the best ways to save money on a holiday.
There is no doubt that eating out as a family can cost a fortune – especially if you are eating 3 meals a day. Often it is these extra costs that can really blow out the budget.
Staying in an apartment or a hotel room with a kitchenette so you do not need to go out for meals all the time will save you heaps.
To make it extra special, consider allowing for treats – for you and the children. Maybe a pack of Magnum ice-creams in the freezer. My children are allowed to eat Coco Pops when we are on holiday instead of their healthy Weetbix. I will sometimes sneak a bowl of it in too!
6. Deal direct
In creating my website, familyfriendlyaccommodation.com.au, I wanted to list properties only and leave all the bookings and negotiations to you, the customer.
That is because many booking websites charge booking fees and/or take commission for bookings made via their websites (even if these fees are hidden in the overall price). This can result in you paying more and/or the property owner receiving less.
In most instances, the days of finding cheaper accommodation on booking websites are gone and the accommodation provider’s own website will provide you with the best deals.
Have a look at what you like, then ring and talk to the owners/managers direct. Ask them what specials they have or what the best rate is they can give you.
Some apartment complexes are managed on behalf of different apartment owners. You might be able to negotiate a good rate depending on the apartment’s location in the complex & its furnishings. There is no harm in asking
7. Stay in older-style motels & houses.
This leads me to my next point. Generally, the less modern the property, the less you will pay. So, another option is to stay in older style motels, such as those offered through the well-known Budget Motels chain. Yes, the decor may not have the latest, ultra-modern look, but most are still comfortable and clean.
You can also try older style holiday houses or apartments through real estate agents or holiday house websites – again, older houses with more dated decor can sometimes be available at quite cheap rates.
8. Share accommodation
If you are looking at holiday houses, have you considered sharing with friends or relatives?
This can be particularly money-saving in summer, peak-periods. In January, we stayed for a couple of nights with friends in a lovely town-house, sharing the costs for the two nights we were there.
In recommending this option, I also suggest you read my tips on travelling with extended family and friends as living with others, even for a short-period of time, can have its challenges.
9. Travel auction sites
There are a proliferation of websites with daily deals. While I have never used them and am not personally recommending them, friends have successfully booked accommodation through sites, such as Scoopon.
Just be aware of the conditions so you do not get caught with cheap accommodation – but only a very expensive way of getting to it.
Another option which my parents are almost addicted to is travel auctions. Again, this will be of best value if you can travel out of peak seasons, as some have block-out dates over holidays. These properties are usually 3-star rated and you can score some cheap deals by bidding what you are prepared to pay for your stay.
Many Australian families love camping. There are many state and national parks that offer free and cheap camping experiences around Australia. All you need (at the very least) is a tent. Although you can buy accessories galore to make it more comfortable.
There is also a growing trend towards glamping. This can offer a cost-effective solution for basic comfort at a great price. See these static tents at Tathra Beach Family Park are a great example.
If some of these tips have got you thinking, why not create a family holiday fund and set a holiday goal? Even if you can only get away for a couple of nights and can’t travel far, your family will appreciate it.
And in the meantime, enter every holiday competition you see. Remember, someone has to win. Maybe one day it will be you.