How to find a cheap family holiday in the UK and abroad
The words ‘cheap’ and ‘family holiday’ don’t go together so well. Travel restrictions are easing so more families are searching for holidays but, as you’ve probably noticed, prices are sky-high! Finding a cheap family holiday seems near impossible but there are lots of ways to find a fun family holiday on a budget!
What type of holiday will you book?
Let’s start with the basics and look at the cheapest holidays available to families and how you can save money booking each of them.
The cheapest holidays for families are:
- Villa holidays
- All-inclusive hotels
- Big group holidays
- Camping holidays
Villa holidays abroad
Family villa holidays are my personal favourite. You’ve got the luxury of having extra space, multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, a kitchen, living area, an outdoor area and possibly even a private pool. And it’s often much cheaper than a single hotel room!
You’ll find the cheapest villas in rural locations so it’s best to pick somewhere out of town and hire a car. It isn’t as convenient but you get much more for your money. This is definitely the best option if you’re looking at holidays for big families as you’ll often find huge rural villas for a fraction of the cost of a small, central apartment.
Villa holidays are usually self-catered so it’s another opportunity to cut back on costs. Shop at local supermarkets and fill up your fridge with local beers and wines.
When booking your family villa holiday, look at package companies such as Villa Plus. You’ll often find that booking a package with flights, accommodation and car hire together is actually much cheaper than booking things individually. Alternatively, I like to find flights through Skyscanner and villas through Airbnb.
All-inclusive family holidays for ease and activities
The best thing about all-inclusive family holidays is that there are no hidden costs. Flights, luggage, transfers, accommodation, food, drink and some activities are covered so you know exactly how much your holiday will cost. This is a huge perk for bigger families as the costs of drinks, snacks and ice creams alone can quickly add up!
All-inclusives are also a great option for young children as there are usually free activities and lots of opportunities to make friends, meaning the adults can have a bit of peace and quiet! The downside is that the whole family is usually squeezed into one hotel room and paying for two hotel rooms will up your costs considerably.
There are some incredibly cheap all-inclusive holidays to be found online. Make sure you check out TripAdvisor before booking a hotel and read as many reviews as you can.
But don’t dismiss those suspiciously cheap package deals! Some people will book a cheap package holiday and just use the flights, luggage allowance and transfers and book nicer accommodation separately. It sounds crazy but it can be cheaper to do this because the package holiday companies have access to incredibly cheap flights that we can’t get when booking individually!
Big group holidays for luxury on a budget
The cheapest way to have a luxurious holiday on a small budget is to travel in a large group. The more people you will have, the cheaper it will be! This applies to both holidays abroad and in the UK.
If you team up with other families your accommodation costs could halve. Countryside mansions with ten bedrooms are surprisingly affordable if you’re splitting the cost between five or six families!
Camping holidays for the cheapest family holidays
On paper, camping holidays appear to be the cheapest option for holidays with the kids. Campsites charge between £15-£40 per night so it’s a fraction of the cost of a hotel.
But don’t forget that quality camping equipment is pricey. A family tent, airbeds, sleeping bags, cooking equipment and suitable clothing could set you back well over £1,000. While your initial costs might be high, a camping holiday is great value for money if you use your equipment multiple times. Alternatively, you can often find second-hand camping bundles for sale online!
If you prefer family sun holidays and don't want to rely on the British weather then consider camping abroad. Many families drive to France with all of their own camping equipment and will spend weeks at the fabulous French campsites (which put our British ones to shame!) But, unless you’re an extremely large family or you plan to be away for more than two weeks, it’s actually cheaper to fly to France and hire your equipment when you arrive. The cost of driving to France and taking the ferry or tunnel is often considerably more expensive than flying.
Look at campsites such as Domaine des Ormes which have incredible swimming pools, entertainment, countless activities and plenty of shops. You can hire glamping accommodation or use a company such as Rent a Tent to hire fully furnished tents.
How to know you’re getting a bargain holiday
One problem when booking a family holiday is that many people are unsure what the price should be, meaning they don’t know when they’ve stumbled across a bargain. Travel sites will announce a sale and flood your inbox with ‘cheap family holiday deals’ but, realistically, the prices aren’t much different to the regular cost.
My main advice would be to start looking at holidays months before you intend to book. Have a quick scan through travel apps and websites so you roughly know how much flights and accommodation should be. This way you’ll know when you’ve found a cheap deal and you’ll feel confident to snap it up quickly!
Don’t forget about the hidden costs of holidays
Booking your flights and accommodation may be the biggest expenses with a family holiday but there are other costs that quickly mount up, especially when travelling with the whole family.
