Holidaying on a budget – yes, it is possible

There is so much focus on the state of our economy – bills are going up and many families are struggling. Can the average ‘Australian working family’ still afford a holiday?

I know I am lucky. My husband has a job that pays the bills, which means my part-time wage can be spent on other incidentals, including family holidays. But what would I do if money got tight?

I believe holidays are an important part of the ties that bind families together. Getting away from the humdrum of daily life can help us focus on each other and bond again.

Relaxing by the river, looking for fish.

And as an adult, there is nothing better than seeing the pure and innocent joy on your children’s faces as they discover new and wonderful things and places. I could not bear to miss out on these things.

So, how can you have a cheap holiday?

One way is to stay just outside the popular places that attract the dearer prices. I use Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula as an example. With just a quick look on a booking website, I found a standard family room at a caravan park in Carrum Downs for $124 a night (no minimum stay), compared to Dromana, which was $160 a night with a 2 night minimum.

Staying somewhere with a kitchenette so you do not need to go out for meals all the time can also save you money. Often it is the extra costs that make the holiday that much more expensive.

Another option is to stay in older style motels, such as those offered through the well-known Budget Motels chain. Yes, the decor may not have the latest, ultra-modern look, but most are still comfortable and clean.

Older style motels can offer comfort without a high price tag

Using a website, such as travel auctions is another way to save money, particularly if you can travel out of peak seasons (which you should definitely do so until your children are at school) These properties are usually 3-star rated and you can score some cheap deals by bidding what you are prepared to pay for your stay.

You can also try older style holiday houses or apartments through real estate agents or websites such as rent-a-home – again, older houses with more dated decor can sometimes be available at quite cheap rates.

It may not have sleek modern fittings, but this kitchen does the job just fine.

Websites such as Scoopon also offer great travel deals for families. And there are always people trying to sell holiday accommodation on sales websites, such as ebay.

In essence, it is probably cheaper to travel now than it has ever been because we have so many more options.

If you can, try and create a family holiday fund – even if you can only get away for a couple of nights and can’t travel far, it will be worth it. The joy it can bring you and your children will remain with you for many years to come.

Note: Family Friendly Accommodation will soon introduce premium listings that will provide more information on properties, including price range. We are also creating a specials page, where you will be able to find deals offered by properties listed on the website. 

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The key to finding the best accommodation at the best price

In trying to find holiday accommodation, are you sometimes confused by exactly what ‘family friendly’ features are on offer?
I developed familyfriendlyaccommodation.com.au to try and remove some of that confusion. But I will not tell you to just rely on my website – you should use the wide range of tools that are available to help make an informed decision.
Here are some tips to help you find the right accommodation and get the best deal:

  • Use familyfriendlyaccommodation.com.au as a starting point to research accommodation. Each listing has a link to the property’s own website. Have a look to find out more about what they offer.

  • Ring and speak directly to the property you are interested in for more information on what they have on offer. Sometimes booking websites will put a family in a more expensive 2-bedroom offer when a cheaper quad room might be available.
  • If you are looking at more mainstream accommodation, such as a well-known hotel chain or resort, use hotelscombined. This website compares a range of accommodation booking websites so you can find the best current offers.
  • Use the popular review website, tripadvisor to check out reviews on the property you are looking at. Remember to look for a general theme, rather than not stay somewhere based on one or two bad comments.
  • If you are looking for properties for larger families, privately owned holiday homes and apartments might be a better option. For properties in Australia, try Stayz or Ownersdirect for the UK and Europe. Another great website for online independent rentals is  roomorama.

We used Owners Direct to book this beautiful Tuscan villa.

  • If you are using a travel agent, consider using one that caters exclusively for families, such as byokids or pluskids travel.
  • If you are travelling in Australia, ring the local tourist information centre. They will be able to provide invaluable local information. Contact details can be found on state-based tourism websites.
  • If your holiday involves flying, shop around. Don’t forget airlines own websites, which may have special deals going. Another great website is flightfox.com, where registered flight experts compete to find you the cheapest flights.

In 2011, we saved more than $1000 on airfares by shopping around, flying Singapore Airlines to Europe & return.

Remember by putting in a bit of time and cross-referencing your choices, chances are you will save money and end up having a fantastic holiday.

Do you have tips you to share?

When your holiday is affected by the weather

What happens when your holiday is threatened by a bushfire or other natural disaster?

This thought hit home recently when my mum was trying to organise a family get-away for early February in Victoria’s high country.

