For most of us, the holiday time is a time to relax, and to re charge the batteries.
For some it is a stressful time, and a time when financial problems get worse, due to the costs.
There are however ways of decreasing the cost of holiday, and maybe making the holiday time a time for relaxation, and spending time with loved ones.
Many people use package holidays for their plans, and it can for the inexperienced traveller be the way to create a holiday for which you give the responsibility for organising activities to the travel representative.
Using a package holiday can be a good way to get the type of accomodation you want, and the type of activities that are suited to your taste and needs.
One benefit is that the travel companies can negotiate good rates with the air-lines, or even have their own flights, but a negative that very often negate the savings on flights and accommodation is that the travel company will need to finance their holiday reps, as well as making a profit.
Even though I have sometimes used package holidays, I prefer to organise things myself, as I have better control of the costs, and can focus my spending on the things I find important in a holiday (i.e. the food and wine).
With holiday packages, the easiest way of saving money is to either book very well in advance, or to book last minute trips (the benefit is the price you get, but you have much less choice in where you end up going, and you might not get all of your needs fulfilled). You can however save more than half of the price, as long as you shop around, and are flexible on where and when you want to go.
In the last 10 – 15 years alot of low cost airlines have appeared, and have made it much affordable with flights, and have made some of the normal airlines drop their prices, or create new low cost ticket types, in order to fight back. A lot of people are using Ryanair as a low cost airline, but unfortunately due to their additions on costs (especially when you need to bring a suitcase as you are going on holiday, and when you travel with children) they very often prove more expensive than normal airlines such as British Airways, Scandinavian Airlines, etc.
Ryanairs higher prices, along with the airports on either side normally being located well away (50-70 miles) from where you want to go has made me stop using them. Instead I try to book my flights well in advance (3-4 months) in order to get the cheapest possible prices.
Ryanair also seems to be using a model where they do not release their cheap prices until just 2 months before the flight, which means that if you book before then the price will be higher. This will vary between different destinations, so it is best for you to shop around. Take all parts of your flight into consideration when you compare prices. The full flight fare with Ryanair, which you will only see when you get to the part where you enter your credit card information, as well as all ground transportation to get you to and from the airport on either side. You can use holiday booking sites like expedia.com to check for flight prices. Airlines which are local either to your destination, or your origin airport tend to be cheaper, but by no means always.
Hotel or other accommodation:
For finding hotels suitable for where you want to go, you can use holiday booking sites, local tourist boards (some of them have search capability for you). When it comes to hotels, I try to use the criteria of finding a place in which I can get clean sheets, somewhere to shower, and an edible breakfast. For this I need to rely on testimonial of other customers. I don’t usually care if the hotel have a restaurant which serves lunch or dinner, as long as there are local restaurants available in the local area.
You can also rent a chalet, villa, or cabin. They will usually be cheaper than hotels as soon as you get to at least 3 people. They will sometimes give you more privacy, and also the availability of a kitchen where you can cook your own food, which should make the food part cheaper.
Swapping your house with another family is also an alternative way to reduce the cost of the accommodation, as you pay for the house you borrow by lending your own house out to the family whose house you use. These people tend to take good care of your house, as you are in theirs. I don’t have personal experience of this, but my immediate family does, and they praise it.
A cheaper alternative is also to rent a cabin or a caravan at a caravan park. Many caravan parks have a small number of simple cabins, which can be rented fairly cheap, and are suitable for people who do not fancy living in a caravan, or don’t have a caravan.
Also, if you are fortunate enough to know someone with a summer house, maybe you can borrow it. If you can’t return the favour by lending a house back, maybe you can help with some work that needs doing on the summer house (most summer rentals will need a bit of work at the beginning and towards the end of the season, so there should always be a way for you to compensate the owners).
Short term (day rentals), is probably cheapest to do when you are at the holiday place. Especially if you are in a holiday hot spot, and the weather is very nice (less people will need to leave the beach then, so should open up the possibility of deals). Always try to negotiate.
Weekly rentals. Cheapest is to pick it up away from the airports, as most rental companies charge extra for pickup and drop at airports, due to their higher costs in those places. There might also be local hire companies that are cheaper than the big ones like Avis, Hertz etc. Shop around, book early, and pre-pay for the rental with your credit card.
Monthly rentals. On these you can get even better deals, as they get very close to being a lease deal. Maybe a local car dealer can lease you a car for a month? Sometimes the big rental firms will have special deals during the summer. Look around, and shop around.
In touristy areas, try to walk a couple blocks away from where the restaurants with all the flashy signs are, and try to find a calmer place, and you should get better food, and cheaper than in the middle of the tourist trap. You will also most often find more authentic local food, instead of some of the tourist trap food which will be adapted for the tourists, rather than to the locals. Ask locals where they would go to eat, and you will probably find more exciting food, and better prices.
You can also cook yourself. I try to get inspiration from the place I am visiting, and cook food which is more like the way the locals cook, while still doing lots of BBQ’s. Visit the local butcher, fish monger, cheese shop, bread shop and green grocer, and you are likely to find the best goods, and be able to have a feast every evening without having to break the bank. I also try to drink local beverages, be they beer, wine, rum, or tequila.
Some people prefer the less worrying aspect of food by going for a fully inclusive holiday, but I think that it limits the choice. Especially the choice of beverages, as I am a bit picky over what wines I want to drink, and all inclusive wines tend to be basically undrinkable.
Shop around for travel insurance online, and make sure it covers any special activities you might want to do, like skiing or scuba diving.
Do not ever get the travel insurance from the travel company, as they tend to charge you through the nose for it.
A very difficult topic to write about, as most people have very different taste on what kind of activities they like. As I am interested in history, and culture, I enjoy visiting old buildings. Especially castles, and forts. This is fortunately something that my children enjoy as well, so we can do these together. As long as we do enough ice cream, and visit enough play grounds, they will be more than happy to visit some old castle with me.
One castle that really stands out for me is Kreuzenstein Castle just north west of Vienna. It was blown up by the Swedes during the 30-year war in the 17th century when Hungarian forces were advancing. It was later bought, and in the 19th century it was re built with parts from different old buildings of different architectural style from all over Europe. It has been used in film recordings like The Prisoner of Zenda, and Peter the Great. It sports 2 working draw bridges, one large for horses and carriages, and one smaller for walking people.
Please all enjoy your holiday, and I will be back in 2 weeks this time.