Planning a cheap* family adventure 

*cheap as in best value – obviously depending on where and when you want to go it will cost different amounts! Sometimes we travel very budget (think hostels in Moscow for £20) and sometimes we splurge a bit more such as Atlantis in Dubai (however this was a good deal too!)

Christmas is over, it is time that many people start to plan out the year, especially those holiday ideas and suggestions. Apparently one of the most common times to book a holiday is over the Christmas break, Christmas Day itself being one of those top times. If you’ve been reading along, you will know,  we do love an adventure, near or far, and are always looking for ways to stretch the pennies as far as they go. I’ve put together our top tips to get the best value break for 2020. 

Do-it-yourself holidays with cheap airlines and securing good value accommodation has opened up the world for us. However, there can be the occasional location that a package holiday can work out better value. For us, Cuba was better value via a package, and when we had 2 under 2s it could work out much simpler and cost effective to go on a package trip. However, I generally prefer to be able to see more of a country, and do not like to stay in the one location for the whole duration. It is up to you and your own likes or dislikes. Some things like Lapland can save you thousands by booking it all independently. We got 8 days in Lapland for the price of a day trip from Belfast here.


If you have the right insurance, and book using a credit card you will be covered should anything like a company failure happen. In light of the Thomas Cook and other disasters this year, do be very careful to ensure that you are protected. I do sometimes like pricing up my trip via a travel agent, then doing it myself and feeling great about how much money I have saved. For example if we had booked our Oman adventure via an agent on a tour we would have spent at least 6 times the amount we did!

  1. If you are thinking of flying, Skyscanner is the place to start. Choose your departure location of choice – think about travelling to one slightly further away as it may open up more options. Usually I start by putting in everywhere and cheapest month- this gives me the starting point of places to explore. If I’m after a certain location- I put it in and then cheapest month and check out those for base line prices. I take a note of this, this is what I compare my other flight prices too. CC06998C-A1ED-4663-88D2-043915C7D1FA
  2. Set up a tracker on flight prices – I use hopper or kayak alongside skyscanner.  This means you will get alerted if prices drop. It also means you can look at previous prices – I then get my click price in my head – the price I’m going to be happy enough to pay.
  3. If you are searching a number of flights/ routes, or even just researching,  it can be useful to search incognito as the search algorithm will pick up and potentially increase the price of flights you are keen on.  Open a private browser to do so on your device. Signing up to mailing lists such as Holiday Pirates, Jacks Flight Club and Secret Flyingwill also send you alerts of possible good deals. 
  4. Play about with dates- going a day early or coming back a day or so later can massively change the price. Also think about trying to go off peak. We went to the Middle East in the Summer, yes it was very warm but we managed fine and we got our prices for everything at a steal compared to when the temperature is lower. 
  5. Budget airlines – easyJet, Ryanair etc. tend to be cheapest the moment the flights are released. Keep an eye out for release dates and it’s worth getting up early to book. If you miss them and they start to rise don’t buy that day the will likely drop a bit when the first surge of buying is over. Sometimes you can get sales and reductions which bring them down again.  We don’t pay extra to book seats together, and we have never been separated. We check in as soon as we can, and have never had any issues. 
  6. Other airlines – if you are not flying via a budget airline then flights are realised around 10 months to a year before travel, they will generally rise in price too as they book out, but by looking at the previous years data it is easy to get a sense of whether it is a good deal or not.
  7. Factor in distance to your departure and arrival airports and the cost of transport/ parking to get there. You might get a much cheaper flight into the outskirts of a city but it might be costly to get in – or the flight times might mean public transport isn’t an option and you end up with an expensive taxi. FB03AA34-2E4D-49A4-8361-31D01890ED0E
  8. Don’t be afraid of a stop over – this can open up another destination to go to. Flying to Florida, you may end up with a  day or two in New York on the way? This summer we went to Dubai via Moscow, which made for a great 24 hour stop over on the way home and getting to check out a bit of Russia. 
  9. Food on planes – budget airlines provide nothing and can be expensive (as can airports). Bringing snacks will save you some money. Long haul flights will provide food on board – when you book you can request any dietary requirements including a children’s meal. We have found them to be very good, usually they are served first, and have activity packs with them. Often the airline only provides for those pre booked.
  10. Flights booked – great on to accommodation. I like to search on then check out trip advisor for reviews- it can be worth checking out booking directly or through another third party to get a good deal. Think about booking on a credit card to get your protection if there’s any issues. 
  11. We also often stay in Airbnb– be sensible, look at location, read all the listing! Make sure you are getting the full apartment if that’s what you want and not just a room. Check our the area on maps and read the reviews. Think about public transport – is it easy to get in and out of location? Factor in the costs there too.
  12. If like us you like to explore different places you need a rough itinerary before booking accommodation. I like to research blogs, aimed at families travelling to the locations I want to go too. Instagram can be great too- put in some of the hashtags of the locations and you will get lots of gems. It really helped me research our Oman trip, and got me looking at some great options. 61F33A27-05A7-46C9-A2E3-261C107B37A8
  13. Visas – it is really important to do your research about entry requirements into countries as some of these may need applications very early, and if you don’t get them through in time then you’ve lost your holiday and your money. USA requires an ESTA, there’s lots of sites out there charging more so make sure you get the right one, which is here.  Do this early, as if you don’t get an ESTA you will need to apply for a visa which requires an interview at an embassy which can be a good few months wait.  For other countries, you can only apply a month before you go, and if you are going to a few you need to time it right to get them back and other processed. Our Russian visas were a bit of a headache but part of that was due to passport renewals. Which brings me on to another thing. 
  14. Passports – get your passport renewed early, in the weeks before the summer everyone gets it done, therefore longer wait times. Especially if you are applying for anyone in the family’s first passport as the additional checks can increase the time required. If you are applying for Irish ones do take note that with the increased rate of applications due to impending Brexit they may be slower at different times.
  15. Travel insurance – purchase this from the start, incase you need to cancel the booking or something happens. We have annual insurance – you need to think about the amount of coverage especially for things like medical cover. It’s worth having decent insurance- I’ve only ever had to use it once to come home for a family funeral from Brazil. They were super efficient and supportive and despite being the furtherest away we were home in the quickest time.

