Monday, 19 February 2018

Stockholm for under £20!

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If, like me, you're bored of this never-ending winter, you'll be looking to book your next flight out of this grey and dismal climate.  When planning trips away, some people complain that the restraints of school holidays mean that a family break is financially prohibitive but, being tied to school dates isn't as restrictive as you may think, if you're willing to let the flight deals dictate your destination.

May half-term this year seems to be awash with bargains to some of my best-loved capital cities.  For less than £100, a family of four can fly to some of the most amazing places.  Get the children learning smatterings of Swedish, reading "Pippi Longstocking" and savouring the lax for breakfast in Sweden's jewel of a capital city.

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Stunning Stockholm is a wonderful city.  A stroll through Gamla Stan or island-hopping in the archipelago, with its 30,000 islands stretching out into the Baltic Sea, will a delightful way to spend a few days in late May.  And, oh so cheap!

Ryanair has return flights in the last week of May for only £16 return from Stansted.  A Swedish steal, if you ask me.  The fresh air and the light nights will capture your imagination, and your wallet will thank you for booking such amazingly-priced flights.  

I wouldn't hang around though.  In my experience, prices to cool cities such as Stockholm don't linger for long...




Wednesday, 30 August 2017

January Jaunts

If, like me, you hate the post-Christmas lethargy and grey weather of a UK winter, then you will want to know how cheap new year flights are.  Most schools in the country are breaking up late for Christmas and, therefore, are heading back well into January, meaning that the week after New Year's Day is chock full of bargain flights and cheap self-catering accommodation. Most people, having spent up at Christmas, don't think about a mini-break immediately after the festive period, but, with such bargains available, it's worth considering.

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From Manchester, flights to Seville are under £50 return.  From Liverpool, you can jet off for £54 to Porto.  Naples, the land of Pompeii is £61, also from Liverpool.  Another Italian favourite, Venice, is £46 return from Bristol.  And, if Germany is your destination of choice, a whopping six cities can be accessed for under £50 return.  Indeed, Hamburg is a mere £25 return?  Coupled with self-catering accommodation, a family of four can enjoy a January jaunt for under £500.

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And, if like me, your other half needs persuading to spend money on frivolities, why not book the break in secret and wrap up a guidebook in snowman-littered paper? A European mini-break under the tree is surely better than a pair of socks or a selection box?

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...