The main hidden costs for travel include:
- Getting to and from the airport
- Luggage fees
- Transport in the destination
- Car hire
- Activities when you arrive
- Eating out
- Pets at home
How to avoid those hidden costs
- Getting to the airport
I usually find it is cheaper and more convenient to drive to the airport and use airport parking when travelling with the family. Book your airport parking as far in advance as possible for the best deals.
If you can, use public transport to get to and from the airport but remember to book flights at sociable hours as buses and trains won’t be running in the middle of the night. If you’re relying on family or friends to drop you off then give them plenty of notice!
- Luggage fees
To keep luggage costs down, check-in one or two suitcases for the whole family and make the most of your hand luggage allowance! You can fit a surprising amount of clothing in a small ‘under the seat backpack’ so make sure everyone maxes out their luggage allowance.
- Baby products
If you need baby products such as nappies and wipes, buy them when you arrive rather than bulking up your luggage. There won’t be much of a price difference but you’ll save your luggage allowance.
- Transport when you arrive
Use Rome2Rio or Google Maps to figure out the public transport options in your destination. If you’re a large family then it’s normally cheapest to book a taxi or small mini bus.
It can be cheaper to pre-book activities and tickets before you arrive. Paying for tickets beforehand also helps to budget and you will often get fast-track tickets included when they’re pre-booked.
- Hiring a car
Hiring a car is one of those areas where there can be a lot of hidden fees. Some websites offer extremely cheap car hire online, but when you arrive to pick up your car you realise there are lots of extras to pay before they’ll hand over the keys! Read the small print before booking and be aware of deals that seem too good to be true.
You can often hire vehicles for one day at a time, so if you won’t need a car for the whole week you’re away just hire it for a day or two.
- Eating out
To save money when eating out with the family, opt for lunch time meals out and self-cater for your evening meals. Restaurants often have much cheaper menus at lunchtime and it’s usually a more relaxed, family-friendly environment.
Insurance is a must when you’re travelling but don’t forget that many employees offer travel insurance so you might already be covered. Bank accounts often include travel insurance too so double check before you purchase.
- Your pets
If you’ll be leaving your pets at home while you travel don’t forget to factor in the cost of pet care. It can be a big expense if your dog will be going to kennels for two weeks so make sure that’s part of the holiday budget!
How to find cheap family holidays
Decide what type of holiday you want to book
Start browsing online so you’re aware of average prices and know when you’re getting a good holiday deal
Book as far in advance as possible if you plan to travel during the school holidays
Book last minute if you’re travelling during school term time
Don’t forget to factor in all the hidden costs
Book your holiday extras such as airport parking and activities
Book your holiday!
Family Holidays FAQs
When is the best time to book family holidays
If you’re restricted to school holidays then the best time to book a family holiday is as far in advance as possible. School holidays are always busy and prices will always be higher so you need to get in there early to find a deal.
If you’re able to book during term time then you can find a budget holiday if you book at the last minute. If you aren’t too picky about dates or destinations then I’d recommend holding off for a last-minute deal.
If you’re brave, it’s often cheapest to book flights in advance and leave your accommodation booking until the last minute. This does require nerves of steel as you may be left with fewer options when it comes to booking a hotel or villa.
Where are the best family holiday destinations
The best family holiday destinations for a cheap holiday are the most popular places. Popular destinations will have more flights, more accommodation options and more activities, meaning prices are more competitive and you’ll have a lot of options.
Popular destinations abroad include:
- Algarve, Portugal
- Gran Canaria
Where to get cheap family package holidays
Jet2Holidays is my favourite site for cheap family package holidays. IceLolly and OnTheBeach are other great options. Don’t forget the classic holiday platform Teletext Holidays who offer low deposits and monthly instalment plans.
Does a child pay full price for airline tickets?
Children under two do not pay full price for airline tickets. Under twos usually fly for ‘free’ but they do need to pay airport taxes and fees. They won’t get their own seat and won’t get any checked luggage. Most airlines do allow a small nappy bag for a baby and may allow one or two pieces of baby equipment on board (such as a pushchair and car seat).
Children aged two and over pay full price for an airline ticket and get the same luggage allowance as an adult.
Where to holiday in the UK with a family?
The most popular destinations for a family holiday in the UK are places with beautiful scenery and lots of outdoor activities. Coastal destinations or places near stunning countryside or national parks attract the most families. Outdoorsy destinations are also best when you’re travelling on a budget as most activities will be free.
Here are the 10 most popular places to holiday in the UK with a family:
- The Lake District
- The Cotswolds
- North Wales
- Isle of Wight
About the Author
Monica is a travel writer based in Wales and runs The Travel Hack, a blog sharing tips and advice to get out and explore the world.
Check out The Travel Hack.