If we reflect back on our own childhoods it is often the holidays that stick in our minds, when our parents were free from the stresses of home and able to devote uninterrupted time to relaxing and having fun.
1). Go Camping! – The original cheap holiday, camping is packed with adventure for kids. The excitement starts with packing all the camping essentials such as tents, torches, sleeping bags, camping stove and food for the campfire. It’s the kind of holiday where everyone has to chip in and do their bit and this enables a family to forge a sense of connection that can be lost if everyone is off doing their own thing. Some campsites allow campfires and this can really add to the magic for children, especially cooking over a real fire and telling stories under the stars. To find a campsite in your area, the website UK Campsite has thousands of listings and independent reviews. Cool Camping rounds up some of the more eclectic and special campsites and the pictures are enough to get you dusting off your tent and packing the waterproofs. If you crave a woodland experience Camping in the Forest rounds up some of the best forest campsites in the UK. If all that’s holding you back from a camping holiday is the lack or expense of a tent, ask friends or neighbours if they have one you could borrow. Tents are usually only in use for a couple of weeks a year so are the kind of item people are usually happy to share if they feel confident you’ll look after their tent well.
2). Have fun WWOOFing – You may have heard people waxing lyrical about their WWOOFing adventures. WWOOF started life as Working Weekends On Organic Farms but the acronym now covers a variety of interpretations such as World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOFers are willing volunteers who get to work and experience life on organic or sustainable farms across the world. In return for 4-6 hours of work a day, volunteers get all their food and accommodation taken care of by their hosts. Opportunities vary, from a small homestead in Devon to a huge farm in Australia. In fact, the options are boggling but narrowed down by the fact not all farms are happy to take kids. Arranging a family WWOOFing adventure takes a bit more pre-planning and discussion with your hosts – some farms are happy to have kids around to play with their own children, but there are legal issues here in terms of child labour: children are not allowed to actually work on the farms. And you need to exercise caution when instructing kids to “go off and play” in dangerous places full of machinery, for instance; children need to be supervised and remain your responsibility at all times. But it is also a fantastic life experience for kids – learning about where their food comes from and what goes into getting it from field to plate. This article gives an account of seasoned WWOOFers Jason and Jill DiLoreti who spent a year WWOOFing with their kids.
3). Swap houses – House swapping is an idea that has gained in popularity in the last five years as people look for ways to holiday and explore other places with less expense. Avid house-swappers report a fuller experience of an area through staying at someone’s house. Whilst hotels and resorts offer a homogenised experience with the same food, decorations and activities in every city or country you visit, being in the home of a resident opens your eyes to varied ways of cooking and preparing food, diverse books and games, even quirky differences like the size of pillows. Plenty of websites have cropped up to provide a safe and secure way to arrange your house-swap, taking an annual fee to advertise your property and making sure that all transactions and arrangements are safe and above board. The Guardian offer Guardian Home Exchange where you can find lovely-looking places around the globe. Love Home Swap is the biggest home swap club with over 55,000 properties in 160 countries. For the more organised, you could use a noticeboard like Gumtree to advertise a private house-swap. Even if you just fancy a quick getaway for a weekend, house swapping could offer an inexpensive alternative – you want to visit a beautiful city but can’t afford a hotel or you have a craving to get out into the countryside without paying for a B&B. And don’t worry, you don’t have to live in an immaculate city condo with good transport links to take part; many house-swappers are looking for laid-back, family-friendly homes with all the kit needed for their kids.
4). Leave it until the very last minute – If you can bear the suspense then this is a very good way to secure a crazy bargain. Last minute holidays work best if you all have a week off and don’t mind where you spend it as long as you’re together. Scour the internet in the days running up to your holiday for cancelled bookings and deals that holiday companies are desperately trying to shift. Lots of holiday cottages in the UK are only too keen to get a booking and there’s an excitement in not knowing where you might end up. However, this does hinder travel plans (train, ferry and bus travel is considerably cheaper booked in advance) so only really works if you have a car at your disposal and are travelling in the UK, otherwise it can get very expensive. The fun aspect of last minute booking is getting everyone involved in the flurry of activity preceding a holiday. Give older kids a budget for the week to work with and set them off searching for accommodation and you have a handy maths lesson!
5). Seek out a family-friendly youth hostel or two – Youth hostels are not just for school-kids and travellers. In fact, most offer specialised family rooms so you get the comforts without the stress. It pays to check with the hostel before you book, however, to ensure that they are kitted out for families – all the hostels vary. The accommodation on offer is usually fairly basic but it’s always comfortable and offers the opportunity to explore some of England and Wales’ finest scenery at a fraction of the cost of hotels and B&B’s. Some offer self-catering facilities which make them ideal for families with specific dietary needs. A majority now serve food during the day, including breakfast and snacks, at a cheap rate. You don’t have to be a member of YHA to stay in their hostels but becoming a member gains you access to benefits such as a reduced rate. To find out more about the YHA and their hostels, visit their website here.