  16. Airport parking can be cheaper if booked in advance, keep a look out for special offers. It may work out as cheap to spend the night before you go in an airport hotel that has parking included or reduced. If you need to get a train/ bus consider booking those in advance as can be cheaper too. 
  17. Getting around your location – this very much depends on where and what sort of trip you are doing. If you are relying on public transport – book bigger journeys in advance such as trains across Europe as you will get them much cheaper. For local transport, check out the tourist options- it might be worth getting a tourist card such as the Salzburg and Brussels ones we used. These not only have lots of entries into places of interest but often include local transport options. 
  18. Car hire – again using a number of search engines to check the prices. Read all the small print. There will be often extra charges for excess insurance which hikes the price. You can buy it annually and save some money there. Most airlines allow you to bring car seats for free. We pack those, as local hiring can be expensive and you are never sure of the history of the seats. It does get easier as the children get bigger. We are now into smaller seats compared with the large bulky ones when they were small. Ensure you check where the car hire is, sometimes they can be on the outskirts of an airport and if you are arriving in late this may not work out. Check the regulations for hiring cars in that country, do you need an International Driving Permit – especially with Brexit looming. You can read more about them here. If you are driving from one country to another, check out the rules and what is needed. You may need special paperwork and insurance to make it happen. 
  19. Trips, activities and tickets – research, research and more research. Have a good think about what is important for your family. If you are booking theme park tickets, there can be deals for a number together, such as attraction tickets direct which can run sales/ black friday deals at time. For a city break, we often do a walking tour of some sort first as it gives us a good idea of layout of the city and things we might want to do. Sometimes there are ones for a donation only. The kids loved a Harry Potter Themed one in Edinburgh. You can read about our Harry Potter adventures in Scotland here. You don’t need to do it all, plan out what is most important and go from there! Shopping around can save you significantly. 
  20. Food – if you are staying self catering making some meals in your accommodation can save you considerably. We will often buy fruit, breakfast, snacks and picnic type things that we can take out with us during the day. We can then cook in an evening, eat out or get a takeaway. We always bring some snacks from home to eat on the way and on the first morning until we get the time to get to a supermarket. When we stay in a resort, often half board can be a good deal – if you eat enough for breakfast you won’t need lunch before dinner in the evening. Atlantis in Dubai worked very well for this.
  21. Water – bring a water bottle, you can fill them up in restaurants and hotels for free and you save a fortune in buying water, and also help save the environment. We love ones like thisthat keep drinks cool for 12 hours. 
  22. Packing – airlines like to charge lots of money for checked baggage so keep it to a minimum. Even hand luggage has become increasingly restrictive. We love these 40l bags from Osprey as they fit for all (have not obviously checked every airline but had no issues with Flybe, Easyjet, Ryanair etc). We try to travel with hand luggage only and do some laundry on our locations, and if we need to check anything (such as lifejackets/ snorkel gear etc) we only check one bag. You can buy most things in your location, so we bring some starter toiletries and suncream and pick up extra at our destination. 

I am sure there are many other important suggestions that I have left out. If you have other top tips please do comment to share them.

Enjoy your holiday planning! 

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