“That’s well and good,” I told her. “But the reality is, if it happens to coincide with a severe to code red day, I am not going anywhere near a tree!”

That got me thinking – what do you do in this situation? Would we get a refund? And what about those who are already on holiday when severe weather hits?

Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 and Queensland’s tragic floods of 2011 brought home the reality of Mother Nature’s fury.

Although the chances of being caught in such events are slim, you need to know what to do – and what your rights are if you need to cancel accommodation.

Victoria’s Country Fire Authority website has safety tips for travellers. This includes information on how to check fire danger ratings for areas you are travelling to. You can also download an app for the Victorian bushfires information line.

Check out the CFA’s travellers’ checklist website for more information. Tourism Victoria also now has a page of bushfire safety resources for business operators, which includes a downloadable brochure – Staying in high risk bushfire areas. Safety tips for visitors.

Western Australia is Australia’s largest state, with a range of weather conditions. At times, it can experience not just bushfires, but also floods and cyclones. You can find safety information on the Fire and Emergency Services Authority website

The Bureau of Meteorology also has some goods tips on surviving a cyclone, with links to other state-based websites.

The other side of the coin is what to do if you have booked accommodation and dangerous weather conditions are looming.

Tourism Victoria has produced crisis management information for tourism operators, which covers this issue. The following information is from the ‘Crisis Essentials – Crisis Management for Tourism Businesses’ handbook:

If your business is not operational or is inaccessible due to road closures or explicit government warnings due to safety concerns then you may have no
other alternative but to cancel bookings.

 In this scenario, both you and the customer are released from the contract and the customer is entitled to a refund of any deposit paid, less any expenses reasonably incurred by you.

Even if your business is open and transport routes are clear after an incident, it is inevitable that some pre-booked clients will decide to cancel their visit,
rather than postpone. In this case the contract is still valid and your cancellation policy can be applied.

The best solution in both of these circumstances is to talk to the customer to see if you can negotiate something to suit you both. For example, hold the
deposit over to be used at a different time.

 To me, it seems the most sensible thing to do is to ask about the operator’s terms and conditions at the time of booking.

Have you had your family holiday affected by the weather?

Welcome to the family

Welcome to Family Gathering! Together I hope we can discover and promote a range of accommodation around Australia and the world that offer Australian families experiences that are truly ‘family friendly’.

I see this as the start of a journey that will continually improve and evolve, so please feel free to offer feedback.

I don’t want to bore you, but seeing as this is my first post, I will tell you a bit about who I am and how my website www.familyfriendlyaccommodation.com.au got off the ground.

I am a part-time working mum, living in Melbourne’s east and raising two beautiful children. My background is in journalism and public relations, so I am not offering professional travel advice.

But what I can share is what I have learned over many years of extensive research in put into organising my holidays and weekends away.

When it comes to finding accommodation and the best deal, I am a bit like a dog with a bone – except my bone is the computer.

Do you stop at the second or third page of a google search? It is not unusual for me to keep going to 15 pages plus. It frustrates my husband no end.

But I love nothing better than finding a holiday house, apartment or B&B that will suit our family more than a hotel room – or if it is a hotel room we are after, tracking down one that welcomes families and does not expect us to book 2 rooms (what a waste of money!).

While not wanting to ostracize any travel agents, I have found they cannot access much of the wide range of amazing accommodation that is available.

There are holiday houses, B&Bs, farm stays and old fashioned motels. You want somewhere that hasn’t been renovated since the 1970s or the latest ultra-modern sleek lines? I want to be able to help you find it.

I also want to provide a platform for smaller family friendly accommodation operators to promote themselves through free listings.

How often have you discovered that hidden gem? When accommodation turns out to be as good as expected, or even better, how do we spread the word? We might tell some friends, but the message rarely goes wider.

This is where the idea for www.familyfriendlyaccommodation.com.au came from. What if I created a platform, a community if you like, where Australian families could share information on places they would recommend, with other families?

After months of planning, I am so excited to see my dream turn into reality. I hope you find the website and this blog useful.

It is by building a community of users and reviews that we will become an invaluable tool for Australian families planning all sorts of holidays and weekend escapes.

Let me know topics you want me to cover

I don’t want this blog to be me telling you what I think about everything – or talking about topics that are of no interest to you.

I want you to let me know if there are any topics around accommodation or holidaying with children that you want me to cover. As the name Family Gathering says, this is a way for us to talk to each other.

Enjoy & keep in touch.

Amanda