With less than four weeks before we embark on the first half of this year’s travels, we’re finding ourselves receiving a few of the same questions with regards to travelling with kids. From the messages we get, it seems that the general assumption is that travelling with kids is more expensive, impractical and impossible than it actually is.
In the run-up to us packing up our minibus and heading off through Europe on our adventure-seeking and memory-making quest of the first two quarters of 2017, we will be answering some of the most popular questions we receive, starting with the most asked one: how to save money on travelling with kids.
There are actually a lot of ways to save money on travelling with kids and to include it all would require one very long post indeed. For now, I’m going to cover three of the main things you will need: accommodation, transport and insurance, and they can be applied by anyone looking to travel, not only those with travelling with kids.
The biggest problem for us is deciding where to go! With such a big world out there and so many new places for us to discover, we are keen to do everything and see everywhere. What we would recommend against is assuming that travel agencies offer the best deals. Yes, they might be able to organise everything for you at once but, if you feel confident in your abilities to arrange your own transport and accommodation, you can save a more than considerable amount on the prices displayed in the travel agency windows. We never book through agencies – ever.
For our longer stays, we tend to take most of the children with us and so a private house or villa is better suited for our requirements. We’ve used a few sites and whilst we’ve not tried Air B’n’B ourselves we’ve heard great things about it from those who have. Our preferred accommodation site that has become our go-to is HomeAway.co.uk. This is one of a network of sites which allow you to search for properties by area, budget range, number of people in your group and dates. You can also filter your settings so if parking is a necessity or you want a pool, you can adjust your search preferences to find suitable properties quickly and easily. Once you’ve found somewhere you can contact the owners directly via the website and make your enquiry. As you are dealing directly with the owners you will find that most of them are happy to make an offer, especially if you are hoping to rent the property for a longer period than one or two weeks. Don’t be afraid to haggle and ask – you never know!
For shorter breaks where we are travelling with just a couple of the children at a time we tend to look more for hotels rather than houses. For Mike’s recent trip to Paris with Patrick and Oliver we found a hotel for the three of them only a 15 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower through Expedia. We have also found Booking.com uncovered some gems that we couldn’t find anywhere else for 12 of us to stay, including the place we’ll be stopping off at in Germany next month. It’s worth looking there whether there are a group of you looking for something larger or just a couple of you looking for a hotel.
What I strongly recommend for both Expedia and Booking.com is to sign up for their newsletters as they send out some excellent deals on a very regular basis. This is extremely handy if, like us, you can be flexible with your travel plans or go at short notice. We’ve done extremely well through their newsletter offers! Another contender we’ve recently used is Hotelsclick.com which again seems to be pretty good for hunting out suitable hotels and well worth a try.
Our chosen mode of transport depends on how many of us are travelling and who we are travelling with. With so many young ones to the ratio of older ones, flying is something we think would be too impractical and stressful to deal with at the moment. If we are heading off with 10 or 11 of the kids we will pack up the minibus and drive ourselves off and over into the European mainland via the Eurotunnel. This means that we don’t have to go through the hassle of buckling/unbuckling/buckling/unbuckling seatbelts and car seats and we can keep everyone together. We also live 45 minutes from Folkestone meaning we can be in France within only a couple of hours. It’s easier to get there than into London sometimes!
Another option if you’re driving is to take the ferry across. It’s normally quick and easy enough to book online if you’re a foot passenger or taking a car but if you have a minibus you will find that you’ll probably need to phone or email them to arrange a booking. When I have made enquiries before about taking our minibus over with 12 or 13 of us the prices quoted were four or five times that of the Eurotunnel, so it made sense for us to stick to that. However, they do seem to have some good deals for foot passengers or smaller groups so once again, it’s well worth signing up to emails for the latest deals.
We are fortunate enought to live a very short drive from Ebbsfleet International, meaning access to the European mainland via Eurostar is extremely convenient and Mike, Paddy and Ollie took full advantage of it only two weeks ago. If you’re a Nectar point collector you can also use your points to cover the cost of your tickets when you book them directly through the Eurostar site and, with fares starting from just £29, it’s a great way to nip over to France for a short break.
Another site which is absolutely brilliant for a whole range of European train routes is Eurail. If you have time available and want to train hop your way around Europe, a Eurail pass allows you unlimited train rides for one pass. You can choose from a Country Pass for travel within one single country, a Select Pass for travel between 2, 3 or 4 neighbouring countries or a Global pass to visit more than 10,000 different destinations for one price. You can also purchase your London-Paris Eurostar tickets if you just want straightforward UK to France travel. We’d strongly recommend keeping their Special Offers page bookmarked for their latest deals.
Finally, there’s flying. This is something we do when we’re only travelling with the older kids or alone. We recommend Skyscanner as the quickest and most efficient way to check the best flight prices. Expedia is once again another good alternative to try, especially as they often include deals when you combine with booking accommodation. What we particularly like about Skyscanner is that you can leave your dates open and search by the cheapest month which again is great if you are flexible about when you can travel.
One tip we would give is to not assume that budget airlines actually do work out cheaper. Once you have added on your prepaid seats, baggage, priority boarding etc the prices might not come in any cheaper than alternative airlines. Make sure you take a little time to compare end prices and what you get for it.
No matter how tight the budget you are working to is, never, ever travel without insurance. Whilst you should not forget to apply for and take your EHIC (European Health Insurance Card), it won’t cover you for any private medical costs or things like rescue or repatriation so don’t assume that will have you covered. You will need additional travel insurance in case the worst happens and, whilst we hope it won’t, it’s better to be prepared if it does.
Applying for an EHIC is free and each member of your family that will be travelling should have one. More information on them can be found here. EHICs are completely free to get so if you have found a website that is asking for payment for an EHIC close the window fast and go straight here to apply for your EHIC instead.
When looking for travel insurance we’ve tried several methods but found comparison sites such as Confused.com or GoCompare turn out much better deals than some individual sites, even when going to them directly. We also find taking out annual cover for multiple trips doesn’t work out much more expensive than single trip cover (in some cases, not any more at all).
Do ensure you check what each policy offers and covers you for as well as the excess required. Also, if you travel for extended periods, make sure the policy you are looking at will cover the duration. Some offer cover for up to 31 days at a time whilst others for up to 60 or 90. If you will be travelling for a longer period in one bout you might need to look into more specialist travel insurance.
As an aside, don’t forget breakdown cover if you’re taking your own vehicle. We’ll be covering this in greater detail in another post as, having a minibus, we’ve found this can be a little more challenging but if you’re looking for a quick tip, we have found the RAC to offer a more comprehensive cover and service than others. However, if you’re looking at insuring a normal sized car or MPV do give the price comparison sites a try for the latest deals.
If you have any tips you would like to share on keeping down travel costs we’d love to hear them.
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